Not many people want a tumbrel in the drivers seat. Watching the cargo loaders similar to what he used to be, Tumbrel42 supposed he could understand why people would be initially reluctant. But the lack of opportunity to prove himself was what he had yet to comprehend.
Now the group of “humans” he was currently working for…they were slightly different, a little more accepting. " Hellions " was the term they used", he recalled. “Some of them are almost as modified as I have been.”
Tumbrel42 stepped out from between the crates and walked towards the decrepit inter-solar ship that was being loaded. The ship that he was the pilot for. This particular job didn’t seem to require a pilot with space certification, which was good, because Tumbrel hadn’t found a way to get certified yet.
Learning to reason and develop cause and effect was getting easier for Tumbrel. After the ship cleared orbit and was headed to the outer moon of one of the gas giants, he actually considered that fact that since there were no questions asked after he had demonstrated his piloting skills, there could be some other complications involved with this particular flight.
Naturally, it was too late for thoughts such as that. An amber light began blinking on Tumbrel’s console, and a human voice came over the inter-ship comm link…“ISS Sellshark, heave to for customs inspection, this is the patrol cruiser Decahedron.”
Tumbrel naturally began to comply when the ship’s captain, a well modified cyborg looking Hellion came into the pilot’s cabin and ordered evasive maneuvers. He looked at Tumbrel42 and said “If they inspect us, we are either dead or in prison for life. Best show off those skills you say you have.”
Tumbrel took the command of his captain to processor and broke off for a run with the Sellshark. It wasn’t long before the Decahedron began to open fire on Tumbrel’s ship, but Tumbrel was predicting their firing patterns and maneuvering between the blasts. Sure, the Sellshark took some surface damage, but it was a clunker, junk parts sticking out the sides, not at all streamlined. It seemed as if Tumbrel was going to make a clean getaway; his captain and the crew certainly thought so, judging by their cheering.
There were two thoughts that proved them all wrong, however. The first was thinking that the rickety old ship could handle such tight maneuvering. The second was thinking that there would be no other military ships passing through the area. The first led to the thrusters burning out and stalling the ship; the second put the ISS Sellshark face-to-broadsides with the ENSF Gefjon , a Vestal-class Frigate in the midst of ferrying troop and personnel rotations to the various Enclave facilities in the system.
The Sellshark captain began to sputter in disbelief at their bad luck, and demanded Tumbrel to open fire on the Gefjon. “We’re gonna lose this one, but no decent Hellion goes down without a fight!” he cried out. Tumbrel began firing weapon systems when the Gefjon let out a pulse from one of its electronic warfare suites, knocking out the guns. Over the comm, a stern female voice spoke out, “This is Captain Adele Tremaine of the ENSF Gefjon. We have pulsed your ship and disabled weapons. We will be sending a boarding party; lay down your arms and come quietly, and you will not be harmed nor will you be turned over to the Commonwealth vessel on approach.”
The Hellions gave little opposition, and what opposition there was was quieted by their own crew. Tumbrel42 found himself being transported along with his other Tumbrel units to the Gefjon’s cargo bay, and shortly thereafter to the Engineering station for what he overheard was “a routine sweep and cleanup of their systems”. Tumbrel knew that could mean reformatting, but stayed in line with his fellow synthetics; exposing himself could threaten his relatively new-found status. The engineers began to force-switch all the synthetics to sleep mode, and Tumbrel hoped that he would awake the same as he was.
Tumbrel awoke several hours later, finding himself on a tilted gurney. A lone engineer was working next to him, facing away muttering about how the other engineers had “left the new guy to do all the work.” The engineer grabbed his toolkit and turned around in his chair to face Tumbrel. Tumbrel noted that he bore a strongly-featured face, with platinum hair and amber eyes. The engineer then did a surprising thing: he greeted Tumbrel! “Hello, Tumbrel unit,” he said. “My name is Raize Darkstone. What is your designation?"
“This one was designated Tumbrel42, but I now consider that to be my name. Do not all sentient beings deserve a name?” Tumbrel surprised himself by expressing that philosophy at this time. Sure he had thought a lot about it recently, but to be the first thing he blurted out after being put on a gurney for “system cleanup”? Very peculiar.
