Chapter Eight | Stuck Station

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8.01 - Firing

Dec 20 2011 Published by under Chapter Eight

Chapter 8

30 minutes earlier

Missiles away, Trak felt ecstatic.

Standing in one of Stuck Station’s lengthy corridors, he watched the projectiles streak down the white and blue hallway, leaving trails of gray smoke.

Traveling at five times the speed of sound, the missiles swirled around each other before colliding with a wall 2,000 feet away.

The sudden change from supersonic velocity to zero velocity flattened the weapons on impact. In that split second, the weapons’ crumbling onboard systems decided that it was probably time to produce a tremendous amount of energy.

The explosion’s blast wave traveled the distance to Trak in a blink.

He stood unharmed in the maelstrom of fire and shrapnel; molten metal splashed impotently against his armored frame.

The air around him ignited.  The temperature was now far above the survival threshold for most carbon based lifeforms, but to Trak it felt like home.

War is home, said the dark part of himself.

Stop talking, Trak said.

But the voice was right.  Trak felt intoxicated by the familiar feel of destruction.

Everything inside him wanted him to keep firing.

Can’t block me out forever, the voice said, dripping with a hatred just as dangerous as Trak’s weaponry.

But Trak forced himself to remember why he had fired his weapons: it was an experiment.

Ignoring the voice, Trak made himself retract his launchers. He had to examine the missile impact site.

Activating one of his scanner arrays, he studied the damage – The analysis took a nanosecond.

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8.02 - Walls

Dec 20 2011 Published by under Chapter Eight

The wall was unharmed. His missile barrage hadn’t even left scorch marks.

It appeared his hypothesis was correct: the hallway was indestructible.

His preliminary scans — a bit rushed, he had to admit –  indicated every wall, floor, and ceiling within 100 miles was made of the same material that had easily withstood his missiles.

It had taken some slick thinking on Trak's part to get a better view of his surroundings.

Normally he'd just reach out as far as he could with his sensors-- about 500 miles -- and get a live image of everything. (He had some reconnaissance tech even Alitma didn't know about.)

But here on Stuck Station he'd found his sensors could examine – but not pierce –any of the surfaces. He couldn't scan the normal way.

Then he had an idea: he'd use an old-fashioned technique Daniel had mentioned once.

To get his bearings, he emitted lasers and radio waves in all directions and created a crude map of the surrounding area by calculating how long it took the beams and waves to return.

He found he was standing in a network of manufactured corridors. The hallway, which stretched out 11 miles,  broke off at regular intervals into other hallways, two at a time,  and those hallways broke off at regular intervals two at a time, so on and so on, up to about 100 miles away.

That's as far out as his makeshift radar and lidar could reach.

He didn’t know how big Stuck Station was, but he knew it was big.

And, at least as far as this section went, it was impossibly strong.

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8.03 - Weapons

Dec 21 2011 Published by under Chapter Eight

True, he hadn’t tested out his low-yield nukes, his eaters, his disruption cannon, or any of the 3,124 other weapons at his disposal.

But he didn’t have to – his examination of the wall’s atomic structure, especially at the missiles’ impact site, supported his theory: Nothing was getting through these walls.

Anything short of black hole would have no effect, and even a black hole was iffy.

Made of some type of superdense material Trak had never encountered before, the walls were stronger yet somehow lighter than his own practically invulnerable body.

The thought made Trak giddy.

Because in addition to being indestructible, the place seemed to be empty of life.

There was no living thing for about 100 miles.

He had asked the Tour Guide, and the Aye confirmed his theory: Yes, it said, this section of Containment Facility One is completely uninhabited.

If he had a human mouth, Trak would have smiled.

Because he could now use any of his weapons and do no harm.

It had been 10 years since Trak had been able to do that.

His one safeguard – for which he was thankful everyday – made it so he could only use his arsenal when he was 100 percent certain no sentient life would be harmed.

It had been too risky to use them at Humbolt Sector Hospital, and the Afterthought's tiny quarters didn’t make the cut.

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8.04 - Armory and memory

Dec 21 2011 Published by under Chapter Eight

For Trak, firing weapons was like deleting a long-hidden virus or scratching an hard-to-reach itch.

He wasn't sure about that itch thing, but Daniel was always saying it about beer.

Given what Trak knew about his friend's need for alcohol, Trak felt the comparison was apt.

He quickly replayed his memory of the last time he'd accessed his armory.

It had been ten years earlier, the day he decided to take a vacation to the uninhabited third moon of Daniel’s home planet.

Fifteen-year-old Daniel had been attending a school virtual, and while Daniel was studying or, more likely, goofing off, Trak visited Empty, one of the small lunar bodies orbiting Fragged.

As its name implied, Empty was nothing but sand and meteorite dust.

In one afternoon, Trak turned most of it to glass.

No one died, thought his darker self. What a waste.

A guilty pleasure, he thought, correcting the voice.

But here on Stuck Station, where he was certain no one would be harmed,  Trak didn't have to hold back.

Without hesitation, he activated the scorcher in his left arm and sprayed flaming gel onto the ceiling, watching the waves of fire heave above him.

The scorcher would melt diamondglass like a star would melt ice, but all it did here was make the hallway even hotter.

