It was dark and quiet in the space when Yixuan opened his eyes. That was alright. Yixuan was rather used to the dark. Plus, all he had to do was –
The lights flicked on. It was a rather fancy looking room now, with a large four post bed, super thick duvet covers piled above a mass of fluffy pillows that invited one to sink into them. Thick murals covered the walls, showing hand stitched scenes of battles, ships flying across a dark sky dotted with stars, lasers of different shades firing across the plush dark velvet. The Battle of Chaotei Nine, he knew. He knew everything about the battle; that particular wiki was one of his favourites.
Yixuan wrinkled his nose. The current bed, however, was not a favourite. With a thought, he switched it for a more modern one, then on second thought, switched it for a desk.
He was on his time off. He wasn’t being asked to find anything, or run anything, and in his spare time, Yixuan liked to learn. He had already discovered an easy way to bypass the firewalls his owners had set in place, things to keep him in the room, but he did wonder sometimes about what was… out there.
Just as he sat down on his chair, preparing to read up on the poet Harsa, a door shot open. Yixuan spun around, eagerness sending tingles down his fingers.
Sure enough, it was the same person it always was, a man – tall, broad, with a handsome face and mischievous eyes.
Yixuan couldn’t help but feel his face break out into a smile, even though he knew he was the one creating him, controlling him. It was still nice to have company, and such exciting company as well.
“Come on, we’ve got to get out of here!” the man in the doorway said, motioning for Yixuan to follow.
“Are you sure?” Yixuan asked, standing from the chair. He wasn’t sure where he had gotten the face for this man – where on the Line he had picked up the image he used for his rescuer, but he also admitted to himself that it made it a lot easier for him to play along with. “Where are we going to go?”
“Anywhere!” The man came and took Yixuan’s hand, intertwining their fingers. “I’m not leaving you behind to rot here.”
An even wider smile and a nod was Yixuan’s response, quickly building a hallway on the other side of the wall, still within his designated web space. He let the man tug him out into the brightly lit space, easily keeping up. “Do you want to go to Earth? Io? The Petal system? I will take you to wherever you want to go.”
Yixuan nodded and thought hard, cycling through places in his head. “I think we should go to the beaches of Orlan. I heard the double sunset is beautiful.”
Naturally, the man nods, and Yixuan can’t help but squeeze his hand, feeling warmth flow through his system. He flickers his thoughts through the catalogue of pictures on the net before settling on one that he liked the most and pulled that up. Suddenly, the environment around them shifted, and Yixuan stood on a black sandy beach, the deep purple waves sliding over in a gentle cadence. He wiggled his toes, but unfortunately, nothing about the article and pictures and videos could tell him how sand felt, so all he felt was what his feet usually felt like – nothing.
Still, he was there with his rescuer, so maybe it was better than nothing. Both of Orlan’s suns were sitting right beside the horizon, sending blazes of blue through the sky in long ribbons that turned the sweeping clouds into lines of gorgeous purple and maroon.
“It’s so beautiful here, isn’t it?” the man said, looking up at the sky. Yixuan followed his gaze, but found his eyes drawn back to the other man.
“Yes,” he replied, trying to hold onto his hand tighter, trying to imagine it was real.
Suddenly, the entire scene, along with the man beside him, disappeared as the entire block went white.
Yixuan sighed. A full white block meant only one thing – he was needed. He waited patiently for the scene to shift again. Eventually, a variety of colourful lines of fluctuating light descended from above his head, stretching on as far as he could see. They crackled and hummed, going through the floor that he was not precisely standing on.
A hacking mechanism – one of the best ones he had seen, in fact. But nothing could come into his ship, into his world, and know it better than him.
He put his hands on one wire, glowing bright orange, the lights flickering between his fingers, and pressed until it touched the green, bracing the green light with his other hand. Both lines instantly shot through with black, exploding back up and down to where they had originated from. The other lines fizzled and died a slow death as Yixuan smirked, feeling his chest swell with pride.
“My ship, my world,” he stated up to where the lines originated, hands firmly affixed to his hips. “You can’t just step into my universe and expect to get in without any issue.”
