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A note from TheWitchOfTheRock

Thanks again to my patrons; Cannot Account, ColdAu, Cruelfeline, Sea Jay, and LivieLightYear.

Reminder that Patrons get access to the next two chapters ahead of what's published on Royal Road!

“You only have a couple more days here, right?” SR45 asked when TO arrived for their vocational training.

 

“Right.” TO said. “Today and tomorrow. After that I’ll be reassigned.”

 

“It’s a shame.” SR45 said as they went over their crates for the day, “I’ve found you to be very useful here.”

 

TO’s ears flicked and flushed at the rare praise. “I must strive to improve for King Decon.” they recited. While the last few days had in fact seemed to have flown by, TO was still looking forward to being reassigned. Working in Shipping and Receiving had been far more interesting since their excursion into space, but most of the time it was still very tedious.

 

Despite the drawn out hours TO spent in their vocational training, the rest of the period had flown by. Combat training was much better now (though TO still hadn’t been assigned as a commander) and all their spare time had been spent plotting with DH about what they should do for GiDi, or if they should do anything.

Though, if TO were to be honest, the nights were starting to drag on. They didn't have any more nightmares, but they found it difficult to sleep. If they let their thoughts drift off, they found themself thinking about DH in a way that they knew would make DH uncomfortable. Controlling their thoughts was turning out to be more difficult than they originally considered. They were worried also that they weren’t hiding their thoughts as well as they hoped, since DH seemed to be perhaps a little more distant than normal; they hadn’t woken TO up on the heels of a nightmare since that day. TO didn’t know if it was because they weren’t having nightmares, if they were worried about what C12 said, or if TO had made them uncomfortable.

 

They worried about DH being alone in their pod after a bad nightmare.

 

When they weren’t worrying about DH, they worried about GiDi, who still seemed so oddly distant since the attack on King Decon, only now they weren’t saying anything. It made TO more determined to do something for GIDI and 09T08. They wanted GiDi to be happy.

 

SR45 was setting up their first crate when the Officer came over, a document on display in the air before them. TO had discovered that the Officer in charge of Shipping and Receiving hardly looked up from this document at any given time; they obsessed over the data and barked out orders.



“SR45; you need to move your crates early.”

 

“Have I placed them in the wrong location?”

 

“No; There’s an unexpected shipment coming in. It has a delivery time and it’s already late, but it’s also missing documentation so it needs to be screened before being properly received. It’s slated to come in on your bay, so send off your crates so it can dock.”

 

SR45 nodded and set down the crate they had been working on, “Understood.” They said. They hardly had the word out of their mouth when the officer left.

 

SR45 turned to TO, “Come on,” they said, “I was going to save this for tomorrow, but you’re going to learn how to program crates to go out today.”

 

“Go out?”

 

“Yes. Out to other planets to be used again for transport.” They closed up some files over their workstation and headed off down the hallway. TO followed after them.

 

“I suppose we set the autopilot and it makes its own way to whatever planet it’s destined for?”

 

“Exactly.” SR45 said, “Normally it’s done at the end of each cycle but apparently they need them moved today.” they frowned, “Someone has erred.”

“How so?”

 

“If a shipment is unscheduled, then it’s an error. I’m willing to bet someone sent it at the wrong time and gave it a delivery time to ensure that it gets rushed. Though, I suppose it could be important, but if that’s the case it’s already late and the damage is already done.”

 

“And this isn’t because of us, right?” TO asked as their ears flicked down.

 

“No. It is not.” SR45 said, “I am on time with everything I’ve been doing… or I was. I’ll be behind now.”

 

They headed down the hall and through a hallway that was lined on one side with windows. Through the windows, TO could see rows and rows of crates all piled up on one another, separated by walls of reinforced steel. They headed down to the end of the hall and entered a glass dome with a control panel inside.

