The doors opened, and the sudden depressurization made TO feel like they were about to be sucked out into the void of space. They closed their eyes in terror and clutched at the bar with all their strength. They knew that it only took a brief second for the pressure around them to stabilize but their mind seemed to slow that time down until it dragged out, giving TO plenty of time to think of all the things that could go wrong, and all the horrible, slow ways they could die.
Then it was over. The pressure faded and they were simply floating. They felt SR45 tap them on the shoulder.
“It’s over. You’re fine.” They said through the communicators in the helmet. “You can let go of the bar.”
They didn’t let go of the bar; they didn’t know if they were ready for that yet. They slowly opened their eyes and turned to look out into space.
They knew that they wouldn’t see the nebula as it looked in the pictures- they were far too close for that- but they hoped they would see something at least. They weren’t disappointed. A lightly glowing purple fog covered the area, catching the distant light of the far-off star that sat in the very center of the nebula. Wisps of plasma hung in the distance, like glowing clouds or soft waves of electricity that glowed a sharp green against the otherwise soft purple glow. Darker sections of the nebula blocked off the light, creating shadows which were outlined in such vivid colors that TO almost didn’t believe it was real. The brightest colors they had ever seen before had been on screens or in simulations. They had never seen such beauty with their own eyes.
“You won’t fall away.” SR45 said. It was hard to tell if they were irritated or not because they were speaking common. “You’re strapped on properly, so even if you lose your thruster you can pull yourself back in.”
It seemed like SR45 took TO’s hesitation for nervousness instead of awe.
TO let go of the bar and gently pushed themself towards the door. They drifted forward, focusing on the glowing clouds in the distance, the lines of electric color, and the shining stars all around. They felt tears burn at their eyes, and for a moment they were confused; they weren’t sad, so why were they crying?
“See. you’re fine.” SR45 said, “Now follow me. I’ll show you where the transport is.”
How could they be so calm? How could they be so focused on such a seemingly insignificant task? All TO wanted to do in this moment was float there and look at everything around them, to soak in the colors and shapes before them so that they were etched in their mind for the rest of their lives. The pictures on the screens, and even seeing all this in an observation deck didn’t compare to being out in space and seeing it all for themself. How would they show DH and GiDi this?
TO pulled their attention away from the colors all about them with every ounce of willpower they possessed. They turned on their little thruster and followed after SR45 to deal with the broken transport.
SR45 led TO through the fog and past the properly secured shipping crates. They only used their thrusters once, and only for a split second before they allowed themself to coast through space to get where they wanted to go. Occasionally they would use the crates to push themself in one direction or another, or kick off from one to get some momentum. SR45 turned back now and again to check that TO was behind them, but TO was more than capable of mimicking their actions and following close by. When they got to the edge of the cretes, SR45 stopped.
“You learn fast.” They commented.”I expected you to get stuck at least once.”
“Thank you, SR45.” TO said.
“It’s a relief. I wouldn’t have taken you out here, but there was nobody else available, and we’re not to go outside of the center alone.”
“I am glad for the opportunity to lear- to be of greater use to King Decon.” Whenever TO said anything about improving themselves or wanting to learn, they always got this disapproving look from SR45. They learned soon that unless they linked it to serving King Decon, wanting to just improve and learn for themself was seen as weird.
“Very well.” They said. They pointed out past the secured crates, “There’s our crate.” They pointed to something that was slowly spinning in place. A wire had caught it at one corner, and clamped into it to keep it from spinning off. There was some kind of cockpit in the front, and from within TO could see red lights flashing.
“I didn’t realize that it was piloted.” TO said.
“It’s not. All the crates are capable of being piloted by an actual synth or person in case of emergency. However, this is normally only done in the event of mechanical failure. That’s what we’ll be dealing with today. There’s a repair kit in the cockpit. All we need to do is get that, fix the broken engine, and then manually dock it.” They turned to TO, “Do you have any mechanical training?”
“No, I do not.”
“I see. Are you able to fly any spacecraft?”
“No. Well, in theory. I sometimes run the flight simulations on my computer.”
