Zjek-Torani – Protean Investigator

Here is another excerpt from my original science fiction novel I’ve been working on. Enjoy!

She walked into the CIS headquarters and wound her way through the pit to her station. That might not be an accurate description, it was now her station, but it had been the station of Investigator Carnigic before their untimely death during the “Radiation Leak” in the Spire. The official report was that Carnigic and the other had died trying to contain the leak and protect the station, though several of the investigators in the CIS said otherwise. Rumors of a Drift incursion that had resulted in not only the death of several of the council members but also Carnigic and the others who were sent to assist the council. A small human contingent had also been dispatched from the Alexander to assist with the catastrophe. As with the other deaths in the incident, the humans’ “official” cause of death was labeled as acute radiation poisoning. She had seen the medical investigation reports on the teams that had died though, she didn’t know of any type of radiation leak that would impale and behead anyone trying to contain it. When she brought this fact up with her new captain however, she was strongly urged to “Leave closed matters closed and work on some of the active ones that keep coming in.” 

She sat down at the desk, the chair immediately adjusting to her size and mass. Despite being a relatively small Protean, she still was larger and much heavier than Carnigic had been. It took several moments of the small servos whirring at the base of the chair before she finally felt comfortable enough to lean back. Her arms rested comfortably on the smooth surface top as she started keying her credentials into the system. “Please provide your species and designation,” a voice sounded in her head, through the translator chip, that was standard throughout the conclave.  

“Zjek-Torani. Protean,” re responded in her own language. A small icon appeared on the surface and began blinking blue. She reached her arm out and tapped the icon as it continued to blink. The display shifted colour slightly as all of the icons were rewritten to Zjek’s native language. “Raqk!” she swore under her breath as she checked the list of recent notifications. Nobody had deigned to wipe the system of all of Carnigic’s files and information. Zjek began tapping different icons on the surface with her numerous arms and deleting the files. Her eyes darted between her three extremities as they swept across the surface. She tapped a folder titled ‘Personal Recordings’ in her pursuit of cleaning the system. There was only one new file, and she moved her arms to tag it for deletion when she froze. Her eyes darted back over to the memo file and fixated on the time it was tagged as coming into the system. The time blinked on the display right below the file icon, burning a hole into her mind. It had come in exactly 3 cycles before the biological unit had determined Carnigic had died; which was also a full 2 rotations after getting deployed to contain the radiation leak. “What was Carnigic’s last message?”, she muttered to herself as she clicked the recording and played the audio through her translator.

She listened intently as the message played, “… Should we fail to contain the threat. The citadel must be put on high alert until these Drift infiltrators are found. We have no idea of their numbers but they were smuggled on board in a shipping container that was labeled to contain Crayode-6 having arrived from Carian space. Follow the trail of documents and find whoever signed off for these containers to end up on the citadel. I fear something much larger is at play.”

She inhaled sharply at the final few phrases of the recording. “ Someone had smuggled Drift onto the station in an attempt to assassinate the council and the humans they were meeting with? But Why?” she wondered out loud. Realizing what she had done, Zjek quickly looked around her to see if anyone had noticed her question. Nobody in the immediate vicinity gave any indication that they had been listening to what she had said. As fast as she thought was safe, without trying to make it obvious, she copied the file to her personal wrist terminal and deleted the original file from the system. 

No sooner had she finished purging the terminal when she was tapped on her back by someone. Instinctively, one of her arms twitched as if to lash out at whoever was behind her. She consciously had to tell herself, it’s not a threat, you’re safe here, as she turned to find herself staring into the face of a Danatach technician staring at her inquisitively. “Yes?” she asked quickly, the delay between the translations from Protean to the Dana language being just long enough to make the first few seconds extremely awkward. The technician then quickly responded as the translators began synching with each other to shorten the translation gap automatically.

“I’m here because I received a work order to delete Carnigic’s files from this terminal.”

“I’ve taken care of that, already.”

“I was instructed to completely reset the terminal, so if you will move for a moment I will finish my work and leave you alone to solve cases”, the technician stated coldly. The translation sounding in her mind adding the appropriate tone to its statement.

