Mateo woke up alone, stirring slowly enough to realise she shouldn’t move straightaway. The last thing she remembered was not being on the ship anymore, a frightening sensation when the ship was that close to her. It felt like she should be freezing but a lukewarm breeze was flowing through her. It seemed she had survived.
Something beeped twice next to her. The system knew she was up. Throwing deception away she opened her eyes and looked around. As expected, it was some kind of medical facility. The larger ships still had them, since sometimes injuries meant people couldn’t kart themselves to their rooms. It was as sparse as she had come to expect. Just the medical slab and a digital readout hovering over her. According to the information above her her heart rate and temperature were steady. Blood pressure and VO2 levels were a little lower than they should be, though that may have been as expected. It probably meant she had only been asleep a few hours at best.
Sliding herself round to sit rather than lie, she saw a lot of crates that looked like they contained food, which was kind of odd considering the panel she now saw on the wall, quick light flashing. She slid off, testing her legs to make sure they weren’t going to shatter on her and wandered over to it.
“Water please,” she said after a moment’s trepidation. The wall beeped at her and the panel opened to reveal a large beaker filled with a pint of the stuff. She downed it in an instance and felt herself full. A quick search of one of the crates revealed the Nutriopacks she had seen earlier. This things did last forever but they didn’t seem necessary when the ship had its own producer. Maybe they just tasted good. The one in her pocket had disappeared.
“Not bad” she muttered to herself as she wandered out with half of one in her hand. The corridor around her was empty, but at least it was breathable out here. She had been a little casual in just wandering out of a room that might of had literally nothing on the side.
Her being alive probably meant the bandits were still hanging out in space, which was fine, she guessed. It was kind of weird to think that people she was talking to just a bit ago were now all floating blue. Her arm felt fine though. Not even a bruise, the ship must have healed it up at the same time.
Letting her legs wander, she quickly recognised where she was and headed for the centre again. The room was still dark and appeared unoccupied by all except crates and a large humming. The maze was easily to navigate this time and when she reached the centre she saw the girl who had casually tried to asphyxiate her a little while ago back where Mateo had first met her, clicking away on her console. The three Igne were watching, or just standing with no emotional or situational output at all, Mateo couldn’t tell. The girl was absorbed in a game by the looks of things.
“Hey,” Mateo said, getting a yelp for her efforts. “No headphones this time.” The girl waved her hand at the screen before swinging round to face the intruder.
“I was aware someone may be sneaking up on me at some point,” Notch said with a sneer. “Figured i should be ready this time.”
“Well it didn’t exactly help, though i guess you’re not having me crushed this time, so thanks for that.”
“Yeah well,” Notch hesitated. “I guess i’m not killing you for the moment. We’ll see how that goes.”
“That sounds an awfully lot like someone who wants to go back in the airlock.”
“No no. I’m grateful. You could have left me to float to my doom, but you didn’t. Thank you for saving me… from the trap you lured me into.”
“You’re welcome,” Notch replied, stranding the girls in an awkward silence. Mateo suddenly realised she didn’t really know what was happening next. Notch seemed to be waiting for her to say something- and she was waiting for Notch to say something.
“Sooo…” Notch finally broke the silence. “You want to join my crew.”
“Yes?” Mateo replied, not sure if it was a question or not.
“You realise what i’m doing right? My mission.” Mateo let the question hang in the air. “I’m aiming for the centrepoint. The exact middle of the universe. That place no one has gone to before.”
“Or at least if they have they’ve never come back,” Mateo interrupted, receiving a glare for her efforts. “Which either means they die, or the place is so flat out amazing there’s no reason to return. Most likely the former.”
“Yes. Well, i’m different. I intend to reach the centrepoint, survive and come back-”
“Pretty sure everyone intends to do that.”
“And in doing so, discover the true meaning of the universe.” Mateo let the smile form on her lips. This was perfect really. Exactly what she had been wanting. No more wasting time.
“So, i’ll be fair. You want in, you’re in. You want out, you get dropped off on the next planetoid. I’ll be even fairer and have it be one with oxygen.”
“But you only get to choose now. I’m not wasting time with anyone, and i’m not fooling you. Getting to the centrepoint means visiting the roughest parts of the universe. We will end up fighting bandits. We may end up becoming bandits. Law enforcement will become an issue the closer we get and there will be a point where we either proceed or die. So choose now. In or out.”
