Challenge #02563-G006: Little, Quiet, TroublesomesteemCreated with Sketch.

in fiction •  last month 


There were three humans aboard this ship. As big as it was, and with the size of the crew, even with three they had their hands full! Still, it wasn't a bad job, pay was good and they saw some of the most beautifully unexplored worlds. Two of the humans were burly individuals, boisterous and active. During down time they always headed to one of the storage areas that had been converted to a game room to burn off steam playing racket-ball, badminton, or work out with the free-weights.
But then there was the third person. They were quiet, polite, unassuming. During down time they read, or worked with their companion learning the history, and language, both oral and written, of the crew they were with, something they did with every crew he ever worked for. In violent encounters, they were likely to stay back and let the larger, stronger, humans handle it and direct their efforts into helping their crewmates stay calm and get them to safety. But you know what they say, look out for the little guy. Because when the pirate attacked the ship and his companion was badly wounded, this small, unassuming, human makes the big ones look like gentle teddy bears compared to their rage. -- DaniAndShali

Humans are pack animals, and they will bond with anything. They will even bond with inanimate objects. They're that good at bonding with others. It has long since been advised that any ship should have a minimum of two compatible Humans on board. The Touring Trader had three. Two large ones who lived up to the expectations of Deathworlder violence on the daily, and one... who did not.

They called him Pip, though knowing Humans, it was either an extreme shortening of a much longer, much more complicated name... or an in-joke that only fellow Humans would understand or even find funny. He was the quiet one. During bonding times, he preferred to sit quietly and read while other Companions shared the same space. Sometimes, he would share snippets he found funny.

He liked creating things, working on clockwork constructions when he wasn't on duty. Designing them on paper and tweaking the printed results in his little workshop. Even he joked that he was the Invisible Human, so quiet that he passed under everyone else's radar. Nevertheless, the bigger Humans, Jo and Del, joked that everyone should "watch out for" Pip, as the most dangerous Human on board.

The Humans were all laughing at those comments at the time, so everyone assumed it was a joke. They thought it was a joke. Until the Rabnathi pirates successfully attacked the ship.

Rare, indeed, is the band of pirates that can overrun two Humans, but they did manage to overpower Jo and Dal, leaving them incapacitated and insensate on the cargo bay floor with the rest of the hostages. Well, almost the rest of the hostages. Human Pip had done his usual "party trick" of blending into the background and being overlooked. The rest of the crew were not about to tell their invaders that the Touring Trader had three Humans on board, even as they wondered what one relatively small and under-muscled Human could do.

They would all find out in due course.

The Humans were only slightly joking. They knew the way things went with their own kind. Watch out for the little ones, they said. Watch out for the quiet ones, they said. Especially watch out for the ones who qualify as both.

The pirates started vanishing just five hours after the hostages were isolated from the rest of the ship. They were always alone when they vanished. They were never seen whole again, some of them for days. The sabotage began to be noticed three days into the sojourn. Rebreathers set to eject their wastes into the breathable air feeds. Food printers set to dispense chemicals toxic to the invaders, but not immediately noticeable to any cautionary scans.

Airlocks started acting erratically. The navigation computer kept resetting to areas with zero tolerance policies towards pirates. The engines refused to go at anything above two hundred kliks[1] per hour unless the ships were headed for one of the aforementioned zero tolerance zones. The Emergency Signal kept spontaneously activating at random moments.

An annoying repetitious Human song known as an 'earworm' kept playing at random moments throughout the shipboard intercoms. Why Istanbul was once Constantinople and how that could turn into one of those pieces of music that never went away, and what made it worse was that this phenomenon spread to the initial pirate vessel. Those who remained couldn't sleep for the knowledge that Istanbul was Constantinople, now it's Istanbul not Constantinople...

These particular pirates - the survivors, anyway - broke in less than two standard weeks. They had repeatedly tried and failed to find Human Pip, let alone wrestle him out of whatever venue he chose to hide in. They let the _Touring Trader set its own course, released the hostages, and rounded themselves up in the mess hall, which kept printing poisoned cupcakes.

Human Pip only emerged after the local enforcing arm started sweeping both vessels for traps. He was thinner, and sported many minor injuries, but there was an aura of bloody-minded determination about him that had seasoned space marines asking permission to enter his personal bubble.

Human Jo, upon seeing him, grinned and elbowed an attending Medik. "See? You gotta watch out for the little, quiet ones."

For the record, Human Pip was grateful to get back to their clockwork.

[1] Klik: An abbreviation for One Thousand Standard Distance Units. At this point, it's best to never ask how the Humans come up with these or why they're so useful. Just roll with it, as the Humans would say.

[Image (c) Can Stock Photo / innovari]

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