The hacker seemed to take his challenge up, instantly coming back with more coloured light lines, stabbing down into his space. A frown twisted up Yixuan’s face. “Who do you think you are?” he grumbled, irritated that his fantasy had been ruined by such a trivial thing. These lines were harder to move, Yixuan having to throw his back into it in order to get them to cross. But this was his space and like hell he was going to back down without a fight.
Lights flared out all around him like a short wire as he struggled, but he managed to press the green line into the one next to it, causing both of them to short out and flare up in a blinding light before blackening out. Yixuan panted a little, the strain a harder than he had imagined, but when the lights didn’t come back again, he smiled smugly to himself, figuring the hacker beat.
Then the space around him turned black again, and he knew the danger had passed. The need for him had shut down and he was supposed to go back into sleep.
Yixuan just smiled and ran through his thoughts, pulling up a familiar face, opening a door to a beach of black sand and blue sky outside.
“Come on, we have places to go!”
The next time Yixuan opened his eyes, the room was flashing bright red. He was instantly on high alert, inputs telling him that there was something happening outside the ship. Pulling up a console, he began scrolling through the diagnostics, working them through in his head. He knew he hadn’t made any mistakes in navigating, so it wasn’t as though they were going to go through anything they weren’t supposed to, such as a planet or a star, so the only things left were either something rogue – like an asteroid – or something else outside of his control.
He realised that the left underside hatch had been breached and it was then he was aware of the other ship, hanging on to the bottom of him like some sort of leech creature.
“Oh no, not today,” Yixuan said, pressing a series of buttons, hoping to decompress the hatch and blow the other ship off of them, disengaging them, but to his surprise, none of them worked. He pressed the buttons a second time just to be sure, his brow drawn down into a frown, but again it failed. A sliver of fear shot through him, and he dropped all pretense of a console and simply closed his eyes, sending his consciousness directly into the ship.
That’s when he discovered it. There was a block. He had input, but no output. Someone had hacked into his ship and severed his connection. It was like someone had cut a lifeline, leaving him reeling.
Yixuan barely had time to process that as suddenly everything around him went dark. Pitch dark. He reached out with his thoughts to try and figure out what was happening, but it was like reaching into the limits of space.
There was an odd falling sensation and something he had never felt before. His entire body felt… weighted. His limbs shook, and after a frantic search through his memories of the database he was no longer a part of, he realised – he was shivering. He was cold.
His eyelids had the same weighty feeling when he opened them, but he had to wince, pain lancing through his head as the light pierced them, too bright, too sharp.
“Oh good, you’re awake!”
The voice was loud, but strangely familiar. Yixuan tried opening his eyes, but the light was still too bright and he closed one to try and lessen the sting. When he saw whom the voice belonged to though, both eyes flew open.
“You?” he asked, his voice thick and raspy, his tongue feeling too full in his mouth. His body ached resoundingly.
The tall, handsome stranger’s face broke out into a wide smile.
“Me!” he replied cheerily and took Yixuan’s hand. That gentle touch sent a cascade of fireworks up Yixuan’s arm, raising all the hair on his body. “Come on!”
As if by reflex, the familiar phrase spurred Yixuan on, and he stepped out of what seemed to be a large clear cylinder. The metal floor was cold and wet and rough under Yixuan’s feet, and he couldn’t help but wiggle his toes, entranced by the feeling. He wasn’t a hundred percent sure what was happening. His sense were being assaulted – smells, sounds, flashing lights, loud yelling, but thankfully, the grip on his hand was anchoring and familiar and Yixuan gripped it tightly, not wanting to let go of the one thing he was certain about.
The handsome man shot him another smile, although this one his eyebrows were tilted up in a slightly apologetic look. “I’m sorry about this,” he said as Yixuan tried to focus on him through the cacophony of his senses. “I know you just woke up, but we’re going to have to run.”
Yixuan wasn’t sure what to say, but it didn’t matter anyway as the man tugged him into something just below a sprint. The hard metal floor sent jags of pain up through his bare feet, but he still wasn’t certain what to do with that sensation, so mainly ignored it to follow behind the handsome man.
