Annie was relieved that the torpedoes nuclear load was quite easy and safe to disassemble, but a small adventurous part of her had hoped she would be cutting red wires and defusing a countdown. Instead, the task was as easy as opening a latch and removing a shielded cylinder from the middle. Supposedly these torpedoes were only dangerous once they were primed and ready to fire. That was good for Annie’s health but possibly bad for the readability of her future memoirs.
Although she was assured it was safe, she still insisted on grasping the material in a gloved hand.
That was easy.
She had already retrieved the comet, which was a cakewalk compared to the magnetic asteroid when it came to her personal safety, but drained an obnoxious amount of her ships power since it was so much farther away than the asteroid had been.
It was amazing how in just a few short hours she had drained away a day and a half of life support.
But now she was running into a problem she was hoping to avoid.
This whole debacle had started only about seven hours ago, but she had already been up for twelve hours before then. Annie was beginning to get tired, but she couldn’t afford to waste eight hours of her life on sleep. She had wisely taken the time during the flight to the asteroid to eat, so that was taken care of, but by her estimate, she was still hours away from getting a chance to rest.
Kaori told her that Annie would be unable to process the materials herself, that meant using the droid bodies to sculpt the magnet, forge the scrap metal into shape, melt the ice, and weld the parts together into a reactor. That was going take a lot of power. Twenty-four hours worth. It would have been far more if Nav’s AI was turned on, but fortunately, the empty bodies ran on much less power than the mind itself. This all meant that Annie was also going to need to be spending the next six hours programming the work order into the droids instead of sleeping.
That was in addition to the twelve hours it was going to take for them to actually assemble the reactor.
Only once the droids had started could Annie finally collapse into bed, only then could she rest.
And when she woke up, the timer would be at only six hours. The reactor had better work.
Annie’s eyes strained against the light of the computer monitor. Luckily the droids weren’t designed to require actual coding to work, otherwise, she would have been forced to wake Nav and waste even more time and power. But that didn’t mean that it was by any means simple.
She hit a dropdown menu and selected ‘Droid 1’ and ‘Droid 6’
Another dropdown menu. ‘Use tool.’
Dropdown menu. ‘Heat gun.’
Used on what object?
She uploaded an image of the comet.
Confirmation: Using heat gun to melt ice?
Luckily the program was smart enough to understand the context. She selected yes.
Dispose of water or collect?
Into what collection point?
It just went on and on. Kaori gave her a three hundred and thirteen step guide to assemble the reactor and Annie had to manually input every single command. It was perhaps the most tedious task she had ever performed, but she needed to be quick and she needed to be careful. She had to rattle off each command in around one minute in order to stay on schedule. Annie had an iron will and an amount of focus to make a microscope envy her, but even this task was proving to be nearly beyond her.
Her eyelids were drooping with sleep deprivation as the long hours rolled by. Her life was dropdown menus, her mind was a confirmation screen. But she pressed on.
Three hours passed and she was halfway done, but then the thoughts begin to enter her mind.
You have a spare few hours in the end to sleep, just take a nap now.
But that would be dangerous. She knew she needed those hours in case anything went wrong.
The thoughts were scarce until the fourth hour when they seemed to intensify.
Just wake up Nav and have him input everything, he can do it instantly and it will still leave you with two hours to spare!
Nothing will go wrong, go to sleep!
Excuses. Annie had refused to make any for the last two years, not after what happened on Venus. That little voice in her mind had caused that, and she vowed to never listen to it again.
The voice stopped in the fifth hour, but Annie’s body continued the assault, beginning to move more slowly, her eyes blinking closed of their own will. Annie’s body and her mind were both fighting against her. But Annie was nine. Her body was weak and frail, her mind was young and untrained. It was her will that made her exceptional. It was her will that kept her body moving when it didn’t want to anymore.
But hour six never seemed to come, for eventually she blinked, and her eyes didn’t open.
CLANG CLANG CLANG.
Annie bolted awake at the noise. Her eyes burned, punishing her for opening them. She checked the clock first, relieved that she had only lost fifteen minutes.
