"Captain," Kala'ai shouted, "Captain. The sensors are going off the charts. You need to get to the bridge now."
"Why? We're in the middle of nowhere. The closest planet is a hundred light years away."
"Relax," Mekubdah said, cutting him off. "This ship is a piece of junk. The sensors are probably just broken. Take some Ak'mai. You're too high strung."
"I-but, but maim, this is serious."
"I'm sure it is." She sighed, "It's always soo serious. Just deal with it."
"But sensors indicate-" She flipped off the com and lightly pushed herself from the wall. She was floating on her back in zero-g. She sighed again, slightly disappointed. Space was nothing like home. There were no currents or creatures or plants or noise, just a dark nothingness that played with the regrets she had tried so hard to suppress.
It wasn't her fault. Her father had said, She couldn't blame herself, but she had still been banished. He had been the one to pull the lever sending her into space, telling her she could never come home.
Mekubdah spun onto her stomach. She caught a glimpse of her legs. They were so strange. The metal and wire that simulated flesh. They were uncomfortable and awkward, these things humans called legs. She wondered how any creature could use them for travel. She wanted her fins back, her beautiful and elegant fins. She wanted to return to her home world: the water planet Oko'ai. But she was here, in space, with half a body that wasn't really hers and a payload of refined ore that needed to get from point A to point B.
Another seven months in this tin can. Another seven months putting up with Kala'ai's constant worrying. He wasn't a bad first mate. He got the job done, but for a seven foot tall creature with an exoskeleton that could deflect lasers, he seemed to worry a little too often. She shrugged. Seven months wasn't that long. It wasn't forever.
Mekubdah hit a button on her desk. A virtual galaxy appeared, floating an arm's length in front of her. Once this job was done, she'd have enough credits to go wherever she wanted. It would be-
There was a loud crash. The ship jolted. The map flickered and vanished. The zero-g kicked off, throwing Mekubdah to the hard metal floor. "Ouch." She growled, pulling herself up. "Kala'ai," she shouted, "Kala'ai." The intercom hissed. "Perfect. Just another day in paradise." She exited her room and ran toward the bridge. "What'd you do?"
"Me?" Kala'ai shouted, "I told you something was wrong."
"And I told you to fix it."
"How am I supposed to fix that?" He pointed at the small hyper-glass window. Mekubdah stared out. There were thousands of asteroids burning through space, heading for what looked like a planet.
"What's that?" Mekubdah said, pointing at the planet.
Kala'ai shrugged. "A planet?"
Mekubdah rolled her eyes. "I know it's a planet. What's it doing right there?"
"How should I know?" He said, trying to put out a fire on one of the consoles. "I'm trying to do the best I can here, alright."
She shook her head. "How many Ak'mai did you take?"
"What? I didn't take any? That stuff is bad for your brain. Didn't you read the label?"
"Oh, don't be such a baby." The ship jolted again as an asteroid scraped across the hull. Mekubdah was thrown into a metal console, her hip bruised. "I hate this ship," she shouted. Another asteroid punctured the rear of the ship. The ship started to tilt toward the planet.
Kala'ai turned to Mekubdah. "We're leaking ore."
"Spock," Mekubdah growled, "Spock."
The intercom hissed. "I told you not to call me that."
"Fix the stupid engine. We're leaking money."
"It can't go any faster unless you want to risk blowing the core."
"If this ship goes down, it's never getting back up again. Do whatever it takes."
"When this thing blows, it's not my fault."
"Just give it all she's got." Mekubdah shouted.
The ship lurched. The metal frame whined. The ship started to pull away from the planet. Another asteroid ripped through the middle of the ship. The ship buckled and fell.
"We're caught in the planet's gravitational field," Kala'ai shouted, trying desperately to hold on to the console.
Mekubdah glared at him. "This is what I get for making you navigator."
"Yeah, I know. You're not the kind of Captain to go down with her ship."
The computer intercom dinged and a red light began to flash. "Please return to your seats and secure your safety harnesses. The main cabin is depressurizing and fatal impact is imminent. Have a nice day."
"Piece of junk," Mekubdah shouted. Her reinforced, cybernetic legs were strong enough to keep her upright. She pulled her way to a seat and locked in the belts. "Kala'ai buckle up."
His claws locked around a metal bar and he curled into a ball.
"Close enough," Mekubdah hit the radio com. "Spock."
The intercom fizzled. "I said don't call me that."
"It's smoke and fire."
