• TheSkyMachine

Junker - The long way round

She didn’t know how it got on board, nor why it was here, but now it was dead at her feet. It had left a gash in her thigh and bruises across her ribs but she’d defeated it. It was dead. She could smell it.

And if she could, soon others would as well.

Mari grabbed it by one of its slimy green mandibles and began to heave it from the patchwork metal hallway into her apartment. When one of its arms caught on the doorway, she placed a hand on its shoulder and snapped it back at a sharp angle, wincing at the sound. She dragged it the rest of the way inside and dumped it in a heap in the middle of the cramped room. She clamped a hand over the stinging wound in her leg.

For a moment she stood in the middle of the room, struggling to breathe. With each breath she retched at the creatures odour, sour and viceral. She cursed and limped to the vast window at the other end of the room and pulled back the floor-length curtains with shaking hands. Beyond she revealed a sea of eyes in the dark abyss. Space, as far back as she could see and much further still. Mari pulled a metal cover from the window sill revealing a long hidden panel of buttons. She hit one.

With a low, puttering whir, a circle in the middle of the floor spun open like the lens of a camera. A dusty and faded chair rose from the opening, knocking her coffee table on its side in the process. The chair thudded into position, tilted back, and began to glow a faint blue.

Her breathing quickened with every action and she bawled her hands into tight fists. As hair began to fall in her eyes, she tied it back, wiping the sweat from her forehead. The creature on the ground was motionless. Mari wondered how long it would be till the rest of them could smell it. And what they would do when its scent lead them to the refugee station.

She sat in the chair, exhaled a sharp breath, and flicked two switches on the right arm. She heard a clunk and a rush of air as the locks keeping the apartment in place began to release. And just as they did so, the door to the room opened.

Jenna took one step into their apartment and froze as soon as she saw the chair. Mari looked at her with eyes wide for a moment before she leapt up, shaking her head.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. You have to go.” She began to push Jenna back out of the room, biting her lip to keep from crying.

“Mari what in hell are you doing!?” She looked down and saw the blood flowing from Mari’s wound.

“Holy shit, are you ok!?” Jenna looked past her into the room and saw the insectoid creature splayed in the middle of their apartment. Mari faltered.

“I have to get rid of it,’ she said, ‘you know what will happen if others catch its scent”.

Jenna frowned, staring at the corpse splayed across her floor, and slowly began to nod.

“We need to act quickly then.” She strode to the chair, sat down, and starting punching commands into it.

“Woah, no. No way! You are staying here.”

Jenna said nothing and flicked another switch.

Mari put a hand on her arm, attempting to persuade her from the chair. “There’s no point in us both risking our skins.”

Jenna paused and looked up Mari, who was shaking and breathing hard.

“Honey. Don’t even try.” For a long moment they just looked at each other. They breathed in unison, having a silent conversation, holding each other in a mental embrace. Mari’s face was wet with tears while Jenna’s was set with purpose. They took each other’s hands, squeezed, and set to work.

Jenna turned back to face the window, opened wide to reveal the dark beyond. She prodded a sequence of commands into a panel in the chair and a glowing blue screen unfurled across the glass. Her face was lined with concentration and an unshakable determination.

Oxygen shield engaged.

Mari darted to their couch, wincing at the sting from her wound. She picked up their cat, rousing him from his nap, and cradled him as she walked to the door.

“I’m sorry Tugger. You be a good boy now.” She kissed the top of his head, tears matting his fur.. “I love you baby”. She closed the door, leaving him alone in the corridor.

Isolated Gravity engaged.

The room began to fill with a metallic hum and the whirr of a machine that had sat dormant too long. As the room began to jostle to life, the furnishings that had made the ship their home, fell away liked peeling wallpaper. Mugs fell from their shelves and shattered on the metal floor. Slowly the soft glow of their fairy lights was drowned out by a growing patchwork of colourful monitors. As if the walls were made of stained glass, their modest home was bathed in multi-coloured light, system diagnostics and external environment checks.

And at its peak;

Velocity Wave engaged.

With a horrible screech of metal and blast of energy behind them, their ship was propelled forward, leaving the vast space station behind it. Mari and Jenna gripped desperately onto the chair. The creature’s body went flying and slammed into the back wall. Its odour was still heavy in the air. Jenna hit a switch in the chair and they all collapsed to the ground.

Turbulence stabilisation engaged.

Mari cried out as she shifted her leg, and they lay for a minute, recovering.

“How far can we get before they catch it?” Jenna asked, helping Mari to her feet. She braced her hands on her knees and breathed heavily, hair clinging to her sweaty face.

Mari lifted her head and walked to a monitor in the wall by their fridge.

“Well there wasn’t much Novolo left in her when we arrived, and we didn’t have a reason to top it up, so…” She scratched her chin, reading the numbers flying across their walls. “Looks like she’s only lost a bit to vacuum transference in the 70 years that she’s been docked. I reckon we can make one six minute jump.” She turned to face Jenna.

“Will that be enough?” Jenna asked.

“If they’re not looking for the station, hopefully that distance will stop them picking it up on short range sensors. Hopefully.”

Jenna frowned. “Guess it’s our best shot,'' she said, clenching and unclenching her hands.

Mari nodded and began inputting their trajectory into the ships interface. Jenna looked at the creature. It was fading from green to a sickly blue and some of the spines along its claw had begun to whither and drop to the floor. She studied its eyes. They were dark and faceted. She tried to imagine what the world looked like through them. Somehow, she imagined space would be even more beautiful.

“Ready?” Mari called from the chair. Jenna walked up beside her and put a hand on her shoulder.

“Do it.”

E.S. Hyper Tunnel engaged.

Before the window, space began to twist and fall in on itself. The darkness contorted like water down a drain. The colours of the stars were stretched and amplified till all that could be seen was piercing white light. And there they stood. It felt as if they were stuck in stark nothingness, completely silent and stationary. Their minds too slow to visualise a speed they were never built to reach. Mari tried to call out to Jenna, to assure her they’d be fine, but when she tried to speak her voice was swallowed by the silence.

They clung to the empty starlight for six minutes until swirling through the bright white came colour like confetti, and then grey, and then black, and a colour that was even darker still. In a sudden rush of sound, movement, and light, the world returned around them. They clung to each other, floating in their tin can in busy space. And holding onto each other they looked up and out their window, at a ship that shuddered and pulsed, filling their vision and making them seem like a moon in its orbit.

Supplementary Arthropod Gluon Cruiser Detected.

“I think they found us.” Mari said. Jenna smirked.

“You don’t say?”

“What do we do?” Mari asked at a whisper.

“I guess, we wait.”

Mari frowned, and clenched a fist.

“Screw that.’ She made her way to the chair. ‘I have a cat to get home to.”

Jenna laughed.

“The run around then.” Jenna said.

“You betcha” replied Mari.

“A long run around,’ they looked to each other, ‘just to be safe.”

Jenna heaved the body of the creature into what had been their pantry. She slammed the door shut and hit a switch on a nearby monitor, jettisoning the corpse into space.

Velocity Wave Engaged.

“Hold tight, babe”, Mari yelled, as brilliant light began to colour the inside of their home.

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