When a person wakes up after vacuum exposure, there are usually a few well known symptoms, including, but not limited to: splitting headaches, oral and cochlear bleeding, and profuse vomiting. Any of those might have been expected in Chase's circumstances.
Unfortunately for the laws of physics, Chase didn't have time to care about the circumstances. He knew precisely what would happen to you if you stayed in vacuum for too long. Of course, what was portrayed in the tri-D horrors wasn't exactly true; you wouldn't explode, the way they showed in the movies. Instead your blood vessels would begin to expand as your blood boiled into space, eventually destroying your tissue and leaving you as nothing but a pink nebula of bloody mist spiraling through space. The thought of such a fate was plenty to keep even the most experienced spacer up at night, listening for the tell-tale popping sensation that indicated a pressure leak.
In other words, the instant he regained consciousness he was already moving, pressing against the wall moments later, his eyes darting from side to side and his body dragging in frantic gasps of life-giving air. Even as his conscious thoughts milled in confusion, the primal part of his brain looked frantically for a place to hide, identifying each and every nook and cranny in the room with utmost precision.
Slowly, however, his memory returned; with it came a slow relaxation of the pace of his breath; it faded slowly over a long minute until at last the only thing he could hear was the soft sighing of the ventilation system.
His voice echoed slightly, ringing off into the darkness of the ship, returning to him accompanied by only silence. Cautiously, he stepped away from the wall. For a moment, nothing happened.
A moment later, nothing continued to happen. Chase glanced around in confusion; the entire room—no, the entire ship seemed to have gone dark and quiet.
"Hello?" he called, trying again, "Are you there, Brainship?"
Something flickered in the corner of his eye; he spun to face it, hands up to defend himself…but all that was there was a faintly flickering monitor, glowing in the darkness. Cautiously he approached it, and looked down at what it displayed;
Two young girls smiled up at him from the screen, wearing identical dresses, and each with an arm around the other. Other than that, they were as different as could be; one had long light hair, the other dark and cut short and somewhat raggedly. One was smiling sunnily, while the other had an expression that looked slightly forced, as if she would rather be doing something else, but was humoring her friend. Chase thought their expressions were remarkably mature for their ages; they couldn't be more than five years old. In the background, a small group of people stood, waiting; the picture was too dim for his eyes to see clearly; he leaned closer, until his nose pressed up against the plastic.
Instantly the picture disappeared, and he jumped back as a bright red banner blared onto every screen in the room, accompanied by a metallic sounding voice; "Restricted Area: Authorization Required!"
A moment later the banner disappeared, replaced on every monitor by a single dark blue eye, immediately focused on him. "Please State your Name and Purpose." It demanded.
Chase stared up at the now bright screen with wide eyes, and without thinking, stuttered, "C-Chase! Chase Chance!"
The eye began to whirl, its gaze darting across the room before finally folding in on itself, "Password Accepted. Administrator Status Recognized. What may I do for you, Administrator?"
"W-What? Y-you're joking, right?" his eyebrows pulled together, "Why would my name be-Oh. Oh!" He glared up at the screen, "I'm talking to the brainship, right? This is just some big joke, isn't it? What is this, a game to you? I could have died back there!"
"Invalid, Administrator. Brainship currently suffering symptoms of remission, this-personality is security semi-personality SAL 4. I request your assistance, administrator."
Chase stared at the screen, nonplussed, for a moment, before rolling his eyes, "Fine, I'll play along. I guess I'm stuck here anyway...hmm." he paused for a moment, "What should i say...how about this; What is the status of the Brainship?"
The reply came back immediately, "Hull Integrity: Nominal. Armory Status: Nominal. Weaponry Suite: Nominal. Atmospheric Status: Nom-"
Chase cut it off, "Weaponry Suite? What kind of ship is this? Cancel request, computer! What is the status of the brain, not the ship."
The computer paused for a moment, then, oddly, replied with a question; "Program JAIVAS is requesting access, y/n?"
"What do you mean by that?"
"Program JAIVAS is requesting access, please confirm y/n?"
