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Nebula

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It is the year X0X4, humans have expanded out into the solar system when the Earth began to strain under the weight of over-population. Now the race lives spread out in colonies amongst the planets and moons. Many decades have passed since the last outpost settled and each one had developed their own culture, holidays and traditions. It never ceased to fascinate you the differences between even the most minor of colonies. Even the languages were unique between each colony, but luckily universal translators were practically given away for anyone who worked for the Federation.

Speaking of working, it’s been a few years since you graduated from the Engineers specialist course. Picked up immediately by a repair team, you travelled between provinces in the Pluto section, the farthest area from Earth. It was mostly a quiet job, since a lot of the time you spent either travelling between colonies for major repairs or projection linking to the minor ones to walk them step by step through a relatively easy repair. The colony Engineers seemed to drink up every drop of knowledge you could spare them, and often you never had to help with the same repair twice once taught. And that’s how you spent your time, eating, teaching, reading, daily sensory breaks to stop the emptiness of space breaking you or planning for the next job.

Currently, you were travelling to a new location to start a new project on the furthest territory from Earth.

Stretching amongst your multitude of blankets, a book laying across your stomach as you look out of your tiny, reinforced window to the black vastness of space, stars glittering in the distance. How could such a dangerous place look so beautiful, you loved it and couldn’t help being mesmerised every time. Daydreaming about travelling further beyond the solar system, a sharp knock at your quarters startles you and you leap up to answer it, but the book falls and lands squarely on your little toe.

As you jump about holding onto your abused foot, a burly, heavily tanned man leans against your doorframe yawning heavily before snickering at your misfortune. “Just to let you know, we’re nearing the job site in about 2 hours, so Captain says to start packing up and getting ready. Tools are already bundled up and ready to push off.”

“Thanks Josh, sleep well?” You yawn in response, yet you both knew that neither of you slept well the day before a job. Often you had to adjust yourself to the colony’s time zone, leaving you tired with the old term ‘jet-lag’.

The only response was a defeated snort and he tapped goodbye on the side of the door before leaving. With one last rub of your now swollen toe, you crouch down and pull out your trusty backpack from under the bed. Usually it was already packed with necessities for long stays, clothes, toiletries, sly snacks from previous colonies and your favourite books. Stretching up to look around your room once more for anything you might have missed, you tuck away a faint wisp of loose hair behind your ear contemplating. Nope, got everything, so you heave your bag onto your shoulders and head to the mess hall for some breakfast.

Walking out into the hallway, you once again note that your ship wasn’t the largest of repair ships, but it did the job. Able to carry at least 3 colonies worth of people in case of an emergency, it felt strangely empty and almost scary when alone. No outside ambience existed to fill the silence, so ease your uncomfortable feeling forming in the base of your stomach, you tap on your wireless earpiece and play a selection of your favourite music on repeat.

You were addicted to Old Earth music, the sort that had many turning their nose up in disgust at the out of date fashioned tunes. Humming along, you trace your hand along the perfectly white walls, the cold metal dipped and rose under your fingers. Sometimes, it felt like the ship was as cold and empty as the void surrounding it. Frowning, you shake your head and speed up to chase away the fleeting shadows of worry in your heart. As you continue to pass through twisting corridors, you begin to hear faint chatter and warmth slowly returns to you. Following the lively sounds, you turn around a corner and hear the familiar swoosh as the mess hall’s door slide open. Inside a large domed room, around a bleached table, sat the other members of your team chatting eagerly about their game night which had gotten too rowdy before you had managed to slip away to bed.

Smiling to yourself at their rowdy, eager actions as they grandly retell their misadventures, you move quietly to the back of the room. Spread amongst the kitchen counters were various containers and jars holding a sparse array of food and being eager to eat before the Captain showed up, you hurry along as you check each box. Listening absentmindedly to the enthusiastic chatter around you, a particular chorus has you humming along under your breath. Today was going to be a good day, you just knew it. Spotting your main lifeline brewing in a pot, you manage to swipe some fresh (star-sent) coffee and a brownie. Taking one bite, you sigh unhappily, the brownie was near its expiry date and unbearably dry. Hopefully the new colony had some reserves to sell and you honestly look forward to eating fresh vegetables again. Stars, when was the last time you had a salad? Gosh, you never thought you’d end up craving a salad of all things. Taking another crumbling bite grudgingly, you nearly gag as a crumb catching the back of your tongue.

Of course, when your mouth is stuffed full of brownie, crumbs scattered around your mouth, does Captain Sven decide to walk in. Sven, short but full of an authority that no-one could question. His brow was ever furrowed into a deep scowl, long trails of scars from his left eye lead down into his collar. Frontier wars he said, and never elaborated since. Hair buzzed to the skin, face clean shaven, he was the pinnacle of discipline and his stride matched this fact.

Scrambling to clean yourself up and scarf the remains of your breakfast, you rush to your seat at the table. Coughing draws your attention as one of your teammates held back laughter, pointing to the side of their cheek. Mimicking them, you see the tell-tale smear of chocolate on your hand and you flush with embarrassment. That’s when they lose it, spluttering with laughter as you scrub at your face in dismay. Sven raises an eyebrow, tapping his fingers against the table to silence the room, your friend swallows nervously and tries to keep a straight face.

As though charmed, everyone’s attention is captured by Sven as he flicks through the documents projecting from his glass tablet out onto the table for everyone to see. “Now,” His deep voice rumbles, “We all know about this colony, serious business here, so let me remind you one more time. They were recently working on creating a state-of-the-art training centre for a new project on deeper space exploration. Unfortunately, the lead Engineer passed away before training a new person to continue.” He pauses, letting the information sink in.