But that noise, it sounded like someone had knocked on the bridge door. How was that possible? She stumbled out of her chair and pulled her pistol from its holster. She pointed it at the doorway.
“Who’s there?” She called out.
Whoever it was said nothing.
“Open the door, I know you’re there!” Still nothing.
She cautiously approached the door, refusing to lower her gun. One hand quickly pressed the button to open it, before quickly returning it.
Collapsed on the floor was a droid in a house robe. Pappa Nav was collapsed on the hallway floor. Next to him, pristinely placed in front of the doorway, was a steaming hot cup of coffee.
Alarm bells were ringing in her mind, but she just didn’t have time to investigate.
She snatched up the cup and closed the doorway, locking it for good measure.
She had taken sips of coffee a few times, but Nav and Mark both insisted that it would stunt her growth if she began drinking it. Now seemed like the perfect time to ignore that advice, however, her life was on the line after all. She sipped at it, slowly at first as she filled in the remaining orders, but by the time it had cooled she was taking big gulps of the brown liquid. It tasted foul, but the energy it gave her told Annie that she was going to make good use of the stuff once she was older.
And in a single moment, she was done.
She clicked a button for the droids to begin the work order. She heard the empty body outside her doorway stand to its feet and walk intently down the hall. She hadn’t a clue how it had gotten there, but there was not much she could do about it in this state. Whoever, or whatever has been controlling her droids had already potentially saved her life twice, so she thought herself safe for the moment. Besides, she had already swept the ship twice and found nothing and no one.
Like the droid, Annie herself stumbled down the hallway, barely reaching her bed before collapsing into it. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.
“Rise and shine girl thing!! ” Ashur said, bursting into the hallway Kaori slept in. She was startled awake. It was the first time since she had been taken captive that he had so much as acknowledged her. Before she could even get her mind together about it, he tossed her a large fruit-like object.
She instinctively tried to catch it with both hands, but as she had not yet installed the second, the fruit hit her square in the chest before softly coming to rest on the floor.
Something was different about him. Normally he seemed to be very stiff like he was restraining himself. Kaori was beginning to see that that must have been the case, he was letting his natural posture control his body. It was noticeably alien. Joints moved in ways they shouldn’t, limbs swayed in ways a human would never do. Had Ashur been trying to act like a human off the ship? He had never quite pulled it off, and the effect was unsettling. That said, his current movements were perhaps more unsettling, but somehow Kaori was getting the impression that Ashur was remarkably chipper right now.
“That new arm of yours is just catching dust, sahri.”
“Sahri?” Asked, biding her time while she slowly became conscious.
“You won’t begrudge me slipping into my old tongue on the ship, yes? It takes great effort to speak your language constantly.”
“What’s it mean?”
“Nothing important, ghettan sahri.”
“Why do this? Haven’t talked before.”
“Would you have listened if I said anything while you were qhillin maihra? While you were rage-broken?”
Rage-broken. An odd phrase, but looking at the hideous arm she had crafted, she had to concede that she had indeed been rage-broken.
“No,” she said.
“Then let’s start again. You have always been tehtin nar, not of my hall. No longer. We must talk now that we are tehtin-ra, people of one hall.”
None of this was making sense. Ashur was talking so strangely and she wasn’t certain she could follow his alien phrases.
He smiled, not the way he normally did, it seemed kind.
“You are my crew. I am your captain. In the past, this was not so. Now that we are tehtin-ra, no more tricks. It would not be proper.”
She didn’t buy a word of it, but she did have to survive here until Annie could rescue her. Perhaps it was best to play along.
Ashur nodded eagerly, pleased that Kaori had picked up the word.
“We can say crew instead?” she asked.
Ashur deflated a little.
“If that’s what you want, sahri.” he pointed to the fruit “Are you planning on eating your dhoshin?”
She took a better look at the odd little fruit. It looked oddly similar to Ashur in a way. Milky white fruit flesh, protected by a thin black shell that seemed to be the exact same material as Ashur’s stone-like outer skin.
“It’s food from home, easy to grow with artificial light. You’re lucky, it’s our tastiest fruit, and the only one that both humans and Akkadar are able to digest.”
