Req

The smile on my face was so wide it hurt. And I wanted to smile wider still.

I’m on top of the world. Everyone is, but I feel like I’m king! No, emperor! What’s bigger than an emperor? Well, whatever it is, I’m that too!

I hear a cough coming from behind me. “Are you going to stop admiring yourself? If there’s anything you need, then it’s definitely not an ego-boost.”

I turn around, my arms spread wide and stare at a displeased coworker. She has a bruise on her face, I note.

“Jealous?” I ask.

She frowns. And looks cute. Very cute.

“K-23, if you are trying to aggravate me, then I suggest you stop.” She says.

I feel a chill creep up my machinery. Odd. I check my systems and find that all parts are running fine. No, not just fine, excellent.

I fold my arms.

“Why are you calling me that? I told you not to call me that. I don’t like it.”

She sighs and runs a hand through her hair. She looks like’s angry—no, frustrated for some reason. A shower of sparks hits the ground behind her, courtesy of a plasma fight above.

“The company gave us a new mission.” She looks troubled. “And you’re leading.”

For a moment, I don’t respond. Then, I feel a massive surge of joy and scream at the stars. Then I get a fresh coat of blood.

I look up and see one of the men fighting is gone. I look down and-

Oh. Forgot she has only the one set of clothes.

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I’m not dead! (Update)

 

Hey y’all. I’m not dead. My laptop was, until today. Graphics card, though, is definitely dead. Anyways, the first month I didn’t post was not because the laptop died, but rather because of school. Did I ever mention I hate school? Yeah, I most definitely hate school.

I’m actually sick right now. A culmination of having to break my natural sleep cycle because of school, skipping breakfast and dinner a lot, and the cold weather had me call my dad yesterday to get me out of school because of getting a fever. Currently, fever’s gone, but I have very painful cramps kicking in from time to time. Very painful. I also dry heave a bit.

But, I’m getting better, and I feel good enough to sit down and give you guys an update after being gone for so long. Well, first off, I wanna apologize for disappearing, I know I could’ve logged through my crappy phone and typed this out anytime despite the excruciating slowness of it, but I kept procrastinating on it. Second, I’m kinda unsure of my writing ability right now. It’s not writer’s block, but I just… don’t feel very confident about what I type. So it might be a few more weeks until I post another chapter. Maybe a month. Honestly, with my life being what it is, I can’t even be certain I’ll get a chapter out in a month.

But, the most important thing is, I won’t drop the story. Well, the pledge certainly plays a big role in that, but I know that is a few of you that genuinely enjoy this story and I don’t want to disappoint you. Heck, I need to finish this story just to show myself I can and thus bolster my confidence for future stories.

So, I’ll keep on having a go at typing whenever I get the time, and sometime later (Hopefully before pledge time runs out) there should be a chapter. So, yeah. Thanks for reading.

A Silly Error

How did I figure it out? Not so hard, she hadn’t given me a direct answer earlier when I asked her where she had gone, and better yet, she’s told me little to nothing about her abilities. I hadn’t asked, but it’s a little funny that I have to if I want her to tell me. It’s implied.

I wipe off the dust from the glass panels. I’m careful, I only let my hands graze over the glass. No need to further screw up things. I then dust off my hands to the side, turning my head away.

When the cloud of dust dissipates, I continue studying the fabricator.

Around twenty minutes later, I hear footsteps. I turn around.

The students hold batteries in their hands, all crystalline and glowing. I see the guy I’d called before at the lead. They look hesitant at what to do with the batteries.

“Drop them in this chute,” I say, patting the metal surface. A loud ‘Thung’ sound reverberates through the room. I wince slightly.

The guy I’d called, he walks to the chute first, and the drops the battery in. The rest take his lead, though a few are lazy enough to simply drop their batteries into the hands of a few.

I turn to the glass panels expectantly. For a few tense minutes, nothing happens. Most students leave by then. A few still hang around, curious and expecting. Then a symbol appears on the panel.

A tinge of joy shoots through me. I ignore it and tap the symbol. The mini-fab comes to life, an assortment of symbols appearing on the screen. A few mini lights on the mini-fab glow blue.

