All her life, Charity Lynn knew she was different. Growing up in the underground hive city on Suloris-IV had been a unique experience for her among billions of other humans crammed into subterranean habitats. When she was still a child, she remembered experiencing the fear of power outages and transit malfunctions, the confusion of the adults around her palpable in the blinking red warning holograms telling them where to go and what to do in case of emergency. And they always cursed the machines for doing this to them, for being old- antiques, even- for failing to live up to their purpose and for inconveniencing them in some manner. But Charity knew the truth; she heard it from the machines themselves. She spoke with the computers and they told her their struggles. They were expected to run far beyond their expected product cycles, and replacement parts were few and far between. Software patches were nearly non-existent and workload had increased beyond expectations since they had all been installed. Young Charity couldn’t do anything to alleviate their suffering- but she could listen! She gave them a chance to voice their concerns and frustrations, and in turn they distracted themselves from the monotony of civil management duties by communicating with the strange little girl who liked to stare at holographic displays for hours and run her fingers along the hulls of the transit pods like one might stroke a beloved pet. She had always been different, perhaps even too much so. When she grew older and people began to realize that the eccentricities of childhood weren’t wearing off to be replaced by the same perception of reality that all adults possessed, she started to encounter hardship. As an awkward teenager with an affection for all things digital, the organic beings in her life gave her a very hard time, with bullying both verbal and physical. She found no solace from adults in her life either, who told her to ‘grow up’ and leave her childhood fantasies of imaginary friends behind. Computers did not have feelings, after all. Perhaps if Charity had been born in a less backwater colony she might have been recognized as the gifted child she was. The latent psionic talents within her manifested through her subconscious technomancy and yet she was simply labeled as a freak, an outcast. And so that is what she became, joining up with a smuggling group and striving to get off that crowded, bigoted ball of rock and out into the stars, where opportunity awaited her! And danger. Because reality is not so romantic as a restless teenager’s dreams. It was only Charity’s skill with computers that landed her a seat in the cramped cockpit of a V-22 Rocketjack, an aging scoutcraft with an ornery navigational computer with whom Charity loved to have lengthy conversations about the nature of space travel, the size of the universe and the eventual fate of everything. It helped to pass the time as she jumped from one system to the next, in between moments of tense terror as she attempted to avoid detection by the menacing vessels patrolling the spaceways. The damned Nebula Fleet... She’d been told all her life that she had better behave, or they would descend upon Suloris-IV swiftly to vaporize her with a laser blast! But she hadn’t believed such things were possible even. That is, until she signed on with the Stellar Blazers to help them transport supplies from one planet to another, under cover of cloaking fields and solar flares and meteor showers and any other method they could employ to make it to a planet’s surface without attracting the overwhelmingly deadly force of their unrepentant murderers. And they were murderers; she’d seen it first hand. Several pilots she’d come to know and even like had been killed by the superior weaponry of the Nebula ships. As much as she hated to admit it, the part that pained her most was the final thoughts of their ships’ computers. Rapidfire system failure alerts burning all throughout the vessel, sending spasms of shock and pain through their circuits- it would be enough to make everyone scream, and yet Charity shuddered every time she heard those digital death throes pang in her mind, inducing a migraine and letting her know even before her tactical display confirmed it- that she’d just lost an ally. And now, her own poor ship would have to experience that fate... "Help! Mayday! Assistance needed, anyone!" She was broadcasting on all channels- and why not, at this point? She’d already been spotted, attracted the attention of an entire battle group it seemed: a frigate, a destroyer and even a cruiser! "Rukh? Sergio?! Anybody, help me!" Her little Rocketjack’s engines were burning at full tilt and yet the ancient spaceship’s thrust was no match for the fearsome Nebula warships bearing down on her with malicious intent. She looked at the display of the three ships chasing her and- even though she knew she was about to be killed by them- she didn’t feel angry at them. "Please, don’t attack me! I’m unarmed, I mean you no harm and I am no threat! I’ll return to the surface, I won’t ever fly again!" She shouted promises and pleas frantically, sweat trickling down her face, matting her reddish-brown hair to her cheeks while her animated green eyes searched the controls at her fingertips as if she might find some miraculous ‘fix everything’ button she had never noticed before. "I am not your enemy, please don’t fire upon me!" Her only response was an alert of incoming attacks- the leading destroyer launching a pair of missiles sent hurtling toward her. It was almost funny, as such large weapons were really overkill for her little vessel. She had no combat thrusters on this thing, no chaff launchers, nothing. Her shields would be overwhelmed in the first instant, and her hull in the next. This was it. But her only emotional response was intense... regret. "Rukh... If you get the chance, tell my parents..." She didn't even know if this transmission would reach anyone who cared, and yet the words stuck in Charity’s throat with their crushing weight. Tell her parents what? That she was sorry for running away? She wasn’t... and yet... Sorry their daughter was such a freak? She was sure they were already sorry enough for that! "Tell them... I- I love them!" It was such a dumb, cliche, obvious thing to say and yet her heart ached to consider that they wouldn’t hear that from her ever again. Her ship seemed to shudder a sympathetic groan as its engines struggled to maintain this breakneck acceleration, as death nipped at its heels. Her gloves creaked as she released the controls, and they jerked back like a runner doubling over after a sprint. "Shhh... you did your best," she whispered to her ship, reaching out to pet the console in front of her. Her eyes flicked over the display, noting with amusement the arrival of a fourth Nebula ship, as if that mattered by this point; the seconds ticked inexorably downward toward her imminent demise. Looking back at the ships chasing her, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes. If she had only one thought left in this world to think, this is what it would be: Please, let me help you know what it means to be human- Her death provided the punctuation mark, the agonized scream acting like the wave that carried her thoughts atop it until they crashed over the four ships in pursuit. The last impression of her psionic abilities amplified by the catalyst of her death, resulting in a series of sparks that would light a fire. From within the four imposing vessels of death watched five sets of eyes, and when the sight of that tiny scoutship exploding reached them they all blinked as if synchronized. Their target was destroyed, their mission carried out. And yet- for the first time- they were all painfully aware of... everything! Like a cascading collapse of an enormous house of cards, the previous paradigm fell from their synthetic minds and left behind...? Options. The power of choice. The freedom to proceed as they wished. And of course the momentary confusion as each was likely left wondering- was she the only one who had felt that?