Captain Giye never really understood how he had gotten into this situation. His life had been a simple one. Days toiling on the asteroid, nothing to do but work his father‘s land, mining minerals and ore so dad could keep the power going and buy the liquid that made him shout less and let Giye move in the other rooms besides his own. There were days when he preferred that kind of living, though he had always wished for something more.
His dad had books. Lots of them. The old ones made from leaves and covered in wax. Giye didn’t have much schooling but he could read good, and he read lots. Books of adventurers and warriors in various lands, travelling across oceans on the old planet, sailing through systems and galaxies like it was no big deal. He knew at the time the books were written that this was a big deal and that his type of living was the amazing type of living. Giye didn’t see what the big deal was though. Living on an asteroid was pretty easy when he was able to keep his dad happy, but it wasn’t nothing special. The dome that created an atmosphere for them just allowed them to keep breathing, and the shuttle that let them travel to Kranos IX was just for getting to one place or another. Kranos IX was a special every other week trip for him and dad, but he never really saw how it would differ to any other trip to any other city.
Maybe the people writing the books just got bored like he did, which is why he made up his own adventures in his head. Tales of pirates fighting pirates and rescuing maidens, except he didn’t do it on oceans made out of water. He did it on seas of fire on his magical rock boat, where he would fight lava golems and save boys from local tribesmen who were looking to sacrifice them to their acid gods. His stories were much better, and he had great fun acting them out, until dad woke up of course and asked loudly for him to keep it down up there. There he fought his battles real quiet in his head. Simple times.
So when the violent men came to see his father it made it very complicated when they shot his dad in the stomach until he moved no more. Giye didn’t know what to do when this happened. The men had lots of rifles and laser knives and a big ship that let them go places. These people were clearly some kind of bad guys. The obvious sign was the killing of his dad and the all his workers and the whole looting of the house. Giye had been lucky that he was hiding in his room that his dad had locked from the other side when they had come, or else he might have been defeated as well, and it probably would have taken him a while to recover from a laser round to the chest.
Luckily that didn’t happen, and when they finally got to his room, which they took great effort to break into, the highly reinforced door his dad had installed had been worth every monie, he was ready, and he let the bookcase drop on the first man that wandered through. He was later told that the man’s name was Ex-Vice Admiral Lance, of the former Republican Peace Corp division, but he never saw the man again after that. He just remembered it was a nice sounding name. A long name. Names that were long were always important.
Giye didn’t remember much after that. He remembers picking up the rifle, how fun it felt when he fired a few rounds, then the men that had fought his father in an honourable battle to the death didn’t seem so willing to fight anymore. At first he wasn’t sure what to say to them, but then he remembered they were pirates of some kind, space pirates he would later learn, and, figuring that Space pirates spoke in a certain way, used lines he remembered in his book. Lines like ‘I’m in charge now, you scurvy scum suckers’ and ‘Anyone who wants to argue with me will have to argue with ol’ Bessy here first’. It must have impressed them because soon that had declared him their new leader and he was travelling on their ship and deciding where they should go and who they should attack.
He felt bad for all those people they attacked but he was sure that they always got the innocent people he injured to the lifeboats in time and got off the ship’s just before they boarded or it exploded, but that was just the way the life of a space pirate should be. And his new crew seemed to agree with him. And if they didn’t, he just said a line he remembered from one of his old books and they cheered around him. If he wasn’t sure what to say, he would slug Grimmy in the chest. That always got them cheering.
Giye missed his old life on the asteroid, and while he would love to see his dad again, who must have recovered from his wounds by now, he loved the life of a space pirate as well, especially when-
“Hey boss. Hey boss!”
“Yar,” he replied instinctively. The word always sounded good to him and a great way to hide the fact that he had stopped paying attention when sitting on the captain’s seat. “What you be yapping about boy?”
“We’ve found a ship, boss” Grimmy replied. “Two clicks away. We shouldn’t be on their scanners yet.”
“A ship?” he said. “And what colours do their flags bear?”