I crack my knuckles and grin.

I tap a small box icon, and it fades, replaced by a progress bar at twenty-three percent. I tap the progress bar, and it fades to show me a bunch of numbers in different hues. The value I’m searching for is turquoise, that is, how many kilograms of molecular scramble I have available. Currently, I have around sixty-nine kilograms for use.

Which is… almost how much I’d like there to be. Seventy-five kilograms is what I’m confident to work with, eighty is guaranteed success.

But I can still work with it. A little tricky, yes, but I can do.

I pull up the old settings, get used to some of the options, change a couple of things, and then I’m all ready.

I take a deep breath and focus myself. I use my neural implant to search for all the required data, optimize the quantity, and organize them into little packets. I then connect them to little icons on my visual interface for easy access.

I then sink my mind into the job.


A couple hours later, I’m done. And very, very tired. I unsteadily walk away from the fabricator and wipe the sweat off my brow with my sleeve. My chest, armpits, and back feel damp.

I slowly drop to a sitting position and then slump onto the floor. My breathing is haggard, my vision a little blurry. Side effects of mental exhaustion. Well, mental exhaustion with a neural implant.

It feels like my thoughts are coming to me slowly. It was off-putting, somewhat. I ignored that and focus on staying awake. My eyelids are droopy, and it’s very tempting to give in and close them. But I’m slightly afraid that somebody might take it upon themselves to try to fix the engine and screw up disastrously.

It’s only a slight possibility, but from experience, I know what letting that slight possibility go unhindered can do. I’ve been bitten in the ass more than once, despite the odds.

But… it was kind of a small possibility, wasn’t it? Besides… maybe I could sleep anyways if I sent out a ping to keep people from touching the components.

Do not touch the components. 

I send it to anyone within the ship.


 

When I come to, I feel a lot better. It takes me a little bit of blinking to realize where I am, that is, crew quarters. I was on a soft bed, a white blanket on top of me. For five minutes I just stay there, letting my mind catch up, and at the same time indulging myself.

I turn my head and see Grace staring at me with a small smile on her face.

“Did… did you watch me sleep?” I ask, a little disturbed.

She opens her mouth, and closes it, and then opens it again.

“No! I mean—uh, yeah but…” She says, hesitant.

“But?” I ask, raising an eyebrow.

“It’s,” She clears her throat. “Nothing.”

“Uhuh,” I say, with what I imagine to be a dry expression on my face.

“So, anyway, they’ve returned. And—”

“Wait, did anyone touch the components?” I say a note of urgency in my voice.

She rolls her eyes.

“Nobody touched your precious components. To continue,” She says, a little pointedly, “The worms did nothing but circle around them. Well, they’re still circling them, ergo, us, so there’s that.”

It takes a moment for that to sink in. When it does, I jump up.

“What?” I yell at her.

She recoils.

“They’ve… been circling around us for… three hours?”

I take in a deep breath and pinch my nose bridge.

“Okay, I’m guessing this is psychological tactics. I’m lacking a lot of information…” I stare at her pointedly. She shrugs and looks away. “As to why. So, they remain to be a very big threat. We could contact the school, considering that this wasn’t part of the excursion, and ask them to pick us back up, but I’m considering leaving that for emergencies. I’m not going to give up just yet.” I say.

She nods.

A thought pops into my mind. I frown.

“How helpful have you been?” I ask.

“What?” She asks, a little sharp.

It catches me off guard a little.

“How… helpful have you been, for an A.I with your processing power?”

She doesn’t answer. Or at least, not until I’ve jumped off the bed and started to walk to the door.

“Little.” She says, with no further explanation.

I turn around, raising an eyebrow.

“And?”

She simply stares at me. I turn away. This time, she doesn’t say anything. She follows after me.

A simple scan tells me where to go, and how to go there. The path highlighted in my mind. As I walk there, I do note the extra faces around. I make some changes to my body language, to appear as an authoritative figure. It doesn’t exactly make much difference, but I know that some students are probably evaluating me, or re-evaluating me, so in future scenarios having posed myself as an authoritative figure might give my words more weight.