“I see. Very well. At the very least you can hand me things. Follow.” They pushed themself off the crate they had been holding onto, and floated towards the damaged crate. TO did the same thing, and followed closely. SR45 got to the crate first, and before TO had gotten there they had already opened up the cockpit and grabbed the repair kit. They pushed it to TO, who caught it only to have their momentum thrown off and their direction changed. They had to use their thruster to correct their course and get back to the crate. They followed SR45 then, holding onto the edge of the crate until they got to the back where the broken engine had its own red blinking light. SR45 pulled a hook on a wire from their harness, and connected it to the edge of the crate- it was apparently a strong magnet, and connected instantly. TO found the same thing on their harness, and copied them.
“The tools should be labeled.” They muttered as they typed in a code and opened a panel on the side of the engine, “So long as you can read, you can help.”
TO nodded, and very carefully opened the toolkit to see that every tool was secured in it’s own compartment. Well, of course they would be, otherwise they’d float off into space. They were ordered with numbers and letters as well, so TO was able to find what was needed quickly even if they didn’t know the specific tool.
After a moment of looking at the engine, SR45 held out a hand and simply said, “D7.” TO found the tool and handed it to SR45 who instantly started working.
“I didn’t know that those in shipping and receiving were trained in mechanical repair.” TO commented.
“We’re not. Not officially.” SR45 muttered, “It is something that I simply picked up; I had vocational training in vehicle repair, and used the skills I learned there several times in my galactic placement.”
TO pushed themself so that they were floating behind SR45, and in a position to see what they were doing. Ideally, they wanted to try to learn from them, but the glow of the nebula, the hazy, shimmering fog around them, and the sight of distant bright dots moving in circles distracted them. SR45 demanded another tool as they held out the first. TO gave them what they wanted, and replaced the other without SR45 even noticing that they hadn’t been paying attention .
How could they show DH and GiDi all this? Pictures and video didn’t do it justice. Even looking at the nebula from within the center didn’t really capture what it really looked like - TO figured that maybe the glass filtered out certain lights.
It was while TO was looking at the galaxy around them that they finally noticed the dots heading towards them. At first, they thought that they were just like the other tiny dots in the distance, circling one another before drifting off into the distant clouds. They hardly noticed them until they turned to pass SR45 another tool, then looked back to see that the dots had gotten significantly bigger.
“...SR45?” They said without taking their eyes off the lights.
“Yes?” SR45 snapped, clearly ready for them to ask a question that they didn’t have the patience to answer.
“What are those lights? They look like they’re heading towards us.”
SR45 froze. They turned to see what TO was looking at, then turned back and frantically looked over the engine. They made one more adjustment before closong the panel, then shifted themself down under the crate.
TO heard a sharp intake of air over the radio.
“Get down here.” They said, “Bring me G6.”
TO went under the ship with the tool in hand, and saw something leaking from a vent under the crate, the droplets floating about and catching the light like tiny blue gems
“What’s that?” TO asked.
“Liquid Oxygen.” SR45 said, “And those things-” They gestured back towards the lights, “Are called edacaeli. They smell the oxygen, and they’re coming for it.”
“And… that’s bad?” TO ventured.
“Very.” SR45 said, and even through the use of Universal Common, TO could catch a hint of panic to their voice, “They’ll come to eat the liquid oxygen that’s floating around. They survive off of the oxygen in that nebula, and it’s rare so they eat everything they can get, and they're very good at finding it.” They opened a panel, and more of the liquid oxygen leaked out, They reached into the piping, and started to work, “If they get this, they’ll find the rest of what’s in the crate, and then they’ll find what's in our own oxygen reserves.”
“Should we go back in?” TO ventured
“It’s our job to get the crate inside.” SR45 said, “We do our job.”
“Alright… But even if they get to us, they won’t be able to get our oxygen, right? I mean, if they feed off oxygen, they can’t have a lot in terms of teeth.”
“I am unworried about their teeth.”
TO was about to ask why, but they turned back quickly to see these dots of light rushing towards them. They didn’t seem overall too big, and TO couldn’t make out a lot of details yet but they could see that they were still shining brightly, and leaving a trail of fire behind them.
“How do you think they move through space?” SR45 said, “They get too close to use, they’ll burn through our suits and get the oxygen that way. Then they’ll start burning crates.”