 

“This is where we set up my crates.” SR45 said with a gesture to the room before them, “Most of these are empty. We’ll start working through them and as soon as we start sending some off, then we can take some full crates in.” They sat down at the control panel and swiped their chip, “Just watch me for the first couple of crates, then I will teach you.”

 

“Understood.” TO said.

 

SR45 sat at the chair of the control panel, and a crane emerged from the ceiling. They selected a crate top of a pile, and used the crane to move it down to a platform in the center of the warehouse where a small ship was waiting. The crate was placed next to the back of the ship, and several strong latches clipped into it, locking in place as soon as the crate touched it.

 

“Once this is sent, you’ll see how the full crates come in.” SR45 said. They cracked their knuckles and pulled up a digital keyboard on the surface of the work station. They started running commands, pulling up a display of the ship and the crate on a screen. It showed some diagnostics for them, none of which TO understood. “This one needs more fuel, that’s all.” SR45 muttered as they flicked their eyes over the screen.

 

They finished their checks, and refueled the ship. With the press of another button, all the crates seemed to shift forward, leaving an empty spot near the very end of the collection of crates.”

 

“There.” they said, “Now there’s space for new crates, so now we can send this empty one off.” They put in a set of coordinates, then pressed a button. A confirmation screen rose up, and SR45 held their chip to it for five seconds before it beeped.

 

The crane that SR45 had used was pulled back up into the ceiling. There was a loud beeping from outside– a warning of some sort– then then large doors on the other end started to open. TO took a step back, reaching for something to hold onto as the doors opened to reveal the void of space.

 

“It’s fine.” SR45 said as they continued to input commands. “Everything’s locked down and we’re safe in here.”

 

TO didn’t exactly trust SR45’s statement, but they looked up anyway. The crate they had just set up was lifted into the center of the room by the rack it had been latched into. The thrusters activated and the small ship burst from the warehouse and into space, disappearing from TO’s line of sight almost instantly. After it went off into space another ship came in, settling down where the old one had been. It was latched onto the rack before it’s thrusters deactivated. The beeping continued, falling silent only once the giant doors closed up. Finally, relative peace fell upon the warehouse once more.

 

“And that’s it.” SR45 said as though they hadn’t just opened a door into the void of space, “We just need to put that new, full crate in place, turn the ship, and then we can move on.” They checked their notes, “The crate I need to get in is 7th in line. We’ll do ten to get ahead of some work, and then head back. With you helping me this might not delay my work that much.”

 

TO only then realized that they were still clutching to the edge of the control panel. They let go sheepishly and crept closer to SR45 so that they could actually see what they were doing.

 

======

 

TO watched crate number nine fly out into space. After SR45 had sent off a third crate, TO had stopped being afraid. Oddly, there was something nice about being in their little bubble of enclosed space while the air was sucked out from around them, to see the crates shaking, struggling to get free of their restraints while TO sat comfortably and watched. Once TO was calmer, SR45 let them send off some crates. By crate number six, TO felt like they had been doing it for years.

 

“It is a shame I couldn’t keep you for a few more days.” SR45 said, “You seem like you’d be useful to keep around.”

 

“I try my best.” TO said, only half paying attention as they looked up the right coordinates.

 

“Well, if you ended up on Shipping and Receiving after your placement, I am certain that you would be a boon to us, and to our ability to serve King Decon.

 

“I live to serve King Decon.” TO muttered as they continued to work. They hardly thought about how they responded- the response was instant and almost reflexive.

 

That was the last calm moment before everything fell into chaos.

 

First, there was a noise– distant and muffled through the glass that surrounded them. TO glanced up just in time to see one of the crates– the 7th one, the one they had come here for– expand for just a moment before it exploded in a mess of heat and light.

 

TO raised their arms to shield themself, unsure if the glass would offer any real protection.

 

SR45 shouted something, and then hit a button. The warehouse door started to open, and the flame-engulfed crate lifted up from where it was, it’s restraints broken by the explosion, and sped to the door. It hit on the edge, and a second explosion happened. TO felt something shift, heard metal creak far too close to them.