“List of priorities, though I’m sure I’ve drilled them enough into your thick heads.” A murmur of chuckles agrees while your captain flicks once more to a new page, “Priority one is repairing the gravity core in the 54-NS section, get that training centre up and running as soon as possible. If we don’t have this done, the Federation will have our hides for delaying their agenda. We got about 4 months before the first training cadets show up, so no slacking.”

A few joking boos rise to his admonishing, making a smile slightly curl his ruined lips. “We also got a wonky space lock, faults in the greenhouse and need a general health check on the colony. So, we’ll be splitting into two groups, Josh, you’ll be leading the minor repairs. Run a quick sweep after making sure there’s no extra work before you merge with the main group.”

Josh amicably nods, taking a different glass tablet from Sven and begins swiping through the notes. You smile, knowing that Josh was the perfect choice for this. Quick but thorough, he had minor repairs done in a flash.

Lost in thought as you wonder which group you’ll be in, your name rings out loud in the quiet mess hall and you jump. Huh? Sven slides across some documents, you meet his eyes with confusion, “With the current Engineer dead, you are effectively this colony’s temporary Engineer. So, whilst we are searching for someone to train, you might be called upon for other outpost duties. Here are the details of the personnel you might be dealing with.”

Why you? This was such an important project, yet he chose you to lead it? Not only that, but colony Engineer? Sure, you’d led jobs before, but everyone else had been on this job much longer than you! Plus, you were so clumsy… You nibble your lower lip and try to focus your panic away by browsing through the tablet staring at unfamiliar faces, names and the detailed layout of the colony trying to tie them into your memory. Sven claps his hands together, “Right, briefing over. Get your asses in gear, work hard, earn hard ladies and gents.”

#

As your ship drew closer towards the moon, whiteness forces you to wear your helmet earlier to save your eyes from the glare. Slowly massive buildings come into view and you gasp. This colony was one of the largest you’d ever seen. When you had spotted it from the bridge it looked so much smaller. Yet face to face, this province was a sight to behold. Blindingly white to reflect the sun’s light away, it almost seemed to glow with an ethereal light. Large spires swirled into the atmosphere with a huge, metal dome nestled amongst them and in the front and centre, you could see multitudes of empty apartments. Then along to the far left, within what looked like a bubble, fields upon fields floated above the moon’s surface filled with crops, as farmers worked between the neatly planted rows. On top of the impressive sight, stretching far into the horizon, was a town bustling with crowds. You wondered if there were markets in amongst those streets.

Jane, your co-Engineer pushes your open mouth closed, snickering, “She’s a proper beaut, ain’t she? Worked on this one meself, back in me hayday.” You could see her warm, brown eyes swim with slight tears, pride etched in her weathered face. Letting out an emotional sigh, she pushes her dreadlocks with a yellow headband then twists the rest into a ponytail. “Well, time ta greet the flock. Come on, honey, let’s get this done.”

Putting on your Environmental Protection Suit (EPS for short) then swiftly pulling your backpack on, you march with Jane to the cargo bay. Towering crates filled with folded machinery, boxed workshops, toolboxes and resources were strapped down to hover-plates. Scuttling in between the cargo, your team rushes about to their designated spots while Josh and you flit around making sure everything is in its proper place. With a slight shake of the ship, a light siren noise wails, alerting you of the imminent landing. Hurrying to brace yourself, you make your way to the forefront cargo crate, holding on to its straps with one steady hand on the control pad.

The ship sways back and forth as it slowly lowers down on to the docking bay, everyone waits as the ground ahead comes into view, tensing as they clung to the equipment. It seems like an eternity as the ship adjusts this way and that, the quiet hiss of air pressure being squeezed from the landing tripods fills the silence. A nervous energy washes over you. Your team always operated under the pretence that every repair was an emergency and needed to always get on site as quick as possible. Every passing second that ticked by could mean the life and death of a colony in such a situation. At last, the cargo doors click, releasing more pressure and the air locks swish open, finally the doors fall forwards to form a ramp. Immediately, your team push out the freight boxes into the annexed building, while your Captain rushes out to greet a man, who you recognise as the colony leader. Sven adjusts his universal translator to download the local dialect across the team’s comms, crucial if there was an emergency.

Jane and you lead the way to the training centre, the corridors already pre-emptively cleared of colonists. As team leader, you run assessments while on the move, checking the current situation with your scanner. It was the usual checks, like if the atmosphere was safe and while you could obviously see people in the distance looking at you all in curiosity, you still had to proceed with the scans (protocols, what can you say?) Upon arriving at the centre, you start to inspect all surrounding tech for any major malfunctions that could prove lethal to your team.

Finding nothing, you pull off your helmet with a grin and click your comms, “Assessment complete. Safe.”

Your team begins to copy you, breathing in the fresh air of a colony. Sighs of satisfaction fill the air, you swear you could smell the trees and filters they used to keep it so pleasant. With the situation reviewed, people began to move slower as they rearrange the tool crates and set up the basic workshops.

Josh laughs at you as you order where to place the tools and gear, “This is the only time I never see you stumble.” His laughter growing as your face heats up, and you turn away with a ‘hmpf’. Coughing sternly, Sven comes in with the colony leader trailing behind. Clearly, he had been the leader for a long time, age and stress of the job carved deep crevices into his face. Wispy, silver hair was pulled back into a low hanging knot and his fingers tremble as he held a gravity support orb like an old Earth cane. He looks down his long nose at your team but says nothing while Sven raps his knuckles on a wall. Again, he holds everyone’s attention.