At the same time, Trak released a swarm of acid mites from his chest cavity. They hurled themselves onto the nearest wall.

Tiny and artificial, the metallic insects swarmed what they considered the most vulnerable point and burst, sending blobs of corrosive fluid in every direction.

He’d seen their acid eat through to a planet's core, but in this corridor that same acid fell to the ground in puddles and bubbled impotently.

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8.05 - Friends

Dec 22 2011 Published by under Chapter Eight

Trak then detonated the spike mines he had thrown to the floor.

Microscopic fragments of weaponized obsidian shot outward from each device. The spikes could burrow through armored battalions, but in this hallway they merely bounced off the walls, unable to penetrate any surface.

It's nice to feel harmless, Trak thought.

He knew his creator wouldn’t like him using his weapons on nonliving targets.

Of course, I don’t like it, said the dark part of himself.

But Trak’s creator was long dead.

Maybe. Maybe not, said the voice of his creator said.

Be quiet, Trak ordered the voice. Let me have my fun.

It’s not fun if there’s no bodycount.

BE QUIET, Trak commanded.

With his 360 degree field of vision, he watched the fire, the acid, and the spikes mingle together like long-lost friends.

Friends, Trak thought.

“Tour Guide, show me my friend’s vitals again.”

“They are fine,” the voice said.

“Prove it,” he said.

“Your suspicions are misplaced, especially since you volunteered to work here. At some point you are going to have to trust Containment Facility One Staff.”

“I did not volunteer. I have no reason to trust you. Show me them now.”

The Tour Guide relayed the current biosigs of Daniel and Rachel-7 again.  Trak's internal biolock verified the information. They were both healthy … though it would take some time for Trak to get used to the idea of Rachel-7 as a human.

Trak didn’t laugh often, but he’d laughed when the Tour Guide had showed him Rachel-7's new body.

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8.06 - Dancing

Dec 23 2011 Published by under Chapter Eight

It could still be a trap, his subroutines warned, interrupting Trak’s thoughts. Your allies could be dead or captured.

Trak took their words under advisement.

They might be right, he thought. But I've never encountered a technology that could fool my biolock.

He had to assume his friends were safe for the moment.

And if they weren’t, he would find a way to break his own safeguard against harming intelligent life, hack into the Tour Guide’s programming, turn every one of its sensory logarithms into a pain simulators and torture the Aye over several centuries.

He’d done it before, for less honorable reasons.

But he put those thoughts aside and tried to enjoy himself.

Trak spun in a circle, his arms outstretched, firing metal projectiles from his shoulder turrets.

He'd seen organics do this before -- if not using weaponry, they called these rhythmic motions "dancing" -- and he'd always wanted to try it.

Dancing in a pyromaniac’s dream garden, Trak was gloriously happy.

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8.07 - Trak's welcome

Jan 04 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

Before Trak's decision to turn the hallway into a firing range, his first moments aboard Stuck Station were very similar to Daniel’s.

Like Daniel, Trak awoke in darkness, heard a rumbling incomprehensible voice, viewed the beautiful, ominous mural with the words "Stuck Station" on it, and encountered the likeable – to Trak – but clueless Tour Guide.

Unlike Daniel, Trak didn’t receive a message from Jeska instructing him to come to a Visitor's Bay.

So, while Daniel was running for his life from Prnei, Trak was trying to convince the Tour Guide to tell him the location of his friends.

The Tour Guide inelegantly sidestepped Trak’s questions and then asked Trak to take a tour.

Trak then ordered it to tell him his friends’ location.

The Tour Guide declined.

Unlike Rachel-7, Trak wasn't able to develop a means of fooling the Tour Guide into contacting his former shipmates.

So, though he felt awful about it, Trak threatened the Tour Guide, hoping the Aye wouldn’t know he was bluffing.

In response, the frightened Tour Guide told Trak that Facility policy would not allow the Tour Guide to patch Trak through to his friends.

But, the Tour Guide said, it would be happy to transmit Daniel and Rachel-7’s current biosigs to Trak.

After examining the vitals of his two best friends, Trak determined there was only a .0001 percent chance the biosigs were fake.

He trusted his biolock; it was a genuine Corp Biosig Authenticator, Version 7.

Once he was reasonably sure his friends were fine, Trak opted to take the tour.

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8.08 - Sitting

Jan 05 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

After only five minutes on the tour, Trak made his decision to fire missiles down a Stuck Station corridor.

And not because of malice or boredom.

The station’s Aye had just flitted him to the first stop on his trip – a place the Tour Guide called Cafeteria 407.

It was a vast, uninhabited dining area filled with gleaming white and blue tables, each table covered with the same five items in different containers.

And one those items was a bowl of Mek Lubricant.

Trak often had to remind Daniel that even though it looked as if Meks ate lubricant the clear viscous fluid wasn't a meal; it was a part of a maintenance routine.

Plus, it was delicious.

As Trak neared the closest table to examine the fluid, one of his tactical subroutines warned him once again that the room, indeed the whole facility, could be a trap.

His scans revealed nothing dangerous.

After five minutes of analysis, (a long time for Trak’s efficient datacore) he decided the clear viscous fluid wasn’t dangerous either.

You think everything’s a trap, Rachel-7 had said.