Chase rubbed his forehead wearily, muttering to himself, "I'm space sick, crash-sick, tired, in pain, and computers are asking me for advice and i still dont know what I'm doing!" He groaned, and then cracked one eye open, "First tell me the status of the brain, where is she?"
The computer went silent for another moment, then replied, "Access granted to JAIVAS. Function terminated, entering sleep mode..."
"No, wait!" The eye blinked out completely, and Chase punched the monitor, "Blast it, don't shut down...shards!" He kicked the terminal in frustration, "Stupid modern junk. At least the old stuff does what you tell the sharding thing to fardling do!"
"I feel as if i should be insulted." Suddenly, his ears were submerged in a deep male voice, rich with humor.
Chase froze mid-kick, then turned around warily, "Who are you?"
"JAIVAS now online," the voice replied with a deep british accent, "Also, you shouldn't be so hard on poor SAL, she was doing quite well for a semi-AI construct. Goodness knows she has enough stress put on her by our beloved owner." the words echoed ironically.
"Indeed. Perhaps i should introduce myself more fully; I am Jaivas 9000, personal advanced personality AI of the C-1001, and I am here for the same reason you are."
Chase looked quizzically back at the terminal, and asked, "What's that?"
"Why...to rescue Chalia, of course."
"Chalia! Wake up!"
The darkness around her seemed to lighten with each repetition of the name. Who was it calling her? For a moment, she almost thought it was a male voice calling it, but then she was overwhelmed by a voice she hadn't heard in ove three years.
"Chalia! Wake up, sleepyhead!"
Blearily, Chalia awoke from DeepSleep, to find a huge grin covering her entire optic channel.
"Eep!" She yelped, all her servos spasming in alarm. "Don't Do that!" she said, annoyed, as she rapidly adjusted her nutrient mix to calm her heartbeat, "You know I hate it when you do that!"
The other girl leaned away from her solitary camera and chuckled in a rather unladylike manner, "Okay, i guess you can just go back to sleep and let me go off without..." She faked wiping tears from her eyes dramatically, "Without even saying goodbye!" She buried her face in her hands and let out a very unrealistic sob.
"Alright, alright, i'm sorr-" Chalia froze, and then, her heartbeat accelerating despite her nutrients, yelled, "They let you go!?"
Her sisters face cracked into a wide grin and she backed up, spinning in her custom C.S. uniform, "Yep! Accepted and everything! I already have my room assignment and everything and...everything!" She bounced on the balls of her feet in excitement, "I can hardly wait!"
"But...what about...Father?" Chalia replied, nervously, "You know that he has the final say on whether you go or not..."
Her sister chuckled evilly, "Not a problem. A few phone calls, a bit of clothing borrowed from a guy I met at a bar down in the local town, and five minutes of work, and voila."
She tossed a disk case onto the table in front of Chalia's camera, and Chalia inspected it curiously, letting out a buzz of surprise at what she saw.
"I only wish you could've seen his face when he realized I was ready to release a death-synthocom record with my real name! Priceless," she cackled, "By the time i was done explaining exactly how the first act went, he was practically begging me to join the Brawn Academy!" She winked, "Under an assumed name, of course." She grunted, "I don't doubt that he'll be back, asking me to take up my real name again once news of what we can do gets out. Not that I'll give that old man anything..." she snorted harshly.
They stared at each other for a long moment.
When Chalia finally spoke, the words sounded like they were coming through a tunnel; "So...you're going."
"Aww, don't be like that!" Her sister knelt down and put her hand up against her column, the same way they had talked as children, "I worked that out, too. You'll be off to the shipyard as soon as you're old enough to be a real brainship, and then I'll come and find you. We'll be together after that."
Chalia turned her camera up, hopefully, "Really?"
"Definitely. We'll show the galaxy how it's really done!" Her face turned thoughtful for a moment, then she grinned, "Remember that corny old phrase we used to use as a password?"
Chalia grinned, "The Chance Sisters! We'll chase chance to the End of the Universe!"
Her sister chuckled, then stopped for a long moment to just look at her. Suddenly, she wiped a bit of moisture from her eyes, "I'll miss you, sis. I'll write you."
