Eating the Cono bar had been a bad idea. Suddenly the amount of time she spent in deep space doing literally nothing had increased an indefinite amount. She had originally seen it as a cycle or two tops, perhaps a whole month of cycles at a stretch, a week of them at the absolute most. Now, it could be whole speeds of cycles before she found herself back at a planet.
Would a bandit Freighter have been worse? It would have contained people at least. Sure those people would probably plan to do unspeakable things to her the second they found her stowing away, and that would have been terrifying, but at least there was a chance of reaching a planet at some point.
“Hey, mister Igne,” she said, suddenly coming up with a thought and deciding to present it to the nearest body. “Where is this ship going? Do you know if we have plans to dock somewhere at some point in the future?
The Igne, while doing an amazing act of looking like he wasn’t paying attention to her, continued its thesis on the effects of not producing any vibrations in such a way that it could be regarded as a communicable language that could be understood by another species none robotic in nature.
“Is there someone i could talk to? Somewhere i can sleep or eat…. Nope. Just going to ignore me?”
The Igne was being very quiet.
“Wonderful,” she saw the Igne put the last part of its device together. It looked like a box with dials on it. It was very impressive she was sure. “Okay. Bye, i guess.”
She knew where she was. Now, she had to find out where she was going. It had better be a better answer than nowhere.
Tech Junkers, though they were technically classed as Long haul Igneian cargo cruisers, were known for two things, Mateo noted. One, their vast size. Five square kilometers was the average from what she knew. And two, the fact that they were pretty much unmanned at all times.
There was just no need for people. The Igne took care of everything on these ships. They worked tirelessly, endlessly, doing their job perfectly. They would be the perfect employee is they were actually being hired for any jobs they do. The Igne had relationships with everyone in the galaxy, as merchants. Never as allies.
Really this was a rare opportunity for Mateo. The Igne were reclusive by default. No one spoke to them beyond trade agreements. Even then that was mostly transmitted by textscans. Beyond that all Mateo really know was that the trade agreement apparently never worked out in the Igne’s favour, to the point where they would even trade scrap for less scrap, and that they appeared to be emotionless robots that never spoke.
And that was fine with her.
If they didn’t speak or act against her, then they weren’t a threat to her. No murderbot deciding that they didn’t like her taking up precious cargo space and deciding to fit her in more nicely by stacking her limbs in alphabetical order. She was safe.
Right up until the food ran out.
The Cono bar may have been her last meal for all she knew. The rest could be rotten or unfit for human consumption. Would that matter to her in a few days?
She had to secure her current potential prospects.
The Igne were ignoring her, hard at work doing something she was sure more important than making sure she stayed alive. That should be fine. As long as she didn’t try to start causing damage they probably wouldn’t aim to stretch her out or something.
She left the big eyeball on a body to its work and continued her search. The navigation room was her best bet. There had to be a room for ensuring travel was in the right direction, though with it being Igne nothing was certain save the lack of signs saying where anything was.
The Igne didn’t seem likely to be fully robots but she could see them memorising a lot of things, ship layout being one of them. She took another right. The corridors were shorter now. Not by much, but easier to notice compared to the start. The ship’s innards were circling around, and that meant a central point.
Giye was understandably pissed off about his current predicament. He had not asked for the current situation in his life, but it had been placed upon him tenderly and like any well meaning contributing individual of society that was also a nefarious space pirate he had shook it off by shaking his head violently, picked it back up, torn it off and then, as per the recommended procedure of the how to guide on being an effective nefarious space pirate, hunted down the family of the one who had placed it on his head and murdered them in chronological order in front of his transgressor.
Not that he could remember who they were, or what exactly had been placed on his head. All the same, the murders had been swift and elongated, resulting in many tears and pleas of mercy, something he could also no longer find, but for different reasons.
‘I just don’t understand why you’re doing this,’ his transgressor sobbed as the body of his older brother, who had been the only family member Giye could find in such a short space of time. ‘I gave you what you wanted.’
‘Did you?’ Giye replied, honestly not remember. ‘or did you bring this on yourself for not giving me what i wanted?’ Giye’s crew laughed and sneered. Good, thought Giye. They wasn’t laughing at him. That meant he must be doing it right.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ the man continued. Neither did Giye Giye had to be honest. But Giye wasn’t about to let a little thing like maintaining a long term memory get in the way way of him impressing and sort of scaring his crew so that they would remain loyal to him. Giye hadn’t really thought about what would happen if he did lose the respect of his minions, but he wasn’t going to find out, nor was he capable of guessing, so he dispatched the confused man before him as he prattled on about providing equity for a life insurance claims with a blast from his plasma pistol, much to the cheers of his fellow men, and continued with the flow that most of his life to this point had been following.
