Tag: Fugue

The Fugue – Chapter Six

Chapter Six

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.”

“Gee thanks.”

“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.”

“Much obliged.”

“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?”

“Roles?”

“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.”

“Personnel?”

“Oh sure.”

“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?”

“Nothing. Everything is automated except for Captain’s orders.”

“Everything?”

“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.”

“None.”

“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.”

“Soft things?”

“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.

The Fugue – Chapter Five

Chapter Five

Bad bad badbadbad. It was a trick. A really crummy trick. Sure, she was trying to trick the bandits just a moment ago, but that was fine. She was part of the tick then. Only… now it was a trick on her as well.

‘Deoxygenisation in four minutes. If you are still within the contained section of the ship… take a few moments to reflect on the actions that brought you here.’

The hissing noise was unmistakable, even without the klaxon and the voice. Notch was simply going to jettison this part of the ship, and all her problems with it. Probably not the most graceful of moves, even a rampaging shipfire could be snuffed just by opening the airlocks, though the extinguisher system was a better way of doing that. Most ships wouldn’t even be able to cope, but this was an Igne ship. It probably wouldn’t even notice.

Mateo surveyed her surroundings. What did she have? A wide, completely sealed corridor that would stop being sealed the second it floated off without two of its walls. Twenty three space bandits, including one giant, all armed and currently freaking out one way or another and-

She slammed her fist on the red button. It did nothing.

It wasn’t like it was going to cancel anything, but she had to try.

‘Deoxygenisation in two minute thirty seconds. Please deposit your urine samples wherever you like.’

Did it have to empty the room of oxygen first? Surely it would just catapult them into space, unless the shp was setup to save the oxygen. Of course. Everything on a Tech Junker gets recycled.

This of course was very important to be thinking about right now. She needed to escape, or secure some kind of breathing apparatus. The bandits were flailing their arms around as they ran back and forth amongst themselves. Only one appeared to be remaining calm, the only one actually wearing an external suit.

“Well, i knew it would come in handy someday,” the safest man in the room said, “though i never imagined it like this.”

“There’s gotta be something we can do,” the guy next to him said.

“The cutter won’t have enough juice to bore through any of the hatches,” the guy now dropping the useless tool next to him.

“How about we blow it up against the hatchway, make a hole?”

“Not against these hatchways. It’ll just scorch them. It has to be concentrated to pierce.”

“Guys,” the man in the suit said. “Call our ship. Get it to hover round here. When this section breaks off, i can ferry people back to the airlock. I might not be able to get everyone but…”

“Right. Captain, please contact the ship and-’

“To the crew of the Bloody Space Mary,” the giant bellowed through a comms unit mounted on his wrist. This is ye captain speaking. Listen well, varmints, for these may well be my last orders.”

The men started to huddle together around the man with the air tank, aiming for the outer wall, each of them forming a chain to hold hands. Mateo appeared to have been taken out of the loop.

“We’ve been contained, and are about to be eliminated,” he continued, his men giving each other faint smiles of hope for what they hoped to be a desperate lunge to salvation. “If you don’t hear back from us in four minutes, destroy this ship and everything on it.”

The men froze. The Captain turned his comms unit off and walked over to his men.

“Now, listen here. We come up with a plan that saves all of us, or none of us. I won’t leave any of my crew behind!, you hear?”

‘Certain death occurring in T minus three minutes. If you know what the T means, please let us know.’

As the men stared at their leader in disbelief, Mateo decided that was enough. Running the way she had come from, she leant on the wall where safety sat on the other side, apparently along with malice. She had nothing bar her voice left. She looked to the camera slot.

“Notch, please don’t do this. ”

‘Please direct all pleas for mercy to the nearest available wall, which will be more than happy to hear your distress.’

“It’s not a plea. It’s a request.” Because it was always a good time to be quibbling pedantics. “Are you happy, killing me like this? Will you really look at yourself in the mirror tomorrow and say ‘yes, i did the right thing?’”

The pirates were in a frenzy now, a bunch of them were now charging the captain with futile screams, cracking their knuckles against his face and receiving fractures for their efforts. “Mutiny,” he cried out, before belting one of them in the chin. Some of the others were ignoring this, instead going for the man with the external suit and his tank, trying to rip the pipe off of him for whatever reasons.