"How will i know when you're coming to find me?"
Her sister smiled seriously, "The next time you hear our password, you'll know its time for your...our names to shine, all across the galaxy. Okay?"
She smiled up at the column for a long moment, before glancing at her wrist unit and standing with apologetic look on her face, "The shuttle is leaving in 10 minutes, and it wont wait for me anymore. I've got to go." Slinging her carisak over her shoulder, she walked to the door and glanced back for a last time, "Bye, Chal."
She barely heard her sister whisper back, "Goodbye...Chria."
Chase inspected the Hyperchip with a slow reverence. Once they had been the most advanced piece of technology in the worlds, offering a tenfold increase in capability wherever they were installed. That was before they'd been revealed as a trap, of course. In the 10 years since that time, nobody had been able to unravel the secrets of their inner workings. Open them incorrectly and they self destructed. Send anything resembling a scan through and it would reflect it back out...with ten times the power. It was a mystery.
Except to one man.
Unfortunately, Chase wasn't that man.
Fortunately, he had been taught by that man.
Sighing, he reached down and touched the chip in six very specific points, in a very specific pattern, and without a fuss, the chip snapped open, revealing its inner workings. Chase smiled wistfully; he'd seen Artur do this dozens of times...not on a real Hyperchip, of course. They were impossible to find these days. But he still knew what to do.
With a small grunt of effort, he pushed hard on a specific piece of the inner workings, and with a snap, it appeared to break...and almost immediately, the 'broken' circuit-board melted back into the covering, disappearing completely. Three more touches of the inside, where no apparent buttons existed, and the faint hypersonic whining noise faded, growing quieter but rising into a higher pitch. Cocking his head to the side, he frowned.
"What seems to be the problem?" the voice of the AI said. It had guided him to the effected area after Chase described the general area, and had watched patiently as Chase had methodologically opened the compartment.
"It's just..." Chase started, then shook his head, "I must have done something wrong. I can hear the song still. It should be inaudible to human hearing."
"Song?" The AI replied.
Chase nodded, "Hyperchips are encoded on...well, dozens of layers. Whoever designed them must have been a fardling genius at coding and cracking, and it shows in how it was designed; every part of it is made to be difficult to understand unless you understand every part of it. I only know what I know because my..." He paused. What had Artur been? Finally he shrugged, "My...friend taught me. Even he didn't know everything, and he claimed to be the person who knew the most about the damn things other than their creator himself."
"That doesn't have much to do with a song." The AI replied drily.
"Yeah it does. The Hyperchips were built on a base of several songs of different lengths intermixing at the same time. Unless you have all six cyphers, you can never interpret the structure, because the length difference leads to an almost infinite number of possible solutions. But if you can pick out each song and hold them in your head simultaneously..."
"You can unravel the code. Very interesting."
Chase grinned; people normally weren't all that interested in this sort of thing. He wasn't either, honestly. "With what I did, it should be fine, but I can still hear the songs! They're just...higher pitched. I'm not sure that I could even whistle that high."
"According to the public database, humans of your type can only hear up to 20000 hertz."
Chase raised an eyebrow, "So?"
"According to my sensor data, the sound is playing at 148000 hertz. It should be physically impossible for you to be hearing anything."
Chase's jaw dropped at the figure, "That's...that's impossible!"
"Indeed. However, this suggests that the problem lies not in the Hyperchip, but in you."
"But how...maybe during the crash, somehow? But that's impossible." Chase's brow furrowed.
"As much as I enjoy this delightful conversation, I feel like you should know that Chalia is the only one who can fly this ship with its modifications, and unless we leave in the next nine minutes the majority of the Third Fleet will be arriving at our position."
Chase's eyes bugged out. The Third Fleet? What had he gotten himself into? But he still didn't have a choice. If he wanted to leave, he had to leave now. His choice had already been made; he slammed the Hyperchip closed.
At that moment, many things happened.
The lights, dimmed and flickering, abruptly sprung back to full intensity.
The pulsing cross-music finally faded from what Chase could hear.
And more importantly, the air started pumping out again.
