My eyes wandered over Narmo as he piloted the ship. I’d never seen him worse off. It made me feel guilty, sitting here in pristine condition while he was so dirty and beat down. His black t-shirt and jeans were in tatters and his arm didn’t look much better. He had shifted his white hair to hang over the shaved side of his head, hiding the recently obtained gash. A little piece of ear was missing where one of his piercings tore out. The rest were intact, including that damned nose ring.
“Stop staring and tell me,” he said, voice unusually flat and mechanical. “Why exactly are we keeping the stowaways instead of dropping them back on their planet? Or better yet, jettisoning them.”
“We’ve been over this,” I replied. “You said yourself the ship can’t handle another re-entry… and not that it’s an option, but the only way to jettison them would be in our escape pod.”
“We don’t need the escape pod. Let them take it.”
“We? Maybe you don’t care but if this thing falls apart, we need a way out.”
“Fucking space elves. So vulnerable. Can’t take a little exposure to the cold vacuum of space.”
“So many things wrong with that statement. First, don’t call me a space elf. We’re the Faldne. There’s a lot that distinguishes us from elves.”
I struggled to find a response to his challenge. Not because there wasn’t one. It was just such an on the spot demand. “Our culture.”
“Moving on. Remove ‘fucking’ from your vocabulary.”
“Right a-fucking-way, Your Highness.” He saluted me with his good hand. “Oh… wait. That’s right! I don’t have to.”
“Alright. You’ve had this whole,” I waved my hand at him, “individuality thing going on several years now. You’ve been a smart ass the whole time but you’ve only just started with the obscenities. Why now?”
“No time like the present. Sorry. No time like the fucking present.”
“Just… alright, what is your issue with our stowaw… guests?”
“I don’t like how the cat looks at me.”
The ‘cat’ growled from its position, curled up at the back of the bridge. It was fairly intimidating. It did follow Narmo a lot. Everywhere. It easily outweighed me and its long, protruding fangs were anything but cat-like.
I waited for him to continue… “Is that all?” I asked.
“The big one freaks me out. Does he really think we’re going to the star?”
“As far as I can determine, yes. I think he thinks it’s his god.”
Narmo shook his head. “Plus I think he’s eating all of our food. The stores are dropping far more quickly than they should.”
“Why do you care?”
“You should care. But it’s my job to inventory everything. And he leaves such a mess.”
“We have plenty and he needs it more than I do. He’s like ten feet tall. And do you have proof it was him?”
“No. Cameras are currently nonfunctional.”
“You mean broken. Like everything else on this ship. Including you.” I gestured, indicating all of him.
“Hey, I’m not broken!” He tried to point at me, angrily. Instead, his forearm hung toward the floor, bent at an unnatural angle. “Oh. That? I thought you meant upstairs… in the head. Yeah. I’m broken.”
“Your voice isn’t quite working right, either. Some of that machine monotone is slipping through.”
“Yes, Rosa. We can all hear it. Thank you for pointing it out.”
“Anything else while we’re at it?” I asked. He needed to vent. Not that he was ever done venting. Sometimes it was just fun to listen.
“There wasn’t so much shit broken before the little red-haired one… What’s her name?”
“Syko.” I humored him, knowing he hadn’t forgotten.
“Psycho is fucking right. She’s been breaking things left and right.”
“You’ve seen her doing this?” I teased.
“Yeah. I’ll give her some credit though. It’s not what you’d expect from a little Neanderthal. She’s taking shit apart and doing crude diagrams. Kind of impressive actually.”
“She is the only one…”
“Yeah, yeah. Reads and writes. What good does it do if she’s the only one that knows her language?”
“She was able to communicate with me.”
“I don’t like the green one.”
“Really?” I was surprised. I thought they were getting along. “Of all of them, I thought you’d…”
“He’s wearing my clothes!”
“Is that all? Or is it just that he looks so much better in them?”
“Shut up. What’s he supposed to be anyways? An Orc?”
“I don’t know. It wouldn’t be completely outlandish considering Syko and the other girl are human. There wasn’t supposed to be any life there. Just viable for life.”
“And the other girl makes me uncomfortable.”