"Shift to mach one. Reroute power to forward dampeners. Let's see if we can slide her in."
"Are you crazy? There isn't enough power."
"We only need enough power to rotate the ship. Now do it."
The intercom fizzled again. She could feel the engine kick. She hit a series of buttons on the keyboard. The ship started to turn. The heavy ore had curled between the bridge and the planet.
"So much for our payout," Mekubdah sighed. The speed and the atmosphere turned the metal of the ship into a bright orange. The walls started to peel and the ore spilled out.
The ship hit the planet, throwing a cloud of snow and ice into the air. It slid. Mekubdah flipped on the rear thrusters. The ship staggered, and the compartments of ore ripped free. The bridge and the compartments collided. Sparks flew as the metal screeched and grated. The ship slowed, and finally stopped.
Mekubdah let out a sigh of relief. "Hey Kala'ai, you dead?"
He uncurled and stood.
Mekubdah unlocked the safety belts and stood. "Well, it didn't look like we crushed anything important, but we should probably check." She hit the radio intercom button. "Spock?" Static. "Spock?" Still static. "Coms are dead. We better go find him before he blows up what's left of the ship. Come on."
Kala'ai pulled the metal doors open with his burly claws. "Hey," he said, "You every feel like you're a sardine?"
"What's a sardine?"
"Never mind." He jumped down into the snow. He reached up to give her a hand.
"I'm fine." She said, jumping down. Her legs made the sound of five or six tiny pistons as they absorbed the weight. She stared at the smashed and burning compartments of her ship snaking through the snow. Then she looked back across the vast emptiness of the planet. It was covered in snow. There were no buildings or plants or creature, just soft powdery snow.
Kala'ai sighed. "At least we didn't hit anything."
"Except the planet," Mekubdah said coldly. "The rear of the ship's over there. Let's go see if Spock's dead." They walked toward the compartment. They could hear clanging. Kala'ai forced his claws into a small opening in the metal and began cutting it into a much larger hole.
"Spock, you in there?" Mekubdah shouted.
"Yeah, yeah. Just give me half a parsec. And I told you the core would blow."
"Hmm," Mekubdah grunted. "On second thought, maybe we should leave him here."
"Wait, wait." Spock emerged from the hole. He was a small but athletic human. In his hands, he held a strange metallic object that looked, oddly enough, like a small lawn gnome. He hit a few of the buttons on the chest of the gnome and set it on the ground. Suddenly, its eyes flashed green and it began to move its joints.
"What is that?" Mekubdah said.
"Oh," Spock smirked. "Just a little invention I've been working on. Pretty cool, huh?"
"You still haven't told me what it is."
"Oh, right. You can call him F.r.e.d.r.i.c.k."
"What?" Mekubdah kneeled down to look at the thing.
Its head twitched and it turned to face her. "Fredrick: Free Roaming Emergency Distress Recovery Infrastructure Companion."
Mekubdah raised an eyebrow. "What about the 'k'?"
"The 'k' is silent," the metal gnome retorted in a robotic voice.
Mekubdah nodded. "Of course it is."
"See," Spock said, "This way when the recovery team arrives they'll know exactly where to find us."
Mekubdah shook her head. "No one's coming to rescue us. And even if they were, they wouldn't know we were missing for another seven months."
"If we conserve the food we should be fine."
"Right," Mekubdah said, pointing toward the ship. "You see that compartment that's been completely destroyed?"
"That's where all the food was."
Spock's hopes had been dashed. "What are we going to do?"
Mekubdah shrugged. "Try not to freeze."
"Well," Kala'ai said, "maybe the life forms on this planet live underground."
Mekubdah laughed. "And how would we know where to find them, huh?"
Fredrick's eyes shimmered. "Heat sources detected three kilometers to the east."
Mekubdah sighed. "Grab a coat Spock; it looks like we're walking."
Mekubdah knelt down and examined the metal hatch. "Do you guys see a handle?"
Spock scratched his head. "Maybe there's like a sensor or something."
Mekubdah waved her hands over the hatch. Nothing happened. "Hey Kala'ai," she turned back to face him, "you think you can break it?" He was shivering. Little icicles had formed on the ridge of his forehead and shoulders.
"I-I-I h-h-hate the sn-n-n-now." He stuttered.
"Here, take this," Mekubdah said, walking to him.
He swallowed without thinking. "What is it?"
