// 2020-01-23 // by Neon

The Zeta Directive [Section 4]

[The previous section of this story can be found here. The next section can be found here. If you are a new reader, the first section of this story can be found here.]

Neon gridden lines converged from the periphery of Fiir's vision, creating a wireframe rendition of the room that she occupied.

She looked around. So primitive. Seta computer systems did not contain any heuristic network systems that could be co-opted for cybernautic hardware acceleration, so the digital space surrounding Fiir could only be rendered in-minima through high-level software translation.

Fiir looked down with disgust at the wirey mesh that formed her gangly four-fingered hands. Due to her central access location, the system had her rendered as a seta administrative user under the central power system. This user would be more than enough to access engineering systems without having to resort to any kind of flashy privilege escalation. Just as planned.

Fiir looked around and ran to the security door that connected the central chamber to the hall she had entered from. She reached into the wall of the door frame, clipping her hands through it as if it were a viscous liquid rather than a solid wall. Her spindly arms grasped the weighty digital security door that was retracted into the wall and heaved it shut. Fiir clicked the door lock into place and then she forced a manual override to individualise the air pressure and door controls of the central chamber. She double-checked her work to ensure the overrides would hold and stepped back to the bright glowing cylindrical power core at the centre of the room.

Once again, she reached a hand out, phasing through the core's outer cover and grasping its central crystalline structure. She closed her bulbous alien eyes and concentrated, sending a command to the power system.

As Fiir sent a data spike through the core controls, the effeminate digital voice of Fiir's integrated debugger subsystem rang through the digital space.

"End-of-life scuttle protocol has been initiated on this vessel. Warning. All interior and exterior door locks have been deactivated. Warning. Explosive atmospheric decompression to vessel exterior has been detected."

Fiir winced as a deafening electrical tone screeched into her soul. She kept her eyes closed tightly and continued to concentrate on ensuring that the system could not overwrite her commands.

"SYSTEM ERROR. Security fragmentation detected in door control systems. Security disengage failure in core chamber. Commencing gradual decompression to equalise core chamber pressure to vacuum."

The system screeched again with the same shrill error tone.

"SYSTEM ERROR. Security fragmentation detected in atmospheric control system. Decompression failure in core chamber."

Fiir opened her eyes and slowly pulled her hand out of the power core and sighed as the voice of the debugger continued babbling.

"Safety protocols have detected oxygen presence within central chamber. Core disengage has been disabled to prevent oxidation overload. End-of-life scuttle protocol has been terminated due to system errors. Manual system re-initialisation is required."

Fiir sent a mental command to ascend back to the physical reality. She felt a rush of upward motion and the usual visual artefacts as she resurfaced.

Fiir flexed her real fingers, relieved to be back in her own body. Five fingers on each hand, just as it should be. Darkness surrounded her as she opened her eyes. All system power was offline and the only light in the room came faint phosphorescent emergency light strips lining the floor and ceiling. Gravity was out as well, as the electronic propulsion providing constant negative acceleration was now unpowered. She snatched the cable spider from inside the power system terminal and reeled it back into her neck.

It seemed her plan had worked. Based on records from the Intelligence Bureau, the majority of seta jakeri spacecraft drew power from one composite electric power core comprised of multiple individual compressed chemical power cells coated in a nonconductive coolant fluid. Due to the extreme energy density within a seta power core, any puncture to the thin outer-coating of an individual cell that results in contact with oxygen could cause a catastrophic inferno hot enough to instantly vaporise anything in the immediate surroundings. At the end of a seta spacecraft's useful life, the protocol to scuttle such a vessel involved the complete depressurisation of the decommissioned craft to prevent any risk of oxidation, followed by a decoupling and removal of the power core for safe disposal or recycling. Fiir may have gone a little extra on causing the decompression to happen explosively, but really, could anyone fault her for doing what needed to be done to purge an esper? Even the slightest possibility of its survival jeopardised the outcome of the mission.

Since the core safeties had kicked in before the core could fully disengage, now all Fiir had to do was flip a switch to recouple the main breaker and the ship would automatically power back up and re-pressurise itself.

"Fiir speaking. Hunter squad, I need confirmation that esper is down." she commanded over the neural link. A quick link query showed that only two units were still connected to the channel.

One of the androids responded, "Esper has been neutralised in decompression. This unit¹ has personally ensured that its blood runs red along the walls of the outer corridor. All known hostile forces are accounted for, slisha."

Fiir waited for a short while before recoupling primary power. She trusted the squad's report well enough, but with a creature like an esper, her caution could not be reiterated enough. One could never be too sure that it is well and fully dead.

The ship's primary breaker was located in a large panel at the foot of the central power core. It had automatically unlocked at the loss of main power. Fiir yanked the panel open to reveal a large T-shaped pull handle with bright seta jakeri language inscriptions around it. She pulled the handle all the way back and release. Pneumatic force pushed it back into its original position. Slowly, from the dead silence came a reverberating hum as the core came to life, electronic thrust systems spun back up, and the ship lights flickered to life. Fiir felt her weight return and the slight rush of blood to her feet as gravity returned.

Once the halls and outer rooms had enough time to re-pressurise, Fiir drew her pistol and exited the central chamber. She regrouped with her two remaining squadmates, and then swept the outer rooms one by one until they found what they had originally come for.

The two androids stood behind Fiir at her sides as she walked in to a chamber that appeared to be a small laboratory. Much like the central chamber of the ship, cables and pipes ran along the floor and walls of the room. Various tools and equipment were hung up on the far wall of the room, but none of that concerned Fiir.

In a corner of the room stood her prize. A massive green cylindrical tank stood glowing in the corner of the room, bathing the chamber in its ominous light. The tank stretched all the way from the floor to the ceiling and its walls were transparent, filled with some kind of biologically-active fluid.

Fiir approached the slowly, holstering her weapon in awe of the sight before her.

A young girl lay dormant, peacefully floating in the viscous fluid and held in place crucified by a mess of cables protruding into its spine and its appendages. It looked much younger than the intelligence reports would have suggested, but its tiny ears and diminutive stature indicated that it was most certainly Terran. The creature appeared to have been in the process of being treated, but it had yet to be saddled with a control harness.

It seemed that, for the first time in history, the grand directorate of Ejfosi Siltakos had acquired their own esper.

¹Linguistic note: In the original language, the personal pronoun that the hijsha uses to refer to themself, ["rosh\"], roughly translates to the English word "I". However, the choice to translate this word to "This unit" is important because rosh is used in contrast to the personal pronoun ["aj"] that Fiir uses to refer to herself.

Art sourced under free to use license. Edits made by me in GIMP. Source assets are listed below.