“This is Seymour Gravis, he’s the colony leader and in charge of reporting your progress to the Federation. Now get this gear sorted, we’re starting appraisals in 45 minutes. Find and confirm to me every issue by evening.” He nods in your direction, “You’re working overtime with Josh, compile all the data and set up a plan by tomorrow morning. I want this job clean and easy.” Nodding as Sven and Seymour turn away to discuss other matters and leave down the distant corridor, you let out a nervous sigh. Then taking in deep steadying breaths to calm yourself, you begin stretches before grabbing one of the larger tool boxes for your appraisal tools.

That’s when you see it.

Screaming loudly, you fall on your butt and scramble backwards, pointing as you shake. “What is that?!”

Your team runs over, immediately alert, but their shoulders sag in confusion. “What’s what, hon?” Jane asks perplexed.

“That!” You point once more.

In front of you floats a short skeleton creature, eyes closed as it peacefully leans back into its own arms, seemingly sleeping through your scream. It wasn’t quite a human skeleton, being wider, thicker in stature and had a chubby looking face. A lazy, almost cartoonish smile stretches its features, the teeth almost as large as your little finger. But the strangest thing was it was wearing clothes, an oversized, dark blue and yellow hoodie hugs its body with fluff that looks like a piece of the background was cut out to reveal a huge nebula behind it. Blue shorts with a yellow stripe ripple with no breeze and little, sparkling blue slippers adorn its feet.

“It’s a floating skeleton,” You manage to gasp, your eyes grow wide with fear. What was it? You feel the pinpricks of sweat tingle your face.

Chapter Text

In front of you floats a short skeleton creature, eyes closed as it peacefully leans back into its own arms, seemingly sleeping through your scream. It wasn’t quite a human skeleton, being wider, thicker in stature and had a chubby looking face. A lazy, almost cartoonish smile stretches its features, the teeth almost as large as your little finger. But the strangest thing was it was wearing clothes, an oversized, dark blue and yellow hoodie hugs its body with fluff that looks like a piece of the background was cut out to reveal huge nebula behind it. Blue shorts with a yellow stripe ripple with no breeze and little, sparkling blue slippers adorned its feet.

You mind was a blur, thoughts crash through your head and questions flail out in a futile attempt to process what it was you were seeing. Was this an alien lifeform? What was the protocol for this? You couldn’t remember with the haze of shock and numbness setting in quick. Blindly grasping around you searching for something, but only Jane’s petting hand gently grasps at yours and rubs your knuckles soothingly. Trembling, you turn to look at her with wide-eyes, whilst trying to keep the skeleton in view, “What is it?” Your raspy whisper is barely audible.

Nervous chuckles echo behind you, your head snaps backwards to Josh, “Think you’ve been on the ship too long? Come on, let’s get you checked out by the doctor here.” Hands gripping under your armpits, Josh lifts you up and you look back to that spot.

Your face pales, it’s still there and worse, one eye is open to show a black expanse in its sockets with a silver orb locking onto your face. Was this really imaginary? Surely, this couldn’t be a hallucination, it’s far too strange, but why couldn’t the others see it? You keep your eyes on the skeleton, evenly matching its intense stare for one of your own. It’s smile stretches a fraction wider and you gulp in fear.

#

Practically dragged to the medical bay by Josh, you sit waiting for the colony doctor to arrive. Away from the skeleton, you nibble on your thumb anxiously trying to rationalise, of course it wasn’t real. But if it wasn’t real, did you have a fever, a disease? How was this going to affect the project? Lowering your hand into your lap when you bite too far on your thumb, you groan as you lean back against the cool wall. Was this one of those sensory deprived hallucinations you had heard about? You could’ve sworn you stuck to regime with neurological breaks. A laugh slips past your lips, but honestly, what an odd thing to imagine! A floating skeleton, you scoff to yourself, you’ve obviously been reading too many horror stories. And space stories, if that beautiful nebula of fluff was anything to go by. Your fingers twitch as you imagine you losing yourself in that thick fluff.

“I hope I don’t have to worry about the laughter, miss.” A soothing voice causes you to leap out of your reverie and you bang your head on the wall light as you fumble to the floor. “Oh dear, oh dear. Try not to get concussion on top of everything else.” His chuckle rich in mirth as a friendly face holds out his hand to you.

A handsome man with half-moon spectacles smiles down at you, his hair longer than the colony leader, was tied up messily and yet you could see the rich fullness in his straight strands threatening to spill out. You might’ve been jealous had you not been worrying so much about acting like a goofball. As you continued to goggle at him, you notice he was dressed in a neat overcoat and…oh wow, that was an old Earth waist jacket complete with a pocket watch. Your inner Earth-fanatic was triggered, and you wanted a closer look at the watch sporting a strange design.

His rich laughter causes you to pull your gawking face back up to his face, you instantly recognise him from the documents, and from the floor you smile sheepishly with red cheeks, “Hello, Dr. Fahren, I’ve read your credentials. Seven years on the frontier, was it?”

Another chuckle as he pulls you up, your head only reaching his collarbone, “That’s right. Someone has to battle those little parasites away. You’ll be surprised how often explorers get sick from all sorts of bacteria and viruses.” Clearing his throat, “So, I’ve already got the details of your ailments, so let us go check you out in the ward, yes?” His eyes crease as he beams down at you and you stammer under his attention, so you just shut up and nod, following his long strides.

The medical ward stretches out, easily able to support several families if there happened to be a disease outbreak. Quietly in the distance, you could see some figures slumbering in pods and the sound of faint beeps enhance the awkward silence. Rubbing your arm nervously, you’re guided to a chair to perch upon. Dr Fahren’s serious face makes you squirm as he investigates your pulse, blood work, eyes and temperature. You stare at his tall form bent over a monitor pressing and swiping the results as he hums.

