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Checkup, Part 5 – Astra Nullius

Checkup, Part 4 - Astra Nullius
Checkup, Part 6 – Astra Nullius


The room Sera had convinced her to take was in the nose cone of the ship, the part that had belonged to the original Benevolence. Mirelle thought privately that it was strange the crew still clung to that old name. The majority the ship was patched together from other vessels. Less than a third of it had ever been the Benevolence.

The place had been an office once. Now, it was a storage room for spare parts Sera had squirreled away. Mirelle helped her carry the junk out, then watched as Sera bolted in a new bunk and a set of lockers for storage.

Sera stepped back, admiring her handiwork. “Welcome to your new home,” she said, clearly proud of what she’d done.

The bed was spartan, just a metal frame attached to the wall. The lockers looked like they’d been repurposed from tool storage. Mirelle had nothing to put in them just yet. She’d had clothes she liked at home, and keepsakes from the last several years of her life. She had no idea what had happened to them after she’d been kidnapped. It didn’t seem worth it to ask the crew to cross the galaxy just to pick up a few trinkets for her.

“It’s… nice,” Mirelle said, not wanting to be unkind. “I’m sure I’ll make it my own.”

“That’s great.” Sera shoved a handful of loose screws back into her pocket. “Hey, do you mind if I take off? I need to talk to Jianyu about something. Oh, and then I should get you set up with your own com screen.”

“Go ahead. I’ll make myself comfortable,” Mirelle told her.

When Sera had left, Mirelle tried out her new bed. The mattress was thin and the metal underneath was unyielding. No matter which way she turned, she couldn’t quite get comfortable. Maybe it was only the unfamiliarity of it all that was upsetting her. Mirelle had only a handful of years of memories to draw from, but she knew it was like this every time she moved. A few months of feeling like she was never fully at rest, always an intruder, and then she would adjust to the new normal.

Sera–because she was Sera now, not Maritza or Adena or Selina–wouldn’t have invited her to stay here if it weren’t safe. If Mirelle couldn’t shake the feeling of being on edge, that was her own problem.

There was something strange about the wall that faced the door. It should have been blank and featureless, the perfect spot for hanging pictures, but instead it was seamed with a pattern of fine lines. Mirelle unlaced her boots, kicked them off, and stowed them under her bed. By standing on the mattress, she could reach up and trace the hairline cracks.

The door to her room opened. Mirelle, startled, stepped backward as she turned. For a moment all she could think of was the terror of intruders in her room, a gun pressed to her temple in the night. Her foot came down on empty air and kept going down, her stomach twisting into a tight knot.

She came down on something solid, but softer than she’d expected. She gasped, and whoever had caught her let out a soft oof.

Her heart hammered as she turned around. The stranger in her room was just Weyland, the doctor. He looked about as surprised as she felt. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” she said, and the same time Weyland said, “I apologize, I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”

They both took a breath and a step back from each other. Weyland said, “Xrrt can set your door so it doesn’t open automatically for other crew members. It’s not the default option in this section because these weren’t built to be bedrooms.”

“Okay. That’s good to know,” said Mirelle. She gestured vaguely to the wall, embarrassed and searching for an explanation of what she’d been doing. “I was just, um…”

“Looking for the button?” Weyland finished when she trailed off. Mirelle had no idea what that meant, but she nodded enthusiastically. He walked past her and reached out to run his fingers along the wall, near the edge of the pattern she’d noticed. “They can be hard to find sometimes.”

He pressed inward, and something clicked. The wall began to iris out, panels sliding into each other as they collapsed into their frame to reveal a crystalline window. Mirelle’s room was on the lower deck, but the station had rotated so the Benevolence was facing away from the dusty red planet. On the other side of the windowpane was an unbroken expanse of stars, brilliant against the black of the void. There was no atmosphere to make them twinkle, only cold brilliance.

Mirelle said, “That’s exactly what I was looking for. Thank you.”

For the only part of her life she could remember clearly, Mirelle had lived on a series of Minervan colonies. They were small moons and planetoids, rocky and undesirable. The living quarters were always buried deep underground, as far as the builders could get from the unforgiving vacuum of space. She’d never had a room with a window, never even lived in a structure that could look out over this.

Weyland was holding something out to her. Mirelle, entranced by the view, hadn’t noticed. She turned back to him, expecting another test, but the object he pressed into her hand wasn’t a medical device. It was a plant Mirelle didn’t recognize, its leaves fat and pale green, in a simple white pot.

“I read that it’s a tradition on earth to give people a gift when they move,” said Weyland. “It’s called a housewarming.”

“Oh.” Mirelle cupped the plant in her own palms. She wasn’t sure how to care for it. The distant starlight didn’t seem like it would be enough to mimic natural sunlight. She’d probably need some sort of lamp. “Thank you. I didn’t know that.”

“And you’ll need this too.” Weyland held out a stick of greyish putty, the sort Mirelle had seen Sera use to make temporary patches in ducts. “For keeping the pot stuck to wherever you want to put it. Sera’s driving can be a little rough.”

Mirelle realized she was smiling. For the first time in a long while, it didn’t feel forced. “Thank you,” she said. “I feel more at home already.”

Checkup, Part 4 - Astra Nullius
Checkup, Part 6 – Astra Nullius

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