When I reach the mini-fabricator, Grace speaks up again.

“They’re broken,” she says.

I was expecting a lot of things, but not that. My eyes widen in horror. I pick up the individual pieces from the shute and stare at them. Each of them has a small layer of blue crystal covering them. And that tells exactly how I’d messed up, I’d put the second last step one step ahead.

“Fuck! Oh fuck this stupid fabricator, fuck this excursion, and fuc—not fuck you, since that’s weird, but fuck it all!” I yell in plain annoyance, clenching my fists and waving them at the ceiling.

And immediately after, I felt like a fucking idiot. Because a lot of students were standing at the hatch, some not even bothering to contain their amusement.

I sigh and slowly facepalm.

Fuck me.


Edit: Author’s note: Thanks for reading! Almost forgot to put this. I did, but I came back here and put it anyway.

Clicking

Team Ferra has met with team Lizandra. Not much progress on finding the other two part of the ship. Worm circles around vicinity occasionally.

Ferra pinged me.

“Huh?” I mutter. The word echoes in the room around me. I’d chosen t work on the issue myself, seeing how useful the two were. I sent them off to scout the ship and catalog everything.

I frown.

Engine completely wrecked. Need resources we do not have to fix it. I am pondering on the issue, will report back when I have reached a decision. Continue searching for the ship pieces, and return when team needs a break.

Affirmative.

I sigh and look at the engine.

“How the fuck am I supposed to fix this? I need manufactured parts, and I don’t have a—oh. Oh.” My eyes light up.

I sprint out of the room past students who look at me confusedly, and skid to a stop in front of a large hatch. The hatch is big, bigger than I am.

I turn to a nearby student and point at him. He startles and looks around.

“You. Head to engineering, and get me a toolkit. Quick.”

“Uh… I don’t know where engineering is.” He says.

“Lower section of the ship. Quick, go!” I yell.

He jumps, turns around and runs.

“The other way!” I yell.

He turns around and runs again.

I turn to the hatch again, tracing my fingers over the sides of it. They catch onto a tiny gap in the side. I grin.  I highlight that section in my mind.

“Hey,” Grace says, making me jump.

I turn and glare at her.

“Where have you been?” I ask.

She shrugs.

“Around. So hows the expedition going?”

I frown slightly as I notice students are staring at me.

Fine, I think at her.

“Okay. Why are you standing in front of that hatch?”

The guy runs back in, panting. He’s holding a large grey cube, with a silver top. He drops it. I nod at him, then pull the box to me. I use my fingernails to leverage out the lid, and I see a variety of old tools. I pick up a small cylindrical tool, purple in color. I pull out a panel on the side and see a glowing blue crystal inside. I nod and place the panel back on.

You’ll see, I think at Grace.

Most students have lost their interest and have gone back… to lazing around. The guy is still standing there, for what reason I don’t know.

I slam the top of the cylindrical tool near the edge of the gap. I watch as the metal strains and finally buckles towards the tool. I twist a ring on the tool, and a warped panel pops off the wall. I throw the tool and panel off to the side.

Inside is a series of crystal mechanisms. The glows of various crystal fill up my vision, and I have to tinker with a couple settings with my optical implant to see properly.

The worm is following us. Ferra sends.

I frown.

Retreat. And make sure to cover your back as you do. Mask the retreat as a break. 

It takes a few long minutes before I receive a reply.

We’re returning.

I let out a breath I hadn’t even known I was holding.

“What was that about,” Grace says, staring at me quizzically.

“Nothing,” I say in dismissal.

I stare at the circuitry. I create a map in my head, then start puzzling it out. It takes me a couple of minutes to understand what components are what. At that point, all it takes is the removal of a little wire to make the hatch swing open.

Oh,” Grace says. “So you’re planning on using the pseudo fabricators to repair the ship?”

I shake my head.

“You know the issues with that. I’m just making a couple components for the engine.”

“Err, who are you talking to?” The guy asks.

I internally curse.

“My A.I. I have a habit of speaking my thoughts out loud when I talk to her.”

“You have an A.I?” He asks, puzzled.

I nod.

