For a long time, there was only silence and darkness.
Outside the ship: the only light, the soft twinkle of distant stars. The only sound, the deafening silence of the void encroaching upon the vessel which slipped noiselessly through it.
Inside the ship, the Osiris Sundown, there were no lights on, save the backlight on the reading tablet left open by the youngest crew member, one teenage girl, Tyce Kuskid, as she’d fallen asleep reading in her bunk again; and the tiny LED lights dotting the pilot’s console down in the cockpit. No one awake, save the pilot, who was studying an interloping signal that had just appeared on one of his several monitors. When he realized what it was, he buzzed the captain. Not a sound, save the soft humming of sleeping electronics that kept the ship going at all hours, and the clomping of boots down the corridor towards the cockpit as Captain Ryker left his quarters to see what was happening.
“Is it her?” Ryker growled, leaning over the captain to watch the console and steadying himself by the palm of his cybernetic hand.
“I believe it is, Captain,” the pilot affirmed, flipping a switch. “Lemme see if we can get a snapshot of her ID.”
After a couple seconds of scanning, numbers started ticking across the screen. A quick cross-index told them as much as they had hoped: the ship was a match. The distant speck off to their zenith-starboard was indeed the ship they’d been looking for.
“Quick, cut the engine. Redirect the exhaust off the port bow. We need to be cold and dark for as long as possible.”
“So they don’t see us coming,” the pilot finished, pressing a few buttons on his console. “Gotcha, Captain.”
Ryker turned and marched to the rear of the ship, picking up a crowbar in the corner of the common area. “Wake up, ya lazy bums!” He shouted, banging the walls of the corridor loudly with the crowbar, walking down and slamming it against door frame after door frame. He hit a big dome button on the wall, and the dirty yellow light strips lining the common room flickered awake. “We got a payload comin’ in hot off to starboard!”
Quickly, the crew started hopping off their bunks, too afraid of the captain to feel groggy. Cargo jackets were slipped into, weapons were strapped up and holstered, leather gloves and boots were pulled on, followed by goggles. To complete the space-faring outfit, plastic packages with hotpads and halos were tossed about and ripped open. Deep space was freezing, so cracking the hotpads and stuffing them in one’s jacket would keep one warm. The halos - plastic yellow rings that slapped snug around the neck and could be pulled up over the nose and mouth when needed - would keep one breathing for ten minutes or so. Every member of the crew had one hanging below their shirt collar at all times while they were active, with a few more handy in their jacket pockets.
Tyce, however, wasn’t on the frontlines. After getting her suit on - consisting of a khaki jacket and jeans - she headed up to the medical bay where Doctor Tiller waited. A tall, very elderly man, with cybernetic enhancements all over the place. A metal plate in the small of his back, wires running down to his heels and up to his shoulders, and thick cables roped down his arms into the ball-and-socket joints where his wrists would’ve been, leading to metal fingers that could extend outward, split into a dozen spindly digits, and even offer a handful of high-precision medical instruments. Tiny circular glasses perched on a tall beak of a nose next to one bright red cyborg eye (which he often joked that he’d “traded up” from his human eye, when he’d actually lost it in a campaign across Xenor-6). His long, grey hair was pulled back into a ponytail to keep it out of his face when he worked. He looked at her with an expectant smile. “Ah, Tyce, ready to patch up some injuries tonight?”
Below, Captain Ryker was in the cockpit again, standing over the pilot, waiting in anticipation. Then: “We’re right on top of them. Open the snare, now!”
On the monitor, the two of them watched a feed of the ship’s snare aperture widening with a burst of light, with dozens of metal cables flying out and attaching themselves to the other ship with claws.
The ship lurched hard as their prey was pulled to a stop, now entwined with the Sundown. Halos were pulled up, and safety handles were held fast. The first mate cranked a lever on the wall, sealing the airlock shut, shutting off the gravity, and opening the bay door.
All the oxygen in the delivery bay was immediately sucked out into space, throwing everyone off their feet for a second, threatening to pull the crew away from their safety handles. After the air was gone, the pirates quickly kicked off the walls and floated toward the snare, grabbing hold of the cables and shuffling out into the cold void between the two ships.
It was then that the defense systems on the opposing vessel came to life, cannons and lasers targeting and firing upon the pirates, who quickly pulled out their own weapons. The fight had officially begun.
Up in the medical bay, Doctor Tiller and Tyce were reviewing the various procedures involved with patching up crew. When she turned eleven, six myriads ago, Captain Ryker had decided she’d better start pulling her own weight on the ship and ordered Doc to begin teaching her as his apprentice in the ways of becoming a medic. Doc, having been working for Ryker for the better chunk of a century, was more than pleased for the extra set of hands. And what a competent set of hands they were, too - Tyce had proven herself pretty nimble with the delicate instruments Doc Tiller worked with. Successfully reattached or replaced a over a dozen digits as well as one or two limbs in the first two myriads of her education.