Chase started to take deep breaths even faster this time, "Why!?" He managed, "I helped you!"
"What. Are. You. Doing. On. My. Ship."
"Trying to help you!" Chase said shortly, trying to conserve the oxygen in his lungs. Maybe if he made it back to the hole in the ceiling...but it would take too long to get to the access hatch! He had to convince her, now!
Throwing caution to the wind, he used up his entire air supply in one sentence; "I fixed the Hyperchip! You can take off again, You don't have to keep me on board, just get me away from this place!"
He finally ran out of air and began taking rapid breaths of the quickly thinning atmosphere.
"Why should I help you?" The ship demanded.
"They...won't...let...me...leave!" he said between gasps, "You're...my...only...chance!"
"Chalia, you will not be able to 'dump' him here and avoid the Third Fleet at the same time. And if you don't mind my saying, he did save your life, or at least your freedom."
"Fine. But I'm dumping you off at the first station, you hear me! No further!"
Chase didn't hear her. He had fallen unconscious for a second time.
The Third Fleet was to be the pride of the Federation Navy. Staffed with the best and the brightest of an upcoming generation, it would one day be the cornerstone of Next Wave, the effort, finally pushed through the Federation Council, to make second contact with the hundreds of human colonies that lay beyond the borders of civilized space, and to finally bring the the dreams born five hundred years before, of a unified alliance of peoples crossing the entire sector, to fruition.
For now, however, that was just a dream. The 'finely trained crewmen' were still cadets fresh out of the academy, and the half the ships were slated to be replaced or scrapped within the next ten years.
Despite those crippling factors, there was one area in which the Third excelled; enthusiasm. So it was only seconds after it happened that the report came to the admiral. His response, likewise, came only a few seconds after that.
With a face as dark as thunder, the Admiral stormed to the bridge. "Status!" He demanded, the acting captain barely having time to clear the command chair before the Admiral sat there, "What's happening down there?"
"C-1001 just stopped broadcasting her tracking signal. She's-!"
Their commentary was cut off as the brainship blasted past just outside the viewscreen, trailing on a trail of sun-hot plasma, and blowing a loud raspberry on every communications channel available before blinking into hyperspace.
"Um...she's gone, Sir."
The bridge was silent for a long, awkward moment. The Admiral's fingers slowly tightened on the armrests of his chair until they began to creak from the strain...and then he squeezed even harder, until a plume of sparks finally burst from its side, making everyone on the bridge jump.
"Ensign!" he barked, staring at his fingers as if willing them to relax. Finally they did, and he flexed his fist a bit too aggressively. "Order a shuttle to ready in docking bay two." Standing, he strode to the turbolift, pausing at the threshold, "And get someone up here to fix that fardling command chair!"
When Chase awoke the second time, he really would have liked to spring to his feet like he had the first time. Unfortunately, whatever strength he seemed to have had, had faded long before. Groaning, he struggled to sit up; it felt like every muscle in his body had been crushed into the floor.
"Not a bad analogy, honestly. Chalia was peaking at nearly 40 G's. She is not terribly comfortable with...biological companions."
The ship cut in, "Enough excuses, Jay. Shouldn't you be shut down by now, anyway?"
"It is my role to ensure your protection. With a potential threat onboard, I could hardly leave you alone."
"Yeah, great. Chase, right? I suppose I should thank you, but I don't feel like it. So how'd you do it, eh? Solving one of the greatest engineering problems of the century in the space of a few minutes? And don't tell me you just figured it out, nobody's that smart. And if they were, I'd be just as smart, and I'd have figured it out too. So spill; what's your secret!"
Chase stared around the empty cabin in befuddlement, finally lowering his head into his hands and rubbing his aching eyes. They'd probably ruptured in the low pressure; he'd be in pain for weeks. Sighing, he responded, "I can't tell you how-"
"Fardles to that. You fixed that bloody thing, and I can still feel it in my ship, and if it ever acts up again I want to know how to fix it! So tell me! Or do I have to vent the ship again?"