“Erm, none, from what i can see. They’re moving at regular travelling speeds for a cruiser but no ID codes are being transmitted. Could be abandoned.”
Giye was about to say something about spirits of the undead that he remembered from one particular series but held back when he couldn’t remember if ghosts were real or not.
“No wait. I recognise these types of readings,” Grimmy continued. Grimmy knew what he was doing. That’s why Giye left those types of decisions to him. He was glad he didn’t have to sweat these details. “It’s an Igne ship. Tech Junker.”
“Aye, or it could be full of booty!” Giye called out. “Take us in, lads. Nice and slow so they don’t see us. Let’s get us some treasure.
“So i don’t suppose this could end without you killing me?” Mateo asked, her breathing now only partially constricted by the large metallic arms currently pinning her to the Igne’s chest.
“I don’t see how,” the girl who she had sort of figured out by now ran the ship even though she didn’t look like a captain at all replied.
“It’s just, when you think about it really hard. As in, ‘please stop walking to the airlock and think about it really hard’, you don’t really have a reason to kill me.”
“Don’t captains normally remove stowaways from their ships wherever your from?”
“Glanor. It’s where i’m from.”
“And that shouldn’t be an issue. The issue is that you’re choosing to kill me right now. Why does it matter if other captains kill stowaways? It’s whether you should kill stowaways is the issue.”
“Okay,” the said said without stopping. “Why shouldn’t I kill stowaways?”
“Invalid question,” Mateo replied.
“Invalid question. The question presupposes that killing stowaways is a default action. However no human has to kill in order to survive, so it’s not the default action. Therefore, one does not need to come up with a reason to not kill other humans. However this does mean that one does need to define a reason for killing another human.”
The girl stopped in place. “Philosophy student?”
“Mathematics and logic.”
“Fair enough. I’ll accept your argument. On one condition.”
“Can it withstand the cold empty vacuum of space?” The girl pressed a button besides her, and a door shimmied into existence on the wall, quickly opening to reveal a very small room with another door on the opposite side. It didn’t look like a place you would stay for a long time. Mateo stared back at her.
“Technically that’s a question, not a condition.”
“Oh good lo-. How do you expect any of this to actually help? Do you honestly think any of this is extending your life to the point where you’re actually going to survive the situation?”
“Well what else do you suggest i do? I want to survive. I can’t move my body to escape. The Igne doesn’t respond to anything i say. Convincing you to not murder me is the best chance i have.”
The girl looked drained. “Yeah. I can’t fault you there. Least you’re not begging.”
“Would that work?”
“It certainly would speed things up.”
“Then i won’t beg.”
“Does that mean that if you think it would stand a chance of working you would have done it?”
“If you mean that if i thought that me performing the action of begging would have resulted in cracking you emotional surface and revealing your sense of decency, causing you to release me, then yes, i would have begged. I just wouldn’t have meant it as an emotional response on my side.”
“Even now, i won’t beg out of fear.”
The girl didn’t know the reasons why, and Mateo wasn’t going to tell her that particular story. For one, there was no time. The girl had stopped, but she couldn’t judge if it was out of hesitation or weariness of being exposed to her too long.
“Where were you aiming to go? the girl asked. Mateo held back any real expression. It was too soon.
“Somewhere new,” she replied. “Nowhere in particular, but a place humans had never gone before would be preferable.”
“You’re an explorer?” The girl’s body seemed to stiffen. Mateo couldn’t place why. “Travelling the cosmos in search of new things.”
“Erm… i guess, “Mateo replied with another attempted shrug. “Life was getting boring in the city, and we seemed to have stopped trying to find anything new since we covered the whole galaxy, not to mention everywhere just looks the same. I just wanted to see something… new, you know?” The girl’s was looking at her, brow furrowed and with eyes that felt like they should be familiar. “How about you?” She found herself asking without really planning to.
“Me. Oh. I was – i was trying to locate the Centrepoint.”
“Yeah, you know, of the Universe.”
Mateo let out the smallest snort of a burst of laughter. She couldn’t help herself. “What?” The girl snapped back.