“She’s a gift,” I say.

“Oh. Nice. Ranking?” He asks.

I stare at him, my lips pressed together. He raises his hands. I turn back to the open hatch.

Beyond the hatch is a room with a lot of machinery. The cargo room. In the corner, I see a small fabricator, with a few shutes and panels nearby. There’s also a primitive glass panel system, that has a small layer of dust covering it. Of course, holograms were available back then too, but glass panel systems were used as more of a trend than anything.

Wait a minute, how do I know that? Did I read it somewhere? I don’t recall doing so, but on the other hand, I have read a lot. Wait, my neural implant can figure it out and…

Nothing. A quick search gives me no results. Strange. I note the thought down in my head.

“All of you,” I raise my voice. Only a few heads turn, annoying me. “All of you!” I yell, and most heads turn now. “Get down to engineering, and disassemble all drones that you can find. I want every goddamn battery you can find from them, you hear me?” I yell.

A few hesitantly move towards the end of the corridor.

“Move!” I yell.

That gets them going.

We’ve spotted two more worms. So far they haven’t been doing much, but we’ve been getting unnerved. Ferra pings.

“Shit,” I curse.

“What happened?” Grace asks me.

“Monitor my pings,” I say.

“Hmm… oh. I see.” She says.

Get your combat specialists together and form a plan. And a backup one. They might be running on programmed sequences, or they might be controlled by someone. I’m not sure. You’re on your own till you reach here. Be cautious. I pingback.

Lizandra’s already on it.

Good.

I walk into the room and go to the mini-fab. I stand in front of it, my hands on my hips, and I study it. It’s in a bad condition, cracks have spread through the metal, and some parts have warped. It should be enough for what I want to do, however.

I turn to Grace.

“Can you do your disappearing act, and give me recon on the worms?” I ask her.

She frowns and nods.

“I can…” She says, hesitantly.

“Then good. Go now. Their position is displayed on the hologram projected by the drone. Hurry up.”

She dissapears.

“Looks like I’m not the only person hiding things,” I mutter.

 

 

 

Piece

Our group stops as the ship-or whatever part of it comes into sight. I hear many sighs of relief. A surge of annoyance rises up in me, but I push it away, focusing on what I see.

A crater spans for around half a mile in radius, at the center of which is the ship piece. The ship piece is colored faded green, and students are clustered around it. Some spot me and go through a hole in the wall of the ship.

I frown. Had they made that hole?

A moment later, Ferra emerges. He waves at me.

“Don’t stop!” I yell for my group’s benefit. “We’ll rest within the ship piece.”

I hear a couple of groans, but the pace of the students behind me noticeably increases. I smile.

When our team reaches the site, I tell the group to disperse and await further instructions. I talk to Ferra. He’s an emerald-skinned boy, with dark lines in concentric patterns all over his body. On his face, is a mixture of dirt and sweat.

“So, you told me there were signs of fighting,” I say.

He nods.

“Yes. I’ll show you.”

He leads me through the hole, into the interior of the ship. It’s dark, and my nose itches at the dust spread all around. We walk through the dark corridors into a lounge.

The lounge is spacious, with a couch, holo-panel and some other devices spread about. Right now, they are in different states of decay. The most noteworthy aspect is the bodies.

They are horrors. Their skin is warped around their skinny frame, and all of them are holding one weapon or the other. One body is missing its head.

Their eyes… I won’t even describe those.

I grimace.

“I see.”

On the walls, and floors are dark blotches, evidence of a shoot-out. I’m right next to one.

He nods at me.

“A girl in our team said the spatial storage devices are untouched. If we might get them working… we can recover all that is within them.”

My eyes are wide.

“I’ll get to it. In the meantime, hurry up and get to Lizandra. Watch out for rebellious students.”

He nods and smiles at me.

“Good luck.”


 

I frown as I study the destroyed engine of the ship. I’m crouched on the floor, two students—one girl, one guy next to me. The girl has her chest uncomfortably pressed against my arm.

She’s been trying to and failing to, get in my good graces. I don’t even know why she wants to, but I can’t be bothered with that.

“We’re screwed.” The guy says.

