“I’ll escort you to your new quarters, Ms. Amaris.” the Navigator’s robotic voice stated kindly. If he had a mouth, Kaori suspected it would be smiling politely.
But she wasn’t ready yet. They were leaving her rusty planet behind soon, and there was certainly no way she wasn’t going to watch their ascension to the stars.
“Not yet.” She stated simply, staring out the window at the world they were about to leave. They were a few kilometers up, preparing to begin their journey. She could see the pirate-like Void Knave and the rough scrap ship the Unfamiliar Guest nearby, likely performing the same pre-space checks as the Nightingale.
“There is a viewing portal in your quarters that would be more suitable for watching our ascent.”
Kaori nodded. The little porthole she was currently peering through wasn’t a great view anyways.
She followed the stiff robotic ship officer down a pair of hallways that led to the far end of the ship. It was about a three-minute walk. The interior of the Nightingale was a very long rectangle of four narrow hallways, wide enough only for two walking side by side, and a large number of doors. The conference room she had seen earlier was clearly marked in the center of the ship. She passed a few ladders and hatches on the way to her quarters that assured her that this was likely not the only floor.
The doors to ‘Crew Quarters Section B’ whooshed open, blasting Kaori with a gush of air that caused her greasy black hair to flutter in the breeze. The section was fairly compact, containing a small common room with a refrigerated cabinet, a table with benches that seemed to be able to fold up into the wall if needed, a small couch with enough space for two and a half to watch a wall-mounted television, and a door leading to a tiny bathroom. There were also four half-lockers mounted on the wall. It was more luxury than Kaori had experienced in years. She also noticed four hatches on the far wall, two on the roof and two on the floor.
The Navigator marched over to one of the floor hatches and pulled, revealing a small bunk underneath the floor.
“This compartment will serve as your bed and personal space, but you have free use of the common room alongside other crew currently assigned to these quarters, of which there are currently none. In your bunk, you have shelf space for half a square meter worth of personal belongings. Any belongings that you may acquire above and beyond your storage space will be jettisoned. You’ll be expected to keep both your bunk and these quarters tidy. Inspections will take place twice monthly and infractions will be punished with disciplinary action.” Seemed straightforward to Kaori, plus, it seemed pretty sweet that she got this whole place to herself!. The robot approached the lockers, he opened one of the top ones, revealing a blue naval uniform. It matched the ones that Nav and Annie were wearing, if a little less ornate. “This is your locker, I already scanned your body mass and have assigned you these uniforms. You will keep these, as well as any tools, weapons, documents, electronics or miscellaneous items that are required for your work in here. No personal items of any kind are to be in your locker. You are permitted to fix photographs, posters, or other two dimensional decorations on the inside of the front panel. Understood?” Kaori nodded. She didn’t have decorations but was already dreaming up places to find them. “You have until the morning to settle in. At o-five hundred you are to report for duty, in uniform and with as much of that filth you’re covered in washed off as possible.”
“Okay.” She said, already beginning to explore.
She turned from the television that she was disassembling in her mind in time to see Nav slip away down the hall, pausing for a short salute before he went.
“Pleasant dreams, Miss Scavenger.”
Kaori found herself thinking harder than she ought to have on her response, and she suspected Nav was out of earshot by the time she shouted “Night!” down the hallway.
It was then that Kaori realized that she didn’t see a window like Nav had promised. The wall was a big opaque slab of angled metal, and clearly not a viewing portal.
Perhaps it could be raised to reveal a window? Windows were a weakness in a ship’s structure, so it made sense to keep it covered. There was likely a control panel for the room.
She scurried about, still clutching her mechanical arm which she hadn’t really put down since the Captain gave it back to her. Kaori’s scavenger instincts kicked in, and she soon found a small data point behind the couch.
She had seen things like this before on larger structures and vehicles. The data point was generally for monitoring the systems in the room so that the central computer could adjust the temperature and airflow as needed.
But it was certainly not a switch for the window.