‘Alright men,’ he said in that serious tone that made these bloodthirsty guys that wouldn’t leave him alone stand to attention. ‘Where next?’
‘Skull Island?” Grimmy said, a large brutish man who never took off his spacesuit out of fear that whatever compartment he was in at the time would suddenly depressurise. “You always said we would.’
‘Nah,’ Jimmy interrupted. ‘Yous said we were heading to Alona. Fine ladies. Mean drinks.’
‘Wasn’t it the other way round?’ Timmy countered. The crew laughed, which made Giye laugh. It was more of a instinctive response. Giye never really understood or cared how his emotions worked, but they seemed to work perfectly fine on getting people to like him when left on auto-pilot.
‘Either way t’is sounds like a jolly good plan,’ Giye liked this word. He learned quickly that saying this words made them all think he knew what he was doing. ‘A man with a plan is one who succeeds in life, and we, boys, we are going to get what’s coming to us.’
The crew cheered and he stepped away without looking at them. “Get that engineer on the comms. Tell ‘im we’re heading to Alona. And ain’t nothing going to stand in our way.’
Mateo stood in the doorway. There was another doorway before her.
That wasn’t quite right. They were both really the same door. More of a double layered door than anything else. One door and then another door implied a short gap inbetween, but there was no gap between the two doorways. And when the first one opened, the second one didn’t.
This, from what she could tell, was the central hub of the ship. She couldn’t really tell this for certain. For all she knew there were another twenty floors, and this was just one of many big rooms in the centre of the ship. But from what she could at least reliably ascertain, this is where the long spirally corridor had wrapped around too and there had been no up or down for her to travel along. This was either the central hub, or a really confusing dead end. Central hub seemed likely. There was a security panel whirring above it. It didn’t seem to notice her.
The second door remained closed.
It occurred to Mateo, at this moment, that if this door didn’t open and lead to somewhere helpful then she was most likely dead. There were no other rooms that she could go to that weren’t just near empty storage rooms, and no other direction she could travel in. That meant the only food and water she had was limited to the Cono bars in the vending machine, and anything she could get out of the bathroom sink. When that ran out, the only thing left would be to wait around and die.
Unless she asked the Igne for help.
That may actually have made more sense than trying to find the navigation room by herself actually. It seems like they could understand her, even if they did ignore her. She could probably keep insisting for their attention until they finally gave in and did what she wanted. With a bit of luck they may even give her full control of the ship and the ability to travel anywhere she chooses. That would be exactly what she wanted.
Though she should at least try opening the door first.
There was a button to the side of the door, but it was more for the first one. Pressing it did nothing, which was fine. Mateo could sort of make out a second button between the frames of the two doors, but she wasn’t pressing it without the aid of a nail file or something, and she probably shouldn’t be pressing hatchway buttons while standing in the frame of one of them.
She tried knocking. The door opened.
Mateo’s initial thought were simply ‘That should not have worked’, which was made all the more understandable by there being no one on the other side to have opened the door for her. She peered cautiously through and, on determining it was an automatic door, jumped quickly through before it could squash her.
Enveloped in near perfect darkness, Mateo had to wait for her eyes to adjust. She was getting better at letting this happen. Human eyes were naturally tuned to doing this but Tannard had never really afforded her the opportunity to practise. This room was crowded. There were crates stacked all in front of her, forming a maze of storage for her to navigate round. Tentatively reaching out, she supported herself against the box wall as she made her way further in.
Mateo could hear a rumbling through the room, clearly from multiple sources, but all sounding the same. It was like the ventilation system was on overdrive. Come to think of it the air hadn’t exactly been that stale in the rest of the ship. Was that simply because no one else had been using it? Did the Igne use it? Questions for later.
As she turned round a bend in the box maze, she saw one of the crates in the centre of her path, sitting askew to the other boxes as if it had been dragged out to the centre. Approaching it cautiously, she felt a pang of relief as she found it full of NutrioPacks. That very quickly solved her food worries. Rummaging through the box she saw enough in there to easy last several cycles. At the very least, her eventual doom had been extended to more than just a few days.