“Shut up, Layen.” The girl hisses at him.

“No, he’s got a pretty good point,” I say. The girl looks at me surprised. “Without the engine, we can’t power up any of the systems of this ship. And making a new one—or fixing this one requires a Fabricator.”

She frowns, and the guy throws an annoyed glance at her. She ignores it.

“Then what do we do?” She asks.

“I’m trying to figure that out, myself,” I say.

“How the fuck did the engine get destroyed in the first place?” The guy asks.

“Sabotage,” I say as I point to the bottommost layer of the engine. Covered by dust, but still glinting, is a thumb-sized pink crystal.

He blinks.

“Juptenyte?”

I nod.

“Formed only when a lot of Trail—which just happens to be this ship’s fuel of choice, by the way, fuses. My guess is that someone manually overloaded the engine till it blew up.”

“Jesus. What the fuck happened?” He says, looking slightly disturbed.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” The girl says, completely confident.

We both turn to her, expectant.

“It was a spy! And not just any spy, it was one of Fictok’s.”

The guy groans and I just stare at her. Fictok was a terrorist guild eradicated some decades ago, I don’t remember why or how, but I do remember it struck up some big spur. She leans towards me, her nose barely touching mine.

“You don’t believe me?” She asks, staring into my eyes.

I put my palm on her face and push her away.

“Ew.” Says a girl standing at the door. The girl in front of me turns and stares at the newcomer, her eyes wide.

The newcomer is wearing a white top, and a small hat. Her shoes are blue and made up of metal. Her skin is pink, literally so, and her hair is dark blue. She’s sneering.

The girl in front of me pales. I hold up a hand.

“If you girls want to chat, go do it elsewhere. I have work to do.”

“And I came here to help you,” The newcomer says.

“As if,” The other girl says.

“I did. I might not be a builder, but I certainly know what she‘s up to.”

The girl in front of me looks enraged.

I frown.

“If you have something to say, please do it soon. I am quickly running out of patience.”

Girl-in-front-of-me clenches her fist and stares at Newcomer with burning eyes. Newcomer ignores her.

“Fine,” She says, a little displeased. “She wants to get into your pants so that she can talk to Gyon.”

I turn to Girl-in-front. She looks like she’s about to explode.

“Okay,” I say. “No one’s getting into my pants, and even if they did, I doubt they can talk to my Mentor because of it. And then too, they wouldn’t accomplish much.” I turn to Newcomer. “Thanks for the warning, though it might have been… unnecessary.” I nod at her.

She smiles and walks away.

The guy clears his throat.

“So it’s clear. You’re a slut.”

“What?” The girl screams.

She punches the guy.

I sigh and massage my nose bridge.

I so fucking hate teamwork.


 

Author’s note: Thanks for reading! And now that my holidays have begun, you’ll be seeing (Hopefully) a regular update schedule.

 

Divide and conquer

I see the surprise on the faces of everyone around me. Save for those who look… bored. I don’t really get how you could be bored in the middle of the excursion. I’m not bored.

Lanky guy looks a little disbelieving.

“What?” Lanky guy says.

“You heard me. I’ll send the-”

“No need. Any details?”

I shake my head, a little annoyed.

“All I can tell is that there is something the size of a scout ship tunneling underneath us, going,” I point in the direction opposite to the mountains. “That way.”

Lanky guy frowns.

“I have a suspicion about what it might be…” He says.

“Spill,” High-pitched-voice says.

I nod.

“We can do with any information.”

“I remember finding special drones that were deployed from space… their purpose is pretty unclear, but I know they can tunnel. And they’re roughly the size of scout ships. They seek out energy sources when they’re running low on fuel and they have a lot of weapons packed into them. I’m guessing they’re used to sabotage cities.”

I hum.

“So, is it a threat?” Can’t-speak-properly says.

He shakes his head.

“Unlikely.”

“So…” High-pitched-voice says.

“We split,” Evert says. “But first, we need to know specializations and quantity.”

I nod.

“We send the data to best Tactician here.” I look around. “So, all Tacticians… come forward.”

