I have hit a snag with finishing this. I mean, I thought I had finished it, and I sent it to beta readers. In record time – 100% turnaround in 24 hours – I had my answer. Moar! they said. It needs more. So… I’m letting it sit and simmer a bit longer on the back burner. School and life have my full attention at the moment, but a week or two and I should be better able to do this tale justice. In the meantime, I will get the collection of other stories finished. By the time I’m done with this, it will stand alone.
Exploration of the Station
My mind wandered. Where was I, and why had the alien ship chosen this as my destination? Why, for that matter, had they chosen to save me from certain death? I’d never asked them, didn’t want to know, I suppose. Too late now. That they had pitched me into a mess was clear, but if they had known about it beforehand, that I couldn’t tell. Nor why they would put me into it, if they did. Seems they had put a lot of effort into me just to throw me away. So… either they didn’t know, or they were using me as a tool.
Seemed unlikely, that last. Aliens are alien. I’d come to be very fond of them, in my way, and they were clearly people with different personalities and intelligence levels. Courage, too, I thought as I remembered waking up with Blackears after my rage at being denied a cold death in the stars. I could have torn him to pieces before they could get in, and he’d known that. For all of it, they were alien, and past my understanding. Would I have hauled a half-dead alien into my ship and patched him up? Mebbe. Depended.
Would I help a community of unknown humans in unknown trouble? I lay on the bunk staring at the ceiling and thinking about that one until my stomach rumbled at me. I ate, found the bathroom behind a sliding panel in the wall, and used the facilities, including a quick ‘fresher to get my skin tingling and cleansed. That helped my thought process. I’d been going around in circles. Lack of data. That was my problem. I just didn’t know enough.
The chat rooms were, I knew for a certainty, monitored. Even the ostensibly private ones. If there were truly encrypted channels, I didn’t have access. Time to do this the old-fashioned way. The hatch slid back and forth into the wall, but closed, I had access to the maintenance panel. The room I was in had never been meant to be a cell, and it wasn’t the first time I’d had to deal with an ornery hatch.
As I worked, I planned ahead as much as I could. If whatever was wrong aboard was a disease, I’d be exposed already, or only exposed through contact with an inhabitant. By the message boards, so few were active I was pretty sure I could avoid contact. Scope it out, come back here and wait more. Until I was sure they weren’t coming for me.
Using a broken handle from the extruded eating utensils I’d gotten with my meal, I faked the hatch clasp so it wouldn’t show as open on someone’s screen somewhere. Getting the clasp out and handle in meant slow, tricky work. Sort of like maneuvering waldoes to pull chunks of the good stuff from a spinning asteroid. Work I was right at home with. With that accomplished, I pulled the hatch toward me enough that I could wriggle through the gap. I left it open.
The corridor was empty, and I felt no vibrations under my stocking feet. I had left my boots in the room, knowing I wouldn’t need or want them for this expedition. I’m making this tale too long already, so I won’t bore you with what happened, because nothing happened, other than me getting all worked up over it. I was damp with fear sweat, and nothing happened. There were no people anywhere. Hatches stood open, revealing apartments that must have been much nicer to live in than the plain little room they’d put me in. I got to a certain point where I couldn’t take it any more and retreated to my room.
Once my hatch was back in place, I got back into the chat rooms on the entertainment channel. Sure, if there were people in there, they must be somewhere. I arranged a meet-up. Well, I thought I had.
I don’t know who was more surprised when I showed up, him or me. he was the dark-eyed man from the squad that had gotten me, and I was… not supposed to be able to leave the room he’d locked me in. He stood there in an empty caff staring at me over the forlorn tables and chairs. I couldn’t smell anything cooking.
“Where are all the people?” I broke the silence, and my voice echoed a little.