As TO started to calm down from the sudden, dazzling beauty of the nebula, they finally took in the room around them, and tried to figure out what it might have been when it was in use. At first they thought it was an observation deck like the engineers used, but it seemed almost too comfortable for that. It was a large room, shaped roughly like a fat crescent moon; a half-circle with the flat edge bending inwards slightly. There were some couches– the likes of which TO had never seen anywhere in the training center– piled up to one side as though they had been quickly pushed out of the way to make room. There were sealed crates taking up most of the room, but right before the window a space had been cleared away. It had likely been recently cleared to judge by the scuffed and scraped away dust that settled around outlines of what used to be there.
“Can you guys pull a couch down from that stack over there?” GiDi asked as they took the box from DH, “I tried ages ago, but I can’t do it on my own.”
TO frowned as they looked at the cleared spot on the center of the floor, then looked back up to GiDI “How long did you spend in here?” They asked.
“Not… not that long.” GiDi said, looking aside, “It wasn’t long after I found this place that you two found me. I just didn’t think I’d need to come back here.”
TO and DH grabbed the couch that was closest– some shifted dust on the floor showed where GiDi had tried to move it before– and carried it towards the center of the clearing before the window. GiDi opened the box and pulled out some blankets, TO’s plate of food, and a small portable communicator. The moment TO saw the communicator, they nearly dropped the couch.
“Careful!” DH said as the sudden shift of weight nearly made them drop their end.
“GiDi, where did you get that?” TO asked, their ears pinned down with fear. “Those are for Overseers and Officers and -“
“-and this one was considered damaged, and was to be disposed of.” GiDi said, beaming. “My Officer in weapons production had it, and when it broke they asked me to dispose of it for them. I repaired it instead.” They pulled a table over to the clearing and set the little communicator on top before they started fiddling with the controls, “It doesn’t work perfectly, and I can't get long range signals, but I was able to find some songs in the cultural databases that it can play.”
DH and TO got the couch where it needed to be, and set it down on the floor before the window and the table. GiDi put TO’s food on the table, then grabbed blankets from the box and threw them over the very dusty old couch.
“There!” GiDi said as they turned on the communication and allowed low music to play, “This is the surprise! I actually thought of it when we were hiding in the storage room the other day. I thought if we were going to hide away somewhere, then this would be nicer than the floor of a storage room. It’s got a nice view, and couches!” They sat down heavily on the couch, and yelped when they sunk down into the cushions far more than they expected. “It’s… softer than I thought!” They said as they gestured for TO to sit next to them.
TO sat down carefully, a frown crossing their features as they eyed the couch.
“What’s wrong?” DH asked as they sat down as well.
“Nothing is wrong, not really.” TO said carefully, “But... Why are there couches here?
“What do you mean?” GiDi asked as their ears flicked out in confusion.
“There’s no couches anywhere else in the training center. I’ve never seen one anyway. Also, look at this place.” They gestured to the curved walls and the large windows, “It’s much bigger than most other places, and has no practical use. It’s being used for storage, but if it was meant to be a storage area, why would there be a window?”
“I figured it was just another observation deck-“ GiDi started
“There would be consols then, right? Equipment?”
“Maybe it was removed?” DH ventured as they gently leaned against TO, “Maybe it was decided to use them elsewhere?”
“Alright. But still: why are there couches?” TO relaxed, allowing themselves to sink into the couch, but their expression was still tense. “It makes no sense.”
“Who knows.” DH said as the leaned forward, grabbed TO’s food, and passed it to them. “I’m sure they had a purpose at some point.”
“Maybe there used to be dignitaries from other planets visiting?” GiDi suggested as they leaned against TO’s other side, “Wouldn’t King Decon ensure their comfort, and provide an aesthetically pleasing environment for them?”
“Maybe…” TO said. “And on another note, is it really a good idea to move furniture around, and set up a place for ourselves here?”