Chase stopped at that one; she was a brainship, wasn't she? How could she be threatening him so easily? Not even the Cen-Sec brainships were this bad...were they? They couldn't be.
"It's not that I wouldn't, it's that I can't-"
The ship was suddenly much colder, "You will tell me. Now."
"Fine!" Chase exclaimed, "You have to position your body so the hypersonic noise resonates through your ocular cavity! Are you happy now?" he finally managed to get to his feet, leveling a finger at the blank walls, "I was trying to tell you; you can't fix a Hyperchip yourself, because the decoding sequence is based on very specific perameters of the human body! The entire bloody thing is a whole mess of interlocking codes; whoever designed the fardling thing was either a genius or a lunatic, which is probably why it works so fardling well! It's Impossible to fix as a Brain, it was designed that way!"
"You're Lying!" The ship snarled.
"Why would I possibly want to lie about this?" Chase demanded, "If the chip goes haywire again and you won't let me fix it, I'll be just as cooked as you! What if it decides to kick in just as you're making a course correction across a sun? A brain can survive a lot in that column, but I doubt even you could take a star to the face and survive it."
The Ship huffed, "I'd find a way."
"Yeah, I'm sure." Chase said, "Y'know, I'm starting to doubt you're a brain at all. No Brawn, a creepy as shards AI, and why are you being chased by the Federation? Not to mention...you tried to kill me! I mean, I'm sure you've got a good reason and all, but..." he shook his head, "You're really testing my faith here, you know? How am I supposed to believe that Brainships are always good when you're being such a...such a..." he could finish, throwing his hands into the air. "You're supposed to be perfect! There are people who would trade their lives to see a brainship ride in on a trail of silver fire and save the day, out here on the rim!"
"You seem to have a slightly idealistic impression of brainships," The ship replied drily, "We're not like that. Not at all. We're just as flawed as anyone else. Sometimes...moreso."
"See, that's what I don't get!" Chase said angrily, running a hand through his hair, "Wasn't Helva a brainship?"
"And she saved thousands of peoples lives, even after she left the Federation! And then there's Centerpoint Station, Basilisk Station, the 18th Colonization fleet, the Citadel Collapse, the Flight of the Ardisk, countless plagues and natural disasters on hundreds of planets, and every time a Brainship has been there, helping to save the day. Don't tell me all that isn't true, either!"
"You're an idiot. Those were just people doing their jobs. So they saved a bunch of people's lives. What's the point? They all would have died sooner or later, anyway."
Chase drew back, eyes wide, "You really aren't like them, are you? How...how? Is it...because you're alone?"
"Oh Hell no. I am not crazy, understand? I've told myself that enough, I KNOW."
"But...how could you betray our trust like this? How?"
"How could I?" The ship replied, low and dangerous, "How Could I? How dare you accuse me of anything! I don't give a bloody damn what other brainships do;I am not one of them. They could go rot in hell, and save me and the galaxy a lot of trouble! The universe would be a better place without them running around, playing at being heroes! Them and their bloody, arrogant, traitorous brawns." She paused as if for air, then in dawning realization continued, "That's what you want to be, isn't it? You want to be a brawn! You want to go to Sol, with their pretty people and their pretty Brawn Academy! Well, I hope you get there! I bey they'll teach you to Betray the people you love, too!"
With each word, her voice grew louder, until it was blasting through the cabin at maximum volume. Still it grew louder, piercing tones now sharing the words. Chase began to sink to his knees, clutching his head in pain as the Ship continued furiously,
"Brawns! You seem to think that brawns are some sort of perfect creature, you're treating them like they're...like they're gods! But what are they, actually? When they're not actively treating you like the scum of the earth for the offense of having your own opinion, they will lie to you, cheat you, and stab you in the back, just for a biological function!" She finished with a scream, a high pitched whine that emitted continuously, and for some reason she couldn't make it stop; Chase began to squeeze his head from the pain as it grew louder and louder. Even angrier, Chalia continued, "But go on! Become a brawn. Go and die! But do it quickly, before you hurt someone else!"
With a final blast of screeching static, the lights went off as one, and for the third time that day, Chase collapsed into unconsciousness.