‘Two minutes and fifteen seconds remain… i think. The system isn’t really timing this.”

“Look, i’m not the best of people. I talk my way into getting what i want, and that’s what i’m doing right now. I want to survive. More than anything that’s the most important thing to me. Keeping me alive. I know i’ve only known you for about five minutes, but i get the feeling we’re the same. You want to survive to.”

A loud hissing noise spelled the doom of the one guy that moments ago had been guaranteed to survive. Mateo was ignoring them.

“Now i don’t know if it was fear or anger that made you lock me in here with them and i don’t care. I know you did it to guarantee you your survival. Well guess what? The Captain just ordered your ship destroyed in five minutes if he doesn’t make it, meaning you better be preparing for a jump before they get the chance.”

The speaker panel was silent.

“Why did i tell you that? Because hearing you earlier. I kind of want you to survive. Having a goal like that is something i want to see you achieve, and i can’t have that if you’re dead. Yeah, it’s kind of corny to have some impossible dream. It’s a little naive to think you may actually be able to accomplish it and yes, i am saying all this in the hopes that you’ll see it in your heart to let me the hell back in.”

Her teeth were started to collide with each other between her words, arms wrapping around her. There couldn’t be much oxygen left at this point.  Some of the men were screaming now.

“But i’m not going to beg you. I swore i’d never beg again and i won’t start at the end like this. If you don’t let me in i die right now and you lose the best crewmate you ever could have had. The one person that may actually be kind of able to understand you.”

Her lungs wheezed. Her knees were buckling. Holding onto the wall was necessary now. Behind her people were falling silent.

“Humans suck, Notch. There’s no denying this. We’re stupid and meaningless. Even with the whole universe at our fingertips there’s nothing the majority of us actually do that’s worth anything. If i die, that’s it for me and everything i wanted to do. I never really had any plans. I just wanted to see the universe. Not exactly the best of dreams.”

She was feeling a little lighter, the wall was kind of climbable now. She lifted herself up to the camera panel and looked right at it.

“But honestly, i’d kind of like to go find the Centrepoint with you.”

“Woman!” a voice called out behind her. She turned without meaning to, the giant approaching her. “Who are you talking to? What are you planning?”

“If you wouldn’t mind having me!” she shouted down the camera slot, hoping she hadn’t been speaking to no one this entire time. The giant was coming toward her, rage pulsing from his face with hands outstretched before him. The klaxon stopped and Mateo inhaled one last time.

‘D-deoxygenisation complete. Beginning decoupling process. All… essential personnel, please grab hold of the available handrail’ Besides her a sheet metal pole popped out of nowhere and locked into place against the wall. Reaching for it, her arm was looking and feeling more like lead than anything at the moment, she gripped it tightly, hauling herself up as she found herself floating and wrapped her elbow around the cylinder. Her stomach didn’t like her very much at this point.

‘And exhale as hard as you can. I don’t quite know how this works!’

Then the exterior wall and ceiling were gone and all she could see was black.

The ship had been heated nicely. She realised that now. Everything was very toasty when it came down to it. Even on horrible horrible Grognar the suns were always out and everyday was a tanning day.

Even on all her trips off planet. She had never really noticed space.

It was so very cold.

She would have been warmer being thrown out of the airlock. No one had shot away. She kind of thought they would. Instead they were just floating. No longer bound by the ship’s gravity sinks, they slipped into the nothingness, only her elbow keeping her from sharing their fate.

“Yar, don’t you be thinking this be enough to stop Captain Giye!”

How could she hear him? Her lungs burned. They were asking her very nicely if they could inhale. It didn’t matter if there was no air. If they could just inhale once, they were sure they could find something out there to bring in for her. She willed them down, forcing even more air out of them. The giant was lunging for her. She was frozen as he floated towards her, his large hand outstretched and aiming for her foot, his men turning into specks in the distance, his ship appearing off to the side with five guns all pointing directly at her.

She clenched her teeth and pursed her lips as everything went white.

Captain Giye shot off in the opposite direction.

The Fugue – Chapter Four

 

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.”

“What?”

“Glanor. It’s where i’m from.”

“Fascinating information.”

“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.

“What? How?”

“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.”

“What’s that?”

“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.”

