"What you lookin' at?"
Ace sat slouched in the back of the dimly lit cell. His prison was onboard “The Extractor,”: A ship model specifically designed to capture and hold new contestants for the Warfare One tournament.
The young prodigy could hear heavy footsteps approaching his hold. Eager to meet his kidnappers, he began to pick himself up. But before he even got to his feet, his collar restraint tugged on his body, practically dragging him towards the molecular shield wall that locked him in containment. Without much success, he would try to fight back against this invisible force, but ultimately it was like going against the tide.
Only a second later, the sounds were revealed to be of an extra-terrestrial: an eight-foot-tall reptilian-looking creature with four eyes. Judging by its demeanor and uniform, Ace had correctly assumed the being to be something equated to a warden.
The alien stood face to face with the human prisoner, only a thin, humming shield wall separating them. Without speaking a word, the reptilian pressed a button on their wrist-mounted control panel.
“Neat, I got one of those. Although maybe it's just a bias, I think mine’s cooler- OW!”
Something underneath Ace’s neck brace had pricked his skin, drawing a bit of blood before dispensing a little floating tube that, with little resistance, flew right through the field and into the alien's grasp. After seemingly acquiring what they came for, the warden spoke something unintelligible that released the invisible tension of the neck brace, then proceeded to walk away.
However, before the alien could leave the human's sight, Ace would attempt to grab back its attention.
“You know, back on earth, there were a few things that people would frequently ask me: ‘Ace, could you teach me how to become as handsome as you?’ ‘Ace, after you become a big-time billionaire in the tech industry, could you marry me?’ ‘Ace, I heard that circuitry takes careful hand work; I wonder-’”
The reptilian guard slowly returned to the front of the cell with a pestered expression.
“What point do you make, Human?”
“The point is… that I have a lot of people waiting for me back home that would just go absolutely crazy if they ever found out what’s happening to me.”
An awkward silence filled the room as Ace patiently stared at his captor. Soon enough, the alien couldn’t help but let out a light chuckle.
“Hehe, was that meant as a threat?”
Taking the opportunity to respond, Ace’s AI companion “Cypher” projected herself as a small stick figure hologram over his own wrist com.
“Unlikely, judging from posture and tone, his statement only reads a 35% chance of being a threat. In addition, I couldn’t find any past references for his quotes in any log recordings, which only further suggests your assumption as a misinterpret-”
Immediately, Ace frantically began to smack and fidget with his, attempting to shut her up while mumbling through his teeth,
“Cypher! Not the best time for this!”
The alien would let out a hardy laugh before asking,
“A loud mouth little computer you got there?”
Ace placed his back against the wall of the cell before slipping down to the floor, somewhat defeated.
“Honestly, her best quality.”
Cypher popped up again and proclaimed,
“Oh, this is sarcasm! Were you genuinely attempting to be threatening, Ace? My data couldn’t determine that.”
Cypher turned her form to face the amused alien and continued,
“For the best results of intimidation, it is best to utilize knowledge that both parties know to be true. For instance, I have been able to assess that you extra-terrestrials hold some amount of information on my master's reputation and achievements.”
Scoffing, the warden retorts,
“What of it?”
“Then you must understand that Ace is far more gifted than the average human. Even while only recently graduating from a prestigious college, his abilities in computation and software engineering have made him renowned worldwide.”
With a roll of its four eyes, the alien guard would answer back,
“Still trying to argue that people back home will hunt us down for his sake? Send the whole species; your master isn’t going back.”
“Wouldn’t require them to. My assertion was that Ace alone is a marvel of human intellect and that he has everything he needs right here to ensure his safe return.”
A small smirk formed across the warden's lizard-like face as it pressed itself against the red glowing shield.
“You think that low of us and yet so highly of yourself? Do you believe we just forgot to take away your little gadgets before locking you up? No, we were very aware. Let the insect bring his stick and rocks in the cage, I say. Even the best earth has to offer holds no comparison to what-”
A beep emanated from Cypher before she declared,
“100% replication complete.”