Eventually, Dr Fahren turns back to you, a light smile on his face, “Hmmm, just seems like you’re dehydrated. No temperature, no parasites in your blood or any eye issues. I would give you a clean bill of health.”

“B-but that doesn’t explain what I saw!” You blurt out in alarm.

Pausing, he looks thoughtful before his features darken, returning back to seriousness, “You know, there’s been rumours, things have been moving around, chairs plucked from under people, items found in strange places. How streets will turn dark, and a figure appears staring. They say that there’s…”

You swallow anxiously, drawn in by his expression.

“A ghost!” His hands fling out to the side in the shape of claws, and you shriek. Dr Fahren’s face instantly glowing with amusement, “Or maybe some Earth rats came with us and are breeding in the walls.” Your face shines with a hot flush, tears pricking your eyes, “That wasn’t funny, Doctor.” You pout petulantly.

“Ah, forgive me. It was simply too enticing to tease you. Colonists often see mirages due to a trick of the light and the atmosphere, so I wouldn’t worry about seeing strange things. Just come back if it keeps up for more than a few days.”

Turning to write up his notes on your check-up, you stand to leave, “Thank you for the check-up. It was nice to meet you, Doctor.”

“An utter pleasure to meet you as well. I hope to see you more often, and not just for check-ups.” He says smoothly with a quiet smile, not even looking up from his typing. Flustered you gawp at him before you stiffly stumble from the medical bay, face still scorching. Slapping your cheeks to wake up, you rush around the corner only to bump into someone.

Seymour glares at you with daggers, rubbing away at the place you bumped into. “Do get on with your work, Engineer.” He snaps, “Rather than floundering in our corridors, wasting our air.” Without awaiting your reply, he storms into the medical bay behind you, scowling at you once more before you flinch and briskly walk back to the training centre.

Tapping on your comms to bring up the details of the colony map on your contact lens, you notice that the 54-NS section was completely empty. The apartments you had seen were for all the new trainees coming, only your teammates appeared on the map ahead and two blips behind were the doctor and colony leader. You laugh, there was nothing spooky showing up on your map. But would a ghost show up? Shaking your head, berating yourself for being so foolish. There’s no such thing as ghosts.

You march swiftly through empty corridors once more, getting that hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach. You really hated being alone in wide spaces. Passing through a reinforced glass tunnel, you look out across the moon to another tunnel nearby. Colonists walk by like muted shadows, but amongst the tide of people, one figure stands tall, completely pitch black with the light from behind removing its features. It stares at you, the sense of its eyes following your every step. Chills buzz up your spine and you duck your head as you pick up the pace, all but running from the tunnel. Sharply turning into the training centre, heaving gulps of air into your lungs.

What was going on?

You look around fervently. No floating skeleton in sight, no dark shadow. Breathing in a deep breath of relief, you muse that the doctor must’ve been right. You were seeing tricks of the light.

A few concerned team members nod in your direction and you wave them off giving them the ‘ok’ sign. They grin and continue their work, checking pipes and monitoring readings in the tech. Humming as you put in your favourite hair slide from your backpack, keeping that annoying strand of hair away from your face, you crawl through a hatch into a small room. Falling to the floor with a light jump off the ladders, you stood in the centre of the gravity core’s engine room. Inside a glass container, a small orb swung listlessly side to side, it’s once brilliant light now faded. The room would be filled with whirring and beeping had the machine been on, but only a hallow silence greeted you. Uneasy, you settle down near the gravity core, music playing away in one ear.

Humming as you pull open the core’s panel and peer inside, you are taken aback at the sight. Wow. This tech was really old for a fancy new training centre, but you figured that it could be, what with the distance it had to travel from Earth. Once more, your inner fanatic was unleashed as you check your supplies from your tablet. Yesssss, you had enough materials to upgrade all this ancient tech and give a decent boost to output. It also gave you a huge opportunity to check out how old tech really worked, to pull it apart and put it together again. Your humming intensifies as you cheer up at the sheer thought of tinkering around.

Gripping your screwdriver between your teeth as you pull off the grid’s cover and see all that tantalising machinery further inside. Easily picking up on the problems, and where the previous Engineer had been planning to go with this core, you speak out loud to let your tablet write down the issues you were finding. You were elbows deep in peeling out a faulty board when an eerie crackling sound chokes out of your tablet’s speakers before going silent. Sighing with frustration, you tap at the black screen with hope, but there’s no response. Damn, the battery must’ve gone.

Hopping up to climb the ladders, you poke your head out of the hatch, “Hey Carl, can you pass me another tab-“ Your mouth snaps shut. There it is again. The strange skeleton from before hovers just above a scrawny lad, who was squatting with his head deep into a vent he was checking out. You look away, feeling cold. It’s just a mirage, you murmur to yourself. Just a- The skeleton’s singular open eye was staring you down with that same plastered grin. Heart racing, you swallow and ignore it, instead focusing on Carl. “A tablet, Carl. M-mine’s gone dead.”

The lad leans over to a nearby bundle, tossing it across to you with abandon, you scurry forward out of the hatch to try to catch it, but your ankle hooks on the hatch’s ledge causing you to hit your face into the ground and you feel your cheek squeaking painfully against the polished floor. The tablet land with a meaty thunk on to your back and you let out a grumble. Of course, instead of helping you, Carl begins barking with a high-pitched laughter and you look up to glare at him, but you freeze seeing that the skeleton was also chuckling at you.

Even the bloody mirage was laughing at you. How dare it. Feeling indignant, you instead send your ire towards the skeleton instead, who just shrugs and wipes a non-tear away. Embarrassment chases away your fear temporarily and you stalk away in a huff, getting ready to crawl back into the engine room.

