Vivra’s stomach burned. She couldn’t remember the last time she ate. Curled up in a ball, a light Federation blanket did nothing to keep her warm. Her toes ached and her head throbbed. She wasn’t sure if it was because the heat for the ship had turned off, or from the lack of food. Both were the culprits in her mind.
“Do you know a four letter word for ‘fat’ in bird feeders?” Clalls, the Night Demon, asked. This specific demon had albino white skin and dragon teeth. He used to creep the hell out of her. Now he just irritated her with his constant questions from a Terran crossword puzzle. “What the hell is a bird feeder?” He mumbled.
“I don’t know.” She answered from her position under the covers. She didn’t have to sneak a peek at her Minky screen on the wall to see the Night Demon was wrapped in his Federation blanket and several layers of clothes. He disliked the cold as much as she did. His suffering shouldn’t have made her feel better, but it did. She didn’t like suffering alone.
“Okay then, what about a nine letter word for a ‘tough time’?”
She was living in that mystical nine-letter word. Days and days being locked inside her officer’s cabin, suffering the chilled air that had seeped through her thin skin. Worse, was the hunger that began in her stomach, occasionally exploding jagged spikes of convulsions throughout her being.
Minutes ticked by, hours, days blurred. Vivra didn’t know what time it was, but it was past time to put an end to the Night Demon’s constant questions. Over and over, he wanted to know what a specific number word was – and all of them were of Terran origin! Like she knew any of those.
He was like a quantum communication that someone forgot to turn off. His voice monotone, unless he was offering to make a deal.
Clalls was insufferable.
And Unstoppable. It’s never quiet. Not one day since the first day she locked her doors, sealing herself inside.
“I DON’T KNOW.” She screamed, throwing off the blanket from her face so she could look at the Minky screen. “I don’t know what the ‘F’ in ‘T.G.I.F.’ is.” Vivra remembered the question, hating that Terrans had their own stupid acronyms. As if the entire universe needed anymore of those. “I don’t know what a common name is for a Russian female.” Why. Why would Terrans have different names for females? How ridiculous were they? As if to say to each other, you’re not a female…you’re a – she had no idea what a Russian female was. And yet, not knowing also infuriated her. “I have no idea what a light that oozes is, and to be honest that creeps me the hell out that Terrans have such a thing. I don’t care about your stupid word puzzles. I don’t care about anything but getting food and getting off this frozen ship!”
There. Now he’d shut up.
A pair of white eyebrows rose slowly. “So…that’s a no to the bird feeder or the nine-letter word for a tough time?” With a dramatic sigh he said, “Fine, I’ll figure it out myself.”
Maybe the Eldon disease didn’t physically effect Night Demons. Maybe the virus or whatever it was only made them insanely irritating.
She knew it killed Bolarks. It had killed several on the ship. More than several.
The Eldon disease swept through the ship, killing everyone in hours. It was disturbing when she wondered whether Clalls and she were the last crew members alive. Not that she was friends with any of them. But still, she didn’t want all of them to die.
Some though…were horrible to her and she couldn’t care less about their death.
Pulling the blanket back over her face, she said, “I need food.”
“I need a nine letter word.” Clalls said curtly.
Despite herself, she almost smiled. She had finally irritated the irritator…
Pulling down the blanket from her face, she stuffed her pillow under her neck and took in the vexing male on the screen. She had been on the Garna Star Ship for years and she could count the times they had conversed on one hand, prior to their current situation.
Clalls was so irritating that she didn’t care to know anything about him before or even now, but seeing him flustered made her see him. The real him with honest feelings.
His eyebrows were pinched and the thick paper book was open on his lap. Never in her life would she have guessed he would be the type to own an actual paper book. Those were ancient. And some, she knew, were worth a ton of keleps. And the idiot was writing in it. Who wrote in books?
Clalls. That’s who.
A male unable to sit back and suffer in silence like she did. Nope, this Night Demon – in the face of death – solved Terran word puzzles.
His reputation would suffer greatly if that fact ever got out. If they lived through this, which was unlikely, she would keep that gem close to her heart.