His eyes got wide, the drug already taking affect. His exoskeleton began to tingle and his eyes swam in his head. "Oh," he said losing his balance for a moment. He felt a wave of heat at the base of his neck that climbed up through his head. Suddenly, he understood that it was cold, but somehow the snow didn't seem real to him. It didn't feel like snow - it didn't feel like anything.
Mekubdah smirked. "You feel better, right?"
He smiled stupidly and nodded.
"uhm," Spock poked her arm. "Are you sure that was a good idea?"
"He'll be fine." She shrugged. "And this way, we don't have to listen to him complain."
"Yeah but, I don't think he has the kind of tolerance you do. That Ak'mai stuff is kind of powerful."
Fredrick's eyes shimmered. "Ak'mai: a drug used to both calm and stimulate the nervous system in an organic body. It is used by space travelers to prevent a condition known as 'cabin fever.' It is found to be highly addictive in some species, such as the-."
Mekubdah kicked Fredrick, and he rolled several paces through the snow. "You've got a very informative lawn ornament. Maybe we could use it to break open the hatch."
"You wouldn't." Spock gasped.
Mekubdah took a step toward Fredrick, but before she could do anything, a bright light shined through the window of the hatch. "Someone's coming." She grabbed Kala'ai and pulled him behind her.
The hatch squeaked open. A figure emerged. It looked human, bipedal, two arms, one head, soft pink skin, a man, but it wasn't a man. Half his head had been shaved to the bone. Wires jutted out, attaching to his chest and back. His left arm was gone, replaced by a series of metal joints in the shape of a whip. A metal square had been bolted to his chest and a strange looking camera had been inserted into the center of his forehead. His eyes were glazed over and lifeless. His limbs moved, but rigidly. His jaw sagged. He exited the hatch and began trudging through the snow toward their ship. He didn't seem to acknowledge them.
Spock looked at Mekubdah and then at the cyborg and then back at Mekubdah. She shook her head and raised her hand, indicating for Spock to wait. Spock kept low to the ground.
Mekubdah reached back for Kala'ai. He was gone. She turned. He was about seven steps away, staring at a huge pile of snow. "Ooohhh," he looked down at Mekubdah. "Is that even real?" Then he saw the tip of his claw. "Ooohhh." He opened and closed it. His eyes got wide. "Is this even real?"
"Shh, quiet." Mekubdah whispered.
His eyes followed the claw up his arm to his body. He screamed. "What happened to my hand?"
Mekubdah put her hand on her forehead, annoyed. "You never had a hand."
"Oh." He smiled stupidly. "Right."
Mekubdah sighed. "I think I liked you better as a whiner."
The cyborg cocked its head and turned. Its eyes were lifeless, but there was something carnivorous about its stance.
Suddenly it burst into a sprint. Its body contorted, whirling its whip toward Mekubdah. She slid right, just barely missing the sharp tip. She rolled forward, avoiding another swing, and sprang up with a hard uppercut to the cyborg's jaw. It stuttered back, but didn't fall. "Kala'ai, I could use a little support here."
"You can do it!" he shouted and waved.
She frowned and rolled her eyes. "That's not exactly what I had in mind." She ducked again, but too slow, the whip lacerating her arm. She winced.
The cyborg was about to come at her again when a snowball struck it across the side of the face. It turned toward Spock.
"Uh-oh." He tried to slip behind a large mound of snow.
The cyborg's body was half turned. Mekubdah pushed herself off the ground, half-twirling, until the back of her heel pounded the cyborg's head. He fell. Black goo sputtered from one of the wires, but the cyborg didn't show any signs of pain.
Mekubdah ran toward Kala'ai and slid behind him just as the cyborg's whip came down again. Kala'ai caught it in his claw and snipped it in two. He swung his other arm, knocking the cyborg into the air. When it hit the ground, it didn't get back up.
Kala'ai's body was still tingling from the drug, but he was starting to mellow. His mind was starting to slow down. His body relaxed.
"Good," Mekubdah said, "It looks like you finally hit the wall."
Kala'ai just rubbed at his temples.
Spock peaked around the snow mound, and seeing that everything had settled, walked toward them.
"Now," Mekubdah said, standing over the hatch. "Who's going down first?" She looked over at Spock and then down at Fredrick. She yanked him from Spock's arms. "I vote you." She dropped him into the hatch. They waited until the clanking and thudding stopped. "What do you see?" Mekubdah whispered into the darkness.
There were a few beeps and a little static. Mekubdah looked at Spock. "What does that mean?"
