Ashur stepped gingerly across the wreckage of the royal guards, humming to himself over the grinding, scraping and sawing noises his little scrapbots were causing as they continued to break the big robots into increasingly small pieces. At last, he reached the great vault door, smiling in satisfaction that he was finally going to reap the rewards he had long deserved. His little nepth bot poked at his leg, and Ashur crouched down to see the odd little creature. It was pointing questioningly with it’s crude wire finger. Ashur nodded.
“No screw ups this time. Got it?”
The Nepth climbed eagerly over to the lock and stared intently at it, just like before.
It looked back nervously to Ashur, who was beginning to feel like he shouldn’t place so much of his trust in robots made of literal garbage. He nodded his encouragement, hoping that the inept little machine would actually function correctly this time.
The Nepth looked back to the lock and stared hard.
A metal tool entered the lock and there was a satisfying click only moments later.
Ashur felt the tension that he didn’t know he had been holding all leave him in a wave of relief. He whistled slightly to the nepth to show he was impressed, then entered the vault without waiting on ceremony.
It was a massive room, likely the mess hall back when Zaiah’ castle had been a boat. Of course, now that the ship was on its side, that meant that the room was extremely tall, but not terribly wide. Countless treasures and lost pieces of technology lined the high walls. It’s amazing what people will throw away.
And near the top, there it was. The device. The map to the elder crown.
A pity none of the other crews on the expedition were here to stop him from taking it for himself.
He bared his jagged canines and whistled loudly to his scrapbots. They had a lot to carry away before the poor fools outside got here.
The Navigator supposed he should be thankful that his Captain was a child. Had she weighed a little more, it simply wouldn’t have been feasible for her to dangle from the mechanical arm for as long as she had. It was a pain in Nav’s mechanical neck to lower the ship down just far enough for Annie to safely get down. He and Mr. Regal rejoined their fellow expeditionaries shortly thereafter. His captain was furiously massaging her shoulder. From what he understood of human anatomy, dangling from one arm for the roughly eight minutes she had done it would have hurt severely, but she didn’t complain.
“That was crazy cool!” Nate cried out.
Annie ignored the compliment.
“Shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place.” she dismissed, “Mr. Navigator, we’re all here, yes?”
“Yes ma’am, all crew of the Nightingale, the Void knave, as well as ms. Amaris, are accounted for!” Nav paused, feeling he should point out a remaining detail “Though Merchant-Captain Ashur and his ‘crew’ are likely still waiting to meet us in the vault.”
“Sorry darling, but did I just hear you say that we’ve left that rogue, Mr. Ashur, alone with our treasure?”
Kaori and Nate’s eyes went wide as dinner plates.
“He’s not going to double-cross us.” Stated Annie, with confidence.
The others clearly didn’t agree as they were already sprinting towards the keep.
Nav felt it was quite unprofessional to disregard his captain’s statement, but humans acted strangely when frightened.
Nate was in such a rush to reach the vault door that he simply didn’t bother to slow down in order to stop himself, falling onto his back instead in a desperate effort to not slide past the door. Kaori had beaten him there of course and had no such difficulty stopping. He was a little jealous from his comfy position on the floor. He peered into the room and was greeted with the sight of Ashur, leaning against a wall, clutching the device they had all worked so hard for. His jackal-like face filled with the ‘I’ve got you right where I want you’ grin that seemed to be his favourite expression.
He casually tossed the device to Kaori, who caught it without thinking.
“Did you think I was going to abandon you? I’m hurt.”
Annie’s voice rang out from down the hall.
“Like I said, he isn’t going to double-cross us.” Annie marched at a leisurely pace down the hall, “Not while he can’t figure out to decode the device. He needs us for that.”
“Sharp as a Khad-snake, little captain.”
Nate picked himself off the ground and brushed himself off.
“Uh, yeah. Obviously.” He said, as casually as he could manage. He took a moment to observe the vast empty room. “Hmm, shame the king didn’t have any treasure.”
“Yep.” Ashur somehow grinned even harder. “A real shame.”
Below Annie’s ship, just a single step out from the hatchway was a polycrete landing pad. Polycrete. Not condensed garbage, not the ruined metal flooring of the rusted out husks of gigantic vehicles, but actual, honest, polycrete.
And Kaori wasn’t sure she wanted to step onto its rocky surface.
It was too beautiful. Too clean.
Somehow, Kaori was painfully aware of herself. The world up here was dirty too, it was a trash world after all, but it was like pure untouched snow compared to the trench.
But Kaori wasn’t like the surface. She was like the trench. Dirty, empty and disorganized.
“Your bag, miss Amaris?” Nav reached out to help Kaori with her belongings. He was already on the tarmac.
