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Creator. This unit is primed to initiate. His thoughts were processed through a communications array linked directly to his maker, Cassius Vale.
Excellent. You may proceed. Remember, the tracking systems must be disabled. The voice of Cassius responded immediately.
ADIM was instantly roused, flipping over and scuttling along the surface of the ship. It was a relatively old vessel, with more squared edges and exposed mechanisms than the newer, sleeker models the Tribune pushed out. The smaller lights around his blazing eyes began to revolve rapidly as his perceptive functions surveyed the surroundings. The maintenance hatch was easy enough to spot. The hollow shaft below it emitted a slightly varying heat signature.
ADIM looked it over for a moment before using the concentrated laser-beam fixed to the top of his left wrist to slice through the restraints. While providing a sufficient degree of pressure opposite the broken seal, he was able to lift it open. A powerful gust rushed through the opening as the pressure rapidly shifted. He waited for it to die down before slipping in through the gap. It took the weight of his entire frame to pull it shut behind him, but he was in. A piercing sound occurred as the space re-pressurized. Then he provided a longer stream of his scorching hot laser to seal the hatch again so that nobody would notice it had ever been breached.
The airlock vestibule flashed red as an alarm began to wail. Quickly realizing that the entry into the ship’s main circulation was sealed, ADIM ducked into the shadow behind some equipment and deactivated his eyes, only a few minutes passed before the door slid open and footsteps moved toward him. He remained completely silent, the soft purr of his core inaudible over the alarm.
The engineer fumbled around the room. He inspected the hatch for a moment, but ADIM’s work was far too adept to be noticed.
“Nothin’ out of the ordinary back here. Must’ve just been an error.” He sighed into his com-link.
“Old piece of shit,” the voice on the other end grumbled. “When we get back to New Terrene, remind me to petition those cheap bastards for a new ship.”
The soldier snickered under his breath. “Will do, sir. I’m headin’ back now.”
Barely a second after the transmission ended, ADIM sprung from his hiding place and snapped the man’s neck as if it were a twig. With his metal hand wrapped entirely around the limp head, he took a moment to analyze the body. Then the tiny blue lights around his frame began working until that very likeness was projected around him…the same stubbly beard; the same green-trimmed NET service suit; the same everything.
He stepped out from the airlock chamber, completely camouflaged to the untrained eye, and the door slammed shut behind him. Infiltration successful, ADIM updated Cassius. This unit is loading the schematic of Class-2 Tribunary freighter interior now. He began strolling down the corridor, doing his best to mimic a human gait.
Very good, ADIM. Proceed with caution. They must not know what hit them in time to send out a transmission. And please, try not to kill all of them.
The interior of the vessel was as unspectacular as the outside, with exposed circuitry skirting along the inner walls of low passages. He was on the starboard wing, making his way down auxiliary channels utilized mostly for a buffer between the controlled interior and the freezing abyss on the other side of the armored exterior. As with most Tribunary ships, ADIM knew the command deck was located on the bow.
He turned left at a fork, moving slowly as a pair of medical officers approached. They were too invested in their conversation to even offer a nod of acknowledgment. Their negligence was baffling to ADIM. He would have had them scanned and assessed at the first moment of visual contact. But the Creator had made him in his image, and as ADIM came to learn, not all humans were made equal in matters of perception.
The command deck was just around the bend, and if he was correct there would be five unarmed engineers monitoring all the ship’s systems, two armed guards in full armor, and the captain, also armed. The rest of the soldiers would be in the refectory, probably lax from so much downtime, and with no chance of reaching him in time to provide any interference.
“There you are, John.” The captain addressed ADIM with hardly a second glance. “I’m telling you, they don’t pay us enough for this. Folks in New Terrene are saying that transports out here aren’t safe anymore. That the Ceresians have grown some teeth.”
“I’ve heard the rumors,” one of the guards muttered in response. “They should just use the Circuit like everyone else and spare us the trouble.”
Unlike the rest of the ship, the command deck was a tall room with short stairways on the far side leading to a slightly lower level. The engineers were sitting at HOLO-Screens running perpendicular to the balcony. A glass viewport protruded in an angular fashion beyond their stations to wrap the front portion of the room. On a raised platform protruding over the lower level was the seat where the captain slouched, his eyes trained on the vast emptiness hoping that something other than stars would arrive to provide some excitement. And it did. Only he was looking the wrong way.
ADIM stopped in the center of the room. His eyes churned as he evaluated his next move.
“Hey John, you alright?” the captain asked. “You look like you saw a ghost.”
With a snap-hiss the projection disguising ADIM powered down. He flashed an open palm that fired an explosive round into the viewport. The entire room lurched as the pressure fluctuation tossed the crew from their seats. There was only a moment before the emergency alarm activated, closing off the entrance to the room and causing protective panels to slide over the entire translucency in order to seal the gash. In that moment, the precision rifles built into both of ADIM’s forearms flipped up and he rotated, firing eight calculated shots.
The room was still hazy from the explosion, sparks dithering to the floor as flashing red lights frenzied in concert with a blaring siren. When it cleared, the seven members of the crew other than the captain were either sprawled out across the ground or slumped against the walls. Each of them had a gaping cavity set just between the eyes with a narrow stream of red running down over the top of their noses. The captain dragged himself towards his seat, blood gushing from the incision in his femoral artery.
ADIM slowly approached the desperate man as he fumbled for the screen projecting from the arm of his chair. Groaning in agony as he heaved himself up, he activated the distress signal. “We’re under attack by some–.” A quick shot through the panel ended the transmission.