“Hey, where’s my screwdriver?” You turn to look at a puzzled Carl, scratching his head, for some reason your eyes flick upwards. Hovering above a pointed bony finger, Carl’s screwdriver twirled in the air, slowly it glides underneath Carl’s crumpled jacket on the floor.

You lick your lips nervously, “Did you forget it under your coat?”

Promptly picking it up, he laughs, “Damn, good guess. Thanks.”

Silver eyes twinkle at you with amusement as you realise that it was in fact NOT a trick of the light or a mirage or even a hallucination. Yet, no-one else could see this strange phenomenon. Shaking, you grip your hands into a fist and stare with a challenge at the skeleton. There was no way you were going to let this thing mess with your buddies.

#

Or so you said. As soon as you had challenged the skeleton, its eyes had grown wide with unabashed humour. Following you around, the skeleton started off with small misdeeds, rolling away items harmlessly out of your reach, just sly enough for you to not notice for a while. You tried to keep ignoring the skeleton, just grabbing whatever item you could wherever it was. It was frustrating beyond belief, but you wouldn’t give the skeleton the satisfaction.

Then it escalated once you left the engine room to investigate other areas.

You watch in horror as it snickers, tying the laces of your co-worker so they stumble backwards. You stretch out your hand out as they fall, but they give you a dirty look, berating you for messing around on the job. Not wanting to say, “It wasn’t me, it was the stupid space skeleton.” You vent your annoyance by having a permanent frown around the skeleton.

Of course, it didn’t stop there.

Going to the toilet, you sit down on the seat, but you feel a splurting against your legs. Freaking out, you stand up and stare down at mustard splattered across the back of your knees. Outrage fills you when you return back to the centre, only for your rage to grow stronger when you see that smarmy skeleton full-blown wheezing and glittery tears leaking from its sockets. Snarling quietly, “You’re such a jerk.” But all that got was a shaking shrug as it drifts around, falling asleep above you, tired from the apparent exertion of laughing so hard.

#

It had taken some time (no thanks to a certain skeleton), but eventually your team had managed to pull together their reports sending them to you to peruse over and compile a plan. Now late in to the night, Josh and you sit around a workbench the team had set up and discuss what to do. With a litter of holographic notes covering the table, you knew it would take quite some time to finish all the report writing. But that was just a good excuse to stay with the skeleton and keep a wary eye on it. You hadn’t quite ruled out that this wasn’t some hostile lifeform, despite its harmless pranks.

Looking back from the skeleton to floating letters and images, you huff as you swipe through them, scribbling notes here and there on your tablet. Frankly, there was a more work to do than was initially reported. Almost too much work to do in four months. The training centre had a lot of half-finished projects, gouged out pieces, water damage and you could’ve sworn that there WERE rats in here. It was an absolute mess and you had no idea where they had been going with the entire project based on the sheer chaos left behind.

Josh finishes far earlier than you with his minor group’s plan. While he offers to help you as well, (when you notice the skeleton waking,) you end up just telling him to get some rest for tomorrow. Obliging, Josh yawns and waves sleepily as he heads towards the quarters the colonist had set up for your co-workers and you.

As soon as he leaves and you hear his footsteps disappear, you whirl on the skeleton.

“And what the heck are you!? Do you mind? Some of us are actually working and don’t have time for your silly pranks!” Way to go, you. Just antagonise the unknown entity. Good job.

Eyelights widening as if it can’t believe you’d just go up and talk to it, it rumbles with chuckling and rolls around in the air, clutching its stomach. Red-faced, you mutter as you turn on your tablet, switching it to personal mode and logging into your diary account.

“Day 1 on XXXX Colony:

Repair requests have been compiled, data sent to team’s comms. Uploading my medical records and EPS monitoring, I seem to have encountered a strange lifeform. Doctor’s report states I am having mirages, or this is just a trick of the light. However, I’ve witnessed it moving objects around by an unknown method…” As if to demonstrate, it pinches a ketchup sachet from your secret snack stash and squirts it promptly into its mouth. Disgusted, “It…just ate ketchup. This is too unrealistic to be a simple illusion. I’m not sure if this is some kind of alien, ghost or…” Or what, you didn’t know and its chuckling at your musings was a constant distraction.

“Unfortunately, I can’t deny or confirm if it is a hostile entity…” It points innocently at itself as if to say ‘Who me?’ “But I will continue to observe its actions. It also appears to be…somewhat intelligent…” Huffing at you, the skeleton holds its hands up as it shakes its head at your ramblings. “There’s some evidence that it understands the colony language I am producing. Attempts to converse have failed, but intent is clear. It is constantly harassing my team and I, with…trivial self-indulgent amusements.” Glowering at it, it looks away, quite interested in a bolt on the wall. Peering at it, you notice its squishy bun cheeks that quiver around its smile. “Appearance is skeletal in form, but somehow the bone is flexible. Wearing shorts, slippers and a hoody with a fluffy-looking material that has an unknown nebula appearing as a pattern…it’s cute.” You whisper absentmindedly, the skeleton chokes and fumbles in the air, blushing with a glittery colour-changing blush. Pulling up its cosmic furred hoodie, it floats higher up into the room.

“It can also defy physics, floating in the colony that has Earth levels of gravity. Subject has removed itself for now, end of log.” Tsking, you dismiss it with a wave and turn your back on it. It groans and floats in front of you, one hand holding its slightly blushing cheek. The skeleton gives you a wink, holding out its hand as if to say no hard feelings. You hesitate, debating if you should touch it. Wondering if it can’t speak, you attempt to hold its hand. It was a strange experience, you feel a faint fuzz and resistance, you were about to phase through its hand when ‘PBBBLLTTTT’. Shocked at the loud noise, you snatch your hand back, only to see the skeleton blowing a raspberry into its palm.