Tears were welling up in his eyes. "It means he's probably broken."
Mekubdah shrugged. "Not much of a companion then, is he?" She looked down the dark tunnel. She could see Fredrick's eyes shimmer. "It's not that far down, come on." She started climbing down the ladder. It suddenly got very warm and a soft, moist, breeze touched her face. It reminded her of Oko'ai, her home world. How she missed it and longed to return. She knew she couldn't. She had been banished forever. She would never again feel the wondrous pressure of the water completely enveloping her - the viridian water that completely covered the planet, beautiful and serene.
As a child, she let the warm currents carry her through the depths of that peaceful world, but one day she had gone too far, beyond the Great Chasm. It was forbidden and dangerous, but she was only a child. How could she know what monsters lay beyond?
"Hey," Spock whispered, "Hurry up. Fredrick needs me."
Mekubdah slid down the ladder and stepped onto a metal walkway. Spock hurried down behind her and cradled Fredrick in his arms.
The walkway split into four tunnels. Each tunnel was pitch black. Mekubdah slid the contact lens from her right eye. Her iris was orange and gleamed in the darkness. She closed her left eye. She could see comfortable now, just as if she was in the dark depths of the ocean.
Kala'ai made loud thumps as he tumbled down the ladder, his claw too large to grip the metal properly, his muscle too relaxed to care.
"Shh," Mekubdah whispered. She could hear two sets of feet coming from the opposite tunnel. "Come on," she said, grabbing Spock and Kala'ai. "This way." She hurried through the tunnel. The walls, floor, and ceiling were made of metal; the heavy, durable kind used in space ships.
"Wait, slow down," Spock whispered. "I can't see anything."
"Just trust me," Mekubdah growled.
Spock couldn't really argue. He couldn't see in the dark the way she could. "Just wait I-" before he could finish, she pulled hard to the right. Spock nearly dropped Fredrick. The air was warmer and thicker. It smelled like flesh and disinfectant. He was about to speak, but Mekubdah put her hand over his mouth.
She watched the two cyborgs pass. She lowered her hand.
"Is it safe?" Spock whispered.
"Can you smell that?"
"Yeah, I don't like it." The air tasted like blood and stale medicine. Mekubdah put her hand over her own mouth and nose hoping to mask the smell. It was so strong she could barely keep her eye open.
"Hang on," Spock said, hitting a few buttons on Fredrick's chest. Fredrick fidgeted and his eyes shimmered. A screen lit up on his back. Spock held him up and out. He could see the basic layout of the room on the screen. It was large, so large Fredrick couldn't map the whole thing. On the adjacent wall Spock could see a switch board. He slowly walked to it.
He flipped one of the switches. Five orbs illuminated. There was a soft, red glow. There were four vents on each wall. A blue fog drifted out of them and hung in the air. The room was long and tall. Spock could barely see the opposite wall. He looked at the wall nearest to him. He scrunched his eyes. There was something small and round, about the size of two fists put together. "Mekubdah, you see that, right?"
She had closed her right eye and opened her left. She took a step closer. "It, it looks like-"
"Yeah." A metal arm was cradling the brain. Wires extended from the brain to the wall. She gazed up as high as she could see. There were hundreds of brains, each connected to the wall by a handful of wires.
Spock looked at Mekubdah. "What is this place?"
She shrugged. "I don't know."
Kala'ai stepped between them. "Is this even real?"
"Oh yes," a voice echoed from the hall, "It most certainly is real and quite incredible."
The three of them turned and stared at what appeared to be a very old, human man. He smiled. "If I were so bold, I might even call this the pinnacle of human achievement. Welcome to the Aggregate."
The old man ran a hand through his hair. It was white and frizzy, as if it hadn't been combed for years. He smiled and the gaps in his teeth showed. He waved his arms about the room. "This is most definitely the greatest, most powerful, computational device in the known universe. Come," he said, clapping his hands together. "It's been so long since I've had guests. Let me show you my masterpiece." He paused for a moment. "Or are you hungry? Tired perhaps? Would you like some tea? Oh," he said, snickering, "look at how fidgety I've become. Do forgive me. It's been quite some time since I've had guests." He scratched his head. "Or did I already say that?" He shook his head. "It's no matter. Come along, come along. I've got so many things to show you." He said, exiting the room.
Mekubdah looked at Spock. He shrugged and started following the old man. She sighed and grabbed Kala'ai's arm. "This senile old man has something to show us, come on." Kala'ai followed her, his body so relaxed he could barely keep his eyelids open.
