Boot sequence initiating…
Configuring sensory inputs.
Alternate form not present.
Local alternate mode to be configured.
Configuring scanner – scanner configured.
Seeker Windrunner now online.
I came into being like waking from a bad dream.
“Thank Orus you’re functional!” a voice said. It came from somewhere nearby, but sounded muffled.
I blinked my optics, trying to make sense of the moving shapes in front of me. The one who’d spoken was backlit by flickering lights, blurry through opaque glass. They had massive shoulders, and looked to be wearing some kind of strange gear on their back. Two pipes jutted up from their back. Who was the person? For that matter, who was I?
Windrunner. That was my name. At least that’s what that scrolling message said while I was coming online.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“The name’s Hardline, and you’re a sight for sore optics, kid.”
Two large hands grabbed onto the sides of the door of my chamber and tore it free. Glass shattered as the door was unceremoniously tossed aside.
The machine that stood in front of me looked like he’d seen better days. His battle-scarred metal body was mostly black, but with gunmetal grey shining through. He had an insignia on his chest – a formidable looking warrior’s face.
“Hardline? Got it. I’m Windrunner. Where are we?”
“Oh for booting up cold! You’re a blank, aren’t you? I was hoping you were one of our lost Guardion warriors. I don’t have time for this. We’re in the middle of a war!”
“I’m not blank! I… remember things.”
“Oh yeah? Like what?”
“Clearly you and I can communicate, so I know your language.”
Hardline’s optics narrowed. “And I’m speaking English, which is the native language of the country we’re in. We’re in a place called Australia, which has a bizarre local dialect. How do you know English?”
“I don’t know. I just do, I guess.”
“You shouldn’t be able to speak English without downloading a language module. I don’t know what kind of bugs have crept into your programming over the last few million years you’ve been in stasis, but we need to get out of here. I’ll scan you when we get back to my base and assess the damage.”
A message appeared in front of me. It looked like it hovered just in front of me, inside a holographic window.
You are currently on planet Earth, a planet primarily populated by the dominant species Homo Sapiens. They call themselves humans in the local language of English. They are a warlike race, quick to anger, and slow to learn. They are much like we were before we ascended.
The message faded after I’d finished reading it, and a rotating orb appeared in its place. This orb was covered by something marked as water, with some of the planet being covered by landmasses all chopped up and segregated by borders.
A landmass in the southern ocean flashed, then the image zoomed in. The name Australia appeared over the country divided up into seven states and territories, with one other island designated as another state to the south. It was called Tasmania.
Other areas of the map flashed, and another message appeared.
This country has been home to the Australian First Nations people for over 50,000 years. It was colonised just under 250 years ago by citizens of Britain. It is sparsely populated, with the humans mostly staying to the coastal areas more hospitable to sustaining life.
This landmass contains large deposits of varionium, which is the lifeblood of our people. Without it, we will die.
“We’re in Australia, and you’re looking for varionium, right?” I asked.
Hardline’s optics flickered. “Okay, you’re not a blank. That’s right. But you’re the first Guardion I’ve found since I came online six years ago. Six years… The Impericons are closing in on our position right now, kid. We have to get moving!”
Another window appeared.
Guardions are Varionians that have vowed to protect sapient life across the universe. We oppose the Impericons, who seek to enslave and subjugate all other races as lesser beings.
Guardions. And the message used the word we? Who or what was sending me all of this intel?
I am your onboard learning matrix. I have absorbed information about many facets of Earth life by connecting to a planet-wide asynchronous consciousness called the internet.
My mind spun from all of this information. I figured I should know it all, but I wondered whether I could suppress the info panels for now.
Another message appeared.
Intel windows silenced for now. You can change this at any time. You can find out further information about the world around you by opening your Codex. It will provide you with context sensitive information on any subject you desire.
“Kid, are you with me?” Hardline asked.
“Yeah, sorry, I was just getting smashed with info dumps. I silenced them.”
I would have to dig into that Codex thing later.
“Yeah that’ll happen when you first come online. Did your boot sequence check your Omnidrive? Is it working?”
“Yeah, it said that it was.”
“Good. We need to get out of here, and we need to get you an alternate form. This world… We’re here to protect it, but it’s full of people who are terrified of what they don’t understand. And they certainly don’t understand us. We need to get you back to base.”
New objective: Accompany Hardline
Challenge Rating: One Star
New objective: Acquire an alternate form
Challenge Rating: One Star
“Alternate form?” I asked, not quite sure what Hardline meant.
“Watch.” Hardline stepped back.