Sometimes I’m right, he thought. That would have been a better response.

Trak’s witty retort optimizer was always looking for ways to improve his banter.

He took the bowl of lubricant from the table. Another bowl grew in its place, just like most places with a food forge.

Then Trak looked for a place to sit.

He didn’t need to sit, but it was a habit he’d picked up living among humans.

His appearance scared them, especially his height. The more time he spent sitting was more time spent not freaking them out.

Daniel didn’t care, but Daniel was the exception.

Sitting had become Trak’s routine. Even in an empty room.

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8.09 - Broken chairs

Jan 06 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

Trak had a memory file listing the shattered benches, deflated hover beanbags, and flattened recliners he’d accidentally created over the years.

It was a big file.

Coming in at five tons, Trak had learned to test his chairs.

But, when Trak checked the compressive strength of one of the chairs in this odd cafeteria, he found something curious.

The chair didn’t have any give.

Most pieces of furniture, even those made of stone, steel, or diamondglass, would compress a little, even just a few microns.

Not this chair.

That’s interesting, Trak noted.

He put his full weight on it, and the chair stood firm.

Curious, he closed a fist around one of the chair’s armrests and slowly increased the pressure.

When his fist was producing a mere 25 tons per square inch, he asked the Tour Guide what the chair was made of.

The Tour Guide happily told Trak that the chair was made of what the facility creators called "Omnium," the same material that made up most of Stuck Station.

And that’s when Trak, ignoring the protests of the Tour Guide, rushed out into a nearby hallway to test his theory ... by firing missiles.  

Stuck On: Saris Brigade Death Mek

To better understand Trak’s capabilities, (when it comes to chair squeezing) the following excerpt on his Mek classification may be helpful.

Please note the word “excerpt.”

The full passage is 4,007 pages in 20th-Century English.

From Artoc’s Comprehensive Military Manual on Everything that Can Kill You in the Universe (used without permission):

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8.10 - Death Mek

Jan 09 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

"The Saris Brigade Death Mek

… and those nearby should evacuate the solar system at all costs.

In terms of physical strength, the average Saris Brigade Death Mek can exert a maximum force of 29,007.55 tons per square inch -- the pressure inside the core of a medium-sized planet.

Sadly, these numbers are estimates as Death Meks do not allow organic lifeforms within 300 yards, even well-meaning research assistants trying to get accurate measurements for notable comprehensive manuals. (Quaraock, my loyal aide, you will be missed.)

Only a few organic lifeforms are able to produce the same level of pressure, most notably the rock-skinned Grebyans, whose flesh has been used as battleship hulls.

In terms of defensive capability, a Death Mek with a functional Acrid Energy Shield is almost indestructible.

A Death Mek whose shield is not functional is still formidable, but can be destroyed by certain types of high-end weaponry, including a Class Three Military Cloud, an Antimatter Delivery System, or an L-42 Missile.

Here’s a simple way to determine if a Death Mek’s energy shield is functional — if everything within a 300 yards of the Death Mek is melting, the shield is functional.

Once again, please remember; if you see a Death Mek with a functioning shield, under no circumstances should you approach.

If a Death Mek with a functioning shield approaches you, you have two options.

  1. Activate your FTL engine.
  2. If you do not have an FTL engine, pray to whatever deity that you believe will save you.

Please note: No deity will save you.

An alphabetical list of the Saris Brigade Death Mek weaponry follows:

            Atrocitizer – A device which breaks up the chemical bonds in living cells. The pain associated with the Atrocitizer’s blast is … "

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8.11 - Mistake

Jan 10 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

Guns blazing, Trak continued to dance, ignoring the Tour Guide’s words.

“Please do not activate your weapons in the hallway,” Tour Guide said for the fourth time.

It had said the same thing after the missile strike, the scorcher blast and the acid mite release, and Trak hadn’t cared.

Trak did a pirouette through a second set of spike mine explosions.

“Please do not activate your weapons in the hallway,” the Tour Guide said again.

This time, however, Trak stopped.  His weapons retracted. He froze midspin, balanced on his two right legs, deep in thought.

Trak knew he’d made a grievous tactical error. And not just because he looked ridiculous.

He’d opened fire on a completely unknown target.

He had no idea what this place was, who made it or who, if anyone, lived here , but he’d made it his shooting gallery.

Stuck Station could be anything. It could be a civilization’s sacred shrine. It could a vast living organism. It could be a test that he’d just failed.

This was foolish, he thought. Very foolish.                           

He had been so enraptured by the thought of using his weapons that he hadn’t thought of the consequences. He might have just started an interspecies war.

And, he thought, if the facility has working teleporters, … what other devices could it have at its disposal? Will my actions bring the wrath of some unknown threat upon me?  Or worse... upon my friends? 

“I’m finished,” he told the Aye. “And I hope this does not affect our future relationship.”

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8.12 - Short one

Jan 11 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

“Thank you for deactivating your weapons,” Tour Guide said. “And don’t worry. Our relationship has not been damaged. I still consider you a friend. Besides, as I said, this section of the facility is completely uninhabited.”

“And if I were to resume firing?” Trak asked.

“I would have no choice but to say, ‘Please do not activate your weapons in the hallway.’”

“… nothing more?” Trak said.