Slipping a pack into her jacket pocket, the ventilation suddenly cut out, basking her in near silence, save for a small, beating hum that she couldn’t quite place. Freezing in place for longer than she cared to move, Mateo waited it out, seeing if anything would happen. When nothing did, she began to walk forward quietly.
‘There’s nothing in here. There’s nothing in here,’ she found herself mumbling. ‘Except, of course, a fully functioning navigation console. One which, upon me finding it, would come with a full, easy for me to understand manual that will allow me to take control of both this ship and the Igne…’
‘There’s nothing in here. There’s nothing in here-’
Footsteps now loud enough to wake the frozen no matter how softly she moved, she inched herself forwards across the room, bringing herself slowly round another set of boxes. Her prediction still true, her legs guided her to the centre of the room. Turning a final corner, she found herself at a console.
‘Yes,’ she said, perhaps a bit too loudly. Flashing lights and buttons, exactly what she wanted. This looked more than an engineering panel than the actual navigation screen but it was a start. More of the crates were still in the way, but these were at a level where sliding them out of the way was an option.
There was a grinding noise behind her. Mateo didn’t notice.
The crate was big but somehow looked like it would be light. Pushing it proved that wrong, but it was still light enough that moving it was an option. Taking it in both hands Mateo squeezed and leant back, possibly doing irreparable damage to her spine as she hoisted it up and back. Shimmying her feet in reverse, she gave herself enough leeway to let it slowly slide to the floor, revealing the side of the console that hosted the navigation screen, currently displaying data flashing by at an immense rate, command lines scrolling at speeds faster than she could process, grabbing her attention hard enough for her nearly to miss the figure sitting on the chair besides it.
‘Whoa,’ she cried out, ducking under the box on instinct, heart attempting to make a break for it straight out the back of her rib cage and into the dark where it would be safe. Mateo held herself there for ten seconds and then peered back up slowly.
The figure was still there, apparently failing to notice her despite the noises she hadn’t hesitated in making. It was simply sitting in a chair, covered in a black cloak that seemed to hide its features. Mateo would have thought the figure to be dead if she couldn’t make out the occasional movement of a hand, clicking on a small device that she couldn’t make out. The hood was black. Even in the darkness she could tell the humming noise was coming from the figures head. Away from them, she could make out a scraping noise somewhere in the room.
‘Hello?’ Mateo finally tried after a minute of staring. ‘Hell-o.’ She waited and became aware that she could probably just leave without saying anything and the figure would be none the wiser. Instead she leant in and waved her hand across the figure’s face. ‘Hel-’
‘Argh!’ The figure cried out, bolting up and facing her. Mateo got as far as describing her as a girl with black hair and headphones when the girl with black hair and headphones screamed. ‘Auto-protect! Mode seven!’
Suddenly finding herself struggling against two metallic arms wrapped round her body Mateo felt her head clank against the hard body of an Igne who had apparently managed to sneak up on her the same way she had snuck up on this unsuspecting girl. At Least the girl wasn’t expecting anyone, Mateo found herself thinking as the arms squeezed just tight enough to be more than concerning.
‘Who are you? What do you-’ the girl got as far as saying before bursting out into a coughing fit. With a voice like dry paper the girl wheezed a few times and went to stand up, immediately collapsing to the floor as her legs flopped to the floor.
“Hello,” Mateo said after an extended length of uncomfortable silences. The girl before her scrambled to her feet, dragging herself up off the consoles taking a moment to click on a few things and have them minimise before Mateo could figure out what they were. “You been sitting down for too long?”
The girl growled at her. Literally growled. Mateo would have found it amusing if she wasn’t painfully aware of the crushing sensation her chest was being pressed under. The Igne had her trapped, broad metallic arms held her tight.
“Whoa. Easy there,” she said, trying to keep the situation from pressing on her any further. “I don’t mean any harm. I’m just-”
“How did you get on my ship?” The other girl snapped. Short black hair, poorly cut, covered the girl’s eyes. Mateo couldn’t make out her expression between the hood and the darkness.
“I’m… the delivery girl,” Mateo replied with a smile. “Here to make a delivery.”
“You-” That stopped the girl. “You’re the delivery girl?”
“Yes,” Mateo continued. “Here with the deliveries.”
“And what are you delivering?”
“What are you delivering?”
“What am i delivering?”