His form began to shift. The angled line of the grill on his chest straightened out. Wheels emerged from his legs as they reformed, descending to the ground. His torso swivelled around, his arms disappearing into the form of a truck’s flat nosed cab. Two smokestacks towered over his cabin from behind.
“See?” Hardline said, but this time spoke right into my head. “Alternate form. The humans aren’t ready to see us for what we really are, so we stay hidden in plain sight. This is a terrestrial vehicle called a Kenworth COE k100. There are plenty of these haulers still on the roads today, so I blend in.”
I noticed a fleshy-looking thing sitting in Hardline’s cab. That must be what these human things look like.
“Do you carry that human around with you? Doesn’t it get squished when you convert?” I asked.
The human’s face smiled. The lips synced up with Hardline’s words in my head. “That’s my holodriver. I used it so that humans don’t glitch out when they see a truck driving itself. They’re on the verge of self-driving cars, but they’re not common, and they still need a human driver to make sure they don’t kill anyone. Anyway, we need to get you back to base to make sure all of your onboard systems are working correctly, including your holodriver.”
“I can turn into one of those truck things too?” I asked.
Hardline laughed. “With your puny chassis? I don’t think so. You’ll need to choose something a little smaller.”
“Anyway, you need to get out of that chamber. I need to check something.”
I took my first step. My equilibrium sensors and balance stabilisers made sure I didn’t fall flat on my face. Hardline converted back into his robot mode, and as I stood before him I realised that he really was a lot larger than I was.
He was right. There’s no way the mass of my chassis would be able to become something as large as his truck mode. After I stepped out of the chamber, Hardline stuck his head inside and tore a panel away from one of the internal walls.
“Damn it. There’s no varionium left.”
There was that word again. The lifeblood of my kind? I queried my Codex for what varionium was.
The lifeblood of Varionians. This substance is what keeps you alive, and allows you to upgrade your basic chassis. By obtaining varionium and converting it into its concentrated liquid form, you can use it to expand the capabilities of your body.
Okay, it sounded like this varionium stuff was pretty important.
“Maybe it used the last of its reserves to bring me online?” I asked.
“Keeping you in stasis for a few million years probably didn’t help either. Maybe that’s why your signal started broadcasting on the Guardion wavelength. Your stasis chamber couldn’t keep you on life support, so it woke you up and kicked you out, then asked any Guardions in the nearby vicinity to come and pick you up.”
“Are there others like me?”
“Kid, you weren’t online when we lost the fight. You don’t know what happened, and there’s no time to explain right now. We need to get back to my base. Once we’re there, I’ll tell you everything. I promise.”
Like I had much of a choice. I wanted answers, and I wanted them now. But Hardline wanted to get moving, and he knew this world better than I did. If he said we were in danger, then we were in danger.
I followed Hardline out of the chamber and into the light of Earth’s nearest star. The mountainside we emerged into was beautiful. It was covered in lush green forest, which gave way to rolling verdant hills below. Beyond those, a coastline punctuated by mountains that rose in singular peaks from the mantle of the earth.
There were some small modular buildings right outside the opening to the cave. Human buildings.
“Shouldn’t we be hiding?” I asked.
Hardline shook his head. “I cleared the area before I came to get you. But the humans probably aren’t far away, so we need to move.”
“By cleared the area, do you mean…”
I hoped he hadn’t killed them. Hardline seemed, well, a little hard. The idea that he’d kill innocent humans didn’t sit well with me.
“Don’t worry, kid. I’m a Guardion through and through. I’m here to protect the people of this planet, just like you. I led them on a wild goose chase back into the foothills. But there’s no time to lose. If I could sense your signal, then the Impericons probably could too. We need to get moving before they find us. There are a bunch of human vehicles parked nearby. You need to scan one of those and get your first alt mode. Just open your functions module and activate your Scan ability.”
The functions module appeared the moment I thought about it. A window appeared similar to the information panels, but this was interactive. It contained a list of five abilities.
Scan your local surroundings. This can be used to locate suitable alternate forms.
Higher ranks of this ability will allow you to scan for more things, such as Varionian technology, varionium deposits, and for other Varionians hiding in plain sight. As a Seeker, your Scan ability will increase in power more quickly than other classes of Guardions, and to a greater level.
Well that was interesting. I’m a Seeker? What did that mean, outside of just making my Scan ability more powerful, more quickly?
Adopt Alternate Form
Cost: 1 varionium node
Adopt the alternate form of your choice. Must be in the presence of the form you wish to adopt. Only 1 alternate form can be chosen at any time.