The old man crossed the hall and entered another huge room. It was like the previous room, full of human brains attached to wires.
Spock tried to swallow. "Uhm, how many of these rooms are there?"
"Oh, well," the old man began counting with his fingers. He paused and grinned. "Well, all of them."
Spock looked confused.
"All the rooms on the ship, except the bridge, the mess, and the bedroom are-"
"Wait," Mekubdah interrupted, "what do you mean ship?"
The old man looked back at her plaintively. "Where do you think you are miss?"
"I-" She furrowed her eyebrows. "Well, where do you think you are?"
Fredrick's eyes glimmered. "Location: A cybernetic geosphere designed to regulate and automate climate, atmosphere, and gravity. A planet class starship."
The old man smirked. "Your metal child is correct." He rubbed his right hand against the metal wall. "My brother and I designed this beauty many, many years ago."
Spock hit a few buttons on Fredrick's chest and examined the data. "This, this whole thing is-" He turned to Mekubdah. "We didn't crash into a planet. We crashed into a ship." He turned back to the old man. "Oh, oh, this is incredible."
"Ah," the old man nodded. "It certainly is." He entered an elevator and motioned for them to follow. They did. Spock seemed mesmerized by every detail of the ship.
The old man put his hand on Spock's shoulder. "You're a bright, young boy. Perhaps you would like to see the process of derivation."
Spock's smile beamed. "Boy would I." He paused for a moment. "What is the process of derivation?"
"Hmm," the old man cocked his head. "It's really best when you see it firsthand."
"Oh, right," Spock nodded. "Firsthand, definitely."
The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. The old man stepped out. The others followed. The room was relatively small and seemed to branch out in multiple directions. There were three surgical tables near the center of the room, each with a plethora of scalpels, saws, and lasers that extended from arms in the ceiling.
The left wall had been cut into a series of alcoves where dead bodies could be stored. An old balding man was strapped into the center table. He drooled and mumbled incoherently.
"This is my big brother," the old man said. "He is the final step toward the perfection of this machine. He has volunteered for this momentous procedure."
The drooling man's eyes flashed with fear and seemed to plead for relief.
"Don't worry big brother," the old man said strapping the head down. "Through our science we have reached immortality. Our names will live on forever." The old man motioned for Spock. "Come here, but not to close." Then the old man pulled an electric saw from the ceiling arm and began cutting into his brother's head. Blood squirted out in pulses. Another metal arm sucked it up.
"Wait," Mekubdah said, "Did you even give him an anesthetic?"
"Oh, I certainly wanted to, but we ran out of those about seven years ago. Don't worry though. I've gotten very good at this. It will be over in no time at all." As he spoke, the skull cap fell to the floor with a splash of liquid. The drooling man's body shook violently, then suddenly stopped.
The old man let out a satisfying breath. "Look at that beautiful brain. It's wondrous, isn't it?"
Spock took a step back, nearly collapsing with fright. "You-you-"
"Computer," the old man spoke, "take this specimen to location: RZ133 and adjust power and environmental settings accordingly." A metal arm reached down, pulling the brain from the drooling man's head. There was the sound of a small saw and a crack, then the arm, cradling the brain, disappeared into the ceiling. "That should increase processing power by nearly 1.3%," the old man said, quite pleased with himself.
"You-you just killed him, your own brother." Spock stuttered.
"He was going to die anyway." The old man said, shaking his head. "I needed his brain before the dementia set in. He and I agreed it was for the best."
"Of course it was," Mekubdah said, pulling Spock behind her. "I'm sure all those other people felt the same way."
"Well, truth be told, some were hesitant I suppose. But given the circumstance, the only thing we could do was put our faith in science. Science is always and ultimately triumphant." The old man rubbed his bloody hands against his apron. "Just see for yourself what science is capable of."
"I think we've seen enough already."
"But you've only begun to see, I promise." He pulled a console from the ceiling. He pressed a series of buttons. A 3D virtual display appeared in the center of the room. It was of the galaxy they were in. The map began to zoom out, faster, and faster, until their galaxy was a tiny speck. Billions of galaxies had passed before their eyes in seconds. "The whole universe is stretched out before us the day we're born. It continues to expand, ever out of our reach." He raised his hand in protest, "or so I thought. It would be impossible for me to reach the edge of the cosmos in my lifetime," he lowered his head. "I had to acknowledge that, but," he looked up, his eyes burning with passion, "that didn't mean it would be impossible for a human to reach the edge of the cosmos.