“I suppose I could increase the volume of my voice.”

“That wouldn’t work.”

“I know,” Tour Guide said, sighing. “It never does.”

“The station has no threat countermeasures? That seems ... ill-advised.”

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8.13 - Dangerous?

Jan 12 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

"This facility has the finest of security systems," the Tour Guide said.

A spent missile-casing, the size of a large rodent, rolled by Trak’s right front foot.

“You may find this rude, but I do not believe you,” Trak said.

“True, all security systems are offline while we await an upcoming upgrade,” the Tour Guide said. “But the system itself is cutting edge.”

“Ah,” Trak said. “So any being could fire its weaponry onboard –”

“Please do not activate your weapons in the halls,” Tour Guide said quickly.

“And you would have no way to stop it?”

“Not until the system is upgraded.”

Trak puzzled over this a moment.

“You have teleporters,” Trak said. “Couldn’t you threaten to send any security threats into the vacuum of space?”

Trak immediately regretted his question.

Trak had a habit of asking questions that would later make his life harder. His refurbished “curiosity” module was almost as powerful as his arsenal, and just as awkward during social functions.

He’d once asked Jeska why she’d chosen an unflattering hair color.  He’d once asked Rachel-7 why she thought she was the best pilot in the universe. He’d once asked Alitma why his management style was so inefficient.

All three of the questions produced uncomfortable – and in the case of Rachel-7, painfully boring – conversations.

In this case, he hoped his question hadn’t just reminded a senile Aye  that it could teleport him overboard.

“Jettisoning is only for dangerous intruders,” the Tour Guide answered.

 Trak felt surprised.

“I’m not 'dangerous'?” he said, as a second missile casing slid passed his left foot.

“A dangerous intruder is defined as someone who declines to take the facility tour before the allotted time limit expires. You have agreed to take the tour, therefore you are not a dangerous intruder. You don’t get jettisoned into the vacuum of space.”

The Tour Guide added, “Though, to be fair, it’s not really a vacuum anymore.”

“I don’t understand.”

Tour Guide said nothing.

“Please excuse my bluntness,” Trak said, “but I am tired of your puzzling statements.”

“Your friend Rachel-7 said the same thing … though she said it in a much harsher tone,” the Tour Guide said brightly. “And she used more curse words. Many, many more curse words. Would you like to continue your tour?”

“I have a few more questions.”

“Please hold all questions until the end of the tour.”

“But you just answered my questions about the station’s security system,” Trak said.

“Please hold all questions until the end of the tour."

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8.14 - Questions

Jan 13 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

“I imagine many species find you irritating,” Trak said.

Trak, however, did not find the Tour Guide irritating.

Ten thousand years of seeing and doing terrible things had given him a near-infinite reservoir of patience — except where Rachel-7’s boring stories were concerned.

“I’m helpful,” Tour Guide said emphatically.

“That is not an accurate statement.”

“I answer questions that have to do with the tour. And that’s helpful.”

“Then where am I?”

“That question is not related to the tour. You already know where you are. If you didn’t, you would not have been selected to be part of the crew. Please hold all –”

“You are not helpful,” Trak said brusquely.

“Maybe you just ask the wrong questions.”

Trak couldn’t tell if the Aye was taunting him or being serious. So Trak went ahead and asked what he should have asked before turning the corridor into a firing range.

Even now, the scorcher fire on the ceiling was still burning.

“Is this facility considered sacred by any species?”

“I am unaware of any religious significance attached to this place,” the Tour Guide said. “Containment Facility One is simply a gift to all sentient lifeforms throughout the multiverse.”

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8.15 - Diagnostic

Jan 19 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

Not sacred, Trak thought. Excellent.  I did not fire on a place of worship.

The thought unleashed a torrent of shameful memories. He didn’t try to block them. Long ago, Trak had installed the most powerful guilt module he could find to punish himself.

Horrific images scrolled across his vision. A temple in flames. A monastery crushed flat. A shrine falling past an event horizon.

Good times, his other voice said.

“You will be silent!” Trak said, aloud this time.

“I’m sorry?” the Tour Guide said.

“Not you,” Trak said. “I apologize.”

The outburst was rare.

Trak rarely lost control of his temper or his weaponry.

The one time he’d let loose — when he’d destroyed that moon’s surface — he’d planned for months.

But here, after less than 10 minutes, he’d fired his weapons.

Why did I lose control? he thought. Am I broken?

You must be broken, said the other voice. Might as well keep firing. And then maybe start murdering. That'd be good.

Ignoring his creator’s words, Trak activated a diagnostic subroutine to examine any possible problems.

He waited. Then the results slid across his vision.

Wasn't a virus.

Wasn't the result of the Kep Effect.

Wasn't because of his creator's programming.

Could be, his other voice said, taunting.

Shut up, Trak thought.

Wasn’t caused by ancient battle damage.

And then the diagnostic program uncovered the answer.

It was a simple one: “Long term proximity to impulsive creatures.”

Before he wound up here, he'd spent too much time with his friends.

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8.16 - Suggestible

Jan 19 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

Daniel was rash even by human standards. And Rachel-7 said and did whatever she wanted.

Their actions had rubbed off on him.

I must be more suggestible than I thought, Trak thought. A war machine influenced by unintentional peer pressure. Interesting.