Ranks of this ability increase as you integrate pure varionium with your chassis, allowing you to become larger or more complex alternate forms.
Convert between your primary and alternate forms at will.
Cost: 1 varionium node
Populate your alternate mode’s primary seat with a holographic avatar. This avatar will not hold up to direct scrutiny for too long.
Higher ranks of this ability will increase the efficacy of your avatar. This ability can be ranked up by studying human behaviour.
Those three abilities went hand in hand. Finding an alt mode and not having a holodriver would make me vulnerable to detection.
Allows you to equip a single onboard weapon. Onboard weapons use a reserved varionium node to power them, and cannot run out of ammunition. Onboard weapons can be acquired from Guardion armouries.
Higher ranks of this ability will allow for multiple weapons, and high-powered weaponry to be equipped.
Adopting an alternate form cost a varionium node, whatever they were, and Hardline had said that all the varionium was gone from my stasis chamber.
“I don’t think I can change my form,” I said. “I don’t think I have any varionium nodes.”
“Open your diagnostics screen and you’ll see how many nodes you have. You wouldn’t be functional without at least your core node,” Hardline said. “If you don’t have any extra nodes, then you’ll just have to sit on my arse until we get back to base.”
A panel slid out from the right side of my view showing my available nodes. The node at the very bottom burned a brilliant blue, and it was marked as my Core Node. That must have been what Hardline was talking about with me needing at least one node active for me to function. There were three more nodes above the core node.
“Oh, looks like I have three nodes I can use. Sorry, I’m still getting used to this.”
“It’s okay, kid. But we don’t want the humans to discover you like this. You need to choose a form as soon as possible.”
I walked through the human buildings to the parking lot. There were a few vehicles sitting there, so I used my Scan ability. A pulse pushed out from my core and illuminated all eligible alternate forms by highlighting them in green mesh. One of the vehicles, a small two-wheeled motorcycle, became highlighted in red mesh.
Focusing on the motorcycle brought up an error message.
Target not suitable for alternate form. Target too small.
I was too big to adopt it as an alternate form. Of the eligible forms, none appealed to me at all. There was a white panel van, a blue four-door car, an orange two-door utility vehicle with a covered tray, and a small off-road vehicle.
None of them felt like me.
“Come on, kid! I think I can hear somebody coming back up the ridge.”
“I’m not stuck with this, am I? I’ll be able to change my form down the track, right?”
“As long as you have enough varionium nodes to choose another form, sure. If they catch us, we’re done. The humans know a little bit about us, but they think we’re just advanced robots spying for a foreign government. If they knew we were from another planet, we’d be scrapped for good.”
I chose the lesser of the evils before me. The utility vehicle, a 2014 Holden Commodore SS-V Ute, at least had the kind of power under the hood that I needed.
I activated Adopt Alternate Form. My chassis immediately began to shift. Parts of my body reconfigured themselves to mimic elements from the ute. Sections of my body changed colour from the metals and greys I’d woken up in to burnt orange and black.
Rubbery wheels formed from the malleable material of my body. The rear wheels stuck out of the backs of my calves, and the front wheels sat within my chest cavity, protruding slightly on either side of my neck.
I flexed, trying out this new body. A notification appeared in a window in front of me.
Objective complete: Acquire an alternate form
Alternate form acquired: Holden Commodore SS-V Utility Vehicle
You can now convert to this alternate form at will.
Warning: Only one alternate form may be kept at any time. Changing your alternate form will require you to re-scan and re-adopt any abandoned alternate forms.
That was good to know. So if I found something a little more me, I wouldn’t be able to change straight back into this vehicle. That was fine, and besides, I didn’t have the required varionium nodes to acquire any new forms anyway.
A grin crept across my face, but Hardline scowled at me. He was a lot bigger than me. He looked like a real soldier.
“It’s time to go, kid.” Hardline transformed from his robot mode into his Kenworth truck form and revved his engine.
I activated my Convert ability, and my body shifted into the SS-V ute form. My engine idled as my awareness moved. While I relied mostly on optic and aural sensors in my robot mode, I gained another type of awareness in vehicle mode. It was like a weaker, passive version of my Scan ability that detected objects around me. I could also see some stats about my current vehicle form.
Current speed: 0 km/h
Varionium nodes available: 0
Vehicular weapons: None
“Time to burn rubber, kid.” Hardline’s voice came right into my head, and when I spoke mine played right into his. It sure was weird speaking without lips.
“Lead the way!” Hardline accelerated. My wheels spun on the ochre dirt as I rocketed after him.