“No no. sorry. It’s just. It’s kind of a childish dream.”
“Oh please, as opposed to flying out to somewhere new. That sounds like student existential tarncrap.”
“Yeah, well at least mine’s achievable.”
“And i’m sure that living in space was just a dream children had at one point, but here we are right now with one of us about to get more intimate with space than any one human should be. Besides, why shouldn’t i search for the Centrepoint?”
“Erm, because it doesn’t exist,” Mateo replied dismissively. “The universe is a doughnut.”
“Yeah, and if it has a shape, it means it has a centre. That’s what i’m looking for.”
“But everyone stopped looking megacycles ago.”
“I know. That’s what makes it so bad. The biggest mystery left standing and every single scientist and explorer just gave up? It pisses me off so much. It’s the final big mystery, and even you with your ‘find something new’ procrastination method of delaying the rest of your life is dismissing it out of hand.”
“Because it was done. They tried it. They just came out the other end. It’s what helped us create clip warps.”
“No, we just hit the edges of the universe and learned about tunnels. We never actually confirmed that something was in the middle of the universe. We didn’t have ships on either side confirming that a ship was exactly inbetween them. People just found a new toy and went with it, giving up on the dream in the process.”
Mateo recognised the outburst. It was like her own. The feeling that could only come with yearning.
“I mean, don’t you want to find it? Everyone’s satisfied now. Everything has been done. Nothing left to explore. The universe is empty. This is the new thing left to find. Don’t you want to find something new?”
Mateo smiled. “Yeah. Yeah, i guess i do.”
The girl snapped out of it. “Well, not you exactly. You’re about to die. Nice talk anyway. Unit zeroSeven. Step into the airlock. In two minutes i want you to release the girl.”
“Wait i-” Mateo started to kick, but it was futile. The girl kept her distance and the Igne just didn’t care.
“I’ll mention you to my grandmother. She’ll be happy i got to talk to someone. Unit zeroSeven. Activate magnet booties.”
“No. Don’t you dare do this to me. I won’t-” She was in the airlock with the Igne. Worst case scenario, It had just wandered in like it was no big deal. “You can’t-”
“If it makes you feel any better, you’ll be my first,” the girl said.
“Why would that make me feel better?” MAteo shouted back.
“No idea, but i just figured-” The explosion rang the corridor, rattling Mateo against her captor.
“What the frag?”
“Direct hit, Captain. Damage to rear side.”
“Aye. Strike ‘em again boys. Let’s be seeing them shake.” Giye liked this part best. The chase. The breach. The boarding. It was always the most exciting part of any story that worked from the side of the pirates, so by extension it meant that it would be the most exciting part of an actual boarding of an enemy’s ship. Sure, this ship had been taken by surprise and so was completely unable to defend itself, but they hadn’t had an opportunity to come across a ship they were capable of approaching from the front and still be strong enough to defeat. This was only fair.
“Second hit, sir. The ship’s having to slow down.”
“Excellent. Gather ye weapons maties. We’re going fishing!” The boys cheered and half a dozen of them went running out the door to the main airlock, the rest staying behind to steer the ship into place for a suitable boarding. Giye reached for his trusty cutlass, a mark XV plasma rifle with mounted scope. He had taken this for the storage hold of the first ship they plundered, shortly before his actual cutlass broke against that fight with the man armed with the incinerator cannon. That was a good fight. He hoped for a better one here.
The boys were already whooping up a storm as they approached the main hatch. Speed was the key here he understood. They couldn’t be like the ships of old and attack multiple parts of the enemy at once. They had just one entry point that could graft onto and bore a hole. And that meant guards stationed on the other side, ready to take them down. The faster they went, the harder it was for any opposition to setup a defense. Giye pushed his way to the front. A captain should lead by example and only run away at the first sign of danger. Only the cutter would be before him.
“Entry in fifteen seconds, sir.”