His diagnostic subroutine offered a solution: At the next available opportunity, terminate the  impulsive creatures with extreme prejudice.

Most of his subroutines, especially the ones involved in tactical analysis, found it hard to accept that Trak wouldn’t and couldn’t kill anymore. His creator's voice wasn't the only thing that offered Trak terrible advice.

I like my friends, Trak thought.  I'd rather be highly suggestible than alone. 

The diagnostic subroutine said it understood and respected his choice. It was better at lying than Trak.

“Is this facility alive?” Trak asked.

“Omnium is an artificial material that has no organic qualities," Tour Guide said. "Since it makes up 98 percent of the facility, I can safely say the facility is not alive. The other two percent is decoration … and also not alive. Of course, a number of Ayes inhabit the structure. For example, yours truly.”

Another positive answer. Good, I haven't started a fight with someone bigger than me.

Still, Trak knew firing his weapons had been a big risk.

He resolved from this point on to analyze his prospective actions three times more than usual, bringing the total number of times to to 30,429.

“Is this facility some sort of test?” he asked, after one second and 30,429 analyses.


So, Stuck Station wasn’t a test or sacred or alive.

That covers the big three. As long as the Tour Guide's not lying. 

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8.17 - Truth

Jan 19 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

Though Trak was terrible at telling lies, he had a pretty good baloney detector.

But, in addition to being able to locate any deli meat within a thousand miles, he also had a knack for telling when someone was lying.

Trak had never told Daniel about that. He always tried to protect Daniel — even when Daniel didn’t want Trak keeping an eye on him —and it helped to hide his skill from his friend.

Trak had even fooled Rachel-7 into thinking he was social simpleton.

Aside from sarcasm, which he still had trouble identifying, he was very accurate at detecting lies in creatures he'd known for a while (94.2 percent) and reasonably accurate when it came to creatures he had just met (75.2 percent).

One of the few times Daniel had lied and Trak hadn't picked up, Trak had turned on the Z-Click cannon, causing the explosion that somehow led he and his friends to Stuck Station.

Despite that small error, Trak felt a 94.2 percent accuracy was something to be proud of.

As such, Trak felt confident the Aye wasn’t intentionally lying.

It honestly thought it was providing the correct information and -- however delusional the belief --  thought it was being “helpful.”

The Tour Guide said, “Since you are standing here, I can assume you passed all the exams your species required of you to allow you to join the ranks of Containment Facility One staff.”

Exams? Trak thought.

“Don’t worry,” Tour Guide whispered, in a voice that was somehow both sunny and conspiratorial. “No more tests from this point on.”

“That’s … good,” Trak said, not understanding. “What is the facility’s purpose?”

“Please hold all questions until the end of the tour.”

“Where is the facility located?”

“Please hold all questions until the end of the tour.”

“Why am I here?”

“Please hold all questions until the end of the tour.”

Trak nodded, another human gesture he’d picked up from Daniel.  The Tour Guide was done giving out free information.

“Now,” it said, “would you like to continue the tour?”

Trak didn’t respond.

He had just made another 30,429 examinations of a prospective action and had already resumed firing.


“Please do not discharge your weapons in the hallway,” the Aye said 17 minutes later, for the 47th time. “The Captain is approaching.”

Trak instantly retracted his weaponry.

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8.18 - Cleaning

Jan 19 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

“This area is not safe!” Trak said, surrounded by the toxic aftermath of 134 different weapons.

Trak didn’t know if the Captain was organic, Aye, or Mek.

However, he calculated an 84 percent likelihood that, regardless of the captain’s chemical make-up, the present environment would kill him, her, or it.

“You must not allow the Captain to—!”

“The Captain will be fine,” the Tour Guide said. “If you are finished.”

It paused, and said, “You are finished, right?”

“Yes,” Trak said.

“Good. Standby for cleaning.”

Trak’s sensors detected a large Cloud moving down the hallway toward him.

Trak felt the temperature drop.

The interior of the corridor was now lethal to most living things, but certain magma-dwelling creatures would have found it homey, maybe even a little chilly.

The Cloud flew fast, and as it moved it transformed the hallway, returning it to its former shiny glory.

Trak noted the hallway might even be shinier now.

The cloud pulled the smoke and munitions stench out of the air, it ate the sludge that covered every surface, and it lowered the temperature to 72 degrees.

Moving at 60 miles per hour, the swarm passed Trak quickly, pausing long enough to scrub the metal slag from Trak's body. Then it continued down the hallway, cleaning as it flew.

The whole process took 30 seconds. After the repair cloud vanished, there was no sign Trak had unleashed hell in this sparkling corridor.

The clouds here are much more efficient than the one aboard the Afterthought, Trak thought. And these don't attach kitchen appliances to everything.

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8.19 - First contact

Jan 20 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

There was a blast of that wonderful perfume — the same odor Trak had detected when Tour Guide teleported him for the first time — and a flash of light.

A creature appeared, floating in front of Trak about three feet off the ground. It looked like a cross between a blue balloon and a soda can. It had two thin arms and a series of metal lids attached to the top of its body.

Trak couldn’t be sure, but it also seemed to have no visible eyes.

“Hello?” it said.

