The handsome Viggo rubbed his face, and combed the dust out of his hair. Yet again he was safe aboard the ship, killing time.
He was disappointed as usual, but mostly bored. He was inside, where it was quite dull. And Kára, Wolven and Rhode were outside. Where all the action was. Every time they went to do a job, his mission was always the same. Watch the ship. Even though, he was never alone.
For he had a babysitter in Echo Saurd. A machine more than capable of watching Amazon on his lonesome.
It said little on Viggo’s prospects of being allowed to join the crew on their future adventures. But it said quite a lot about the Captain’s faith in his abilities. He knew he was young and inexperienced, but he was strong and able-bodied. And beyond that, he was sure there was even more he could contribute.
Having stood by; waiting next to the hold doors and the loading ramp for nearly five minutes, he groaned and turned to the robot, “Would you really stop me?”
Echo Saurd sighed, “That depends, Mister Adad.” Then he walked away, returning to his duties. He crossed the length of the cargo hold and interfaced with the Amazon. Inserting his fingers into a port like a disc of old.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Again, that depends. Certain protocols will forbid me from answering. Others might even impel me to shut down.”
“I know that, you always say that, and you probably do it to annoy us. But protocols and programming aside, I don’t understand why Kára never lets me leave the ship. I’m old enough and responsible enough aren’t I? We were on Lobodon, and Mustela 9, and—”
“Oh, were we?” said Echo, cutting Viggo off, “Were we really? Gosh, I had no idea.” He tried to continue working.
“Fine then. If you’re going to be rude, I won’t talk to you at all.”
Barely a moment passed before Viggo caved; completely unable to bear the silence. “Oh, come on, Echo! We’ve been to more dangerous planets than this a dozen times before! And I didn’t have to stay on the ship when we were on Lobodon. Or Mustela 9, and a couple other places. So if that’s the case, why do I have to stay here now?”
“Ugh! Why must you be so annoying!?”
“Why do you evade, when it would be easier to just answer the question?”
By definition Echo Saurd was an android; not some simple machine. An automaton with a man’s body and a man’s face. He even smiled occasionally. Convincing enough unless one was looking; much of him was artificial. The cedar skin, carob hair, and greying moustache was just tissue. His snow-capped teeth were titanium, coated with synthetic enamel. Though his tawny bionic eyes seemed real enough some of the time. They were shrewd, yet pained. They looked old, but at the same time, were very much cutting edge.
On the inside, his endoskeleton was made of an alloy similar to that of the hull of Amazon, and comprised of a system of lightweight servos. Such a design made Echo Saurd ideally suited for conditions adverse to most sentient races, notably extreme temperatures. As well as being equipped to both exert and withstand great weight and force. And his positronic brain wielded enhanced processing and computational power to rival most other androids, and almost certainly explained his behaviour.
In that regard, Echo Saurd was obedient and reliable of course, but sometimes reluctant, and often aggravated when made to do certain tasks. He expressed himself, and seemed to have a personality. As such, he often came across as heartless physically and metaphorically. Sarcastic, and sardonic. Bitter and rude. Smug and arrogant. But whether these design features in his programming were flaws, neither he nor the crew could be sure.
“You had better be testing me, Mister Adad or I swear, I will do as the Captain ordered. By any means necessary!”
Viggo argued, “She did not say by any means. Besides, I’m not trying to leave now, am I?”
“Fine! But that won’t stop me! If I have to make it look like you were trying to leave, so be it!”
“Your protocols will stop you.”
Echo seethed. Obviously contemplating a way to override those commands when he finally saw the smile on the boy’s face.
Just then, they heard a squeal. A long, terrifying scream coming from outside. In the distance. In the desert. Over the sound of fine grains of sand scouring the old rusted frame of Amazon.
Viggo and Echo stopped dead. They looked around, even though they were fairly certain from where the noise originated. Finally, they looked back at each other.
“That was you, right? That was one of the Amazon’s computer updates?”
Echo nodded no.
“Then what was it? One of the other ships out there?”
“Alright, I’m not an expert, but if I had to guess, I’d say that that was one of the mating calls of the local wildlife.”
“What wildlife? This is a desert planet.”
Thereafter came another howl. Another massive bellow, even closer than the last. Though it sounded more hungry than anything.
Echo scoffed, “Yeah, well, although everyone may know about Izmir Tertia’s rapid aridification, it’s not completely dead. There are various insects, and of course, a vast array of prokaryotic life forms. Some as large as our—”
“What’s out there, Echo?” asked Viggo, who was fidgeting impatiently.
“The Izmiri called them O Juvvøøta. The ‘Divine Ones.’ According to the ancients and their legends, they were once, or still are depending on which crackpot you talk to, the gods of the universe. It is said that they devour everything. And that one day, they shall swallow up this galaxy, and every galaxy in between.”
“And what are they really?”
“Obviously, Mister Adad, not gods. Theoretically, we would already have been devoured otherwise.”
“So then what are those things out there? Are they harmless?”
“Do they sound harmless?” asked Echo as another scream rang out.
He didn’t wait for Viggo to answer, for his question was a rhetorical one. He proceeded to describe to the boy, the monsters outside. What was waiting in the waste. Beyond the walls of Kahmanoq.