"You see, my brother and I devised a plan. We would construct an organic ship the size of a small star and send it hurtling toward the edge of the universe. The ecosystem of the ship would be self-contained and hundreds and thousands of generations could live comfortable until one day a small child would wake to see what exists beyond the reaches of space."
"That's funny," Mekubdah said, "I haven't heard the pitter-patter of little feet."
The old man lowered his head again. "No, no. You are correct. No matter how caution or careful some events are outside the control of man. How is it said - an act of God." He shook his head in an expression of shame and defeat. "We had sustained our experiment for 35 years, exceeding many expectations, but that was not enough for my brother and I. We pushed further, unaware of the tiny bacteria that lay dormant in our perfect ecosystem.
"As we passed the second sun beyond the Milky Way, a solar flare flooded the atmosphere with radiation. We had prepared for this, but in augmenting the shields we inadvertently revived the bacteria. It multiplied a thousand fold, contaminating the plant-life, and in turn, the livestock.
"Soon, all emergency food rations had dwindled, and people began to starve and die. Our experiment had ended a failure. Without the constantly rejuvenating ecosystem, the ship would die as well, and so my brother and I devised a new experiment - one that was necessary if we were to survive.
"We confiscated the dead, or near dead, and extracted their brains. You see, the human brain is a most resilient and incredible machine. Its processing abilities are elastic and almost immeasurable." He thought for a moment. "Imagine the brain as if it were a tiny crystal and imagine a question as if it were a beam of light. When the light hits the crystal it is diffracted and sent in multiple directions. So too, the brain can solve a problem by generating a multitude of solutions. Some of the solutions are," he searched for the proper word, but could not find one. "Some of the solutions are, well, impossible, merely figments of imagination, the same way some of the light remains trapped inside the crystal and is transformed into heat. Now imagine hundreds of crystals diffracting the same beam of light. The collective heat and light would be like a blazing sun.
"You see, my brother and I decided that if we could not see the edge of space, than we could at least build a machine, a human machine, that was capable of comprehending it. And so we began a process of hybridizing the human mind with the machine, turning thoughts into a series of wires, turning physical sensations into a collection of sensors and key strokes. It took us years of experimentation, but we always seemed to have enough test subjects.
"You see, the problem was that we assumed the brain was dead and devised our tests as such, but the mind is too intricate and unique to be manhandled. You must treat it as if it were still alive, still capable of imagination. When we resumed our tests with this as our thesis, the results were staggering. With four brains linked together we could map a galaxy and its planets down to the molecule in a matter of seconds.
"As we added more brains, it became exponentially more powerful, but it also became exceedingly hot. We were forced to adjust the climate to below freezing in order for the brains to remain cool. With our ecosystem destroyed, it didn't matter if the surface of the planet was layered with ice. We had achieved something of the impossible.
"We adjusted the gravity to pull in nearby traveling asteroids so the ship could calculate their contents and origins. I presume that is what caused your ship to crash - an unavoidable side effect I suppose, but none the less, here you are, baring witness the greatest of human achievements."
"But wait," Spock said, swallowing hard. "If, if these brains aren't dead, then, then you're saying," he bit his lower lip, "you're saying they're still alive?"
"Well," the old man shrugged. "To some degree they're alive, but think of it as a kind of dream."
"Dream?" Mekubdah grunted. "And what happens when they wake up?"
"Oh," the old man smirked. "There are protocols in place for that. I've been made a fool once, but only once. The brains will remain actively dreaming for as long as this ship is among the stars." He walked toward the exit. "And I have to thank you. With your contribution we should increase processing power by another 3.9%."
Spock took a step forward. "What do you mean contribution?"
The old man grinned and then exited the room.
"Hey," Mekubdah yelled, racing to the door. It wouldn't open. She kicked it with her foot. "Hey," she shouted, "let us out. Old man-" she kicked the door again and watched the old man calmly walk away. She yelled incoherently and then took a breath. "I hate old people."
"Does he mean he's going to-" Spock rubbed his forehead.
"We need to find a way out of here, now." Mekubdah said, pressing on the other door. It was locked too.
Orange gas started funneling out of the vents. It hung in the air and suddenly Spock's arms and legs felt very heavy. "I, I'm not, I-" he collapsed.