Still, she could likely hack through to the central computer, download the ship’s blueprints and open the window or figure out where it was. That sounded entirely reasonable to her, so she instinctively stabbed into it with the hacking tool on her arm. Of course, she didn’t have that arm anymore. She had forgotten. Her stump swished pointlessly through the air.
That wasn’t going to work. She’d have to hack into the Nightingale another time, for now, she’d just need to find another way. She decided to put her arm into the personal storage Nav had mentioned so that she could search the room unencumbered..
Kaori pushed the couch back into position and then made her way over to her new bunk.
From outside of the hatch it looked mostly like a bed hiding in a hole in the floor. She climbed in, confirming that it was exactly as it looked. The cot was comfortable at least, and she had enough room to sit up so long as she ducked her head. To her left was a small amount of shelving and a little storage chest. She threw her arm messily onto a shelf and continued to explore the tiny space that was now hers. There were air filtration and heating ducts she was able to see near the foot of the cot. The hatch to her bunk looked air-tight, and Kaori made a mental note that her bunk could be retreated to in case of emergencies.
There also was a little hatch to her right, which she wasted no time in opening.
And there it was.
The entire right wall of her room pulled back, revealing a window of clear glass, looking out over the dirty world where she’d felt so trapped only yesterday.
She knew she wouldn’t miss it, but that didn’t stop a little pang of sadness from developing in her stomach.
She laid her head down on the pillow and just watched the planet. She tried not to think as she just stared out at the surface of Scrappis IV.
Kaori didn’t remember falling asleep, but she also didn’t remember taking off, and she was now staring at the dull glow of starlight in the void of space. It looked like night, but Kaori was very aware that this was misleading when in space.
She snatched up her arm from the shelf beside her and checked the watch that was attached to it.
Which left- not very long at all to clean herself and meet Nav.
Well, that wasn’t good at all.
She scrambled out of the cot, leaving her arm behind and dragging herself into the common room
Generally speaking, Kaori only took off her clothes when they were ruined and she found new ones she wanted instead. So she found the precise actions of disrobing for a shower to be difficult to do with any real speed. She was a mess of limbs as she threw her filthy rags to the floor and turned the knobs on the shower.
She remembered from her childhood that you were supposed to wait until the water was warm, so she waited, and peered curiously around the bathroom. It was then that Kaori saw herself in the mirror. She was disgusting. Not in a low-self esteem way, but in a hasn’t-showered-for-years kind of way. There was some form of a dried orange substance in her hair, and she couldn’t even begin to guess what it was.
Now that she thought about it, was her hair always black? Or was that the oil? She was strangely excited at the idea that a new hair colour might be waiting for her once she was clean.
The shower was steaming, so it seemed like it was time to start.
She stood frozen in place after entering the shower, her eyes wide with awe. The warm water hitting her felt like some long-lost luxury that she had forgotten about. Had it always felt this good? The moment she was done today’s work shift she intended to shower for as many hours as she could get away with. It felt so good!
Kaori saw black water splash down onto the shower floor. She really was dirty. There was a brand new bar of soap in there with her, so she snatched it up and scrubbed everywhere she could reach until the bar of soap had turned completely black. Kaori hadn’t used soap in years, but this seemed to her like the way to know when it was used up. She opened the door a little and threw the filthy bar into a small waste bin. There seemed to be two more new bars on the toilet, so she took one and scrubbed until it was equally black. She deposited that one into the bin as well.
She still thought she looked dirty, but she didn’t have time to really fix that for now, plus, there were a surprising number of places you can’t reach when you only have one arm.
There was also a bottle of something she remembered to be ‘shampoo.’ She squeezed a healthy squirt onto her hair and spread it around with her hand. She rinsed, but the water never turned clear. That would have to be good enough for now, she was going to be late if she washed up for much longer.
She stepped out into the open air and grabbed a nice white towel.
Well, it was a nice white towel. It was an ugly grey by the time Kaori was finished drying. Like the soap, Kaori assumed that meant that the towel was used up, so she binned it.