Cautiously, so as not to alarm the engineer in front of him, Tumbrel sat up and broke free from the restraints that would have held a normal tumbrel in place.
“This one expresses pardon, but I was feeling confined and confused. What is the purpose of your tools in this situation?” Tumbrel addressed towards the engineer in front of him. “What does YOUR designation mean?”
Raize was taken aback by the sudden actions and speech of the Tumbrel unit…no, Tumbrel42, he reminded himself. Does this mean I’m dealing with a genuine Artificial Intelligence? If that’s the case, the system resets would kill him, or his personality at least.
After a moment of silence, Raize finally spoke. “My…designation? Oh, my name! I don’t know how my parents got the Raize part, but Darkstone is my family name, supposedly they settled on land rich with Obsidian when they came to Delta Pavonis."
“And the tools?” Tumbrel asked again.
“Oh, the tools, right. Repairs and replacements, mostly. Confiscated equipment is often re-provisioned within the Enclave Military. Usually any memory banks are wiped and configurations are set to default.” Raize set down his tools and scooted his chair back. He took a good look at Tumbrel42’s body. It was in remarkable condition, he noted, and wondered if it was modified beneath that exterior. “I…must admit I’ve never met a full-synthetic intelligence before, and certainly not amongst the machinery I’ve worked with. I apologize, I meant no offense or harm. This must be awkward for you.”
“If I may, Tumbrel — is it alright if I just call you Tumbrel? — what were you doing aboard that Hellion craft? Were they transporting you as cargo or were you working on the ship? I imagine you would be worth a lot to them on the black market.”
“Tumbrel will be fine. Did you happen to notice how gracefully the ship flew within its limited physical operating parameters? I was the pilot. But it appears that your crew assumed that I was not part of my crew…was that expressed properly?, and sent me here.”
Tumbrel was intrigued by this person. He asked Raize if he was the pilot or captain of the vessel they currently occupied. “What is the purpose of this vessel, does it fly well, does it have an enhanced engine/mass ratio, and how would the crew react to a new pilot”?
“A Tumbrel unit, piloting? That is impressive. But you’re lucky that my crew didn’t know you were actually crew on that Hellion rig, they would have probably put you down a lot harder than sleep mode. Most Virginids are…cautious when it comes to Synthetics. And no, I’m no captain or pilot, though I have flown a couple strike craft and taken the helm on my homeship on occasion."
“As for your questions about the ship we’re in, the ENSF Gefjon is currently on routine patrol and troop disbursement to several Virginis-controlled locations. It flies pretty well for a frigate, but I’ve seen and used better. It could stand to be more efficient as well, but that would require an overhaul and those resources may be better spent on a new ship entirely. This thing has been in space for a solid decade and some years, but her electronic warfare suites are still pretty on par with or surpass the cruisers in most other militaries.”
Raize paused and closed his eyes for a moment and took in a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. “…We need to get you out of here, and quietly. I could fudge my paperwork and say you were processed, but they’ll just move you to another Enclave facility and you’ll be discovered eventually, and that could mean cold-storage if you end up in the wrong place. I’m due to depart at our next destination, a research facility on the edge of a city in the Beta Hydri system. If you don’t mind doing…well, what you were originally designed to, you might be able to slip away while we unload our freight. Sound like a plan?"
“Unload this ship…and then sneak away…” Tumbrel considered the idea. Tactically it had merit. After all, nobody expects a tumbrel to do anything out of the ordinary. “Why haven’t I thought of that before?” he mused inwardly.
“I concur with your plan and am motivated to support your course of action.” Tumbrel declared to Raize. “I shall…blend…in with my brothers and sisters and assist them in unloading the ship. Will I be meeting with you after I escape?”
“I don’t believe I will be able to get away anytime soon, but please look me up if you ever need a friend. Good luck, Tumbrel.” Raize then stood up from his stool and walked out of the Engineering Bay, making sure to turn off the light but forgetting to lock the door on his way out.