 

Their little control center, the little bubble of safety that TO had been enjoying, shifted. SR45, who was making a call to someone on their chip, slid forward as they lost their footing. TO heard SR45 say, “Get out!” but before the last syllable was even out of their mouth the control center fell towards the floor, to the crates that were strapped in and straining against the pull of the oxygen being sucked out into space. The crane that they had been using broke free and was pulled into space, leaving the wires dangling after it.

 

TO heard a scream. In their mind where seconds started to draw out, they realized that they were screaming.

 

‘Oh. I’m screaming.’

The thought was so calm, it surprised TO.

 

They hit the ground, the glass finally shattering. They both smacked against the ground only once before they were drawn up and pulled towards the open doors along with the shards of glass that tore at their skin.

 

‘How long could a synth survive in space without a spacesuit? They had asked themself that earlier this period, had they not?

 

They saw something in the corner of their eye– the dangling wire that had been pulled free when the crane came loose. TO grabbed it, but just as they did they saw SR45 rushing towards them. They wrapped the wire around their arm and at the same time they reached out and grabbed SR45.

 

The little wire was clearly held in place by a piece of broken metal somewhere, because as soon as TO caught SR45, the metal shifted. Something fell, and TO was pulled out of the gate and into space, stopping only a few meters away from the mouth of the shipping bay thanks to the length of wire that they still clung to.

 

Cold.

 

It was a sudden piercing coldness that hit TO, and they realized that it was likely diminished by the heated air rushing from the training center. Their wings were the worst, almost feeling hot for a moment before TO lose feeling in the thin membrane. They tried to breath in, but that was nearly impossible- the air rushing out of the center was already too thin, and the cold made their chest hurt.

 

Couldn’t they get hurt from inhaling air that was too cold? They were certain they had read that somewhere– something about ice crystals forming in the lungs.

 

Lights started going off. The gates started to close. TO realized that it had to be some form of emergency protocol if there was a breach. They had to get back inside before the gates closed and they were stuck.

 

In order to pull themself back into the center on the wire they’d have to let go of SR45. They couldn’t do that.

 

They managed to slip off the shoes that they wore around the training center– thin, basic things that were only a small step up from being barefooted– and used their grasping, clawed feet to clutch the wire. They were able to get enough leverage then to pull SR45 to the wire.

 

They grabbed it. TO had been so worried that they wouldn’t be able to grab the wire, or that they might have been unconscious. They had been so worried that they’d have to pull SR45 behind them and if they did, they were certain that they wouldn’t have been able to make it in before the gates closed.

 

They still weren’t certain that they could make it now.

 

TO rushed then, using their feet and hands to scurry to the gate as quickly as they could. At first the cold hurt their feet terribly, but soon they lost feeling.

 

They managed to pull themself inside the gate before it closed. They held onto the wire, still terrified that they might slip and get thrown back out into space. They turned back to see SR45 still making their way, still trying to get to the gates and inside before being left to vast, merciless expanse of space. Something was wrong with one of their arms, and it was slowing them down a lot.

 

SR45 wasn’t going to make it. TO was positive of that. As they watched SR45’s speed, and the speed of the closing doors there was no doubt in TO’s mind that SR45 would be trapped outside.

 

Would they suffocate or freeze to death first? TO wasn’t certain. They didn’t want to know. They also didn’t want to learn someday and think of this day, and think of how SR45 had died.

 

TO planted their numb feet on the edge of the gates, and pulled as quickly as they could while SR45 climbed, drawing the rope in faster. They watched the gates starting to close, watched and worried about how close SR45 might get before they were locked out.

 

They were so close, TO could reach out and grab them. The gates were closing fast. TO reached out, took SR45 by the collar of their uniform, and pulled them in as quickly as they could and with as much force as they could manage.

 

The gates closed, and TO and SR45 fell to the debris riddled floor, silent among the klaxons that only sounded when something had gone terribly wrong.

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TheWitchOfTheRock

Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell

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