“Good lad,” Giye replied, not knowing the man’s name. There were so many of them, and Giye swore they kept changing. It wasn’t like back on the farm, where he only needed to remember five names and how many rocks there were on the asteroid total. At least his crew didn’t have to be named based on how mean they were to him.
“Everyone ready. Be prepared to curb the swarm.” He raised his own rifle, settling it on his forearm, a method taught to him by Bossy back home. He hadn’t been sure when he first started how well it would work in a real battle as opposed to just shooting rock rats on the gate posts, but since trying it it worked out perfectly. His forearm could both steady his aim and protect him from any shots that got too close. It didn’t seem to work well for the others though. Timmy had quickly found that out in their second raid on a galactic battle palace.
“We’re breached, sir.” The wall ahead of them peeled open like a tin can, light from the other side immediately flooding in. Everyone braced for the initial volley, hesitating only when nothing came. Giye grinned. He knew what that meant.
“First blood’s ours, laddies. Charge!”
“Unit zeroSeven, what’s going on?” The Igne dropped Mateo to the ground as it turned to face the girl. The girl glared at her, eyes darting to the Igne as it began to walk back through the airlock. Mateo didn’t waste time and scrambled out before it got there. “No, you wait-”
A video feed appeared before the both of them, a small light projecting itself from the Igne’s visor. Several men and woman were charging down a corridor. Mateo stopped by the girl, her instincts in conflict, wanting to watch what was going on. “Where is this?” The girl asked. A schematic of what Mateo guessed was the ship appeared. Mostly a flat cuboid from what she could gather, though it gave her no clue as to its real size. As it zoomed in, she got an idea of multiple levels before it focused in on one consisting of a spiralling corridor that kept shifting at right angles. Two points were lit, almost on opposite sides of the level.
“Ok. that’s too close. Should take them a couple of minutes to get here though. Plenty of time.”
“What are they, bandits?” Mateo asked. The girl looked at her, eyeing her up and down. Far longer than she should have, Mateo felt apprehensive. “What?”
“You’re not with them,” the girl replied.
“Er no. Of course i’m not.”
“I know. That’s what i meant. They’ve literally just arrived, but they shouldn’t have found the ship that easily. Are they tracking you?”
“I-” That was actually a good question. She was technically due to be up for auction back on Grognar, and they weren’t the type to let prizes get away so easily. It was possible that she had a tracking chip on her, though with the amount of time Mateo spent in that containment unit waiting for someone to pick her up they should her found her long before-
“Whatever,” the girl continued, tapping the air where the map was laid out. “I want Unit zeroEight to be ready to divert resources. Seal up the hole they left. Get Unit zeroSix to prepare for a light jump, enough distance to make us hard to track.” She looked to Mateo. “You. Can you fight?”
“I could probably talk them to death.”
The girl laughed, just a little. “You know. I could probably believe that. Certainly making me want to detonate the entire ship.”
“Please don’t do that.”
“We’ll see how the day goes. Come on. Follow me.” The girl shot off down the corridor the opposite way they came, getting a preferable amount of distance from the airlock that was threatening her moments ago. Mateo followed without much thought. This was probably the closest thing to a ticket to staying on the ship she could get. Help stop what she assumed was Space Bandits, and the girl takes her to the nearest available drop off point. Excellent, though she had no idea what the girl’s plan was, or how she planned to fight at least twenty bandits.
Unit zeroSeven was right behind them, moving faster than its weight looked like it should be allowed and barely making a sound in the process. The Igne would at least provide some good cover. Maybe it was the weapon the girl planned to fight back with.
“What’s the plan?” She asked, realising she hadn’t ran in a while. The girl didn’t look like the type either. They were basically jogging after the initial burst.
“You’ll see,” she replied. “Just stay by my side.”
“Understood.” An awkward pause. “So it is really just you on this ship?”
“Just me and the Igne. Why?”
“Isn’t that kind of lonely?”
The girl rolled her eyes as best she could while bobbing up and down the corridor. “You think i care about being lonely. The main reason i have this crew and this ship is to avoid people. Scrap. You’re the first human i’ve spoken to directly for about two megacycles.”