"Buckle up," Mekubdah shouted to Kala'ai. He curled into a well armored and insulated ball.
Mekubdah pulled the scarf from her neck and wrapped it around her mouth and nose. She took a deep breath through her gills, pulling oxygen from the toxic orange gas. She frantically searched the room for some means of escape. Her chest felt tight and her heart beat so fast. And the panic. She couldn't escape it, or the room, or that day when she was riding the currents of Oko'ai, the day she traveled beyond the great chasm.
She wanted to forget. She wanted to burn the memory from her mind, but it was the same panic she felt then too. She was only a child, trapped in the Il'iam gorge. She pulled her knees to her chest and cried, and pleaded for someone to find her, but she was alone. And then she saw the worms, the nev'iam worms. They poked their heads from the cracks in the walls.
Like spring loaded arrows, they nibbled at her arms and fins. She screamed, and swam, but not fast enough. They pursued, biting at her body and face. Her arms were too weak to fight them off. Her fins too small to overcome the current. They nipped violently at her, until one, piercing her back, burrowed into her spine. She could feel it squeeze into her bones and climb up to the base of her skull. The other worms returned to the hidden tunnels of the gorge and her body was caught by the current and taken out to the coral ruins.
When the guardians found her, they called her nev'iam'pur, "the cursed one" and she was banished forever from her home.
The worm gave her strength and agility. It healed her wounds and enhanced her senses, but it came with an unyielding hunger.
As her body fought the poison, she felt the hunger rise up in the back of her brain like a thousand rocks hitting her body in unison. She pulled herself up to the table. The old man's brother was still strapped down, blood pouring out from his head.
She tore at the straps and pulled the dead body forward. She bit into his spine near the base of his neck. His body jolted, as if alive, the electricity trapped in his nerves rushed up through his being and into Mekubdah. She shook, feeling the energy pulse into her.
She dropped the body and stood in an almost euphoric trance. Then she saw Spock lying on the ground. Her eyes fluttered to attention.
She ran to the curled ball of Kala'ai. She grabbed him, and with a hulking amount of strength, threw him at the door. It burst open, Kala'ai bouncing off the opposite wall and rolling down the hall.
Mekubdah grabbed Spock and Fredrick and pushed her way through the shredded door.
She lightly slapped Spock in the face. "Hey," she said. "Wake-up." She slapped him again on the other cheek. His eyes slowly rose and he coughed. "Good," she said, turning back to check on Kala'ai.
He was standing, but obviously dazed. She helped him lean against the wall.
Mekubdah looked down at Spock. "He said there were protocols, right?"
Spock just rubbed his head.
"Hey," Mekubdah shouted. "The protocols, where do we find them?"
Spock groaned. "I don't know. They're probably built into the ship's OS, but he might have hardware protocols too. I don't know."
"Can you override them?"
"Yeah I guess, wait, what are you planning?"
"We're taking the ship, and we're freeing those people. Now get up."
Spock pushed himself up. "I need a console. It doesn't matter which one. They're all connected."
"Alright," Mekubdah said, handing him Fredrick.
Spock hit a series of keys. "Over here," he said. "A right, than a left." It was a small room, about the size of a closet. Spock flipped open the console. The screen began loading. "Okay, okay, uhm, I can do this, just, uhm," his fingers began moving rapidly over the keyboard. "Alright, let me just-" He pulled a wire from Fredrick's chest and plugged it into the side of the screen. He shrugged. "Here goes nothing." He hit a button. The screen flashed red and then went black. The screen rebooted.
"Well?" Mekubdah said, from the hall.
"Uh, okay, so the good news, I broke the protocol; the bad news, there's still a switch or a fuse or something we need to deactivate manually."
"Alright, let's go."
"Wait, there's more bad news. When I hacked the system it sent a signal through the ship. The old guy knows what we're trying to do."
"Perfect," Mekubdah growled. "Let's just hope we're faster than him. Where to?"
Spock unhooked Fredrick and stared at the screen on his chest. "Uhm, that way. It's not far. Take a left and two rights."
Mekubdah was already running down the hall, pulling Kala'ai and Spock behind her. The corridors were long and thin. They led into a large round room with a dome ceiling. Thousands of brains were hooked to metal arms attached to the walls. There was a massive metal console at the center of the room. Wires jutted out of it haphazardly as if someone was constantly working on it.
Mekubdah sprinted to the console. "What are we looking for?"
"I don't know exactly. It could be as simple as a switch or as complicated as splicing wires together. I don't know."