“As I’ve said, I’ve reset the terminal already. There is no need for you to remain..” Zjek started to say before the technician cut her off.

“I was ordered to wipe the terminal so that’s what I am going to do. If you have a problem you can take it up with the Captain”, the technician replied as it waved a feathered arm to usher Zjek out of the way. The protean stood from the chair and stepped to the left of the terminal to let the technician through. The technician connected his wrist tablet to the terminals and began checking every cache and every folder to make sure everything was deleted. The technician was there for maybe 2 cycles before he stood up and turned to Zjek, “Investigator Torani, your terminal is ready for you to log in.”

“Thank you, technician..”, Zjek replied as the Danatch turned abruptly and wound through the pit and out a door on the far end of the room. Zjek sat back into the chair and logged into the terminal once again. She immediately checked the system files that were accessed by the technician and sure enough, the personal recordings folder was one of the first that the technician had accessed. She checked for a credential log in that the technician had used to get into the system, but she couldn’t find any sort of log in or name for this technician who had deleted Carnigic’s files.

She stood up and walked through the pit, weaving past all sorts of people running back and forth to their terminals and various other rooms and locations in the station. She hadn’t realized it before, but she had watched the technician, if he really was a technician she thought to herself, exit through a door that was a maintenance hall running the entire length of the station. There were no offices or system hubs back there; just storage rooms and emergency exits to the atrium. She picked up her pace and proceeded through the door following in the footsteps of the technician. The maintenance hall was dark compared to the pit but her eyes didn’t need to adjust at all. She looked left and saw a wall about 10 meters down with only one door that led back out into the pit. Knowing that she hadn’t seen him come back out into the pit she immediately turned the opposite way and proceeded down the hallway. Zjek moved at a relatively quick pace, making sure to check each room and storage area as she went. She had gone maybe half the way down the hallway when she opened a hatch that led to a filtration hub with an intake vent directly adjacent to the atrium. Immediately as she stepped into the room, she could hear the sounds from outside far too clearly compared to the other rooms on the side of the hall. She could also smell something that hung in the air. It smelled, to her, like a fresh kill, which is never a good sign. She drew her sidearm and proceeded carefully, deeper into the room.

Large crates and shelving units formed three neat rows down the center of the long space. Various machine parts and tools were situated on the shelves giving her an obstructed view of the end of the room. As she moved slowly down the far row of shelves, she noticed there was far too much light for a room that doesn’t have any windows. She stepped and felt her massive feed squish into something that shouldn’t be there. She immediately looked down and saw the large pool of red blood that covered the floor. She turned to her right and there, his body positioned as if he’d be thrown, was a dead human, a male. He had been stabbed repeatedly all over his body, some wounds obviously having caused massive bleeding. His bodysuit pulled off of him, his body was bare except for the underwear he wore, which were now stained red with blood. Silently, Zjek cursed herself, this human had been alive moments ago. If she hadn’t been so slow, she might’ve gotten here in time to save him. Her gaze turned back down to the body on the ground. She could see that despite him having been stripped of his jumpsuit, he still had the identification necklace the human species wore which designated their name and various other pieces of information. At least we will know who this person was, she thought as she continued moving towards the back of the room and the large pool of bright light. 

She moved with a little more urgency in her step as she worked her way down the aisle. She could see the hole in the vent cover more clearly now. There at the back of the room, a small vent grating separated the back of this storage room to the atrium; a design flaw that had clearly been overlooked. She moved to the hatch and looked through, at the atrium, beyond the hole in the wall. Several passersby had stopped and pointed at the hole but nobody gave any hint as to the direction the fake technician had gone. She looked back into the storage room and found crumpled in a heap that was thrown to the ground beside the vent grating, the technician’s suit. Without touching the suit, for fear of contaminating her own genetic information with that of the assailant, she prodded the lump with the barrel of her sidearm. She flipped the bundle over and there clear as day, the wrist terminal flashed in big red letters: MEMORY CORE REMOVED UPLINK TO SERVER FAIL.

“Raqk!” she swore loudly as she looked out through the grating at the hundreds of people making up the crowd.

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