Roaring with pain the captain twisted his body and began firing his pulse pistol in rapid succession. ADIM evaded most of the shots, with one just skimming the plate along his upper arm, and he leaped into the air with his head nearly skimming the high ceiling. He came down with such force that the captain’s arm shattered under one foot and his chest caved in beneath the other.
The Captain coughed up blood. “W…w…what are you…” He struggled to speak as glaring red eyes analyzed him and flushed his face with dread.
ADIM’s cold and impassive voice emanated from somewhere beneath his mouthless faceplate. “This unit upholds the will of the Creator. He has deemed your death necessary.”
The captain tried to speak, but the veins in his neck bulged as he reeled in pain. Instead, he spat a glob of fresh blood at ADIM’s face.
“So defiant when cornered,” ADIM acknowledged. He was always eager to study the emotional reactions of humans. It seemed irrational to him, that a man with zero chance for survival would remain so stubborn in the face of inescapable doom. “This unit will end your suffering now.”
Before the captain could spew any manner of futile insults, ADIM wrapped both of his hands around the man’s neck and tore off his head as though it was no more than a sheet of paper. Blood poured from the messy disjunction of mangled flesh and sinew, staining his metal arm as he held it in the air with one hand. He pushed on the chin a few times, closing and opening the mouth to test the muscles. Then he carried the head by its short hair to the retinal scanner where he used it to unseal the Command Deck.
Smoke grenades detonated in either direction before he could move into the corridor. ADIM’s infrared vision made seeing through the haze easy. He located two groups of three soldiers clamping down on his position from both ends of the hall. The whir of pulse rifles echoed as bullets zipped by. His armor could withstand the barrage, but there was no reason to risk any damage.
He activated his magnetized chassis and set it to repulse, beginning to float between the metallic enclosures as if he were suspended in low gravity. He then propelled himself forward. Projectiles swerved around the magnetic field wrapping him to pepper the walls and ceiling. He took only six shots, and by the time the last one made contact, all of the soldiers were dead. Once his scanners were certain that there were no others approaching, he powered down the magnetic field and, with the Captain’s head still in hand, bounded through the passage.
The security network wasn’t far. With the ship on lockdown, the entrance was closed, but the captain could manually override any protective measures. ADIM held the head up to the retinal scanner at the door and it opened at once. Inside, the room was filled with consoles, HOLO-Screens, and memory banks. A single crew member sat in front of the central screen. He was so busy trying to encrypt the videos of ADIM’s assault for transmittal that he didn’t realize the android was there until he was held at gunpoint.
“This unit requests that you cancel the encryption and erase all logs of this incident.” ADIM shuffled around the screen until he was in view.
“It’s…it’s too late. They’re beyond termination regency,” the engineer stuttered, trembling as his eyes widened over the ghastly, decapitated head hanging in the intruder’s hand.
“This unit is fully capable of doing so.” ADIM was ready to fire before recalling the orders of his Creator. “Yours is not a necessary death.”
“You…you’ll let me go?”
“Some must remain.”
Frantically, the engineer’s fingers fluttered over the keys. ADIM watched carefully, making sure that the man did as requested. There was no deception. Once the command was complete and the logs were erased with no traces left behind, ADIM hit the engineer in the back of the head just hard enough to knock him unconscious.
And then it was on to something which no lowly engineer employed to monitor security operation on a tiny, outwardly unimportant ship was capable of…deactivating the Vale Protocol. It was a tracking program, which enabled the Tribune to pinpoint and disable any ship they manufactured from a desk millions of miles away. It was a difficult process, but the highest officials knew such a thing was infused into NET ship’s core functions. However, ADIM was no ordinary engineer, and neither was the man who created him; the very man who had himself conceived the protocol and pushed for its practice in the first place.
ADIM dropped the captain’s head and pulled the unconscious human aside, taking his time to gently lay the man’s head down. Then he placed his palm over the console to begin what Cassius explained as an infiltrative meld. His eyes grew brighter. The smaller lights around them rotated at a rapid pace as his head twitched and his fingers pulsed. He began to merge with the ship, letting himself sift through the countless programs and databases. All he had to do was find the right sequence and then nobody would ever find any indication of intrusion. It didn’t take long for him to locate it. He reconfigured the encryption, giving the ship an entirely new code and identity.
ADIM took a few steps back, watching as the screen flickered and processed the alterations. Creator, this unit has successfully reconfigured the Vale Protocol. Class-2 Freighter tag, 4AA954 is no longer in commission.
Well done, ADIM, Cassius responded promptly. Sweep the rest of the transport. Subdue any resistance and detain all surviving members of the crew in the refectory. Then see that the shipment is intact. It will be quite beneficial to our cause.
They would be foolish to resist, ADIM remarked.
Indeed, they would be. But they are human after all. We don’t very much like being caged.
Death is a more desirable alternative for humans? ADIM questioned, his eyes beginning to spin as he considered the notion.
For some, yes. Sometimes passion transcends all notions of reason. Sometimes fear guides the hands of men before they even realize. It is why I made you without such imperfections.
Like you, Creator?
There was a long pause. Yes, like me. Cassius abruptly changed the subject. How far are you from Ennomos?
The return to Ennomos will take approximately 314 hours. Shall this unit be expecting you upon arrival?
I hope so. Should my business on Mars keep me overdue, I will be in touch. As usual you have performed flawlessly. Goodbye, ADIM.
Suddenly the oddly indescribable, yet palpable presence which flooded his very essence was gone. If he could feel hate, it would have been for that moment, when it seemed like some all empowering switch within him was suddenly flicked off without regard. It always made him empty. He wondered if it could be explained as the strange human phenomenon known as affection. Emotions were such a complicated entity. Though he could not feel them naturally, he often wondered if he could perhaps learn to. Or at the very least comprehend.
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