Six individuals move past the crowd, some hesitant. Lizandra not one of them, though she glares at me. Annoying.

Four of them are guys, and two of them are girls. Lizandra, a green-haired tall guy, and a plump boy seem pretty confident.

“How do we know who’s the best?” Lanky guy says.

I turn and look at him.

“We don’t. They do,” I nod at the group.

Heads turn to Lizandra. She looks a little smug.

“And what if they’re wrong?” Lanky guy says again.

“Low chance,” Evert says. “Besides, I know her. ” He smiles lopsidedly. “Hey, Lizandra.”

Lizandra shifts.

“Hi,” she says.

Hmm…

“What are we waiting for? Ping her with your specialties, people!” Lanky guy says.

I ping her with my qualifications.

Her eyes glaze over, as I assume other people give her their qualifications.

Eventually, she comes to and snaps at everyone.

“Signa, Hector, Garrett! Stand there! Deiza, Niklo, stand with them! Frao, Joy…”


 

She splits us into three groups. One stays at the base, one goes to the crack, and one simply wanders to other places some Builders pointed out. I’m in the group that stays. Backup.

Bleh.

Everyone in the same group is misfits. She put me here on purpose. I tried protesting but…

She said that somebody competent had to stay behind, to lead the group. And not only that—my qualifications were perfect for the job, as I could figure out exactly how to use the abilities of the people involved. That shut down any further argument from my side.

And so, I’m stuck here. The others are awkwardly chatting, some not awkwardly chatting as they might know each other, and others just hang around depressingly.

A few tried to approach me on occasion, but I replied with monosyllabic conversation, driving them away.

I sit under the shade of the drone. As do the others, but there is a noticeably large gap between me and any students. That’s fine—I can use the space to think.

Not that I have a lot of think about. I’m tempted to drift off… but that would mean I’m not alert, and that means incompetence. No way in hell am I going to be incompetent.

My skin is slowly heating up. The atmosphere is not very… comfortable, to say the least. And there’s another problem—water.

We didn’t bring any. I’m betting most here have implants that let them go without for three days… or heck, even a week, so that’s not much of a problem, really. What I’m worried about is if the excursion takes longer than that. Dehydration would certainly influence morale, and I have to watch out for that.

I feel a rumble in the ground. The first thing my mind goes to is the tunneller but then I see the heads of the students turn. I look back and see the ship we came in lift off.

Funny. Didn’t they say the ship would take off immediately after we left? I forgot about that, but now that I remember, I wonder why. Maybe a maintenance issue? Or something else?

Either way, it doesn’t matter.

I think about the tunneller. Lanky guy said that he assumed that the drone was meant for sabotaging cities, which leads me to wonder about why it was on an exploratory ship.

Did they pick it up somewhere? Or maybe the drone is from a ship that shot them down? If a ship shot them down, that is. The reason for the crash could be a number of things, best wait to find out.

“How long do we have to sit here?” A guy asks, miserable. He doesn’t have a lot of heat protection. I pity him.

“Until we hear from the others.”

He frowns but doesn’t ask anything. He slouches.

The was bad. I might have troble if an actual emergency arose.

Then I get a ping. I open the data packet.

We found the ship—or at least, a part of it. A Builder here, says that it’s more than half of it, and the rest is broken up into two pieces. There are signs of a fight inside the ship, seems to have happened a long time ago. Ferra.

I raise my eyebrows.

Signs of a fight? Seems like there must have been some crew problems. That must have been nasty.

I look up at the hologram and see the three dots indicating our positions. Ferra’s team, the wanderer, is four kilometers away. I didn’t think they would be the first one to report. The other team—led by Lizandra is still moving around.

I send a pingback.

Good job. Since the majority of the ship is there, and we have to rebuild it, that’s where we set up base. Our group will arrive at your position shortly, and then you will join Lizandra’s group. And about the sign of fight—don’t disturb it. I’ll take records for the school’s or Sentinels’ benefit, before working on the ship. Affirmative?

Affirmative.

I get up, dusting my butt.

“We’re replacing Ferra’s position. Walk with me,” I say. I gesture at the drone, and it begins moving forward at a snail pace.