You can feel your eyes are as wide as saucers, disbelieving. Did…did he just pretend he had a whoopee cushion in his hand? It was such an old joke, like older than your great-great-great-great grandfather. You had only seen it in comedy spoofs from the last millennium.

You couldn’t hold it in, your laughter poured out of you as you hug your sides at the sheer absurdity. A space skeleton had just used a joke as old as time on you. This was in no way what you ever expected to happen in your life. Looking up from your stoop, you see that its silvery eyes had formed the shape of stars as it looked ecstatic at your laughter. Stars, it really does look cute.

Okay, so maybe it might not be a hostile. BUT! You wouldn’t put down your guard just yet, nothing is ever what it appears to be.

Chapter Text

Okay, so maybe it might not be a hostile. BUT! You wouldn’t put down your guard just yet, nothing is ever what it appears to be.

“Did ya work all night!? Thought I broke ya outta dat habit on the last gig.” Jane grumbles tiredly as she carries an electronic keg of coffee into the work area.
You yawn, cracking your back down your spine, causing the skeleton next to you to look at you curiously. “No, no, I slept for a bit here. Had to keep guard you know?”

She rolled her eyes at you, “What from that floating skeleton yesterday?” Said skeleton, points to itself as if insulted.

Rolling your eyes, you speak with a deadpan expression, “Yup.”

Jane snickers, tilting her mug against the keg for coffee, “Uh-huh.” Said skeleton floats around her, peering at the coffee. Jane takes a drawn-out sip, “Mmmm, damn, tha’s som’ buzz.” Resting with her hand on a hip, Jane reads the morning log for jobs to pick up, absentmindedly sipping at her coffee now and then. With an intrigued look, the skeleton flicks its wrist and some of the coffee floats out unbeknownst to Jane, drifting towards the skeletons mouth which opens very slightly near the bottom.

It’s nose bridge instantly wrinkles, and it looks at Jane in disgust, as if she had lied to him. Retreating to your side, it snags another old ketchup sachet and it slurps it up behind you. You bite back a laugh. Okay, so it was aware that it was invisible to others and that floating ketchup packets were not a thing for others to see. Lost in your thought, you notice Jane raising an eyebrow in front of you, making you realise you did not hear what she said, “So?”

A timid smile slides on your face, “Ermmm?”

Jane groans and slaps a hand to her face, “Tha’s it, yer getting’ som’ grub, chick.” Pulling you up by the collar of your EPS. (Wow, you’re still wearing that, huh? Gross.) Promptly carried away, you muse that being pulled around was becoming a common event on this colony as you’re forced down empty corridors into an open hall.

The ceiling rose high with ambient light flickering, making the room more akin to earthen restaurants. The electronic tables were set to appear wooden, alongside matching benches. Noises and smells batter your senses while groups of colonists gossip to each other in the background, laughing bawdily. Children play on a floating playground while parents fuss them to come get breakfast. It’s a warm scene even if it overloads you slightly. A huge, waving hand pulls your attention away from people watching. Josh continues waving, beckoning Jane and you to come over.

Your team sat around a table, an array of fresh food before them. “Check this out, they have the tables all set with food and you just pick from them. Nothing like the cafeteria from the last colony, eh!” Josh grabs a slice of cucumber, “They even have fresh vegetables. Man, this is the life.”

Stomach rumbling in response, you sit down eagerly checking out the banquet. Drooling as you spy your favourite vegetable and you instantly snap up nearly a palm’s worth of it. Selecting a few other bits and pieces, you tuck into your meal with bliss. It’s perfect, the best meal you’ve had in months and you can’t help the little foodie groan escaping your lips, making the others chuckle as they continue munching as well. Companionable silence creates a bubble against the bustling surroundings, everyone just being content to keep shovelling delicious food down. Only a murmur of appreciation or a suggestion to try something breaks the silence.

#

Leaning back after your tummy complains of being too full, you swing your legs back and forth in good cheer, “That was sooooo good.”

“I’m glad you like what we have to offer,” utters a recognisable voice. Looking upwards, you see Dr. Fahren smiling above you. Alarmed, you fall backwards and hit your head on the floor, legs unceremoniously hanging over the bench. Thank the stars you were wearing your EPS, or you might have been showing off your undergarments. Banging their hands on the table, your team cries in laughter, drawing the attention of nearby colonists who also snicker at your unfortunate situation.

Dr. Fahren, however, didn’t laugh and quickly helps you up, “I must say, I’ve never had someone fall for me this much.” Jane splutters into her cup as she barks a laugh at his joke. Grimacing, a little shame flushing your cheeks, you manage to murmur, “Sorry, I’m not too good with surprises.”

Chuckling, Dr Fahren covers his mouth with part of his hand, “I’ll keep that in mind. I came by just to check how you were feeling this morning since you happened to be here.”

“Well, otha’ than tha’ bump on ‘er noggin, I think she’s been jus’ fine, Doc.” Jane pats your arm softly. Not wanting to mention the skeleton anymore, you nod in agreement.

“Hrmm, well that’s good. Just be sure if anything happens, you can always come to me.” Waving as he leaves, you were left with the jeering of your team, “Ooo’er, chickie, look at ya getting’ dat hottie all ova’ ya!” Pushing at her grinning face as Jane squishes against you and pokes at your tummy, going straight for the ticklish bits, you laugh, “It’s nothing like that!”