It was a literally thankless job, as a lot of her comrades held a bitter dislike of her. Captain Ryker had rescued her as a baby on a distant planet right before it had exploded, and growing up she’d been something of a burden for everyone onboard. But the captain insisted on keeping her, deciding instead that she’d make a great addition to the crew. Though, honestly, she didn’t intend to stay here for the rest of her life. It just wasn’t the kind of person she was. But until she managed to make enough money to pay back whatever the captain decided her life debt was worth, she was stuck.
Now that the fight was well underway, a couple pirates had already been injured pretty good, and Tyce was helping Doc patch up two blast wounds and a second-degree plasma shield burn. Out of nowhere, however, one pirate came to the bay shouting something about the captain, the captain!
Tyce froze. The captain, injured? Her mind raced: he never joined the fight this early, if at all. But saving him was top priority.
Doc was wrist deep in a particular nasty injury and nodded at Tyce, who grabbed a zero-gravity gurney and took off down to the delivery bay, pulling up her halo as she moved.
Past the air lock, down through the aperture and through one of the now human-sized punched holes into the other ship. The artificial gravity in the target ship was patchy and weak, the oxygen was blowing out fast. Probably had very little if any airlock protection from this kind of attack.
Blast fire narrowly missed her, and she swung the gurney in front of her for cover, scanning the compartment of the ship she was in: wide open, decades old, full of nooks and crannies. Plenty of huge cargo boxes in here. Definitely the kind of ship the captain would want to knock over.
One of the security guards was taking cover behind a metal railing, eyeing her, holding a pistol at the ready, but was quickly shot in the head by one of her crewmates.
“Kid, what are you doing? Get the captain out of here!” He shouted, voice muffled by his halo, and pointed upwards at the balcony, where a row of doors lead away from the cargo hold. Several of them had their airlocks disabled by pirates’ tools and were busted open, sucking air out of the body of the ship like an industrial crazy straw, blowing loose materials out into the cargo hold.
Tyce jumped up, the patchy gravity allowing her to moon-hop and grab the ledge of the balcony, and begin the walk through one of the hallways of the ship, which had now become a complete wind tunnel, forcing her to cling to the various pipes and boxes that snaked along the walls, crawling through the dark tunnel like she was rock climbing on a moonless night. She didn’t know much about ships like this but figured that so much air pressure this late into the fight meant that the ship’s atmosphere generator was still going strong. The darkened lights of the hallway, the faint sounds of guns blasting and shouting brushed past her on the wind.
She checked every room on her left and right, searching quickly for the captain, but didn’t find him until she practically reached the bridge. Two unmoving bodies slumped over furniture in a well lit, lavish room that she assumed was the captain’s quarters. One body she didn’t recognize, but the other was Ryker. Tyce turned him over to see if he was conscious, but saw he wasn’t.
She took a quick moment to examine his injuries as she began strapping him into the gurney. A couple blasts to the shoulder and breast, one against the side of his face. An old fashioned bullet made of lead had made its way into his arm. Nothing Doc and her couldn’t handle, but he’d be sleeping tight for a while. T
he other ship’s captain hadn’t fared as well. She picked up his antique pistol off the floor and stuffed it into the back of her pants, just in case she needed a weapon, but mostly because it looked cool. When she was sure Ryker was secure, she pulled the gurney back out into the hallway and then lifted her feet.
The dark wind tunnel pulled her effortlessly back out into the cargo hold as she’d planned, but unfortunately didn’t give her anything to grasp and stop her from flying towards the huge tear in the hull of the ship. The air pressure pushed Tyce and the gurney straight out into deep space. Tyce, gripping the gurney with one hand, desperately clawed for a grip on the snare cables with her other hand before she could float out into the void. Eventually, she found purchase, and started hauling herself up towards her own ship again.
Once she got back to the ship and through the airlock, something fell out of the captain’s jacket, clattering across the floor. Tyce picked it up and stared at it, confused.
It was a scuffed up chromium box, just bigger than the palm of her hand, carved with intricate markings and looping coils that could be rotated, slid or clicked. Each of the six sides had a large concave button that made a mechanical spring sound when she pushed in on them.
Behind her, Doc Tiller came up. “There you are! What’s his condition?” But didn’t wait for a response, pulling the gurney with him towards the medical bay. She quickly followed, setting the strange cube on a cart along with the captain’s sword and gun and the rest of his personal effects. Doc sent Tyce across the medical bay to one of the other injured pirates while he began patching up the captain.
But while she worked, the weird puzzle box sat in the back of her mind and festered, nagging at her curiosity. Something about it clawed at her brain. She had to take it, solve the puzzle, find out what secrets it stored. What was it doing in the captain’s pocket? Had he taken it off the other ship for a specific reason?
She shook her head and tried to re-focus on work, but it never left the back of her mind.