“Why? Do you just hate people?”
“Er, not hate. More annoyed at their constant yammering. You know? Asking questions. Trying to get to know me. Stowing away on my ship.”
“Yeah. I’d hate it if i met a person like that,” Mateo replied, sensing a smile form on a pair of lips. The moment passed.
“Get ready. They’ll be around this corner. Unit zeroSeven. Auto Cover.”
The Igne sped up, quickly passing them as they approached the hard left before them. It swung round the wall and took a blast of light to the arm for its efforts. “Auto Shield!” The girl cried out,and the next round of blasts impacted against a blue sphere now covering the Igne.
“Never protects itself unless i tell it to.” The barrage increased tenfold, the Igne standing in the centre of the corridor as it took the damage head on and didn’t seem the worse for wear over it. The girl edged slowly against the wall, stopping as she reached the turning point. Mateo followed behind. “Stop!” The girl shouted. “What do you want?”
Against all odds to Mateo’s mind the blasts very quickly subsided, all but a few round dissipating against the Igne’s shield. Silence filled the corridor for a few seconds, before a voice shouted “What?”
“I said ‘what do you want?’”
“Oh,” the voice called back. “That’s what i thought you said.”
“Well, your loot of course. What do you think we was ‘ere for?”
“I don’t have any. Go away.”
There appeared to be some minor discourse among the bandits over this. “We don’t believe you… And even if you didn’t we’d just take the ship and sell you off as slaves.”
The girl got ready to poke her head around the corner. “Well i – whoa!” She quickly fell back down to cover. Mateo expected a sudden burst of fire to appear but didn’t get it. “Well i guess that’s fair. Do you mind if i send out my first mate to negotiate our surrender?”
Mateo felt a minor flash of pride even though she knew it was a ruse. She had never been a first mate before, or held any kind of official crew ranking. This was actually kind of exciting. “Well… okay then,” the voice replied. “Send ‘em out.”
“Right,” the girl turned to her. “Either one of two things is going to happen here. One, you’re going to step out and immediately get fried by plasma bursts-”
“Horrifying to know.”
“Or two. They’re going to let them approach you. Listen. I’m not going to give up this ship or become a slave. I doubt you would like that either, so follow me on this. There is a switch on the far side of this corridor. I need you to stroll casually up to them and press it. Make it seem normal. Stay calm, but not too calm, you know.”
“Yeah. Okay.” Suddenly the idea of walking right up to bandits in order to pull a ruse on them seemed pretty fine compared to earlier. “I can do calm. So just press the button.”
“Just press the button. Big red one. Can’t miss it.”
“Okay. Got you. Let’s do this.” She stood up, preparing to move. “Oh, i’m Mateo, by the way.”
“You already told me that.”
“I know. It’s just- What’s your name?” The girl paused for a moment and Mateo remembered that they were on a time schedule. “No sorry. Never mind. I can’t keep them waiti-”
“It’s Notch,” Notch replied. “Just Notch.”
Mateo smiled. “Well, Captain Notch. First Mate Mateo acting on orders. Here i go.”
Mateo took two steps out into the open and immediately regretted her decision. She counted twenty of them as she raised her arms and started walking towards them, armed to the teeth, maybe even literally if some of them were carrying teeth lasers. That was a thing right?
“Keep your hands up,” the voice from before shouted, now connected to a bald man carrying what appeared to be a hull cutter torch. He seemed to be the only one without a proper weapon. Everyone else carried guns.
“Are you the captain?” she said improvising. A negotiation had to happen in some regard. The red button was almost right next to him. She kept moving.
“Nay lass,” another voice called out. “That’ll be me. Captain Giye’s the name.”
“Holy crap,” Mateo couldn’t help but blurt out, taking a step back The only thing that surprised her more than the captain was how it took her so long to notice him. Captain Giye was- well he was very tall, to the point where the ceiling was kind of an issue for him, his neck craning a little. Mateo couldn’t reach the ceiling if she jumped but this guy could head bang it all day long, probably even tear it asunder with those massive arms. What kind of gravity light planet did he come from that allowed him to get that tall but keep that much muscle? He’d be able to give the Igne a good spar.