A secret about him that no one else knew. She liked that. As embarrassing as it was, he was the closest thing to a friend she ever had – and they weren’t even friends. Bolarks don’t make friends. Her mom told her constantly. After years of being bullied by so-called friends she finally believed her mother and stopped trying.
Refusing to return to her childhood woes, she asked, “Do you think we’re the last ones alive?”
He kept staring at the coveted word puzzle, tapping its cream colored page with a Terran ink pen.
Several minutes ticked by. He ignored her question. And if their time together was anything to go off of, he wouldn’t answer her, until she answered him.
She didn’t realize the levels Clalls would go to get what he wanted.
It took a few weeks to learn when he asked a question, he was offering a deal. Most of the time she ignored him. Like now. But he also would refuse to answer any of her questions until she played along. She needed to think of a nine letter word for a hard time if she was going to find out if they were alone.
If they were, they were dead. She had never heard Clalls speak of a family and hers had disowned her.
“Difficult is a nine letter word.” She said.
He blinked, followed with a smirk. Meticulously flicking the pen, he annotated the word. His yellow eyes peeked up, “No. We are not the only ones alive on this ship.”
Sitting up straighter, “Who’s still alive?”
She almost forgot how good he was at breaking into other people’s Minky pads. He had pulled files from her personal account six months after her transfer to Garna. At the time, she lost her temper, but now, it was his hacking that would calm her nerves. Answers always made her feel better. Questions drove her crazy.
Ignoring her question, he peered down to his lap. “What’s a three letter word for dog with wrinkly face.”
She had no idea what a dog was, but if the creature had a wrinkly face it was probably going to give her nightmares. But, sacrifices must be made.
Grabbing her Minky pad from the floor, she ran a quick search. Skimming pictures of Terran dogs was kind of interesting. A series of colors, builds, but all four-legged and furry. Her finger kept pushing the images up and up…where were the wrinkly faced ones.
Ah! Finally. A small four-legged mongrel with short, tan skin-hair and a dark black face. Its eyes were round, and its nose was flat…disgusting. “Pug.” She called out. For some reason she couldn’t terminate the search result. Her finger hovered over the exit button. “Actually, it’s almost cute…in an ugly kind of way.”
She heard Clalls snicker. She peered up to watch him write down the word. He said, “You’d be amazed how often I hear that.”
Vivra knew he wasn’t talking about the dog, but she pretended he was. Turning the Minky pad around, she showed him the dog.
When he looked at it his lips curled back exposing more of his long sharp teeth. “How can that thing even breath?”
She turned the Minky around. “We can always order one and see for ourselves. And if it becomes a bother we can always give it to the cooks. I’m sure with the right sauce it will taste fine.” She lied. She always wanted a pet. But saying so would make her look silly.
Bolarks don’t have pets. Another rule her mother forced her to live by.
“I’m never going to understand you. And it’s not because you’re a Bolark. Or female.”
Exiting from the photo and placing the Minky on the bed, she silently took in his compliment. She was unique for a Bolark. Better than most – she preferred to think of it that way. “I’m pretty easy to understand. So long as I’m fed, warm and left to do what I want, I’m a Relbrener.” A Relbrener was a Bolark flower that was temperamental and hard to maintain. It needed specific food, water and light to bloom into a beautiful, breathtaking flower that emitted a hypnotic scent that calmed the nerves and heightened mental creativity. If it was not cared for…well, it corrupted any living thing around it.
Clalls sat back and folded his arms over his chest leaving the book to fall off his lap. “That…actually makes sense.”
“I know.” She use to have one of those plants. She had to hide it in a small green box she made as a child, but she still remembered how wonderful it smelled. Her mother found it two years later – cut it up in front of her, each delicate stem falling into a trash bin. For all her mother tried, she never was able to make Vivra into a proper Bolark.
“I wish I had something to drink.” Much like her plant…plain water was not enough to satisfy her thirst.
Clalls picked up the book and set it on the nightstand. “Is your water faucet broken?”