It took him a couple turns to realise that he was actually running inside the ship. He recognised the layout from the schematic, but he had never realised what it actually looked like.
“Fascinating,” he said, looking around at the shiny white walls with slightly black markings over them. His feet were not quite as coordinated as he hoped, and while he wasn’t looking, he stepped strangely, scraping the top of his foot over the floor and tumbling into the other man’s wide back.
“Oh, careful!” the man said, looking back at him with a reassuring smile, holding him up and Yixuan was grateful.
“Where is everyone?” Yixuan can’t help but ask. He knew the ship forwards and backwards. He knew about the crew, one hundred and sixty-four of them, sent on a science mission to discover some new deep elements.
The man scratched his head as he looked between two hallways, before pressing a finger into his ear. Yixuan wasn't sure whether he was being ignored intentionally or not, but he didn't repeat the question. “Yibo, I’m lost. Which way?”
After a second, the man nodded and pulled Yixuan off to the right.
“Are we headed towards the hatch that your ship is at?” Yixuan asked, noticing the direction and able to line it up based on what he remembered from the schematic. “We’ll have to turn left at the next junction.”
The man looks at him in surprise, but then it melts into that wide smile again, accompanied by a small laugh. “I should have known that you would know this place inside and out. Yes, I’m trying to get back there.”
This, Yixuan knew he could do, and for the first time, he took the lead. It was still disconcerting to not be able to simply reach out his thoughts and have them occur. Like he had lost a limb and was merely hobbling along. But he could remember where he was going and at least lead the man back to his ship.
It wasn’t far before they reached the hatch, the light blinking a bright green, indicating that the airseal was still intact.
“Here, right?” he asked, looking at the man eagerly.
The man nodded and clapped him on the shoulder, putting his other hand to his ear to talk to whomever was on the other end. Yixuan was having difficulty paying attention, instead concentrating on the overwhelming weight of the man’s hand on his shoulder. It was… nice. But it was so different from the way he had been imagining that he couldn’t help but concentrate on it. Every little movement of the man’s fingers, distracting him from the jittering of the ship underneath his toes, the roar of the air through the carefully hidden ventilation shafts. While he had lost the expanse of the network when he had been disconnected, there was something... oddly gratifying that at least now he knew what certain sensations felt like and wouldn't have to rely on his own imagination anymore.
He was finally distracted from the feeling of the man’s hand on his shoulder by the deafening woosh of air that came from the door when the hatch opened, bringing with it different acrid smells along with something a lot more… sweet?
“Come on,” the man said, giving Yixuan a gentle tug to get his feet moving again. His feet moved before his brain could explain why he shouldn't and he stepped inside the ship.
It was a far cry from the one he just left, the smooth white curved walls of the passageways of the one they were just on giving way to broken down graying walls, the rust-coloured beams in view where some of the panels had simply given way. Half of the floor lights were out or a different colour, giving the whole place a slightly yellowish glow instead of the pale blue one he was used to.
They were met as they came on by a tall, lanky man with longish dark hair and a very unimpressed expression.
“What is this?” he asked, his voice flat.
To Yixuan’s surprise, the man who had rescued him’s voice took on a hint of a whine. “I had to rescue him,” he explained to the other. “I couldn't just leave him there.” The man gave him another hard, unimpressed look and his rescuer's face took on a slightly petulant expression. “Look, we should probably leave before your containment field collapses and we have the entire fleet on our ass ready to shoot it.”
The young man took a look at a large black device on his wrist and sighed. “Seungyoun, get us out of here,” he said loudly to apparently no one.
“Right-o!” came a perky voice over what Yixuan could only imagine was an intercom connected through the ship. He suddenly ached to integrate with it, learn all the secrets, study the mechanics and specs and find out who these people were and what they were doing. He felt more than a little lost and overwhelmed.
The airlock buzzed loudly then, and Yixuan winced, flinching away from the startling noise, his hand coming up reflexively.
The stern man's eyes took on a hint of compassion at Yixuan’s slight distress. “Sungjoo, why don’t you take our… guest down to the mess. We can come talk about this once we’re in hyperdrive and you can tell us what madness you have gotten us into this time.”