She checked in the mirror. She was certainly still dirty, and she worried that her skin may actually be permanently stained in some places, but it was better than it was.
She was vexed to note that her hair was still black. Perhaps it was always black? She remembered all of her family had black hair. That made sense, but she had already gotten her hopes up that it would be green or silver or something neat. Maybe she could dye it later? Yep. She made up her mind on the spot, she was going to dye her hair as soon as she could think of the best colour.
Kaori bundled up her clothes and stepped into the common room to access her locker. The blue uniform looked so clean, and it excited her.
She was also happy to know that she had been assigned several pairs of new underwear.
She hadn’t had new underwear in at least a year! But she wasn’t sure why she would need more than one pair? That seemed excessive to her.
She wasted no time in changing into her uniform. She could hear footsteps down the hallway, so she knew that she was running out of time.
Her new uniform consisted of long grey socks, of which she was given five pairs as well as a pair of chunky black leather boots. Two pairs of narrow-legged blue trousers with a gold stripe running up the side, plus an alternate long blue skirt with the same golden stripe. She decided right away that she was sticking with the pants. She was given seven clean white shirts with frilly collars that looked fun to play with. Lastly, she was given a single blue vest, covered in gold trim and various symbols. She noticed that a small big-eyed bird had been stitched into the collar. She recognized the symbol from Annie and Nav’s uniforms too.
The well-pressed uniform was comfortable beyond her imagination. It wasn’t even sticky or smelly! It had every single button and no patches at all!
Still, something was missing.
She had two pockets only on her new trousers and only one in her vest.
That just wasn’t going to cut it.
She pulled her thick quilted grey coat from her bundle of rags and put it on just in time as the door whooshed open.
Captain Annabelle and the Navigator paraded into her room and inspected her.
Annie silently looked her up and down and circled around Kaori.
She reached the front of Kaori and stood stiff-backed in front of the slouching scavenger girl.
“Still dirty.” She concluded. “That’s unlikely to change for a few days, however. Miss Amaris, you are hereby ordered to shower no less than twice daily for the next ten days.” It was the first order Kaori had been given so far, and she couldn’t be happier with it.
“Your uniform seems to fit well, but your coat doesn’t meet regulations. Remove it.”
Kaori stood still for a long moment. Considering whether or not it was a good idea to argue.
“I need it for work.” She said finally.
Annie raised an eyebrow.
“Pockets.” Kaori stated simply.
Annie nodded before turning to Nav.
“Have her coat washed this evening Mr. Navigator. It’s disgusting.”
“Aye, Ma’am.” The droid saluted.
The child-captain returned to the task at hand.
“Ms. Amaris, fix that posture when officers are present. It’s disrespectful to slouch.”
Kaori wasn’t sure exactly who qualified as an officer, but probably the Captain and First Mate. She tried to replicate Nav’s puffed out and back-straight stance. It was uncomfortable, but not unduly so.
“Secondly. Hair in a bun, a ponytail or cut it off completely.”
Annie ran Kaori down an increasingly long list of small mistakes in her uniform, appearance, stance, and etiquette, forcing Kaori to correct each one.
Kaori’s mind began to drift. The captain had nice hair, she thought. Blonde hair was pretty. Kaori wondered if she should dye her own hair blonde?
Somehow that felt too much like copying. Maybe yellow? No, that would be ugly. Gold? No that was basically the same as blonde.
“-And lastly, you’ve already managed to scuff your boots. You’ll polish them this evening immediately after your shift. Understood?”
“Yep.” said Kaori after a longer pause than was necessary.
“‘Yep’ what?” sneered the little girl.
Kaori thought about it.
That seemed to be the wrong answer, and the Navigator grimaced painfully, despite his lack of a face.
Annie’s lip curled back aggressively.
“That’s Captain Annie to you, that or Ma’am. After you bathe this evening I’m assigning you to tea party duty this evening to help you remember that.”
That sounded bizarre but oddly pleasant.