She shook her head.
“Then you’re fine for a few months. It’s only been three weeks, so long as you have water you’ll stay alive.”
Beside Clalls, his Minky pad started blinking bright orange, followed by an alarm chirp. Grabbing his Minky pad he swiped his hand over the top, letting it scan his hand print. His was the only Minky pad that had that particular security option.
“What is it?” She heard herself asking.
His fingers tapped the pad as quickly as rushing rain drops. When he stopped, Vivra couldn’t stand not knowing what was happening.
She stood up, repeating her question. He still didn’t answer.
There was a subtle shake in the ship’s walls. Arms out just in case, a follow-up shake occurred. “What the hell was that?”
Clalls cursed. His long teeth exposed in a snarl. “I think the Federation sent someone to come and investigate.” He kept his eyes on the screen but he spoke to her. “And they aren’t wearing bio-suits.”
The disease. It was in the air or maybe it was transferred through touch…but it quickly passed from person to person.
“They’re going to die.” Her eyes cut to the vents in her room. It was a special-grade filter she bought because she hated the smell of recycled air. It filtered everything from nano-contaminants to pollen
“I’m trying to alert the ship’s captain but the quantum communication is still out.” He cursed and then held up his pad like he wanted to throw it. “This can’t be happening.” He kept cursing. A few minutes later, to her horror she heard a voice in the halls on the other side of the door.
“Hello. Anyone else here?”
She watched Clalls drop his Minky and roar out. “Stop pulling the crew from their rooms! You’re going to kill them.”
The voice in the hallway spoke back, “We are trying to save you.”
“Not when you’re exposing them to the disease. Now get off my ship and tell your crew to send in a cleaning crew. As in bio-suits and inferred spectrum cleaners. Leave the live bodies alone. The dead ones can be evacuated as soon as the cleaners get here.”
A small bout of silence, then the stranger said, “There is a mountain of dead crew members on this ship and you just want to evac them?”
She watched Clalls on the screen, even though she could hear him through the walls. “Yes. And if you don’t hurry you’re going to be one of them.”
The other male responded. “Are you the captain?”
Vivra couldn’t stop herself from saying, “The Captain is dead. Stop stalling and stop invading those rooms!” She couldn’t imagine living all this time and then at the very end help came and stupidly exposed them to the disease and killed them anyways.
Stupid, stupid, beings. What sort of protocol were they following? Whatever it was, it wasn’t a Federation one.
“I’m trying to understand what happened. Calm down.”
No she would not calm down! She was pissed, starving, and her bones were chilled. “You stupid tarq. Don’t you get it! You’re already dead. You’ve touched the bodies, you been contaminated. Your eyes are going to melt out of your colorless face. And the rest of your crew will suffer the same. You have exactly seventeen hours and then you’re dead. Now, you try to calm down knowing your life is over.”
There was silence and then she heard someone running.
Clalls was looking through the Minky screen. Their three week Minky call that never ended… currently his head was slightly tilted to the side. Leaning against the wall, arms crossed looking more relaxed than before. “Should have asked you talk to him from the start. You have an exceptional ability to repel men.”
She rolled her eyes. “Do you think he will send in a cleaning crew?”
“I think so. But that will only be the beginning of our end.”
Cryptic. “What does that mean?”
Clalls pushed off the wall. He looked two sizes thicker with all the clothes he was wearing. It was a little hard to take him seriously when he looked like a larva.
“If the cleaning crew is not ordered to kill us on sight for being possible carriers of the disease, then we will be quarantined to the ship. Unable to ever step foot on another ship or occupied planet again. It is a safety protocol. And, anyone else who gets transferred here will suffer the same fate.”
“Same fate?” She repeated, hoping he would elaborate.
Clalls huffed when let himself fall back into his chair. Plucking up the pen from the floor and the book from the nightstand, he thumbed through the pages. Vivra assumed he wasn’t going to answer her question. But then she heard him whisper, “Death. We’ll be isolated on the furthest side of space where our death will have no real impact on the Federation or its mission.”