Somehow it seemed like he didn’t fit here either, none of the spacefarers she had met did.
She wordlessly handed him her bag and at last, took her step onto the surface of Scrappis IV. It was solid. Flat. But that was it.
She expected more.
Nav escorted her through the city. She remembered her address; 109 Rubble Road. She had been sure to keep it memorized in her years spent down in the depths of the planet. It would be stupid to finally make it up top and not be able to find her way home.
Most droids of the model that Nav was currently using as a body were equipped with a built-in GPS that could interface with the satellites around the majority of human worlds, at least that’s what a soiled manual she had scavenged a few years ago told her. So she let Nav direct them.
They walked through the city of pristine buildings, surrounded by small scrap yards of junk on their way to the trenches. Great trucks ferried thousands of tons of the scrap materials across the streets.
But Kaori barely noticed. She was in a daze.
She was home.
She hadn’t really thought about home much down there, beyond merely the concept of somewhere she wanted to go back to.
She remembered a warm bed and a fireplace. She remembered fresh jill-root pies on Sunday and a bowl of porridge with raisins every morning. She always picked out the raisins. She had been so picky back then. She had lost that trait quickly living in the trench, having to survive on things that make a human vomit, before they’ve spent months getting used to eating them.
And then she saw her house.
Well, not a house. A mansion, she supposed. With large hedges forming a fence surrounding the garden and protecting the old brick house within. It didn’t feel big when she was younger. She never felt like she was rich. The rich never feel rich she supposed, not until they understand what it’s like to have nothing.
Kaori saw a gate of elegantly curled iron bars, like vines. Beside the gate was a small intercom and a golden plaque.
She remembered passing through that door every day. She remembered passing through it on her way to school in the mornings. She remembered passing through the door in a bright yellow jacket when it was raining, and a puffy pink one when it was cold.
But she also remembered passing through it the day she lost her arm.
And she remembered when the butler carried four-fifths of an Amaris girl back through those gates from seeing an expensive doctor.
She remembered that bionic arms were ugly and bulky. She remembered being told that they were not appropriate for a girl of her station.
She remembered being a freak with a stump instead of an arm.
She remembered being kept at home to avoid embarrassing her family.
She remembered running away in the night, knowing that she could be more than what they told her.
And then she remembered falling.
She remembered that her family, with all their money, all their resources, never looked for her.
And now here she was. A greasy one-armed girl standing in front of an intercom, willing herself to push the button.
With a small movement, she’d be eating porridge with raisins and Jill-root pie on Sundays. She’d have a warm bed and colorful jackets like she’d had in the past.
But she’d be a cripple. That’s all she would be to them. Someone they had to take care of.
So she turned her back on the gate and decided she’d be something more.
She looked to the Navigator. If he noticed her distress, he was too polite to say so.
“Is the Nightingale a good home?” She asked with a strong voice, despite her current distress.
“The very best, miss.”
And made her way back with the navigator to her new home.
Ashur sat atop a scrap heap near the castle, enjoying the site of the newly founded Theta Republic flag being raised over the castle. A red mechanical fist raised up high, in defiance to oppression.
It was stupid and pointless of course, but at least it was something to watch while he waited.
At last, a little turkey shaped scrap-bot waddled its way over.
‘Gobble.” said a bored male voice through a scratchy voice box.
They had found what they were looking for.
Ashur was on his feet at once, following behind the little chicken whose enthusiastic body did not match its unenthusiastic voice.
The other scrapbots were standing in a circle, poking at their find.
“Thtop it! Yelled Zaiah, as the monkey scrapbot was yanking playfully at Zaiah’s tongue while the others egged him on silently or with whatever noises they were equipped to make.
He was up to his neck in the trash, leaving only his greasy face above ground.
Ashur slowly crouched down in front of the former King, he gently pushed the monkey away and made eye contact with Zaiah.
“Rough fall, huh?” Ashur pouted, mockingly.
The King tried to avoid eye contact, but he couldn’t move terribly well.
“Sorry about your kingdom. Looks like you’re just a common man now.”
Zaiah glared, his dark green eyes ablaze as he stared into Ashur’s orange, cat-like alien pupils.
“You ruined everything!”
“Yep.” said Ashur, self-satisfied. “So listen, I have a question, may I?”
“Just go away! Leave me here! My life is over!”
Ashur tutted at the angry ex-monarchs words.
“Life goes on. It’s a new chapter in your life. This is an exciting time for you!”
Zaiah snorted but said nothing more.
“Listen, mister Zaiah, us common folk need to work for a living. You need money.” Ashur bared his teeth and his eyes sparkled with malevolence, “And I’d sure love it if you built me a few of those suits.”
Zaiah’s eyes went wide with understanding.