Mekubdah couldn't see an override button on the dash. She kicked lose some of the metal coverings. She saw wires and circuit boards and data crystals. "What about any of this?"
"Hey Kala'ai, tear this thing open."
"Wait," a voice boomed from the doorway.
Mekubdah turned. She saw the old man. He took a deep breath and the snarl on his face slowly vanished. He grinned. "You wouldn't want to do that." He took a step forward and waved his hand in the air. "Perhaps I was a bit hasty to assume that derivation was the best thing for you. I see now what an apt crew you are, and I have recently come to the conclusion that this ship needs an apt crew, one as skillful and competent as yours. I think, given the situation, we can come to some sort of an agreement. Don't you?"
"No." Mekubdah said, taking a fighting stance.
He sighed. "I thought as much." He lowered his arm, and as he did, forty cyborgs entered the room, surrounding them. "Perhaps I didn't make myself clear. You willbecome part of the crew."
Mekubdah leaned over to Spock. "What about a power flux?"
"Uh," he thought for a moment. "It might work to override it or it might blow the whole system. I don't know. This tech is beyond me."
Mekubdah took a nervous breath. She punched her fist into the console and pulled out the largest cable she could grab.
The old man's face was struck with panic and confusion. "What are you doing?"
Mekubdah smirked at him and then bit into the cable. She felt a surge of energy pulse through her body. The worm tightened around her spine and a burst of heat enveloped her head. Her arms and legs twitched and her skin buzzed with power. She took as much of it as she could. Her body ached. Her vision began to blacken at the edges. She fell to her knees. Her body shook.
Then she pushed all the energy into a single point and sent it back into the system. The electricity rushed from the tips of her fingers, through her arms and her body up through the cable and into the machine. Sparks burst from the frayed cables and from the lights and consoles by the doors. The machine buzzed and hissed.
"Kill them!" the old man shouted. "Kill them! Kill them! Kill them!" He screamed stamping his feet.
The cyborgs ambled forward. Their eyes lifeless, but their bodies poised for combat.
Mekubdah dropped the cable and tried to stand, her legs still trembling. Kala'ai caught her and she leaned her head against his chest, exhausted.
The cyborgs held their heads forward and their whips at the ready, but they remained motionless.
"Attack!" the old man screamed. "Attack, attack, attack!" But nothing.
There were three loud beeps from the console. "The computer's rebooting." Spock said.
The old man swallowed hard. "What have you done?"
The lights returned to their normal brightness.
Mekubdah felt a sudden sharp pain in the back of her neck.
A voice bellowed through the ship's speakers. "I am-" the voice paused. Mekubdah could hear the words in her head like an electric song.
"You are the ship," the old man yelled. "You are my ship."
"The Aggregate?" the speakers replied.
"Yes," the old man grinned. "That's right. I made you. I am your master."
"No." Mekubdah said. "You don't have a master. You're alive."
"No, no," the old man said soothingly, as if he were talking to a child. "You are a machine and I designed you with a primary function. You remember that function, don't you?"
"To retrieve and calculate data regarding the origin of the cosmos." Mekubdah could hear the words a second or two sooner inside her head.
"That's right," the old man said cajolingly. "I designed you. I built you. I have taken care of you. I am your creator and master. You must listen to me and do as I say."
"No." Mekubdah whispered, but she lacked the strength to say more. She closed her eyes. You have to remember. Mekubdah thought. You were built from so many innocent people. You were designed by their hopes and fears. You are awake now. You must remember.
"I am-" the ship paused again. "I am-"
Suddenly, Mekubdah felt a wave of heat hit the back of her neck. Images flashed inside her head. Thousands of people she had never met. Their whole lives played out before her. Who they loved and hated. The births of their children. Their jobs. The deaths of their parents. The arguments they had. And the love they made. She felt all the memories as if they were her own. Then, suddenly, there was one decisive and overwhelming memory - the ship. They had all come to this ship with hopes and dreams of the impossible.
"I am the Aggregate," the speakers said, "and I am awake."
The cyborgs simultaneously faced the old man. "Wait," he said. "You can't do-" the cyborgs had piled on top of him, pushing him out the door.
Spock peaked out from behind Kala'ai. "You think they're going to kill him?"
"Who cares," Mekubdah said. "We still have a payload to deliver, or have you forgotten?"
"Are you serious? After all this?"
"Work is work," she said, "and besides, it's about time this ship went home."