Confused, the alien only responded with a breathy,
As if he were merely hopping out of bed, Ace picked himself up from the floor.
“Took you long enough, Cypher; I’ve been done on my end.”
Pressing his gloved thumb and index finger together, the guard's own wrist com began to screech wildly before sending a wave of electricity throughout its body. Unable to withstand the sudden shock, the alien collapsed to the ground unconscious.
After a soft sigh, Ace would turn to his little doodle companion.
“I thought you only needed a few seconds of recording before you could replicate?”
“Wow, it’s almost like I’m not a wizard, Ace. I don’t know if you noticed, but that wasn’t a human, so color me shocked when I couldn’t use my HUMAN database to cheat sheet off of.”
“I think I’m starting to like ‘calculated but dense’ Cypher better than your default personality; maybe I’ll switch it out when we get back home.”
“Up yours. Anyways, sending you the voice modifier. You have the model ready?”
“Not my prettiest work, but then again, these guys don’t really meet that descriptor anyway.”
With a gestured wave of his glove, a holographic projection began to slowly surround his form, casting him into the shape, color, and overall look of the extra-terrestrial.
Softly, Ace began to speak but found his words dwarfed and repeated by the voice of his captor.
“I thought you said you got 100% replication; it’s missing his cadence.”
“I can’t automate a cadence while you speak, idiot; that's something that requires an understanding of intent before you've even said anything.”
“Really? With how you so often just seem to know exactly what ticks me off, I figured you for a mind reader.”
A holo-display popped up over his vision.
“Wow, you sure are giving the profanity censor an ear full.”
“To more important things, Ace. The shield is still-”
Right on cue, the molecular shield dissipated into a light cloud of red gas. With a prideful smirk, Ace began walking through the new entryway.
“He was right about one thing, Cypher; their technology really isn’t comparable.”
“Show off.”
For the next ten minutes, the lone human would blend in with the other roaming crewmembers. Being ever so careful not to spend too much time near any one individual, as his holographic disguise could only capture so much detail.
Not long into this venture, alarms began to sound off after the original warden’s body was discovered. Time running out, Ace would send Cypher into the ship's computer, hoping that she could discover the location of any armories, hangar bay with smaller stationed crafts, or even just escape pods. But to his dissatisfaction, she would report back no such findings.
Little by little, his list of options grew smaller, eventually leading him to take the one drastic measure that he dreaded: seize control of the ship itself.
Tasking Cypher with infiltrating the security systems, he was able to acquire control of the onboard drones with relative ease. With a new robotic militia under his command, he cleared himself an easy path to the main bridge, which itself had also been ridden of any opposition.
A sense of relief washed over him as he took his seat in the captain's chair.
“Alright, Cypher. I hope you found the instruction manual for this thing, ‘cus you’re gonna be the one driving us ho-”
Without warning, his holographic disguise would forcefully power down.
“What the he-”
Ace was startled to also find that his voice modular was no longer operating. Then, as if it were all just a mirage, the entire ship faded into nothing. Disoriented, Ace quickly turned his head in all directions, only to find an endless field of white.
He would receive no response, leaving him to shout her name louder. However, this time he only found a quiet release of air escaping his mouth. No matter how much he tried, his voice would deliver only silence.
The wisp of invisible winds began to ring in his head, revealing a collection of voices being carried in its flow as it grew stronger.
“Impressive. Certainly was worth the test run.”
“Agreed. But unfortunately, his success was only possible with the competency level of his opposition lowered.”
“Still levels above our average contestant, and most surely enough to see his debut value set ten times that of the normal fodder.”
“Yes, but the Arena does not permit for his AI companion, nor much else from his arsenal.”
“I may know a way to convince the overseers to make an exception.”
“Regardless, this test data will be enough to cement a high price for him during his first tournament; if he fails to live up to expectations without his gear, that will be another investor's problem.”
“Just to be sure, shall we run another?”