“Ok…”

“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.”

“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?”

“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.”

“Good point.”

“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.

The Fugue – Chapter Three

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?”

“I- what?”

“What are you delivering?”

“What am i delivering?”

“Yes.”

Mateo gave it a second’s thought. “Myself.”

“Yourself?”

“Yeah.” Mateo let it sink in for a moment. “I’m your new crewmate.”

“My new crewmate?”

“Your new crewmate.”

“Sent by…”

“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 obviously.”

“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.

“Teleporter.”

“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.”

“Shut up.”

“Ok.”

“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?”

“Um… yeah?”

“Why would a passenger cruiser be picking up scrap?”

“Wishful thinking.”

“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.”

The Fugue – Chapter Two

The corridors kept turning to the right.

That didn’t seem to make sense. Three turns should of put her back where she started, but then the corridor changed colour, from one particularly fascinating shade of metallic chrome to a slightly darker, yet equally as perplexing shade of chromium metal. There didn’t seem to be much point to it.

The corridors still seemed to be staying the same length as well, as far as Mateo could tell anyway. The lights were set to dim  and weren’t changing when she hurried along. She had gotten too used to rooms that acknowledged her when she wandered into them, raising the lights so she could actually see the other side of the room. Her bedroom would play either a light rendition of Sandra and the Blue Bergs, or the instrumental track from Back to the Future, depending on whatever mood she was in at the time.

The bedroom was gone now of course.

There were no hatchways either, she noted. That she thought was a sort of standard. Ships of any kind were made of sections put together and while she could see the lines where each part of the ship was stitched together, she couldn’t see what counted as the hatches. Every ship floating in the sea of nothing was designed to seal itself into sections in case of fire or parts of the ship deciding it was time to separate from the family and go off exploring on its own. This ship couldn’t be an exception. Cost cutting wouldn’t include door removal no matter what.

Then again, it probably didn’t matter. Abandoned was the main word she was using for this place at the moment. Long windy tunnels. Lots of grey and no light. She had only come across one porthole that let her confirm that yes, she actually was in space. The gravity sinks were on and her lungs were not attempting to leave her in a desperate search for an oxygen rich environment, so that meant power was on at the least. In retrospect that could have gone badly for her. All she needed was to be thrown in a methane environment and her hate of Grognar would very quickly diminished along with her functioning brain cells.

So it couldn’t be abandoned and yet very much felt like it was. At the very least it was recently inhabited, not only due to the power but by the fact she was dumped here by a pair of hands. The shadow she could have imagined, but she was here right? There had to be someone else.

She stopped at a hatchway. A small one in the wall, rather than one in the corridor. She pressed its button and watched as it slid open with a crunch that sounded like bones were breaking in the attempt. It was a storeroom. Empty, but the first room since her scrap heap.

Literally empty actually, except for the walls and air. Wasn’t an empty room a kind of blasphemy on Cruisers? She wasn’t quite clear of how true it ran but every room should be used for something, even if only to be shoved full of cargo for other people or something. It was too small to be a function room. It didn’t matter. She carried on.

Two more empty rooms later and she felt like screaming. Why did this ship even exist if it was so empty? Corridors empty. Rooms empty. Her room was full of bolts and scrap and bent sheet metal and all manner of crap. Mateo’s stomach groaned, more out of the monotony than out of hunger she told herself.

The fourth room was a mess hall. She wasn’t going to complain.

Though a place for food, it too was abandoned. Lines of tables and chairs, somewhat scattered. No plates or cutlery anywhere. It wasn’t simply out of use. It was like it had never been used in the first place. There was a vending machine though, with a line of Cono bars inside. She pressed the button and got one for her troubles. Still tasted good. It probably wasn’t very smart to have eaten it.

It was in the fifth room that she saw the Igne.

A bulking mass, its metallic shards folded in on themselves with every movement, its single eye floating in the middle of its mass. It didn’t seem to have noticed her, its focus occupied by a series of dismantled devices on the workbench before it. She couldn’t see what it was working on in particular, its large body in the way, but it seemed to be making its way through a pile of junk, cataloging, reassembling. Either way it looked like it had worked through a lot but still had lots more to do.