#

Back in the training center, you gather your team around for a brief. As you open your mouth, you frown as you spot a shadow. The skeleton floats behind them all, unseen and winks at you. Mouth open for a little too long, Jane encourages you to continue. Clearing your throat, you look back down at your notes. Focusing, you tell them of the repairs needed in the training room. Equipment from storage would need to be used to update a lot of the older tech to have it functioning to the Federation’s standards. A whole area would need to be gutted out, cleaned and reinstalled, you warned about a potential rat infestation, much to the chagrin of Carl who got rat catching duty.

But you made a mistake, you looked up midway telling them about the waterlog damage. The skeleton was pulling faces behind Jane’s head and making bunny ears with its hands. You burst out in laughter, stop abruptly then flush red at your unprofessional behaviour. Stars dammit, this skeleton was going to get you fired. A little cough, you straighten your face and mention how they’d need to install dehumidifiers in those areas. A flash of blue catches your eyes, the skeleton was mimicking Josh’s stance but pretending to pick its nose. Childish, yes, but the bizarre action had you coughing laughs into your glass tablet.

“T-that’s all.” You wheeze and Josh comes over (skeleton still pretending to act, copying his actions so perfectly.) “Are you okay? You’re acting a little bit strange.”
Glaring at the skeleton, who was pretending to look concerned right next to Josh’s face, you force a smile, “Yeah, just feeling bone tired…” Biting your lip, but Josh didn’t get the inadvertent pun, the skeleton however had star-shaped eyes sparkling at you and its grin grew wider and wider.

Oh no.

#

 

Of course.

Completely encouraged by your accidental pun, it went on a prank rampage. It trapped you in a vent, making you squeak in fear when the loud crash of a grill made you hit your head. Covered in dust after that ordeal, you went to wash your hands, only to have the water squirt straight into your face. Confused, you look under the tap. There was sealing tape placed under the tap leaving a little hole aimed towards you. Turning around in annoyance, trying to keep your temper in place, the splashed water on the floor had you landing directly on your butt. Groaning in pain, rubbing your abused body, you got back to gutting out the gravity core and when you reached out to grab your toolbox, it pulled away and took you with it. You had squealed the whole way.

The worst bit? Everyone was worried and told you to be more careful. Carl even told you that maybe you should take the day off to rest. But you couldn’t just give in to this smiling garbage disposal.

Hiding in the gravity core room, you crouch low enough that your knees were covering your face and you quietly scream into your thighs. A snicker had you lunging for the skeleton. (Which when you look back on was a really dumb idea.) You end up phasing straight through him into the control panel. Deciding to just lay across it, you sag and remain quiet, trying to organise your thoughts.

The skeleton floats nearby, one glowing eyelight peeking curiously as you look unamused at it. “Think you’re so funny, huh? Can’t you see I’m trying to work?” It shrugs, as if that explains everything. Irritation wells up and you narrow your eyes, “Why are you even here? Since you understand me, how about giving me some yes or no answers?” A low chuckle and with that it floats high up into the room, out of reach, “I should’ve known.” You grumble.

#

“Chickie, git yer ass outta dere! Yer eatin’ whetha’ ya like it o’ not!” Jane’s shouting rattles the computer boards around you. As you climb out, she reels back pinching her nose, “Bloody ‘eck, chick, ya need a showa’ n’ fast. Lemme show ya where ya room is, ‘fore we go eat.”

Yeah, you could agree with Jane on this one, you did feel pretty gross after managing to completely demolish one side of the engine room. Grabbing your backpack after eyeing up the sleeping skeleton, you rush towards her. Commenting on the sheer workload, Jane and you grumble about inaccurate reports as you’re led through a long corridor into a small section with several rooms locked behind a security door.

Jane gives you a wink as she scans her finger, “Gal’s only up ‘ere, so none o’ them lads crashin’ our shit up.” You scan your finger and a light beep grants you access as the door slides open. The room was lovely, if bare, but you didn’t have much time to explore before Jane shoves you with her foot into the bathroom. “Showa’ now.”

The bathroom was charming, it had a frosted window that blurred the moon surface with fake flowers adorning the windowsill. A fluffy blue toilet cover did have you scowling as you remember a certain something.

Peeling out the EPS, you flee from the cold into the warmth of the shower. Growing pink as you rinse and scrub your skin of all the machine grease and sweat, your thoughts turn to your new…companion. You frown, it was so annoying, the skeleton had made you into a fool more than once and your team was worrying a lot about your mental state. Somehow, you had to either get to the bottom of this or strike a deal with the unknown lifeform.

Sighing as you step out of the shower, a shadow disappears from the frosted windows and your heart sinks. That freaking skeleton must’ve followed you here, snapping open the glass doors, you see nothing. You were definitely going to have to set some ground rules with it.

“Ya don’ in dere?” Jane knocks, pulling you out of your thoughts, “Nearly, I’ll be just a minute.” Opening your backpack, you pull out all your clothing and fold them neatly in a pile nearby. Unsure what to wear, you end up hovering between a beautiful, starry sky-blue dress (for the formal occasion at the end of a job) and your favourite comfy clothes. Favourite clothes it is.

Pulling them on as fast you could before Jane was tempted to break the door down, you’re quickly steered towards the mess hall once more. Look at you, eating two actual meals in the same day. This time however, the hall was different. Benches were pulled into a circle, each row hovering a little higher than the one in front, a group of people were handing out different types of stews and soup while the rest of the colony were sat around a hologram fire that looked extremely realistic.

An old man stands in front of them as children sat on floor, eyes locking on to his every move, as he paints out a tale of the first frontier flight. Even the adults were riveted to his grand storytelling. Images flash behind him in the fire and the children gasp at the sight of Mars and the buildings slowly being created before their eyes.