Mateo gave it a second’s thought. “Myself.”
“Yeah.” Mateo let it sink in for a moment. “I’m your new crewmate.”
“My new crewmate?”
“Your new crewmate.”
“Your boss, of course.” Mateo was aware they seemed to be rotating their heads at one another. “The commander.”
“Oh,” the girl replied as her brain processed this. “I see. Unit zero-seven,” she looked to the creature behind Mateo. “Please put her down.”
Unit 07 instantly complied, releasing Mateo and giving her the space to breath again. She flexed her shoulders and turned around to give the entity a pat on the chest. “Thanks. You’re doing your job.” It did not react in the slightest to her encouragement. It felt a little warm.
“Unit zero-seven,” the girl continued. “Grab her by the ankles and lift her upside down.”
Mateo’s world did a sudden one eighty as gravity shifted for her.
“Throw her out of the nearest airlock. Come back when you’re done.”
“No.” This was bad. “No. No . No!” Mateo insisted, shaking back and forth as much as her hips would allow, arms swinging about as she tried to reach the studded gauntlets that made up the Igne’s arms. “You can’t do that.”
“I am the commander of this ship,” the girl said, thrusting her face up to Mateo’s. “I can do whatever i like.”She smirked, and then waited. The wait continued oddly and she glanced up at the Igne. “Well? Go do it. Airlock. Throw girl out.”
“Which one?” said Mateo.
“What do you mean which one?”
“Girl. Me or you?”
“You? Why would you want him to throw you out? Just because you haven’t washed isn’t a reason to die.”
“No i,” the girl stopped, looking away and taking a moment to push back her hood and shake her hair. “How did you get on board?” She said sounding a little more focused now.
“Look,” the girl said, now a little too unfazed for MAteo’s liking. “Answering my questions are the only things keeping you alive for the moment. Surely you would want to expand your likelihood of staying alive as much as possible, right?”
“I dunno,” Mateo shrugged, which was a lot harder when gravity was working against you.
“I am not a fan of stowaways, which i know is what you are. Tell me how you got on the ship?”
“You just said answering your questions are keeping me alive. Surely that means stalling for an answer is going to keep me alive longer.”
“That is true.”
“What happens if i don’t answer them?”
“I tell Unit zero-seven to move his arms in opposite directions.”
“I hid in a trash cylinder at the scrap merchants on Grognar. I needed to get off the planet because the local gang guilds were trying to auction me off. I managed to get loose and hid at the scrap depot in an empty cylinder. They bundled me into your ship from there, though i don’t know how because this is apparently a Tech Junker, and they don’t ever land, so i’m guessing you have a shuttle or something. I was hoping for it to be a passenger cruiser or something but it was pot luck in the end. Look, please don’t kill me. I just want to get off Gorgnar. You can drop me off wherever you’re heading to next, unless it’s an asteroid or something. A habitable planet if it’s not too much trouble.”
“I only needed to know that first bit. Apparently Unit zeroEight isn’t being through in its scrap checking protocols. I’ll have to fix that. Wait. A passenger cruiser?”
“Why would a passenger cruiser be picking up scrap?”
“You’re not very smart are you?”
Mateo suddenly felt very focused. “I’m as smart as i need to be.”
The girl stared at her. Mateo stared right back. The girl went back to her console. “Get her off my ship.”
“I can work,” Mateo shouted, expecting to be pulled back.
“I don’t need workers,” the girl replied. “I have Igne.”
“What about company?” That stopped her. “You’re alone here, aren’t you. Besides the Igne, and they don’t talk. They just do.”
“They do their job.”
“Must be lonely.”
“I prefer the solitude.”
“No one to hurt your feelings?”
“No one to question my orders”
“Yeah, because these guys do a brilliant job of obeying you.”
“Yeah,” the girl said looking up to the motion alien. “What is going on, zeroSeven? I ordered you to go throw her out of the airock.”
zeroSeven didn’t move.
The girl swung her chair around, lining it up against the tall creature and hoisting herself up. “They do this sometimes, she said, examining its floating red eye. “Just stop obeying orders. Never quite got it.”
“Perhaps it objects to killing innocent young girls.”
“No, that’s not it,” the girl got down again and started walking, her legs stumbling a little on the way. “Unit zeroSeven. Follow me.” Shifting forwards, the creature lumbered after its master, taking them into the open corridor.
“You just have to split up the instructions.”