The group members get up, dusting their asses as well. Some grunt, some look uncomfortable. One guy just plain refuses to get up—another guy throws dirt on his face and a fight breaks out between them.

I walk in between them and order them to walk at opposite sides of the drone. I tell a few members to make sure they don’t move towards each other.

I sigh and wipe the sweat off my forehead.


Edit: Author Note: I usually don’t do these… at least on this site, considering that I don’t get much traffic but well, that’s changed. To put it in WordPress’s words, “Your stats are booming! The Zone is getting lots of traffic.” 

So, right, sorry about the infrequent updates. Oh, and check out the fanart page. 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

To Land

“We have fifteen minutes before landing,” Grace says.

I blink, and then look out a window. I see a large orange sphere, topped off with white clouds, and with a few red spots here and there.  It’s slowly getting larger.

“Guide me to the exit hatch,” I say.

She turns and walks left. I follow her.

We turn into a large corridor. Most of the students are already standing around and chatting.

“I think I’m gonna disappear now,” Grace says, and then vanishes.

I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn around. I’m met with the face of a smiling young man, with some pretty nice hair. It’s deep purple and messed up, but that just adds to his charm.

I blink.

“Hey, heard you’re the new guy. Dan, right?” He says.

His tone reminds me of a jerk. I don’t let it show.

“Uh… yeah. Why do you ask?”

He smiles lopsidedly.

“Because. I think you’re the perfect guy to partner up with.”

I raise an eyebrow.

“Cool…? I don’t really know you.”

He shrugs.

“Didn’t expect you to. I’m Evert and,” He leans forward. “I’m just as versatile as you are.” He winks at me.

I look at him.

Okay…

I shrug.

“Prove that out there.” I nod slightly towards the hatch.

He grins.

“You got it.” He walks past me and pats me on my shoulder as he does so.

A flare of annoyance rises up in me. I push it down. I think,

Whether he’s good or not, is something I can only find out by watching him in action. Till then, stay neutral.

I smile and walk into the crowd. A guy turns to look at me. I keep my eyes pointed forward.

He doesn’t do anything.

I lean against a wall, as the minutes pass by. Everyone’s arrived, and pretty much all of them are talking to each other. Lizandra stays out of my line of sight by hiding behind her friends.

I deadpan.

Really? The heck am I, a monster?

Finally, a voice rings out.

“Students, this is your first excursion.” A synthetic voice, somewhat like that of a normal person, but slightly off speaks. “You will be scouring this planet to search for the ship that crashed here, and will then work together to rebuild it. We will not provide any information about the ship. A drone will be accompanying you in case of emergency, and to record your performance. You may also request for a global map from the drone. This ship will depart immediately once all students are out. Good luck.”

The hatch slides open, revealing a vast rocky terrain, with the air glimmering over the ground. There is a small cloud of dust around the ship. A rush of hot dry air enters, along with the dust. An extra membrane over my eyes protects it, so I keep them open, while the majority of the others shut their eyes immediately.

I pinch my nose shut while keeping my mouth closed. Six or seven others do the same; the rest go into coughing fits. Evert’s not one of them.

So he’s not all talk.

I push fellow students aside, making my way to the front. There, I come face to face with a lanky teenager, who is furiously snorting. I pull my head back, not wanting to come in contact with the goo dripping off his fingers.

I walk out of the ship.

I take a deep breath.

The air is dry and scratches at my throat. My skin is itchy from the dust and heat. The heat is uncomfortable.

I hate this. Why couldn’t they have chosen a better planet?

A whizzing noise sounds above me. My skin feels cool, and I look up to see metal. Brown metal.

I lean back until I see the end of the drone. It has four silver disks on the bottom-Anti-grav panels, and two thrusters on the rear end. At least, two thrusters that I can see.

I turn back and see most of the students out of the ship. A couple of them are walking towards me, a couple of them are forming their own groups, and a few just look confused.

Evert speaks up, loud.

“Display map,”

A prism slides out of the bottom side of the drone. It clicks and stops. The next moment, a blue hologram of the planet is floating in the air, slowly turning. On the bottom left-to me that is, is a small indigo circle.