Mateo had never spoken to an Igne before. She wondered if she should consider trying. It turned to face her and she froze, looking round without moving to see what she had done to make noise. Could it just tell that she was there? Sensors or something?  It stepped towards her and she switched to considering running. Did they come with weapons? It wouldn’t need them. The Igne was big enough that grabbing both her arms and pulling in opposite directions was more than enough to deal with the intruder before it.

Just two more lunging steps and it was to the right of her, picking up a toolbox and heading back to its job. It didn’t seem to care that she was there, not that this stopped her from staying frozen to the spot. A flickering to her left caught her eye. A screen sat buzzing away to itself.

It looked like a security monitor, planted into the wall, though kind of in a weird place being dead centre like that. She shimmied towards it, trying not to make sounds so that the creature that knew exactly where she was and didn’t care wouldn’t hear her. The monitor showed a corridor. Empty. Grey. Dark.

She pressed the button to the side of it, switching the image to another featureless corridor. Then another room full of scrap and another. Then a corridor. Then another room of scrap with another Igne, sorting through scrap. More scrap. Another corridor. A bathroom that looked like it catered to humans and thronons.

Another scrap room with another Igne in it, and a girl looking at a screen in an odd place dead centre of the wall.

That’s when it hit her.

“Oh no,” she said, uncaring for the presence of the Igne. “No, no no.”

She dashed over to the other side of the room, plexiglass showing the nothingness of space covering the far wall. She could see nothing but space, but if she pushed her face against the plexiglass she could just make out the metal of the ship’s exterior. Grey metal. Flat, yet merged, like it was made out of different parts and smooshed together.

“Nooooooooo.”

“Erm, mister Igne?” She called out. The Igne spent a few seconds twisting something on the workbench, then turned to her, it’s light red eye observing her quietly. It said nothing.

“Are we on a Tech Junker?”

The Igne continued its monologue of silence while staring straight at her. The monologue turned into a thirty second long tirade at the benefits of keeping quiet at all times, which the Igne prided itself as a great proponent of.

It then looked away and got back on with its job of sorting through metal junk that was probably technical in purpose.

“Yep,” Mateo said to herself, because the Igne sure didn’t care,”We’re on a Tech Junker.”

“Fuzzbuckets.”

The Fugue – Chapter One

Stardate: 23651 

Location: Sector Alpha Nineteen. Enroute from Grognar. Garbage Containment Unit. Size: small

Mood - fuzzy

So now seemed a good a time as any that i should remember to start updating this. Given my current position i seem to have a bit of time on my hands and the freedom in which to get my thoughts on the datapad.

I can't say this will last long, or if it will ever see the light of a star - unless that's where we're heading right now,  but i sort of doubt it. It's not just that i can't see the ship's destination being the heart of a sun but from what i understand somebody actually paid for the trash pile i'm in.

Maybe you're that person. Maybe you've just pulled this pad off my corpse after you found me in your scrap pile and was kind of curious as to what i was writing. If that's the case. Screw you. I hope you mix your charts up and do cruise into the sun because you're just that stupid. That's what you get for killing stowaways.

I had to do it anyway. There was no other way off that rock. It's hard to keep track of time when you're used to three suns and two moons. How does a planet with only one of each manage it? How do you know when it's time for a half day nap? You may think i would have had all the time in their world to ask but the Grognars there weren't the type that were willing to speak to me.

So in case you're wondering. My corpse stowed away on your vessel because it just wanted off. Nothing beyond that. I had nowhere else to go and when i realised the scrap was being sold i just got into the easiest to fit-and-seal-myself-in Container i could find and just waited for you to smuggle me on board. Then i waited here, not quite knowing if i was going to be used for furnace fuel or not, and waited for you to find and murder me. If i may make a request, i would prefer the furnace over the airlock. I always had this fear of being trapped outside a ship you see and well, it doesn't seem like it would be the best way to go.

It occurs to me i’m in one of those positions where i have very little to say. It’s certainly cramped in here. I’ve had no food for at least two half days and my left leg has most definitely gone dead as i haven’t been able to move it for a while now. Perhaps this is how i’ll die. Trapped in a box that i’ve yet to realise can only be opened from the outside.

Should i describe myself for you, in case your finding and subsequent murdering of me leaves my body unable to be identified. No i don’t think i’ll bother.