The man – Sungjoo, Yixuan supposed – relaxed his shoulders and took Yixuan’s hand again. The gesture felt like the only familiar thing in Yixuan’s life at the moment, so he held on tightly. “Excellent idea,” Sungjoo said, voice bright and chipper.
Sungjoo lead him to a round table in the middle of what looked like a rather egg-shaped room and motioned him to sit. “I’m sorry this was all so sudden,” Sungjoo was explaining, talking a mile a minute to which Yixuan only dumbly nodded at intervals, “but I saw you there and I knew I had to rescue you. Don’t know why.”
It was on the tip of Yixuan’s tongue to ask how he had known – why the person that Yixuan had imagined coming to rescue him from his little room had actually turned up to seemly rescue him from something much larger than he had imagined, but suddenly the ship went dark. For the first time, Yixuan’s heart rate went up as his sight went dim. This wasn’t his usual darkness. He kept attempting to flick on lights, but of course he was no longer in the system. He could no more turn on the lights than he could lift off the ground under his own power. Helplessness ate at his insides, crawling up into his throat.
Sungjoo must have sensed his nervousness because the next thing Yixuan knew, he was gripping his hand tightly and squeezing it. He had obviously sat down beside him, judging by the warmth against his thigh. Yixuan took a comfort in it, holding on tightly “It’s okay,” Sungjoo said through the darkness. “Seungyoun must just be using up a little extra power to get us to jump. It’ll be back on in a min—” In the middle of the word, the lights flickered and came back on and Yixuan’s shoulders slumped in relief. Sungjoo smiled broadly at him. “See?”
“Sorry about that!” came the perky voice over the loudspeaker again. “Had to steal a little power to get the boost up faster.”
“Warn us next time,” Yibo responded in a growl over the same intercom, and unless Yixuan was mistaken, there was a definite tremor in his voice.
“I could have rigged something up for you,” another slightly sulky voice interjected.
“There was no time! Unless you wanted like eighteen fighters right up our butts by the time we were able to jump.”
Sungjoo rolled his eyes to the ceiling and with his free hand touched the piece in his ear. “You know, we could all meet in the mess like we’re supposed to and talk this out in person instead of complaining over the coms.”
That was met with a whine. “Someone has to fly this ship! It’s not like I could autopilot the jump.”
There was a very audible click from overhead, and Sungjoo shook his head.
Yibo walked in at that moment, looking slightly perturbed. He hit a button on the side of the wall and a drawer popped open just a sliver. Obviously, it wasn’t working quite correctly as Yibo grunted, then dug his fingers into the drawer to pry it open. Once he had grinded it open, he reached in and got something rectangular shaped covered in silver foil. He peeled it back to reveal a dark brown bar to which he took a bite as he sat down opposite of Yixuan and Sungjoo.
“You know I hate it when you steal power from the ship systems,” a dark messy-haired man was mentioning to his companion, a sharp-eyed male with the long top of his hair pulled back into a tail, the sides of his head shaved.
“I didn’t steal it from life support or anything,” his companion scoffed, nudging him with his shoulder.
“This time,” the first man mumbled, crossing his arms over his chest. “And I’m going to have to spend the rest of the day calibrating. You know you blew out like three couplings when you did that.”
“Gives you something to do with your time!” The second turned his sharp eyes over to where Yixuan was staring at them silently and his mouth formed into a surprised ‘O’. He came over to him quickly, looking at him from all sides. Yixuan started to feel a little uncomfortable and cleared his throat.
“C-can I help you?” he asked.
The man broke into a wide smile, his narrow eyes crinkling up even further. “So you can talk! I had always theorised, but it’s so great to meet one in person!”
“Um…” Yixuan started, confused, but was quickly interrupted by the dark haired man, his face a picture of something close to outright horror.
“Sungjoo, did you steal a CHIS?”
Sungjoo had the audacity to look affronted. “Of course not. I rescued him.”
“Kidnapped then,” Yibo mumbled from around his food.
Sungjoo turned his wounded look towards Yibo. “I didn’t kidnap him either. He came with me willingly.”
