The Ithrian Gambit
Okimbe Asawa, "Proteus"
Genomesh Pilot and Technopath
Name: Okimbe Asawa/Proteus
Diamonds (3): Hacker (High Impact)
Spades (2): Augmented Operator (Medium Impact)
Hearts (1): Striking Appearance
Special FX (King of Diamonds):
Deus Ex Machina: The line between man and machine blurs as Proteus integrates fully with a machine or network. He is able to exert total control.
Battery Powered: Proteus’ vital organs are now mostly for show. He requires a constant power source, or he shuts down.
People say that the strangest thing about Proteus is his eyes. They change color, and a faint light can often be seen pulsing behind them in time with whatever process he might be running.
For him, it’s not having a heartbeat. Deep into the sleep cycles, when the ship is quiet, its absence haunts him, the silent ghost of his former self…
Ensign Okimbe Asawa had been at the helm of the UTAF cruiser Apollo when the Ithri attacked. It was one of the first battles in the war, and one of the bloodiest. The Apollo’s systems began failing immediately, like nothing anyone had ever seen. Okimbe’s fingers danced across the flickering control panel, struggling to keep the ship in formation, but soon the Apollo was adrift, floating off alone amidst the chaos. He and the rest of the bridge crew watched helplessly as the Ithrian guns shredded the fleet, sending entire fragments of battleships spinning off into the void, plumes of fire blossoming as they vented their atmospheres.
The captain gave the order to go dark, hoping the Apollo would appear like just another piece of wreckage. This worked for awhile, but the Ithrian ships did not leave. They maneuvered around the debris field, like they were scanning for something. It was only a matter of time before they were discovered. The captain gave the order to power up, his breath visible in the soft red emergency lights.
That was Okimbe’s last memory as a human being.
He swam in a sea of darkness, surrounded by unfamiliar sounds and vibrations. Pinpoints of light formed alien symbols behind his eyelids. After a moment, they rearranged themselves to read: Proteus Online.
He opened his eyes groggily and looked around the room. The symbols stayed in his field of vision, overlaid onto his view of a dim, misty room. The light was a completely new color he had never seen before, and was diffused, like it came from the mist itself. He could make out a door and some other pieces of equipment in the room, but could see no controls or panels to operate any of them. Then, little pinpoints of light bloomed into view next to each machine, and transformed into more alien symbols. He focused on one, and the machine next to it hummed to life. New symbols appeared, but before he could start to decipher them, the door opened.
Very few people had ever seen one of the Ithri up close, and even fewer had seen one without a suit on. They were terrifying. Only vaguely humanoid, with confounding proportions, this one stopped, as if surprised to find the captive awake.
Okimbe started to get up from the table, but the alien quickly pinned him down with several appendages and loomed over him. Immediately, his vision clouded with the alien symbols, and he could feel massive amounts of data flooding into his body. He was drowning in it, losing control of his mind.
Suddenly, the ship rocked violently, knocking him off the table and sending his Ithrian captor stumbling back through the door. Okimbe felt a painful tug at the nape of his neck, then a sickening sensation along his spine as something was pulled out. The symbols vanished, except for one flashing urgently in the upper right corner of his view.
As he got to his feet, the symbol changed to a lightning bolt, still used on UTAF ships to mean power. His limbs felt heavy and wooden, like he was fighting a hundred muscle cramps at the same time.
He barely had time to wonder about this before the Ithrian reoriented itself out in the hallway and hissed angrily. It seemed to regard him, though Okimbe could not make out any sensory organs. Without knowing exactly how, he focused on the symbols near the door and willed it to close. The creature lunged, but the door slammed shut. He somehow…felt it trying to open the door, using the same virtual panel.
Then the ship shuddered again, and lost gravity. The Ithrian broke contact, and Okimbe heard it move away from the door. He was still in trouble, though, according to the blinking lightning bolt. He suddenly felt very sleepy, and darkness started to creep in around the edges of his vision. He turned toward the humming machine he had started just moments ago, and a schematic materialized in the air next to it. With his mind, he opened a maintenance panel, and with his cramping hands managed to remove what he knew to be some kind of capacitor. It had a jack similar to the one on the end of the cable that came out of his neck. Drowsily, he managed to plug it in. His limbs shuddered away the cramps, and the lightning bolt changed from an urgent blinking red to a merely alarming shade of orange.
Now he could think. The Ithrian ship was obviously in the middle of a firefight, and the loss of gravity meant that it wasn’t doing well. Another violent shudder confirmed his theory. This ship was coming apart.
Looking and feeling around for more nodes, Okimbe closed every vent and door he could sense. Not long after, there was one final tremor, and then nothing. He floated peacefully in the dim, misty room. The nodes around him faded away as this piece of the ship lost power. The air started getting cold fast, which meant very little insulation around his makeshift escape pod.
Desperately, he reached out with his mind, not knowing what else to do. At first, there was nothing, but then, miles away over his left shoulder, he found something.
It was familiar to him, almost like being introduced to someone and then realizing you knew them from grade school. It was a human comms signal, celebrating the victory over the Ithrian vessel. He heard it inside his mind, with perfect fidelity.
“I need help,” Okimbe said aloud, his voice the only external sound in his tiny world.
The chatter stopped. “Who the fuck was that?” said a voice in Okimbe’s head. Definitely not UTAF.
“Unknown vessel,” said a different voice, “identify yourself.”
“I am trapped in a section of the Ithrian ship. I was taken prisoner. I don’t think I have much time.” Okimbe twisted around to face the direction of the signal.
“Bullshit!” came the response. “How are you alive in there?”
“I don’t know, but if you trace my signal, you can see for yourself.” Okimbe’s breath mingled with the alien mist, and frost crystals had begun to form on the bulkheads. “Please hurry.”
There was a pause for about a minute, though to Okimbe, it seemed much longer.
“Okay, we’re locked on. This better not be a trick, asshole, or freezing to death will be the least of your problems. Who the hell are you, anyway?”
Okimbe almost said his name, rank, and serial number, as was protocol, but these were not soldiers he was talking to, and a lot of civilians and mercenaries didn’t hold the UTAF in the highest regard.
“Proteus,” he said. “My name is Proteus.”