Though as i type i realise two half days doesn’t make sense. I should be a lot hungrier by now and the whole need to relieve myself thing should have become a more pressing issue by now. You would think i would be a lot less light hearted about my situation. Well let me just tell you this, my eventual murderer and would be incinerator of stowaways. The situation i was in before this situation in which my movement is mostly contained to my typing fingers and the occasional wiggle of a cramped limb devoid of blood, was such a bad situation that compared to it i might as well be in the pleasure baths of Lacron Nine right now. The expensive ones that is. I like to convince myself that we all fell for the budget ones the first time we went there on Academy break. The expensive ones just have to be better, either that or the marketing department is fantastic at executing word of mouth.

Loss of time sense probably means we’re still travelling through the light. The time is off on the datapad at the moment so i have no idea. Not that you care about the specifics of this. This is no doubt nothing more than an amusing byline as you see my skin solidify to an uncomfortably low degree as i float past you on my the beginning of my endless trip through eternity. I know you don’t care about me. No one cares about me anymore. My family are dead. My friends are gone. The people who found me won’t be finding me again anytime soon with any luck. I am wonderfully alone and couldn’t be happier. Feast on that little bit of information as you toss me out the nearest airlock. You ruined my happy moment, trapped in my little container, completely unaware that i passed out about half way into writing this and when i woke up again nothing had changed. You ended that the moment you killed me. You better regret that you piece of Talon turd. I could have been so much and you took it away from me because you just didn’t like stowaways. Why if i weren’t being ripped apart by the vacuum of space i would-

The cylinder opened, stuffy air escaping to back back in with the fresh stuff. The sudden influx of light made the gleam of her datapad seem pitch black by comparison. Mateo let her eyes blink their way back  to seeing the world around her. A light above her. Little else. For a moment she dared not move, not just out of fear for what may be outside the cylinder but also the numbness of her leg that made itself all too clear as she hauled herself out of the tube.

An attempt at leaving stealthily was made, but quickly thwarted as needles struck her from within and the sudden loss of balance caused her to tumble out of what was her home for the last unknown number of hours.

Her new home was larger, yet just as poorly lit, only the light above her and one leading off to a corridor giving her any kind of idea where she was. A room full of scrap. There was a shadow leaving the room as she flopped her way out of the cylinder.

“Hey wait-” she tried to say, hours of silence taking their toll on her voice and coming out as a barely audible croak instead. The shadow disappeared, and she was suddenly glad for the lucky break. Hiding was the best cause of action at this point. She had no idea how big the ship was, no windows would imply something a bit beyond a Floater. If she was lucky it would be a Cruiser, something that would allow her to wander with the crowds without being noticed. If she could get to a port window, she could work out bearings from there. There was even a possibility she was already in atmosphere, though it would be just her luck if she was still on Grognar after all that. There had definitely been a lightspace jump, so it was at least ten percent unlikely.

Mateo gave herself a few moments, letting her blood get back in all the right places and remembering to switch the datapad off. It wouldn’t have much juice left after the trip and she may need it later to attempt communications or transfer monies.

First, make a plan.

Find out where she was. Find food or liquids to consume. Find somewhere where she can sleep undisturbed where no local security could bother her. She had only been in the cylinder for a few hours of current time and someone did come in here, apparently to open cylinders and then leave without checking their contents. Perhaps they just wanted the lid. Even so, it meant here wasn’t safe enough to stay hidden for long periods of time. A bathroom would do the job nicely. If it is a cruiser then public ones mean she could have a stall to herself for the duration of the trip. That would be perfect and not at all horrible and kind of traumatising. Still. Better than Grognar. Anything will also be better than Grognar. One mile in any direction away from here is better than Grognar.

After that, waiting. Waiting waiting waiting. Oh how she would wait, and when the opportunity arrives jump ship. The three closest inhabited planets to Grognar were Arillion, Camerio and Skull World VII. All civilised. All reasonable compared to the harsh, continuous hell of the always raining at all times Grognar.

Skull World would be the best. She had never been on a Spin Flasher before.

Then what? A job would be best. Get some monies and a place to stay. And then. A new life. One where she started again. Away from everything she knew. With nothing left.

A fresh start.

Mateo shook her head. It wasn’t the time for that. She had to investigate. Step One of the plan. Find out where she was.

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