“I’ve never been caught before.” GiDi said with a shrug.
“That doesn’t mean you’ve not been noticed.” TO said as they remembered their meeting with their Overseer, “I saw my file.”
DH frowned as they looked up at TO, “Your file?”
“We all have files.” TO said, “And they’re a lot more detailed than I thought. Mine had information about the two of you, about me not going to flight training, about conversations I’ve had - or tried to have.”
“And they let you look at it?” DH asked.
TO felt their ears flick down and burn blue as they remembered how they were constantly chiding to DH to keep out of trouble. “Uh… let might be a stretch.”
“You snuck a look?” DH looked at TO, their eyes wide, and a smirk playing at their lips, “Well done. So much for being careful.”
“You’re lucky you didn’t get caught.” GiDi said. TO didn’t answer, they just looked down at their food with their ears down.
“... You did get caught?” GiDi ventured. TO nodded.
“It was fine, in the end!” They insisted at their horrified gazes, “The Officer said that it was my file, so-“
“You’re safe.” DH said. They took a deep breath. “They weren’t mad about it?”
“They seemed…” TO frowned as they remembered the Overseer’s reaction. “More intrigued than anything else.” They admitted. “They asked me to guess why I was actually there.”
“And… what was the reason” GiDi asked.
TO looked down at their hands. “The claws.” They said, “When I pulled my claws on 55H70, it was reported.”
“By who!” DH demanded, sitting upright as best they could in the plush couch, “Oh, I bet it was Q10-“
“They weren’t there.”
“Then they probably pushed someone else to report you. But why? You didn’t hurt them! You didn’t end up hurting anyone!
“That’s why I wasn't actually in trouble, I think.” TO said, “They wanted to know why, and if I’d do it again.” They shook their head, “I suppose they don’t think I’m dangerous, because I’m not suffering any discipline. Also, they’re assuming it might have been a result of the eye strain. Mental disorientation.”
“Well that’s good.” DH said as they allowed themselves to relax into the couch once more, leaning against TO.
“But… The things I saw on the report.” TO shook their head, “They know a lot. They know things that I didn’t think anyone noticed or paid attention to. If they didn’t know that we’re here right now, I’d be very surprised.”
“Well, there’s no rules saying we’re not allowed to explore.” GiDi said.
“I feel as though the offline door might have been intended to serve as a stay-out sign”
“And I’ve been in here several times, remember?” GiDi said, “If it was a big problem, then they would have done something about it already, right?”
“And if they demand to know why we’re here.” DH said as they rolled their eyes, “We can say we’re trying to study cultural records without disrupting other synths. Or observing space.” They waved at the window, “Where else could we possibly see this?”
TO let their gaze fall back to the glorious illuminated display before them, the swirling and exploding balls of light, and the one orb in the middle of it all, glowing and bathing the blues and green with a purple light and giving everything a surreal look.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen colors like this that weren’t on a screen.” TO said, “Or projected in a simulation… It’s different.”
They fell quiet for a bit as they watched the swirling lights and listened to the music playing from the repaired communicator.
“Where do you think we are?” DH asked after a moment.
“Well,” TO said as they straightened up and activated their implant, “There’s lots of nebulas, but if we’re looking for one with a purple core, with these colors, and with a makeup that would allow a training center like this to stay inside it, that narrows it down a lot.” A screen projected in the air before them as they started running through lists of nebulas in their galaxy, narrowing down their search more and more until finally-
“Here.” TO finally said as they projected a picture of a nebula of purples, greens, and blues. It looked roughly like a bowl which held a bright purple light inside “The Geode Nebula.” They grinned as they looked at it, “Apparently, someone thought it looked like a geode of amethyst.’ They brought up a galactic map, and a little dot showing the location of the nebula showed up relatively close to the center. “Interesting.” TO said after a moment, “We’re close to the galactic hub.”
“What do you mean?” DH asked. This time, even GiDi looked at DH funny.