She stared at him. She had little experience with aliens, so the idea that Ashur couldn’t eat the same food as she could was a foreign notion to her.
“Humans use acid in their stomach I think, melt the food down for energy. Akkadar are different, we have ilhain- little bones that grind our food once eaten. Your food burns our insides, our food is too hard for your acid to melt.”
Kaori was well versed in mechanics, but the way her own body worked was actually a mystery to her. She picked up the dhoshin, it was oddly warm to the touch, more like a living animal than a cold plant.
“Peel the shell. It’s the best part, but your body can’t handle it.”
She was sorely tempted, all she had been able to eat the previous few days were scraps of preserved junk food that the scrap bots had brought her. But she still couldn’t trust him, not after he abandoned Annie.
“We are crew, it is proper for us to dine together.”
She decided to think it through. What was it Ashur stood to gain? Would it kill her when she ate this? Ashur had no reason to kill her though. The only thing he could possibly gain out of her was her skill as a mechanic, and she needed to be alive for that to be of any use.
But on the other hand, if she was to be his mechanic, she would likely not be useful if she hated him and was rebelling constantly. Perhaps his civility was a peace offering, a way to get Kaori to work for him willingly? That made sense. But Kaori promised herself she wouldn’t let the alien manipulate her again, not again. She would fight him tooth and nail when the time came.
But the time hadn’t come yet, and for now, survival was the goal. She would play along, make him think he had succeeded until the time to strike finally came.
She ate her breakfast with him. The dhoshin turned out to be a delight. She had been horrified after taking her first bite when she realized that just below the white skin were tiny veins. The horror didn’t last long as the veins oozed a delicious sugary syrup. The flesh wasn’t at all like Terran fruit, having the consistency of coconut. The taste was like milk, but not pure milk, as though it had been mixed with warm spices that were alien to her tongue. Despite the hardness of the fruit, it dissolved rapidly in her mouth, forming a thick cream-like paste.
Breakfast with Ashur wasn’t so bad, she had little to say, but Ashur took the time to tell her about a few of the ship’s systems. It was an ugly craft, but she was impressed at how pragmatically it had been built.
He sent her off after they ate to begin sorting through the spare parts and begin organizing the clutter. Apparently, he never bothered to put anything away because his scrap-bots would be able to locate anything he needed regardless of where he put it. They both agreed however that it would be easier for Kaori to store everything in one place so that she could sort through it when needed.
It was an enjoyable chore, digging through the junk. She began to realize that there were parts of her life on Scrappis that she actually enjoyed, mainly salvaging. It was fun.
The hours flew by as she found one piece of valuable detritus after another.
She had nearly forgotten that she was expecting a call from Annie when her communicator crackled to life in the evening.
“Kaori?” The voice echoed, suggesting that the little girl was already in her pressure suit. That meant it was time.
She secluded herself somewhere that she wouldn’t be found.
“Reactor is finished?”
“It wasn’t easy, but everything seems to be ready. I just need you to walk me through how I start it up, just like we agreed.”
“Very simple, you are by the reactor, yes?”
“Affirmative, I’m outside the ship and ready to start.”
“Open reactor and place the nuclear cylinder in the center.”
Some shuffling confirmed that the task was performed.
“Close the chamber and pull hard on the lever to release the shielding.”
“Is that safe?”
“Chamber is closed, radiation will be trapped.”
The little girl grunted as she pulled down on the lever
“Done,” the captain said definitively.
“Now start the coolant pump, a green light will flash once the chamber is completely full.”
Annie didn’t bother to confirm, continuing her shuffling work in silence.
“While waiting, double check all seals.”
“Understood.” Several minutes passed as they waited in a tense silence. “All seals are proper and the light is flashing.
“Okay. Flip blue switch to start the reaction.”
“Before I do that, thank you for all your ingenuity Miss Amaris. No one else could have done this.”
Kaori smiled to herself. It was a pretty great day actually.
“You’re welcome,” was all she said back.
“Okay, I’m flipping the swi-”
There was only static on the other line. But before that had been a small moment of a deafening explosion. Kaori felt like she had been splashed with icy water.
There was no response.
Something had gone horrifically wrong.