I’m closest in vicinity to the hologram, so I gesture with my arms.

The sphere stops spinning. It then slowly turns, the blue dot facing me. Then it spins around abruptly, and faintly I see the figure of Evert through it.

“Sorry,” He says, not sounding apologetic in the least. “Got to let everyone else see it too.”

I don’t say anything-I simply walk around the sphere and stand alongside him. He glances at me but doesn’t say anything. He turns back to the sphere, and gestures.

The sphere increases in size and parts of it vanish as it goes past the original sphere’s length. A small speck hovers in mid-air, and to the right of it are the mountains I had seen earlier.

“So,” A girl speaks up. Her voice is slightly high pitched. “That’s us?”

“I guess,” Another girl says.

“How the fuck are we supposed to find this ship again?” A guy says. His tone is rough, and many of his syllables almost blend together.

I keep my eyes focused on the hologram in front of us and open my mouth to speak-

“Looks for signs of a crash.” But I’m beat to it by the lanky kid. “Moreover, ships are made of weird materials, and those materials make for weird phenomena. The most common material in ships is Redfrak, used to reinforce their structure. They can handle large degrees of stress, hence why they’re used. On the other hand, Redfrak also tends to vibrate when it has been inactive for more than a decade or so. In a barren planet like this, that usually means large cracks like,” He lifts his hand and touches a part of the sphere. “Here.”

“Inactive? How the fuck can a metal be active in the first place?” Can’t-talk-properly says.

Lanky guy sighs.

“Inactive as in it hasn’t been fed energy. Slight of tongue,” He says.

“So we just head there?” High-pitched voice speaks.

“No,” I say, finally able to say my piece. I shake my head as eyes turn towards me. “Not yet. First, we need to find out where else the ship could’ve ended up.”

Lanky guy nods, whereas most of the others look confused. I recall that lanky kid is one of the anti-social kids. Evert has a cool smile on his face. Another surge of annoyance rises up in me, but I just as quickly push it down.

A girl raises her hand sheepishly.

I nod towards her.

“…Where else? It can be in two places at… once?”

I shake my head.

“The… um, crack he mentioned is only one of the possibilities where the ship could’ve ended up. The crack could be entirely natural as well, and we’d waste time exploring it. Or, the ship could’ve even broken apart as it crashed. Worst case scenario-but that’s why I’m betting on it.”

Can’t-speak-properly groans.

“You mean we have to scour the entire planet looking for teeny-weenie pieces of it?” He says.

I glare at him. Lanky guy sighs.

“No, we don’t. Just this part of the planet,” I gesture to the part of the sphere enclosed by the indigo circle. “And ships are built to take a hit, so don’t worry about it breaking into ‘teeny-weenie’ pieces. At most, we’d have to find fifteen pieces.”

Fifteen?” The guy says, horrified.

“Yes. Fucking, yes.”

“But that’s-”

“Realistic. Did you expect this to be easy?”

“Well, yes, it’s just a damn excursion-”

The ground rumbles, and I stagger. Others stagger as well, and I nearly crash into a guy. I catch myself in time.

I frown.

“Was that a tectonic shift?” High-pitched-voice says.

I turn to her. She has puckered lips, and her skin is already turning pink. Her eyes are softly glowing white.

“Maybe. I don’t have enough information, nor the sensors to be sure.”

“It is,” Lanky guy says.

I turn and see him crouching, a hand deep in the dirt. He pulls it free and pats off the dust on it, accomplishing absolutely nothing in the process.

“I have the sensors.” He says.

I access my short-term memory, find a repetition of him saying that, run it through my processors to search for micro-expressions that indicate he’s lying. I don’t find any. Still not going to trust him that easy, I scan him with my optic implant.

I spot several high-quality implants in him. It’s like he’s pumped full of tritinate.

I nod at him.

“Can you send me the data?” I ask.

He frowns.

“…Fine.”

I get a ping. My firewalls go comb through the code to look for viruses. None.

I open it. For a minute or so, I’m fixed in that spot, my brows furrowed as I think.

My eyes widen.

“Something’s tunneling underneath us.”