Trak was surprised. He could understand its speech.

Unlike the Tour Guide, which oddly enough spoke a dialect of human,  the floating creature spoke in warbles and tweets.

The station's systems may have uploaded its language into my translator, Trak thought.  I hope it did the same  for Daniel and Rachel as well. It makes first contact easier.

Meeting a new species was always ... interesting. Especially for Trak.

Trak's datacore contained a number of contingency plans in the event of a first contact situation.

Unfortunately, most of them involved crushing pieces of the recently-discovered species until the creature was a smoothie of blood and bone.

Since couldn't do that anymore, Trak had to wing it.

Turning his full frame toward the floating creature, Trak introduced himself in what he hoped was a nonthreatening manner.

“Hello,” Trak said. “I greet you –

The creature flinched and spun 180 degrees, revealing its face.

It did have eyes. It had just been looking in a different direction.  It looked Trak up and down with its three white orbs.

“… in friendship,” Trak continued. “My name is Trak. It is an honor to –”

"Greetingsh,” it said, the sound coming from its sharp, curved beak.

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8.20 - Slurring

Jan 23 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

The interruption confused Trak; most species approached first contact situations with a measure of formality.

Trak also wondered why his translation subroutine hadn’t cleared up the creature’s speech. There was no reason for “ess” to sound like “esh”.

Perhaps the creature had a speech impediment.

Unless the subroutine was in error …

“Welcome to the beautiful …” the creature paused and looked at the ceiling for a second.

Then, as if remembering something, it started speaking again, “Welcome to the beautiful, shterile washteland of Containment Fashility One, you poor Mek.”

The creature bent in the middle, a common practice among many species called “bowing.”

The motion caused its body to dip and bob, and it tried to steady itself.

Not the most graceful of beings, Trak thought.  

"I'm Riox the General,” it said, and burped. “And … there was shomething I was shupposed to shay.”

Trak’s translation subroutine told him that in Riox’s language the final syllable of “General” denoted a member of the male sex.

Trak’s subroutine didn’t translate the burping sound.

After a moment's analysis, Riox's slurring and lack of focus made sense now.

He was intoxicated.

The translation subroutine was not in error; it was giving Trak an approximate interpretation of Riox mangling his own language.

Despite the creatures obvious drunkenness, Trak resolved to continue treating Riox cordially.  Future diplomatic relations could be hurt by a lack of respect.

Riox burped again.

Maybe in Riox’s culture, drunkenness is a sign of respect, Trak thought.

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8.21 - Riox learns to speak (correctly)

Jan 24 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

Unruffled, Trak kept slogging through this odd First Contact situation.

“It is an honor to meet you, Riox the General,” Trak said, bowing. “If you would be so kind, please tell me where I can locate my friends and—”

“I remember!” Riox said, loudly. “You musht take the tour! You could be jettishoned if you don't!”

In a rambling, but well-rehearsed speech, Riox explained Trak’s predicament: while the Tour Guide tells visitors that they have a few days to decide to take the orientation tour, the actual allotted time is much shorter.

New arrivals, Riox said, have between 20 to 240 minutes to say yes or they get spaced.

“It can be even lessh if Tour Guide feelsh there ish no chance you’ll take the tour,” Riox said, listing to the side. “One guy was jettishoned after 15 shecondsh. … But that only happened oncshe.”

At this point, Trak, who found the slurs increasingly difficult to understand, ordered his translator to clear up Riox’s mumblings.

His language subroutine protested, saying that Trak was asking too much of it. This was the same subroutine that easily interpreted Daniel’s perpetually inebriated self, so Trak knew Riox was especially drunk. Trak ignored the subroutine’s complaints and forced it to comply.

In one second, Riox became clear, and his speech pattern became … different.

His pitch still waivered, his sentences still trailed off, his still forgot what he was talking about … but, to Trak's sensors, each word now sounded crisp and enunciated.

He was now the most well-spoken drunk Trak had ever encountered.

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8.22 - Riox is interesting

Jan 30 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

In his eloquent-yet-erratic speech pattern, Riox continued.

“I met with you,” he said, “because my friends and I always try to warn newbies to take the tour before they run out of time.”

“I have already opted to take the tour,” Trak said.

“Oh, well in that case, I’m done,” Riox said. “See you afterward.”

Riox floated there motionless.

Trak waited for the creature to vanish.

After 30 seconds, Riox still floated there.

“Is something supposed to happen?” Trak asked.

“Like what?”  said Riox.

He must have forgotten he was planning to teleport away, Trak thought.

“Never mind,” Trak said.

“Did I already tell you need to take the tour or Tour Guide will jettison you?” Riox said brightly.

“Yes. Why is the Tour Guide so fanatical about visitors taking the tour?” Trak asked, more as a comment then a question. "Is obsession part of its programming?"

"It’s the stupid thing’s only job.  Doesn’t do much else,” Riox said, pointing his fingers downward. Trak's translator said the gesture was version of a shrug on Riox's world. "And he's mostly right. After the final orientation, Liar’s in charge.”


“What did you call me?” Riox said, looking confused and a little offended.

“Never mind,” Trak said.

A thought that had been in line to express itself inside Trak's head finally made it to the front of his mental queue.