Mateo looked around the room, the closest thing this place apparently had to a bridge, covered in crate with a small console that could only be housed by two, set up in a way so it could be used by one.With robot alien humanoid things running the ship, the motives of their entire race unknown, all on a mission that no one else has succeeded in accomplishing for the four thousand years since humanity yanked itself out of its own field. She kept the smile on.
“Yeah i’m in,” she said. I’ve got nothing better to do.”
Notch paused. “That’s your response Hardly sounds enthusiastic.
Mateo grabbed the small swivel chair by both handled, pulling the woman towards her to stare her right in the eyes. Notch’s eye went wide with the sudden proximity to the two of them, and Mateo met them head on.
“I mean it,” she replied. “WIth all my heart and brain and spirit and blood. Your asking me to help find the great secret of the universe. The final discovery. The last treasure. The number 42. Believe me when i say it. I literally have nothing better to do.”
Mateo released the chair, letting it roll back as Notch went with it. The woman sitting before her just stared ahead, her brain processing.
“Good,” she finally said, a grin forming on her own lips. “Glad to hear it.” she swung back round to face her console. “Let’s get a move on then.”
“Right, my captain.” Mateo replied with a salute both mocking and one hundred percent genuine.
With that, the room fell silent, as Notch proceeded to start tapping on the screen before her.. Mateo stood straight, seeing out of the corner of her eye as Notch began to check the ship’s current status. Hull checks, shield integrity, course plotting. It was clearly just a check, rather than adding anything new. Temperature checks. Oxygen. Repair systems. A quick check of the camera systems showing a certain corridor that was now permanently sealed. InUniverse. Other people’s posts. Gem Farmer.
“Erm-” Mateo finally said around the time she started to feel a little lonely, two feet away from the person she was supposed to be talking to.
“What?” Notch said without looking her way.
“So… what should i do then?”
“Whatever you want.”
“No i mean. What do i do? What’s my role on the ship?”
Notch paused, still not looking her way. “Whatever you want it to be.”
“Okay,” Mateo said, beginning to feel a little more lost. “What roles are there?”
“Like, what can i help with? Communications? Administration? Cleaning?”
“Oh, that’s all automated. The bots handle that.”
“Okay. What about Engineering? I do have several levels in-”
“That’s handled by the Igne. It’s their ship.”
“Oh good. What can i do there then?”
“What? Oh no. I mean we have personnel. You. Me. Plus three Igne. They do their own thing, which is running the ship. I’m the captain, but you can do whatever you want.”
Mateo couldn’t tell if she was being messed around with. It was a feeling she didn’t much like.
“So what is there to do?”
“Well, you can eat. There’s plenty of food in the boxes. All Nutriopacks. There’s consoles in the other rooms if you want to grab one. There’s no fitness suite but i guess you can just run round the corridors-”
“No,” Mateo interrupted. “As in, what work is there for me to do? There must be something.”
“Oh right,” Notch said, leaning back. “Nothing.”
“Nothing. Everything is automated except for Captain’s orders.”
“Everything. The bots sort out all the basics. The Igne handle the larger tasks, and i tell us where to go. There’s no need for anything else.”
“So, there really is literally nothing for me to do.”
“Nope. You’re already useless to me. Still, i guess it’s nice to have company, though if you could leave me alone until i call for you i would prefer it greatly.”
“Oh. Okay.” Mateo could hear some kind of very loud siren blaring in her head right now. For some reason she was convinced she had to ignore it. “Is there at least a room i can stay in?”
“Yeah sure. Use one of the empty ones.”
“Could i use one with a bed.”
“Oh, there are no beds.”
“No. I just use a standby app myself. Much easier. No risk of back pains. If you do want to ‘lie down and sleep’ there are some soft items on some of the upper decks, but beyond that do want you want.”
“Don’t know what they are. The Igne don’t seem to be aware of them either. No idea, but they don’t do anything anyway.”
“Right.” The siren was the loudest thing up the room. Removing all thought, all reason, the rumblings of the ship. All save the sound of Notch’s voice.
“Anyway. Do what you want. Have fun exploring the ship. Oh, and if you try to go down into the basement deck i will jettison you. Dismissed.”
Notch went back to tapping on her console screen.