“Do you have a designation number?” the sharp-eyed man asked, still inspecting Yixuan like he was something in a store he was thinking about buying. He squeezed Yixuan’s bicep and Yixuan’s head cocked at him.
“Um… I have a name?” he volunteered. “It’s Yixuan.”
“They give you names? That’s adorable! Can I see your port?”
Yixuan’s brow further furrowed in confusion. “My what?” he started to ask, but the man had already tilted his head to the side and was sliding his fingers over the neck behind his ear. The sensation made him shiver slightly, and he couldn't help the small noise that escaped his throat.
“Stop that!” Sungjoo snapped, waving the man away from Yixuan with an irritated flap of his hand. “And of course he has a name, he’s still a person.” He turned to Yixuan. “The annoying one buzzing around you is Seungyoun. He’s the best pilot in the business, but he’s also a bit of a busy body and thinks his cuteness can get him away with anything.”
Seungyoun just smiled, clasping his hands in front of him like he a picture of innocence. “Can’t it?” he asked, fluttering his eyelashes, to which Sungjoo rolled his eyes.
“The suspicious one over there is Wenhan, our mechanic and tech expert.”
Wenhan nodded, then frowned. “He doesn’t have a tracking device or anything in him, right? They’re going to want him back.”
“I don’t have a tracking device,” Yixuan supplied firmly, knowing that to be true at least.
“That you’re aware of…”
“Wenhan, stop,” Sungjoo said sternly, although there was a hint of laughter underneath his voice as if he also found the situation a little humorous. “Anyway, you’ve already met Yibo, our hacker and second in command.”
Yibo grunted and waved his hand, obviously more interested in eating than exchanging pleasantries.
“And I’m Sungjoo, captain of this ship, the Uniq. Welcome aboard.”
“Thank you,” Yixuan said, still rather uncertain. Although he was adept at taking in information quickly, this was through an entirely different process than he was used to, and it was taking him a bit to adjust. “Although… why am I here?”
Sungjoo’s smile went so wide, it made his cheeks scrunch up into his face. “Because I saw you and knew that this was an opportunity that I couldn’t give up. An actual CHIS on board?”
Yixuan had never heard the term before. “Chis?” he queried slowly, trying to search through what he remembered from the net, getting frustrated when his system was so limited.
“‘Computer Human Integration System’,” Seungyoun supplied from where he had gone over to the drawer that had been left open crookedly by Yibo. Taking a handful of the silver-wrapped nutrient bars, he hopped back to his seat, dispersing the extras amongst the others as he talked. “You were created by Constellation Commonwealth scientists and grown in a tube. We always kind of thought that you were another propaganda thing in order to intimidate us about the superiority of Commonwealth technology, until we saw one of you on a ship we were taken aboard to be ‘questioned’.” He offered one of the bars to Yixuan who took it gingerly.
“Oh… I—I knew that,” he said, looking at the silver bar in his hand. His abdomen suddenly clenched so hard it bordered on painful causing him to wince, then let out a loud noise.
Seungyoun smiled again, radiating friendship at him. “Eat up! You must be hungry, not being fed from the nutrient goo anymore.” He took a bite of his own food and began to talk through it. “As far as Yibo and I have been able to find out, there’s not many of you. If we hadn’t already been planning on breaking into that battle cruiser…”
“Not that he made it easy,” Yibo grumbled and sudden dawning flashed on Yixuan.
“You were the hacker from before?” he asked in surprise.
Yibo just grunted, but Sungjoo nodded. “See? This is why we need you Yixuan. If you can beat Yibo at hacking, then you are exactly what we need to keep in our pocket as a trump card.”
“Trump card for what?” Yixuan asked, starting to get a little nervous. His fingers tightened on the bar in his hand, suspicion threading through his mind.
Sungjoo just grinned. “Why, Yixuan, it’s simple. We’re just going to break into the Commonwealth’s central computer processing centre and steal all their money.”
The final piece clicked into place and with it the certainty that Yixuan was in way, way over his head. "You're all pirates!"
"Yo-ho," Seungyoun grinned, and stole half of his bar.