The air tasted of bitterness and oil. Like week old algae kibble rolled in engine fluid. Sid smacked her dry lips together, trying to wash away the taste but it clung to the roof of her mouth, unwilling to budge.
“WARNING! WARNING! THE EMERGENCY SELF-DESTRUCT MECHANISM IS NOW ACTIVE!”
The ship’s high pitched, mechanical voice boomed over the sound system as Sid skidded across the floor of the spacecraft. Sweat beaded down her olive brow, threatening to fall into her large-set eyes. She unzipped the top of her suit without losing momentum, ripped the top layer off her drenched body, and rushed past the med bay doors.
Her legs sliced through the air and she briskly grabbed a toolbox off the dining table without breaking her sprint. The box screeched as she dragged it across the steel tabletop, making Sid’s thighs quiver with discomfort. The ship’s corridors were a maze of twists and turns, a maze she knew like the back of her hand having spent the majority of her days fixing the never-ending malfunctions of the system. She didn’t mind passing all her time fumbling around with wrenches and grips; after all, time is something she had plenty of. The ship was a puzzle that only she knew how to solve and keep together. What did bother her, however, was that lately the ship, her ship, seemed to be missing too many pieces. Her puzzle was incomplete.
“DANGER! CARBON DIOXIDE VALVE FAILURE! ALL ON BOARD MUST EVACUATE VIA THE EAST WING ESCAPE PODS!”
“Oh, shut your metal starhole!” She yelled to the ship, hoping it might actually come to life at her words. The Arcturus had been her home for almost thirteen years but at times like this, she wanted nothing more than to hop into an escape pod and watch it drift off into eternity. “I’m almost there, you metal piece of junk!”
Two more rights and a sharp left and Sid slid to a determined stop in front of the greenhouse control room. The normally fogged glass doors were dripping wet and a small puddle was already starting to form at the base of the panes. Air production was failing quickly.
“Starspit!” Sid hissed, immediately regretting her words. Even alone she hated the roughness of the swear rushing from her lips.
She wiped a sweaty palm on the base of her suit and raised it to the keylock. The system beeped maniacally for a brief moment before a green light flashed and the doors slid open. Sid bolted to the control panel, dropping the toolbox with a shattering bang and dug out a set of ratchets. Her fingers fumbled through the sizes, landing quickly on the correct one. Not missing a beat, Sid raised the tool to the faulty valve and began to twist. Her callused palms, red from the pressure, ached immediately. The skin ripping on the unforgiving roughness of the metal.
With each turn, the force of the ratchet slowed as the valve refused to be turned back into its place. “Oh, for the love of the Star! Come on!” She cried and continued to work. She had fixed the faulty part four times in the last month alone, not counting all the other valves rusting around it, waiting to break.
Sid wiped her now soaked brow and tried to remember the date of the next supply shipment. Colton said he would pack a few spare valves to help with air control. The pressure on her head and chest was making her lose track of the dates. When was the shipment? Next week? Or was it the one after next? Whenever it was, it wasn’t in the next ten minutes so there was no point figuring it out.
Tightening a fist around the ratchet handle, she offered an annoyed huff and turned the tool again.
“THE SHIP WILL DETONATE IN T MINUS FIVE MINUTES! MANUAL CLIMATE CONTROL OVERRIDE WILL SHUT DOWN IN TEN, NINE, EIGHT…”
“I thought I told you to keep it down!” She yelled, pushing her entire body weight into each twist.
At her minimal height, Sid was nothing if not resourceful. If she needed to be stronger, she willed herself to be as strong as a hundred droids. If she needed to reach something off a high shelf, she built a system of pulleys to help her. There were a million ways to die living alone on a dusty, old spaceship and if there was one thing Sid knew for certain, she wasn’t dying because of some broken valve.
She dropped the ratchet and twisted the chain until her hands grabbed the largest tool in the set. Her arm stretched behind her, Sid gathered her strength and slammed the ratchet on the valve.
“Not today, you pathetic piece of space garbage!” She screamed, delivering another blow.
Sid swung again. The blow landing squarely in the middle of the valve, causing it to bounce back into position. She tossed the set of tools to the ground and turned. One twist. Then one more. Turn after turn until she was sure the stardamned thing was secure and no longer leaking gas. Her hands shaking, she stepped back, raising her palms in surrender. Her head swung around, waiting for the next announcement.
She grit her teeth, “come on, come on, come on.”
Sid balled her hand and brought it down to the wall with a thud, immediately regretting the decision. The pain hit her as soon as her bones met with the metal. She jerked her hand away, shaking it to bring the feeling back and hissing under her breath.
“Oh, for the love of–”
“CARBON DIOXIDE VALVE SECURE. SELF-DESTRUCT MECHANISM DISENGAGED. ALL SYSTEMS NORMAL.”
Sid let out a sigh and leaned against the cold steel next to her, sliding slowly to the floor. She reached for the goggles on her head, stretching the band to wipe the fog from the glass then popped them back on; covering her cat-like grey eyes and the thin vertical pupil that ran across them. Obstructing the one thing that singled out her species from view. “You know, one of these days you’re going to kill me, Rusty.” She sighed, “and I’m starting to think you might be happy about it.”
Silence enveloped her shaking body.
“Rusty?” She raised her grey eyes to the ceiling, searching for the camera lens. She cleared her throat, “Arcturus?”
A red light blinked in the corner of the room and a small lens adjusted until it was centered on her face.
“ALL SYSTEMS CHECKED. DETECTING NO ANOMALIES AT THE PRESENT TIME.”
“Muck. Now I have to reprogram your command recognitions, Rusty.”
She watched as the camera offered a few more lens twists and returned back to the base. Rolling her eyes, Sid picked up the set of ratchets from the floor and tossed them back into the toolbox. Maybe she could get her metal friend back to normal before dinner. She’d have to remember to ask Colton for a new speech module for the ship’s computer. Sid would sooner space herself than spend the rest of her life calling it Arcturus. It sounded like one of the incurable diseases she’d learned about in her history projections. The ones that made Colton’s people come to Neostar in the first place. Well, her ship wasn’t a disease. Her ship was regal and strong and–
Sid wiped the water from her eyes and looked up, tracing the drip to the now leaking ceiling above her.
“Time to get you patched up again!”
With a loud huff, she tugged her suit back on and made her way out of the greenhouse, her fingers running along the lightly yellowing leaves of the plants as she passed.
“How about a nice red leaf broth and a frigger egg for dinner, Rusty?” She asked the ship, “I think we deserve it.”