Kartega

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Chapter 2

“Stardaughter!” Sid cursed as air began hissing from the pipe above her. She had been splayed beneath the belly of the ship’s engine for hours and every time she had managed to patch something up, another problem reared its head. The Arcturus reminded her of an old man on his deathbed, making bargains with the nurses to help him transition to the afters. Except in this case, she was the nurse and she hated every minute of it.

“SUCH LANGUAGE IS IN DIRECT VIOLATION WITH THE NEOSTAR ORDER’S RULES OF CONDUCT.” The ship’s voice echoed in response.

“Shut it, Rusty!”

“COMMAND OVERRIDE ACCEPTED.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Sid sighed. She had managed to restore the voice commands to her preferred settings after yesterday’s meltdown and was quickly regretting not deleting Colton’s original codes for language control. While she was fully aware that rough language was not something dignified little girls lived by, the occasional slip of the tongue did not strike her as something to be scolded for by a two-hundred-ton metal scrapyard. As soon as she was done patching up the oxygen pipes, she’d have to reprogram the beast to a more acceptable social standard. At least, as social as a standard could get on a ship with a population of one.

Her legs pushed against the metal grid beneath her feet, causing the glider base to slide out from under the engine. Without rising — or looking — Sid’s hand found the bracket in the mess of parts next to her and she pulled herself back into position. Her tongue curled up to touch her top lip, “come on, Rusty. Let’s get you breathing nice and proper so we can have time to shower before Colton calls.”

“IMPROPER USE OF WATER WILL CAUSE A BREAKDOWN OF THE SHIPS ELECTRICAL CIRCUITS. PLEASE ADVISE ON A NEW COMMAND PRIOR TO ENGAGING IN THE UNDETERMINED SHOWER PROTOCOL.”

“Oh, for the love of the star, Rusty. I didn’t mean you! Fine, no showers!” She lifted her arm and inhaled quickly, “On second thoughts, maybe just the one shower for me then.”

Sid reached into her suit pocket and popped a few screws into her mouth, readying them for the job. She tightened the first screw, then the next, each one leveling the pipe’s angle slightly closer to where it should be. Everything was just a few inches off from where it should be on the ship. On any other day, Sid wouldn’t mind playing around with parts until she figured out a way to solve a problem but today was different. Today was the day of her scheduled weekly call from Colton and she had to be on her best behavior. Not that Colton cared much for how she looked. He had seen her at her worst and still took care of her, as much taking care of as someone can do from two hundred thousand klicks away.

A burst of air shot through the crack in the pipe and she jerked her head to the side to avoid it, completely forgetting the trusty goggles that tightened around her eyes. Sid had sported the deteriorating eyewear since as long as she could remember, one of the first gifts Colton had sent to her with a supply delivery. To protect you, she remembered him saying. Protect her from what exactly? The only thing she needed saving from was the utter boredom of spending years alone on a ship orbiting a star she was not allowed to step foot on.

Sid did not remember much of her young years before her life on the Arcturus. There were flashes of memory here and there but all of her knowledge of Neostar came from self-led lessons on the ship’s database projections. Colton had laid out a strict regimen of lesson plans for her to follow and being the good girl that she was, she ingested the information hungrily — almost as fast as she ingested her dinners each night.

She pressed her palm against the crack, letting the pressure of the cold air pound against her skin until it burnt. Yanking her hand away she reached for a small scrap of metal in her suit pocket and the welding torch resting next to her. Her back arched for leverage as she carefully traced small circles with the flame around the edges of the scrap. The metal bubbled and she let out a soft chuckle, impressed with herself for a brief moment. A very brief moment indeed. As soon as she had patched up the leak, the pipe creaked and groaned, as if upset for her caging it. Sid was just about to attempt a second patch when the scrap of metal shot from the pipe and fired at her eyes.

“Rusty!” She yelped, touching her finger to the now cracked glass of the left goggle. “Get it together!”

She fished out another scrap of metal and forcibly shoved it against the leak, “Fine! If that’s how you want to play, that’s how we’ll do it!”

Her palm heated around the metal, the blood within her bubbling with energy and fire. Sid squeezed her hand tighter around the pipe, unyielding to its screams beneath her fingers. Her entire body shook as she directed all of her energy into the metal in her grip. She could feel the scrap melting, slowly at first, like the slow drip of molasses from a cut tree. Then, within mere seconds, the molecules of the metal bid her command and liquified, unable to contain their solid form. She pulled her hand away and wiped the excess molten metal with a handkerchief, forcing it into the crack. As soon as she was no longer in contact with it, the metal settled and formed a rigid tissue in the pipe.