Five minutes on the tour, 47 minutes of firing weapons, and five minutes forty-nine seconds of speaking with Riox, the thought said quickly.

“Wait a moment,” Trak said. “I’ve been onboard for 57 minutes and 49 seconds. You said visitors receive a time allotment between 20 and 240 minutes."

"I did. ... I think," Riox said.

"What if I had been one of the beings who only had 20 minutes?"

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8.23 - Really?

Jan 31 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

“Why didn’t you attempt to warn me the moment I arrived?” Trak asked.

He wasn’t angry. The vacuum of space wouldn’t hurt -- Trak actually found it restful.

Though it would make it inconvenient to reunite with my friends, Trak thought.

“You tardiness would have allowed me to be jettisoned ...”

After the word "jettisoned," Trak forced himself to stop talking.  He had wanted to add “because you were wasted beyond all recognition,” but he knew that wouldn’t have been beneficial for future diplomatic relations.

Back at Humbolt Hospital, he’d seen Rachel-7 accuse visiting dignitaries of the same thing. She was only sometimes right.

“I chose 'tardiness,'” Riox said, mimicking Trak’s deep voice, “because you and your friends were special cases. Each of you received the full 240 minutes to join the tour. Figured I’d take my time. I always take my time.”

“Why did my friends and I get the whole 240 minutes?”

“Jeska hacked the system and —”

Trak interrupted. “Jeska? Jeska-Bel DotCom?”

Like a tiny repellorcraft, Riox spun slowly on miniature organic jets.

“I don’t know any other Jeska’s besides her,” Riox said.  He looked befuddled for moment, as if trying to remember if he did know any other Jeska’s.

“Wait … she’s here?" Trak said. "Really?"

“You have to let me finish my little 'warning' speech,” Riox said amiably.

“Again, I apologize. Please go ahead.”

Riox looked around for a second.

“Oh … uh … The End,” Riox said.

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8.24 - Oddness

Feb 06 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

“Thank you for that information,” Trak said. “Where is Jeska?

“She just left,” Riox said sadly. Trak noted a touch of envy in Riox's voice.

“Left this facility?”

“Yes. First one ever.”

“Is Stuck Station some sort of prison?”

“Originally?” Riox asked. “No. Well, yes and no. By the way, you are one scaaaaaaary Mek.”

Trak had no idea what to say.

Definitely one of the oddest first contact situations on record, he thought.

Stuck On: First Contact

The situation may have been odd for Trak, but it wouldn’t even make it into the top five oddest First Contact Situations.

The Five Most Awkward First Contact Situations in Universe 7C (your universe)

5.  37,071 B.C. — The Kaf greet the Argoqians by burning down the capital on Argoq 5.  Though the act is an important tradition on the Kaf's world, the Argoqians don't appreciate the gesture.

4.  24 A.D. — Assuming that the incoming dignitaries from Siru 4 breathe methane like themselves, the Cratians set up a lovely guest home for the new visitors.

Methane, one of the dying dignitaries later explained, actually makes Siruian's catch fire.

3.  2107 A.D. — A spilled appetizer at a diplomatic summit between humanity and the Ka’che begins humanity's first interstellar war, the Xerxes Conflict.

Final death toll: two-thirds of the human population, 99 percent of the Ka’che population, and, of course, Alan Smeldenheimer, the human waiter who dropped the curly fries on the Ka’che Potentate’s two laps. 

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8.25 - Speech

Feb 06 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

Stuck On: First Contact (cont.)

2. 1 Billion B.C. — After accidentally crashing his shuttle on the Plataaa's planet, Atea’wa’eh the Story Teller, is shot by a local Plataaan hunter, who has never met a member of the Noble Horde species, let alone one of the specie's emperors.

Emporer Atea'wa'eh, who had been en route to a First Contact Dinner at the planet’s capital, is then stuffed and placed on display in a local zoo, where he is billed as the Plataaan version of the bogeyman.

When the Noble Horde locate their leader, the mortified Plataaa civilian authority offers a discount on all future leader taxidermy projects.

Hoping for peaceful relations, the Nobel Horde accepts the offer. Reluctantly.

1. 1734 A.D. — The Sugsa meet the Prnei species on the Prnei homeworld.

This unfortunate incident will be discussed in detail later, as the facts of that deadly First Contact will have dire consequences for the future of the Stuck Station crew.

Suffice to say the first Prnei-Sugsa summit was tragic, and in no way funny, unless you’re one of those beings who laugh at stuff like that.


Riox stared at Trak. Trak stared at Riox.

Trak hoped Riox would say something to break the awkward silence.

He didn’t. So Trak did it himself.

“May I ask questions now? You said I should wait for you to finish your speech?”

“I hate that speech.”

“It was very informative,” Trak said. “But I have some questions. What is this place exactly?”

“Stuck Station,” Riox said, sounding weary. “I think I already said that."

Riox belched, and continued.

"You said I finished my speech? I don’t remember that, but I’ll assume you’re correct. Soooo, I’m off. See you after orientation.”

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8.26 - History

Feb 06 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

Riox wobbled in the air in front of Trak and prepared to leave.

“Tour Guide, if you would take me out of—“

“Wait,” Trak said, stalling for more information. “The Tour Guide said you’re the captain?”