I laughed. “Oh? Why would that be?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No, not at all,” I said, still laughing. Such a smart ass, but still so oblivious to sarcasm.
“I’ve offered her clothes. She won’t wear any of them.”
“You’ve got a lot of work to do before we can take these people into port.”
“Yes. We do.”
“Of course, Rosa. Rope me into your breaking of… thirty-nine? I think that’s right. Thirty-nine laws regarding…”
“Yes, I know. Any more complaints?”
“Since you keep asking…”
“I just want you to get it all out.”
“You wear too many clothes. You’ll make her feel unwelcome.”
“Pervert.” My ears twitched as I picked up a new sound. “What’s that rattling?”
“Uh… that would be the ship.”
“No.” I paused, holding my breathe, waiting for it to sound again. “That one.”
“Oh. Yeah. That’s new. Don’t know.”
“Check it out, maybe?”
“Narmo… you have to…” I was interrupted by the almost flailing entry of the red-haired Syko, thin and tiny, speaking rapidly in her tongue as though her life depended on it.
“Slow down, Psycho.” Narmo laughed.
“What is it?” I shushed her and did my best to soothe, getting on her level. She held a tablet out to me, poking at its screen frantically. I looked. The word ‘Imposter’ along with definition. I chuckled nervously. “How did you get this turned on?”
She just let out a long ughhh at me. Frustration?
“Do you even know what this word means?”
She looked like she might punch me.
“Sorry. We’ve just started learning and I haven’t covered this word.”
Syko waved her hands. “No. Imposter.” She poked a finger at her chest.
“You’re an imposter?”
“No.” She pointed back through the door she had entered through.
“Alright… Narmo, put the ship on autopilot.”
“Doesn’t do that anymore.”
“Then wait here.”
I followed Syko through the ship, down into the cargo bay. She pointed out into the dark, rustling emanating from the indicated direction. I flipped on the lights. Nothing happened. “Damn it.” Everything on this piece of shit ship was failing.
“Here, I’ll get that,” Narmo said from behind me, raising his pistol over my shoulder, flicking on its light.
“What are you doing here? Who’s flying the ship?”
“I left the cat in charge.”
“Narmo! No! Go back. We’ll hit something.” His disobedience was getting to be annoying. Narmo panned the light over the room, focusing toward the direction of the sound as we approached it.
“Like what? Besides. I was joking. I left the green guy behind the wheel.”
“Like that’s any better.” The light stopped on a bent over, red-haired form eating from our food supply. It turned to look. It was the spitting image of Syko, though she stood beside me.
“Great.” Narmo groaned. “She multiplies.”
“No. It solves the food mys…” I was interrupted by the repeated discharge of Narmo’s pistol. The Syko duplicate threw herself out of the way with inhuman speed, directly toward us. Narmo followed its path with similar speed, still firing. If he managed to connect a charge, I couldn’t tell. He shoved me out of the way, behind him, as the thing reached us.
Syko, our Syko, met her with a stone sword ready. Syko Two quickly disarmed her and in moments they were a rolling ball of red-hair and snarls. Narmo backed up, blocking me from intervening.
“Narmo! Move out of the way.” Sarim coursed through me as I prepared to do something, though I didn’t know what invocation to load.
“Protecting you is my prime directive.”
“Garbage. You don’t have a prime directive.”
“Free will dictates otherwise.”
“Move!” I yelled at him as the fighting stopped, both Syko One and Syko Two stood panting, facing each other like mirror images. “What now?” I asked.
Narmo shrugged and fired, connecting solidly between the eyes of the one to the right. She collapsed in death. The left Syko collapsed in fear.
“Relax. I never lost track.”
I sighed. “Sometimes I forget.”
“My tracking is a bit faulty though,” he said. My panic was apparently visible. Narmo quickly quieted it with, “Just joking.”
“Remove ‘asshole’ from your vocabulary,” he said.
“Right away, asshole,” I said, laughing. “What was that thing?”
“I don’t know. Shooting her was cathartic though… maybe we can be doubly sure and…”
“Alright. But don’t blame me when we’ve got more Psycho than we can handle.”
“She’s not multiplying and we already do.”
Written for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction: Space Operatics.