“Ma’am, with all due respect, isn’t that a little harsh?” Nav seemed abnormally distraught.
“No, mister Navigator, I do not. In fact, you’ll be joining her for tea this evening.” The lime coloured light that served as Nav’s face flickered.
“Aye. Ma’am.” He said obediently.
“Now, take her old clothing. I’ll begin her orientation.”
“My clothing?” Kaori asked, startled.
“We’re incinerating them. There’s no saving them.” Annie said in a voice that told Kaori that this was not up for debate.
Still, that didn’t stop Kaori from plotting an argument in her head. Sadly, the droid had long since left with her tattered clothing by the time Kaori had figured out what to say, so she let the matter drop, instead, following Annie as she left the room.
“The Nightingale is a Nova Halifax class light frigate, first launched out of the Terra-Luna spaceport on March nineteenth of the year 2298 for service under Captain Arthur Constantine in the Terran Defence Fleet, an organization that ceased to exist three years later with the disappearance of earth, as I’m certain you know.” Annie orated, her arms folded behind her back as she marched down the hallway.
“The Nightingale suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of an unknown ship on January third of 2304, leading to the disappearance of the former Captain and his crew. Full restoration of the vessel to its current state was completed on March thirteenth two years later. Any questions so far?” Annie stopped at the end of the first hallway and looked expectantly to Kaori.
“Can I see the engine?”
“You’ll be working in the engine core later today. For now, let’s continue the tour.”
Kaori didn’t have much interest in the many engagements that the captain claimed her ship had taken part in. Nor did she care about most of the mundane rooms she had been shown. A mess hall here, a laundry room there, but there were two sights along the tour that caught Kaori’s interest.
“As you can see, the kitchen is well maintained and up to the health codes of all eight human worlds. Food will be served at-”
Kaori found something far more interesting in the kitchen than any of the rather spartan appliances. There, stirring a bowl of batter, was a droid, identical to the one that Nav piloted. It wore a uniform similar to her own, but with a white apron overtop, along with a chef hat. If that weren’t strange enough, a curly mustache seemed to be crookedly glued onto the droids glass face. The face was glowing the same light green that Kaori understood to mean that the body was being piloted by the Navigator.
“Is that Nav?” She asked, stunned.
“As in first mate Nav?” the captain asked idly.
“Non. Je suis Chef Navigateur.” said the robot in a strange language.
“As he says. That’s Chef Nav.”
“Ne me confondez pas avec ce sale second.” The chef stated indignantly, turning up a nose that he didn’t have at Kaori.
Kaori thought of what to say about that for a very long time but never did find a response.
The second odd thing she found, was remarkably similar to the first.
As they passed by a doorway marked “Captain’s Quarters” Kaori noticed the door was ajar. Inside was a large and immaculately clean room that was nevertheless full to the top with children’s toys and rocketship posters. Sitting on an armchair, reading a newspaper in a fuzzy blue housecoat and slippers, was yet another droid, also glowing with lime green light. It looked up, a little surprised to see Kaori through a pair of thick-rimmed glasses.
He stepped up to the doorway and looked around the corner to ensure that Annie wasn’t looking his way.
Kaori said nothing but blinked in confusion.
“I’ll explain later, you need to go!” He whispered back in a folksy-sounding American accent.
“Miss Amaris?” Called Annie from the end of the hallway. Her scowl could be seen from here.
“Like I said, sport,” Nav said, covering for them both, “First Mate Nav’s a different guy. I’m Pappa Nav.” He closed the door, leaving Kaori with her confusion.
Her first work shift on the Nightingale wasn’t overly difficult, but Kaori was reasonably certain that it was going to be back-breaking over the next few days. She’d never worked with a starship before, but years of tinkering with unfamiliar machines meant that she was a quick study.
To the outside observer, Kaori appeared to be darting about the engineering deck, staring at things for up to an hour, then rushing off to stare blankly at the next thing.
Her mind was whirring about though. Her official orders were to familiarize herself with the engine system and to run her first daily check on the mechanics.