Sid tapped the pipe in encouragement. “See, Rusty?” She raised her left arm, lining up the scar she got from fixing the last air leak to the shiny metal line now running through the pipe. “Now we’re twins!”

There was a light rustle at the end of the corridor and Sid sprang up, her breath catching in her throat. If anyone saw her use her magic, there’d be no escaping Colton’s wrath on their call today. She was never to use her magic. No exceptions. That was Colton’s only rule and she hated breaking it. But what could she do? It’s not like he was here to help her with this mess. Besides, who could possibly even be on the ship? Colton locked her away in the piece of junk and drifted her off. Why did she even need to hide? Why couldn’t she live with him on Neostar? Sid knew the answer to that, but it didn’t make her resent the notion any less. Colton was waiting for the right moment to bring her down, waiting until she was older and stronger. But she was strong enough! She wasn’t the little kid he had saved from parents who threw her away like a shipment of garbage. She didn’t need to hide, why couldn’t he see that?

The rustle sounded again, this time louder — more defiant — and Sid instantly recognized it. There were a few sporadic clicking sounds and then a whoosh of air sounded through the pipe above her. Just the air control system kicking back in.

“We don’t tell anyone about this, Rusty.” She said, raising a threatening fist in the air. “You’re no rat, right?”

She watched as the camera lens rearranged gears and focused on her face.

“IN THE FIRST YEAR OF THE NEOSTAR ORDER, ALL THOSE IN SUPPORT OF THE AL’IIL WERE DEAMED AS CONSPIRATORS AGAINST THE QUEEN AND EXECUTED UPON CAPTURE. THEY WERE LABELED AS DOMER RATS BY THE MASS PUBLIC OF NEOSTAR.”

“That’s what I thought,” she winked and lowered her fist. “We’re no Domers, you and I.”

Even as she said it, Sid’s mouth dried. She truly disliked that word. In all of her studies, it was the one thing about the Neostar Order that she didn’t support. Something about it didn’t sit right, like it was wrong. Worse than all the swear words she whispered under her breath when she was angry. Domer. It was too jagged of a term and even though it described the inhabitants of the domes so perfectly, it tasted sour in her mouth.

She had once asked Colton about it but he simply shrugged it off. According to him, when his people first created the domes to preserve the future of Neostar and everyone’s harmonious survival, the term wasn’t widely used. Someone probably just threw it around and it stuck, he said, you know how these things are, nothing for you to worry about. But she had no idea how things really were, all she knew were whatever scraps of information she could stitch together from her lessons; that Colton’s people saved the star, and everyone was grateful for their blessings. Without them, the star was on a path of self-destruction and the technology they delivered saved the entire native population from extinction. They had developed the Circulum System as a means of life support for the dying star, using it to work hand in hand with the magic of the Al’iil; though no one called them that anymore. Most of the original inhabitants stayed in the domes with their own kind which led to the name Sid had developed such a distaste for — Domers. It fit but it was too descriptive for her to ever get used to it.

“I don’t think I’d like to live in a dome, Rusty.” She smirked, “You’re a way better home.”

She knew, of course, that when she finally got to go to Neostar, Colton would do no such thing as shove her into the domes with the rest of the workers — she was sure of it! She’d get to live with him in the towers. Above them all, in the fresh air. Sid closed her eyes, imagining her future. She would spend her days learning the intricate webs of the technology Colton had told her so much about, the saving grace of the star. Her nights would be spent exploring Tower City and getting to know each and every fine Citizen that crossed her path. Sid was determined to meet them all. “The queen, Rusty!” She yelped with excitement, “I’d get to meet the queen!”

She sucked in a breath of air, picturing the day she would finally lay eyes upon the beauty of Queen Leona. Not in some projection but in real life, Sid would be so close to her she’d be able to smell her. She would smell like star flowers and power.

Sid stretched the goggles from her eyes and popped them back in place on her messy bangs, rubbing the dent the elastic left on her temples. She took another sharp breath and coughed from the dust that trapped itself in her throat.

Right. Until that day comes, she was still stuck floating around in circles in the belly of the ship’s metal grip. Stuck imagining the life she would have and getting glimpses of it from Colton’s stories and…

“Stardaughter! Rusty? What time is it?”

“CURRENT TIME IS TWELVE MINUTES TO STARSET.”

“Time to go!” Sid yelled out and ran down the corridor towards the ladder leading to her sleeping quarters. She had twelve minutes to make herself look less disheveled before Colton called in.

She was halfway down the corridor when she stopped in her tracks and ran back to the pipe she had just repaired, tossing the stained handkerchief in her pocket over the metal scar and the imprint her fingers made when she melted it. Better safe than sorry, she thought and tied a tight knot to bury the evidence of her magic use. Maybe it was alright to hide for just a little bit longer.

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