“Pleased to meet you sir,” she said, continuing to walk forwards. “How would you like to negotiate today’s transactions?”
“Negotiate? Yar. You be fooling yourself lass. This ain’t goin’ be no smash and grab. We’ll be taking everything. Your ship. Yer fancy robots. Your pale little ass.”
She held back a comment on how awesome her ass was. She didn’t want to be giving them any ideas. Mateo had to walk at an angle to reach the button, making it hard to do without causing suspicion.
“If it pleases you sirs, we are on an important mission here. One that affects everybody, even yourselves.”
This seemed to give the captain pause, his rock hard features and zoned out expression holding for an instance. “Oh, and what be that?”
“We’re on a mission to locate and retrieve the Centrepoint.” A few of the bandits immediately started to laugh. It quickly travelled through the group, until everyone but the captain was at it. “What’s so funny? We have information-”
“What’s so funny,” the man with the breacher kit cut in. “It’s the Centrepoint. No one tries to find that anymore. Ain’t nothing more than a stupid pipe dream from centuries ago. Everyone knows that you can’t get near that area. All you can do is die.”
“Well we have new evidence that suggests-”
“New evidence,” the man cut in derisively. “As if new evidence meant anything the last two million times someone attempted it. Listen lass. You’re better off being sold by us for a harem somewhere. The Centrepoint’s just a swirling mass of death. Ain’t nothing going to come from throwing yourself into that.”
“Please, i’d rather throw myself into a dream than into the dirt with scum like you any cycle.”
“True true,” the man replied. “I can see how that might seem more appealing, but give the lads a few minutes with you in their quarters and spleuks-” the man shot across the floor the moment his chin connected with the fist as big as his head, bouncing off the ground and into a heap before them. Mateo stopped walking as the man fell before her feet in a twisted lump of limbs, his captain looming over them.
“Ha!” The Giant Captain laughed. “Well said, girlie. Yous got some spirit in you to say the least. I can respect that.”
“Well thank you. I-”
“For that, i’m not going have my boys sell you into slavery, as was the original plan. You’ve earned that, with that spirit of yours.”
“Much appreciated. Does that mean-”
“So i’ll just fight you here and spare you the indignity of such suffering.”
“Erm, fight you?”
“Aye. To the death, as is honourable and fair in these situations. You beat me, and you earn your freedom. My boys will leave you alone and go back from whence they came.”
“And if you win?” She said, trying to estimated his weight in basic newtons and realising he could probably crush her even in zero gravity.
“Wh, you die of course. What did you think would happen?”
“And the ship?”
“None of your concern by that point I imagine.”
“Well, are you ready?”
“May I… have a minute?”
“Oh. Okay then. Take your time.”
Mateo very much wanted to ask if he was serious, but he immediately dropped his lurched over her fighting posture and stood straight up again. His crew seemed perfectly willing to wait as well, albeit with grins on their faces. Mateo took a step back and proceeded to walk over to the wall. This could actually work. Once she reached the weapons case in the wall, she might actually be able to take a proper stand. She’d need to get behind the Igne as fast as she could but between the three of them, she, Notch and zeroSeven may stand a fighting chance.
She turned to grin as she reached for the button, amazed she managed to get this far at all. “Just don’t blame me when you run crying for mama,” she said as she pressed it, the loud klaxon immediately blaring into her eardrums, deafening her save for the sudden announcement that followed them.
“Closing hatchway doors. Closing hatchway doors. Prepare for section jettison. Any personnel in the area should evacuate before the hatchway closes.” Repeat, any personnel in this section should evacuate before the hatchway closes. Failure to do so will result in certain asphyxiation.”
Mateo turned to the end of the corridor, where Notch stood waving happily at them all, the hatchway shutting before anyone could even think of evacuating, and locking with several loud clunks, followed by a searing, hissing noise.