The first part took most of her day, while the second took no time at all. It was running completely fine. No problems. Still, Kaori didn’t like how a great deal of the ship was designed. It looked very pretty and had a lot of fancy parts, but most of them were far less reliable than they could be. Maintenance of her arm taught her that it was better to have a basic and easily replaceable part than a complex and high-functioning piece of technology that would leave you high and dry when they eventually broke. And they would break. Everything breaks eventually. There were a few places where any potential breakage would be a disaster, so she planned to implement redundant backup parts into the massive engine core in the name of better reliability.
She began taking notes on a filthy pad she had in her coat.
- Replace blue springy thing with green springy things.
- Xavier-brand fuel holder tube things to be replaced with Vanderloff-brand fuel holder tube things.
- Add pistons where possible because pistons are neat and good and are better at not breaking.
Elsewhere, the small, iron-blooded Captain had a horrible feeling that the tidiness of her ship was in jeopardy.
Kaori found a distraught looking Nav in the common room when she returned. He was wearing his ordinary uniform, so Kaori was relatively certain that she was seeing First Mate Nav, and not one of the strange offshoots she had seen earlier. He sat at a small plastic dining table that had been placed on the floor. A pot of tea with a number of porcelain teacups were placed in a circle around the table. A stuffed gopher and a plush cat sat on chairs, wearing ill-fitting flowered dresses.
In the corner was a scowling Captain Annabelle.
Kaori did so without hesitation, she was starving, and tea with biscuits sounded amazing. Though she did wonder why the stuffed animals were there.
“Why are we doing this?” She asked, shoving a piece of shortbread that tasted like heaven into her mouth.
“Because tea-time with your animals is important.” Remarked Annie, clearly appalled at Kaori’s table manners.
“Yeah, but why?” Kaori was still chewing as she spoke.
“It’s important because Miss Becca says it’s important.” The captain shook her head and left the room. “I expect you to make sure that Void-Cat and Star-Mole have finished their tea by the time I get back.”
Kaori remembered tea from when she was little. She always had to wear an uncomfortable dress and sit up straight when her mother had important ladies over for tea. She always felt it was worth it for the sweets.
She poured herself a cup of tea and shoved another cookie into her mouth while stirring a cube of sugar into the cup.
She looked up at Nav, who seemed to be in a state of unrelenting despair.
Nav did his best to compose himself. He daintily picked up a small teacup in his large metal hand.
“Miss Becca is Captain Constantine’s best friend. They are the same age. We’ll be seeing her when we dock next week, actually.”
“So is Becca a normal child then?”
“I don’t understand the question.” Nav tilted the cup up to his visor where a mouth should have been. The tea trickled down the glass and onto his uniform. “Tea. Awful invention.”
Kaori downed hers quickly. It was as good as she remembered!
“I can have yours.” She offered, already leaning across the table to snatch up his cup.
The First Mate perked up.
“I can’t thank you enough Miss Amaris.” He said, already beginning to pour cups of tea for the stuffed animals. “Enjoy your tea Mister Void-Cat. And you, Miss Star-Mole” He muttered sadly.
“Why were you wearing disguises earlier?”
“Ah. That.” He messily shoved a cookie into his face and looked with regret at the shower of crumbs it left on his uniform. “In her early years, I had a difficult time teaching young Miss Annie how to be Captain. I tried everything.” He wiped at the crumbs on his face with a handkerchief. “And for some reason, it helped her for me to act like I was not simply one computerized navigation program, and was instead a number of different crew members and personalities.”
“Why does she still have you do it?” Kaori asked after giving it some thought.
“To be honest, Miss Amaris, I’m not actually certain she’s figured out it’s not real yet.”
Kaori couldn’t wrap her head around that. It was obvious! How was it that the stern little girl who seemed so sharp and disciplined, still couldn’t figure out that Nav was playing the roles of all her imaginary friends?
Nav placed a pair of cookies down in front of each stuffed animal.
“Because she’s nine, Miss Amaris. You mustn’t forget that.”