TO pushed themselves down closer to SR45, but kept silent. They watched, holding their own breath as SR45 worked on the leak with a focus that - given the immediate danger- TO would have thought impossible.
The creatures were getting closer. TO could make out tendrils spirling around them- twelve in all. Were they tentacles, or just parts of the fiery trial that dissolved behind them? TO couldn’t tell yet.
“T5” SR45 said. TO took the tool back from them and gave them what they wanted. The creatures were closer; those tendrils were definitely tentacles, and they seemed to have hooks on the end. Fire aside, could the hooks rip through their suits? How long could a synth last out in space without a suit? Maybe 20 seconds before they lost consciousness. Maybe more if they had a damaged suit; it was hard to tell.
“H7” SR45 demanded. TO wondered how they had all the tools memorized. The creatures had blue spots showing in the middle of the light they gave off. One rose up suddenly, and for a brief moment TO could see it’s outline- a rounded head with bright blue eyes all around and strange protrusions on either side of what TO assumed to be their head. They couldn’t see a mouth, but through the light, TO was impressed that they could see anything.
“Almost done.” SR45 said. They glanced back at the creatures, then went back to their work with a resigned sigh, “We’re not going to make it.” They said, “I’ll fix the crate, so that way maybe it won’t attract more of them and the other crates might be safe, but we’ll burn when they get a little closer.
“Why would they come closer if it’s fixed?” TO demanded, clutching to the crate. They thought of DH and GiDi. Would they be told what happened to them, or would TO seem to just disappear with nobody telling their friends what happened.
“They want the oxygen. They can smell it in the void, and this is the highest concentration around.”
The idea formed in TO’s head suddenly. “Fine.” they said as they floated behind SR45, “I’ll give them oxygen.”
SR45 didn’t have time to ask what TO was doing. TO pulled the tank of oxygen that was implanted into the case for SR45’s wings, and pulled it out. The suit hummed, and sealed shut to preserve what oxygen was left in SR45’s suit.
“What are you doing!” They demanded, though they didn’t stop working.
“The suit has an air supply in it, yes?” They asked.
“Yes. To facilitate-”
“Don’t talk.” TO said, “Use that.” They took a long sharp metal prong from the toolkit, and used it to puncture the tank.
The tank flew from TO’s hand immediately and shot away from them. The trail of oxygen it left in its wake attracted the edacaeli who turned and chased after the new oxygen supply.
SR45 said nothing - they couldn’t- they were trying to make their oxygen last. They demanded one more tool from TO, then passed them the rest of the tools. They glanced about, looking for the edacaeli which were now far away, feeding on the trail of oxygen that the tank had left. SR45 pulled themself back up to the main side of the crate with almost frantic movements, opened the door to the cockpit then threw TO in first before they got in and closed the door.
The door locked behind them. SR45 pressed some buttons on the dashboard, and there was a sudden hiss around them. A light started flashing, warning about depressurization and oxygenation. A moment later, a green light came on.
SR45 pulled off their helmet. They were paler than TO had ever seen any synth before which contrasted with their now huge black eyes as gasped for air. Their ears were low down and pinned right back. They were shaking.
They looked to TO, but didn’t say a word. They took several long, drawn out breaths in a clear attempt to calm themself and steady their breathing. When they finally were able to take normal, slow breaths, they leaned back in the pilot's seat, wordless.
“...SR45?” TO asked, worried that maybe they had done damage to the older synth through their stupid plot. Panic suddenly coursed through TO: they hadn’t been ordered to do anything but pass them tools, and yet they had purposely damaged the air canister which was now off in space feeding the edacaeli.
Would pulling the canister from SR45’s suit count as an attack.
SR45 sat upright after another moment, and wordlessly started pressing buttons to activate the manual piloting system. Their ears were still pinned down and back, but they were starting to relax.
“...It’s a shame we lost that canister.” They finally said, then with a quick glance at TO, they said, “I would not have thought of that. Even if I had, I wouldn’t have been able to reach the canister.”
“That’s why I couldn’t use mine.” TO said, their ears flicking down with worry.
SR45 nodded, and started to pilot the crate towards the docking bays, “It was quick thinking.” they said, “You did well.”
“You… I did?”
“Yes. Very good work.” SR45 said, “and...you have my thanks, as well.”
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell