“Not here,” Iain replied hastily. “Sorry to disappoint you. I used to deliver wedding cakes a lot, before I got into DJ rentals. That’s where the paunch comes from, sorry.”

Her eyebrow raised.

“Been married a lot have you?”

“No… no,” he let out a laugh. It felt good. “They were for other people’s weddings.”

“And a cake wasn’t frozen with you?” she asked, in a mix between hopefulness and anticipated disappointment. “I am less and less impressed by whoever is captaining this ship.”

“Sorry,” he told her. “I get the impression it’s just a computer system. Although it does call itself ‘the’ Skipper.”

“That’s okay,” she told him in a warm tone, patting his arm, then put on an amused expression. “I’m sure you would have brought one with you if you could. Let get some food anyways. I’m starving and as you know, I haven’t eaten in at least twenty thousand years.”

“I know how that feels,” he replied.

Cygnus responded with another chuckle. He caught a glimpse of her teeth. They were white and did look to be on the sharp and pointy side.

With no further ado, he led Cygnus to the ladder shaft and started climbing up. For the first time he thought about the ship’s artificial gravity, wondering exactly how exactly it worked. Arc had mentioned something a while back about pseudo-magnetics. He’d have to check into that in the future, at least for curiosity’s sake.

They‘d climbed up a number of decks before she spoke up again, asking, “How is it the ship still has blacked out decks. I can see Orwon having done that when he had us frozen, but that was millennia ago. Why haven’t the faults been repaired?”

“Apparently the Skipper has been avoiding a mandatory recalls for quite a while,” he told her. “Not clue what that’s all about yet.”

Although having a potentially crazy ship’s computer was a worrying concept. It rarely worked out well in the movies.

As if on cue, a familiar voice filled the shaft.

Iain dear, your shirt appears to be wrapped around an unknown life form, the Skipper stated. From the wall lettering on his right, Iain could see they had climbed up to Deck 21.

“It’s okay, Skipper,” he replied, trying to sound nonchalant. “It’s just a new friend I found down on Deck 37.”

Iain, the Skipper continued in a tone that grew in suspicion. The life form below you is unregistered. I don’t have her listed in my systems. You could be at risk.

“Her name is Cygnus, and she’s all right,” he replied, stopping, worried at what sounded like hostility on the part of the synthetic voice. “She was brought on board against her will. By a homicidal maniac.”

I did not give you authorization to wake any other sleeping passengers, Iain, the Skipper stated in even more worrying tone.

Shit.

What was it going to do?

“Excuse me,” Cygnus piped in. “Where was the authorization you received to assist in helping Orwon Worldburner escape justice for leading his horde through the Quillonon sector. I would think that, since they recognize synthetic intelligences as consentients there, a clear violation of galactic treaties such as aiding him would be problematic for you, wouldn’t it? I mean, you’d be treated like any other being associating and abetting his numerous genocides. And that sounds bad, right?”

I do not have any records of providing such aid provided to any being under that title, the Skipper responded, suddenly sounding unsure of itself. And if so, I would certainly act according to all galactic statues.

“Well, then you don’t have to worry,” Cygnus replied in tone that dripped honey. “Iain helped me deal with the criminal you were carrying. And you will be happy to know his remains have been incinerated according to the strictures of forty-five of ninety prosecuting systems currently accepted by galactic statute. And his victims will be happy to know this as well. Or their inheritors, I suppose, should you be interested in contacting them.  The might even give you a medal.

“I’m Cygnus Phi, by the way. And I’m so happy to have come aboard. Please accept my sincerest gratitude at providing me transport on your beautiful ship.”

Iain gripped the ladder rung worriedly while he waited for the Skipper to respond. After a few tense seconds it finally offered its reply.

Welcome aboard, Cygnus Phi, the voice replied. I hope you will enjoy your time on the Transient Void.

“That was smooth,” Iain said quietly to Cygnus as he once again started up the ladder.

“You want to live as long as I have in this galaxy, smooth is mandatory,” she replied.

Go to Chapter Seventeen

Go the Chapter Nineteen

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