“The Galactic hub.” GiDi said as though DH had just misheard.
TO gave a deep sigh and brought up another map that showed a series of lines and dots all over the galaxy.
“Alright, DH.” TO said as they displayed the map, “A quiz for you. The Galaxy is absolutely massive. You could be placed on a spaceship and sent off in any direction, and die of old age before seeing anything else. That’s even with our most advanced ships. As such: how has King Decon managed to conquer and consolidate the galaxy? How is trade possible, not only between planets, but between solar systems?”
“Wormholes?” DH ventured.
“Exactly.” TO said as they pointed to the pinpoints and lines on the map, “Wormholes. Shortcuts through space-“
“And time!” GiDi said.
“Theoretically. There are none stabilized that go through time. But all these-“ TO waved at the wormholes on the screen, “All these are wormholes that travel instantaneously through space, and which King Decon has stabilized. And this-“ They pointed to a large cluster of dots near their nebula, “Is something like a knot of wormholes. King Decon created an artificial planet to act as the capital of the galaxy. If you’re going anywhere, you go through here.” TO closed up the map, “It makes sense that we would be so close to the hub, because once we’re done our training, we go to different planets. Having the training center here saves on resources for travel.”
“Oh…” DH said, their ears flushed, “I knew about wormholes, I just didn’t know that there was a hub.” They frowned as they looked out the window, “So… What about places outside of the range of wormholes?”
“That’s what exploratory missions are for.” TO said. “One of my Officers mentioned them the other day. They way the spoke about it, it almost seemed like it would be a punishment.“
“Why?” GiDi asked.
“I suppose it’s because it’s one way.” TO said, “As I said, you could float in one direction through space for your entire lifetime and find nothing. On these missions, you’re scanning for wormholes to stabalize, and you might never find one. The mission continues until the synths on board die of old age, and the ship floats off into nothing and becomes space junk.” They frowned, “Though, I don’t know why it’s considered punishment. You’re still doing good for King Decon, and you’re performing a potentially vital service, and you’re not corrected or - “
“But imagine if you were sent off on your own.” DH said, “All alone for the rest of your life. Wouldn’t that be punishment?”
A jolt of fear ran through TO as they considered it, “Yes…” They said as they let the idea roll around in their head, “But I can’t imagine that King Decon would allow that. and besides, that, you need more people to run a ship. It would have to be a small group of synths at least.”
“... It doesn’t sound bad to me.” GiDi said after a moment. “I mean, you’re off on your own. If you’re with people you like it wouldn’t be bad. You wouldn’t have to worry about being corrected or repurposed, AND you might find things that nobody else has ever seen before!” They looked to TO with a look of excitement, “How does someone do that?”
“You... Want to do it?”
GiDi’s ears flicked down, “Well.” They said, “If I was sent off with people I like… It sounds like fun. Like early retirement.”
TO shook their head, “No” they said firmly, “No no. You’d be isolated from the rest of the galaxy for the rest of your life. You’d likely spend the rest of your days in a tiny ship.”
“We’d be left alone for the rest of our lives?” GiDi said, “Sounds good to me.” They frowned as they looked out at the nebula, “How do they choose people for that?”
“I don’t know…” TO said, “One of my officers… They’re obviously different. Strange. Like me. They’re a lot like me, actually-“ Except of course PQ12 was able to do the dissection. “They suggested it might be a punishment for synths that cannot follow orders because they’re too strange.”
DH scoffed, “well, they say you’re strange, but we’re the ones excellent. Maybe they should reconsider who they send off, because I’m starting to think it’s better to be strange.
TO’s ears quirked as they remembered something important, “That reminds me.” They said, “That Officer, PQ12, they told me some things.” They glanced at DH, “Some potential reasoning as to why we might be different” They grinned as they settled in to tell GiDi and DH about why King Decon used synths, and the usefulness of variety.
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell