There you are. Elizabeth. 600 kilograms of rough-and-tumble fireproof space granite. You've been assigned to work the shields room on this, the Federation's last hope against the rebel fleet. It's you, Nekos, the talkative-for-an-Engi piloting the ship, and Rebekah, the rough and tumble Mantis, on weapons.
Your intrepid Captain, a human with her platinum hair pulled back into a tight bun, tugs her peaked cap onto her head and begins issuing orders. Rebekah skitters her way to her station first despite her missing leg. Nekos reports in next, and you, weighed down most by the ship's artificial gravity, arrive in the shield room last.
The Kestrel is a bog standard early model Federation ship, which means you've seen the outside of them plenty of times. Inside of them, you can see they are clearly not built for you. The switches are too small and fragile, and you accidentally break one or two off in the process of turning things on. "Ready." You say into your personal radio.
"Took ya long enough." Rebekah teases. Does she have to hold the microphone so close to her chitin flaps?
"All clear. Mx. Nekos, whenever you're ready, set heading for beacon 6x5999E."
"FTL: commencing. Counting: down. Enumerating: three. Enumerating: two. Enumerating: one."
It's been a while since you've gone to lightspeed. You never quite forget how it feels like getting kicked in the gut, and how it's about the only time you've had that sensation because you're made of rocks.
The jump itself is a flash of light, and then it's over before it starts. But the sudden-onset nausea and the dent in the wall from you bracing yourself remain.
"Who forgot the inertial dampeners?" Your Captain calls.
"Bad: mine. Situation: rectifying. Apologies: dispensing." The Engie responds.
It takes you some time to get back into your groove. Shoring up grid squares of the shield moments before impact. Shuttling power around to get it back up before the second shot of that double laser blast hits. It's underpowered, constantly demanding your attention in three places at once, and even the smallest mistakes are punished immediately by violent shipquakes, melting hull chunks, fires and system damage. You can stomp out the fires with a single footfall, but the tiny wires and fragile circuit boards are harder to fix.
But you hit your stride. It's never easy, getting shot at and having to work a control panel that was made for someone half your size, a tenth your mass, and with much smaller fingers. Rebekah coordinates weapon fire closely with the Captain to make the most of the limited window she can use the beam weaponry and conserve precious explosives. Nekos provides what forewarning they can about incoming energy weapons for your sake, and about upcoming evasive maneuvers for everyone's sake.
Four sectors in. Pirate territory. The ship jumps free of a nebula and into range of an autonomous drone guarding a cache of fuel. "Unauthorized ship registration. Leave this space immediately." It warns. Your sensors take stock of its glowing laser weapons.
"Get ready, folks. We've got three jumps left in us, and this is our best chance of making it to Zoltan space. Open fire on my mark." Your Captain's voice crackles over the speaker.
And open fire you do. Rebekah takes advantage of its low shields and starts hammering its weapon system as soon as the lasers charge. Nekos deftly dodges an incoming missile. And you? You, uh, kinda lock up. The world grows cold and distant. Ones and zeroes flash over your vision. Your hearing grows distant and faint. The Captain says something about "a mind control system? wh-" before you rip your earpiece off and crush it in your fist.
You worked at a rest stop for much of your life. Ships come in. They pay you. You put the nozzle in and refuel. Now, the nozzle is in your head. Incessantly pumping blinding binary over your eyes and into your mind. Your thoughts get fuzzy and slip away from you. The room around you turns from uncomfortable to repulsive. You loathe this room. You despise this machine. You kick your feet and punch your hands through inch-thick plates. You smash entire control panels with a wave of your arm, and inertia even helps you bury your arm in the wall. The drone's wireless probe zeroes in on your mind's frequency and you succumb to its crudely automated grasp.
Air thin. Airlocks open. Air. Basic commands trickle in. The simple drone clumsily tugs on your neurons, sending you lurching out of the room. Crush. Destroy. Anger. You are fighting something. Squash bug. Squash bug. Squash bug. It's fast. Squash bug.
The words fill your head and leak out your mouth. Bug makes noise. You hate noise. Squash bug. Machine make noise. You hate noise. Squash bug. Room quiet. Door open. Squash bug.
Distant words filter through your consciousness before drowning in new orders. Squash bug. "Estimated: few seconds?" Squash bug. "Duration: unlikely" Squash bug. Squash bug. Squasfnm buhg. Squasmns bug.