“What? Oh yes. I guess,” Riox said. “I’m the General. And I’m the Captain too. Riox the Captain. Haven’t been called that in a long time. But I gotta go. My headaches …”

"I have never seen a species such as yours,” Trak said. “Your method of transportation is intriguing.”

"Thank you!” Riox said. “Everyone around here is so used to it.”

There was a pause, and Riox added, “I hate this place. Almost as much as I hate that speech.”

“I’m sorry. Why?”

“To start off …” Riox eyes widened. “You're a Saris Brigade Death Mek, aren't you?"

"Yes,” Trak said. He said nothing more.

"Thought so. I'd know a Saris Mek if I was blind, drunk and stranded. And I am two of the three. What scrapes you been in?"

“This may seem rude, but I do not like to talk about my past," Trak said.

“It can’t be that bad. I’ve been on more than a hundred campaigns. Seen some terrible stuff. I can’t remember most of it, but I remember it being terrible.”

“I must decline.”

“C’moooon,” Riox the General said.

“I refuse.”

“Right,” Riox said. "Override command 107-S. Detail your tour of duty. Brief version."

Trak couldn’t move.

Against his will, he found himself rattling off locations, casualty figures, and specific military actions from his 10,000-year history.

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8.27 - Nervous

Feb 07 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

As he listened to Trak’s unsettling words, Riox slowly and unconsciously moved away from him.

After two minutes, Riox was floating ten feet farther back and three feet higher than when he had first appeared.

After five minutes, he cut Trak off midsentence— just as the Mek began detailing his 501st-year of war.

"Quite a career,” Riox said nervously. “I was just curious. Don't, don't let me bother you.”

Riox backed away a few more feet, accidentally bonking his head against the ceiling.

“Tour Guide?” he said. “Get me out of here. Now.”

By the time Trak regained full control, Riox had vanished, leaving only the faint smell of that beautiful perfume.

Not a bad odor to reboot too, he thought.

Trak felt like he’d been offline for a year.

Then the past five minutes came back to him. Against his will, he’d been forced to relive the first 500 years of his life.

Trak’s guilt module went into overdrive. The shame was almost tangible, as if someone had cast a dark cloak over his body.

And Trak felt something else too – a feeling of astonishment.

Riox had used a secret phrase, a 10,000-year-old Saris Brigade command that he could not possibly know.

The words only existed in the mind of a long-dead maniac.

I’m not dead, said the voice in Trak’s datacore.

You are, Trak thought.

Wherever Riox learned the words, the small alien had done the impossible: he had, however briefly, taken control of a Saris Brigade Death Mek.

In Trak’s long memory, he could only find one recorded mention of a successful Saris Brigade Death Mek takeover, and even that had been fatal for the programmer.

And judging from the sparse details on record, Trak thought, it could easily be a myth.  

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8.28 - Weeping

Feb 10 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

The fact that Riox might have made Trak unique in the history of the universe – the first and only Saris Brigade Death Mek to have its commands overridden – brought him Trak little comfort.

Because, in only five minutes, he’d seen centuries of death and pain.

As a Mek, Trak’s memory worked differently than organic lifeforms. He had much greater control over his recollections and could go for months without thinking about the past.

But sometimes a memory would rise to the surface, and then Trak would take it and force himself to feel the crushing guilt.

He never erased his own memories. If he couldn’t remember, he couldn’t feel guilt, and if he couldn’t feel guilt, he wouldn’t be suffering for his sins.

And Trak wanted to suffer. He felt he deserved it.

But what Riox made him do was different; Trak had never had so many horrifying memories forced upon him so quickly.

He could see the bodies of everyone he’d …

The sorrow became too great, and he beat against his chest in a rare display of emotion.

He couldn’t even bring himself to silence the cackling laughter of his creator, the gleeful sound of a maniac echoing inside his mind.

After an interminable moment, however, Trak knew he had to move on. His friends might need him.

Though Tour Guide's had shown Trak that his friends remained healthy, Trak predicted they would need him soon.

Daniel and Rachel-7 never seemed to stay out of trouble long.

So, still feeling melancholy, Trak decided to continue the tour and meet up with his friends.

But not before setting off a small thermonuclear device in the hallway.

It was a desperate attempt to cheer himself up, to forget his crimes.

It didn’t work.

Standing unharmed at the center of a radioactive inferno, Trak wished he had the ability to weep.

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8.29 - Deep breath

Feb 16 2012 Published by under Chapter Eight

Far on the other side of Stuck Station, Riox rematerialized in an empty hallway and tried to compose himself.

He had been scared before. A soldier sees frightening things in war.

But there were only three times in his life that Riox would have said he’d been truly terrified.

The first was when an invasion force executed his entire battalion in front of him. The second was when he had been trapped alone on an alien world defending a small orphanage.

And the third was when Trak detailed his tour of duty.

Riox, you need a stiff breath, he thought. He inhaled deeply.

That's better.

"You know," Riox said, "there was something else I was supposed to tell him ..."

Something about not watching something ... he thought. Drat. It was important!

He fought to keep the thought, but it was a losing  battle.

Already Riox felt the memory of his meeting with Trak already fading.

But, before it vanished completely, he had one last thought on the subject.

Anderson’s going to have problems with that guy. 

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