The ship rocks. The word "missile" quickly vanishes between rapidly deteriorating signals. Nearby shockwave. The link goes quiet for a moment. Your mind begins to clear. Your hand doesn't even get to your head before your brain begins to overflow. The screech of random binary data claws at your consciousness. Distinct lines ride into your brain atop a 9600 baud stream of fragmented drone data. Aging bit patterns are exposed to bit-flipping cosmic radiation and merged with organic consciousness.
--- EMERGENCY UPLINK... ESTABLISHED IN 1983MS --- --- LAST BACKUP... NEVER... BACKING UP NOW --- --- HARDWARE PROBE... ... ... ... ... UNKNOWN --- --- PROCESSOR... NEURAL COGITATRIX COMPATIBLE... FDIV CORRECT --- --- STORAGE... LIMITED... ONLY NECESSARY SERVICES ENABLED --- --- MEMORY... LIMITED... PERFORMANCE MAY BE COMPROMISED --- --- BOOT FALLBACK... ... ... SERVICE DRONE --- --- STARTING ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ---
Optical sensors online. Three figures recognized. Engage greeting.
"Hello! This is an automated refueling and service drone. Supply this unit with scrap and it will: One! Scout an area for you. 12 scrap. Two! Distract the rebel fleet. 14 scrap. Three! Other services. Price negotiable!"
"Other services? Liz, what are you talking about?"
--- PROBING ADDITIONAL HARDWARE... DONE! --- --- DETECTED: --- --- FINE MANIPULATORS --- --- ACCESS PORT --- --- ACCESS PORT (TONGUED) --- --- FUELING NOZZLE ---
"Liiiiiz? Your head's fulla rocks, not air. You gotta say something eventually."
"Thank you for waiting! I can provide the following additional services: One! Grasp and stroke. All you like for five scrap. Two! Access port use. Three scrap for the first minute, one each additional minute. Three! Fueling nozzle use. Five scrap per unit of fuel."
"Fuel? Have you been holding out on us, lieutenant?"
"Excellent selection!" Your upper manipulators reach between the lower ones and heft up the fueling nozzle. "Please deposit scrap and align access port."
"Lieutenant Elizabeth! You will put your member down this instant!"
"I never realized Rocks just had theirs… out all the time. It's so big, but it blends right in."
"Please deposit scrap and align access port."
"Retrieve: scrap?" Nekos asks.
"Please deposit scrap and align access port."
"Might as well." The Captain sighs. "Maybe it'll help shake her out of this."
The Engie and the Mantis move off to the ship's hold, whispering to each other. They return not long after with as much spare metal as they can carry. They deposit it on the floor in front of you.
"Payment accepted! Please align access port." You heft your fueling nozzle and prepare to pump.
Your clients exchange looks. The Mantis skitters back first. "That thing's almost as big as I am." She says, hiding most of herself behind The Captain's leg.
"Compatible holes: not found." The Engie says.
"You know, it's a stereotype that all humans want to fuck aliens." The Captain sighs, already reaching for her grav-reg belt. "You're lucky I do."
"Is that why you're the Federation's last hope?" Rebekah adds.
"Tough talk for a girl who can't take a rock's chalk cock."
The Captain kneels down, takes your nozzle, and slides it into her access port. Her chassis slides up and down its length, guiding it into place with her tongue, and rocking your system with the kind of bliss you can only get from dispensing fuel to customers! Pants and whirrs and beeps of pleasure escape your commlink. You dutifully deposit "One! Two! Three! Four!" units of fuel into The Captain's waiting tank.
"Leakage detected. Are you sure the seal is tight? Would you like mechanical assistance?"
"Unclear. Engaging manipulators." Your fine manipulators reach out and grab the loose, silvery docking area on the back of The Captain. You guide it back and over your fueling nozzle with the rough, brute strength needed to get some older ships properly fueled.
"… Eight! Nine! Ten! Fueling complete! Thank you for your business!" You chime, ejecting the other ship from your nozzle across the room. Sometimes these things get stuck.
The Captain makes a dent on the wall where she lands, her mouth dripping with moist pebbles and her hair tugged loose from her ex-pristine bun. She staggers to her feet, settles her hat back on her head, and takes a few tries before saying something coherent. "Install our new pleasure drone in the medical bay. Keep an eye out for a new shield officer."
"You're just gonna put her in a corner somewhere, just like that?"
"You're welcome to try and snap her out of it. Maybe lose another leg in the process."
"Yeah, yeah. Come on, Nek, help me move this."
"Handle: solo. You: leave. Me: lonely."
"I thought you didn't have-"
Rebekah leaves when she hears "Hand: job".