You see Josh and the crew sitting, watching with fascination. Grabbing a bowl of food, you sidle between Carl and Jane. When the story ends, bowls empty, everyone claps as he takes a bow. Carl leans into you, “The guys in front say they do this once a month, people volunteering to tell stories for the colony. This old geezer is a regular, puts in all the effort he can.” He points out to the fire, which simmers down to a glow as the man is replaced by the colony leader, Seymour.

“Thank you, Theo, a brilliant journey as always. Now as you know we have guests that have joined us in this hall today,” He sniffs a little coldly, “I’ve had a lot of requests from many of you to ask if they would be willing to come up to tell us any story they might have.” He sounded that he’d rather that the crew did anything but that, but he was obviously bugged enough to bring it up.

Jane holds her hand up, “Ya lot might lik’ this one.”

Jane was always the favourite to tell stories in your crew, her many years of exploring space gave a plethora of tales with that stab of reality. You couldn’t help but be curious for her whole life’s tale. It appeared to be the same for the group surrounding her as she stood confidently in front of the fire, facing them all with a fierce, excited expression.

It was an impressionable story about her first journey to this very moon and the many problems they faced trying to settle on the surface. With all travellers, there were always the illegal ones, and Jane had to face pirates wanting to pillage their ship and steal the colony building resources.

Somehow, she even managed to make it sound as if they would lose the colony and fail their mission, the children forgetting that they already sat in the success. Their little gasps cry out for the bad guys to be fought off and when it looked particularly bad for Jane, they egged her on to win. As the tale drew to a close, she finished with a cliffhanger, “But tha’ wasn’ tha last we saw o’ tha pirates.” Groans for more rang amongst the clapping when she steps down from the fire to be replaced with Seymour.

The colony leader seems to look at Jane with a newfound respect, as one of the founding engineers of his colony, she had proven invaluable to the creation of their home. Stroking his beard as he mumbles, “Fascinating, perhaps we could discuss more tales you might have about our beginnings.”

Jane grins and pats Seymour on the back. “Sure thin’ lov’. It’sa date.” Instead of the cold look you expected, the man blushes and coughs, turning to the snickering crowd.

“Ahem. I do believe that’s the last of the volunteers for tonight, unless any more of the repair crew would like to speak up now.” Jane stabs your side as she settles back into her seat, making you leap up with a yelp. All eyes turn to you with eagerness, you make a sly glare at a smug Jane. You were about to apologise and refuse, but…

“Ah, very well, come down here then.” Seymour didn’t wait for your answer and had already started stepping off stage. As you numbly walk to the front, you fidget with the front of your clothes, wracking your brain for any tales.

Ah. You were already at the stand, the fake heat of the fire had you sweating.

As you look out to the crowd, you see a flash of blue. The skeleton rests upon the ceiling beams, arms full of ketchup sachets, squirting them into its mouth lazily. Noticing your attention, it gives a lazy wave. The tension you felt dissipated, leaving you relaxed, and a slow steady smile begins to spread on your face.

Concentrating on the children’s faces, “This isn’t a cool tale of space fights, or seizing fights back from space pirates. But a tale from before humans even touched the stars.”

You cast out your net to see who’s interest you managed to perk. “Long, long ago, when magic still lived in every creature, big and small. When mystical creatures roamed the Earth and beings known as gods walked amongst the humans. When demons curled under the surface and caused mayhem wherever they went…”

#

The story ended well; the children had been rapt with attention with every word you spilled. The fire behind you enhanced the danger of the demons crawling out from the earth to pull innocent humans down below. The darkness around the room brought forth the icy anger of the the gods as they fought to keep the humans safe. The warmth of each other brought forth the comradery of humanity as they stood up against the demons.

Somehow, you manage not to make a fool of yourself, sparing a final glare to Jane who fluffs with pride and gives you a thumbs up with a wild grin, while the colony claps in praise. Glancing up to the skeleton, you see its pensive expression as it thoughtfully thumbs its own cheek, eyelights boring in to your core.

You flush from the heat of the ‘fire’ again. Maybe it wasn’t too bad to tell stories now and then, instead of just reading them.

Chapter Text

“For the last time, can you stop pulling all this crap!!!” You throw a spanner at the skeleton who had left a ketchup sachet on the floor, resulting in you standing straight on top of it. The sauce managed to squirt across the pile of torn out scrap you had left in the middle of the room, and you ended up wasting time having to clean it off. As soon as you had turned around, a floating, ketchup-covered cloth collided into your face. The end results? You were now in one of your rare moody tempers, raging loudly.

A week, it had been a whole week of nothing but pranks. Thanks to them, you were severely behind schedule and Sven was knuckling down on you to catch up to the others. Everything was going wrong and you were starting to feel the strain.

Snickering at your scowling face, the skeleton acknowledges you with a lazy hand raised up, not even a wave. You pause, scowling heavily, “You got a name I can shout at you when you’re being a jerk?”

Of course, the skeleton just smiles at your question and closes its eyes. Grinding your teeth in frustration, you huff as you stalk away to the centre of the room, “Why do I even bother talking to you? I really am losing the plot.” You grumble as you snatch up the spanner and push the skeleton out of the way absentmindedly.

Grunting as you sit down with a huff, you look up as you begin tying up your hair, a shocked face and wide eyelights were spread across the skeleton’s face. You frown, “What?” You glance around, but see nothing, by the time you look back the skeleton has smoothed its expression back into its lazy face.

“Really? That one wasn’t even funny.” It snorts and turns over in the air to sleep.

Finally. Maybe you could get some actual work done today. For the whole week, you never left the engine room other than to shower and grab some quick food at Jane’s insistence. Desperate to catch up, you even slept in the engine room. Touching your earpiece, the rhythm soothes your temper which you hum along to as you work. Stripping anything salvageable from the motherboards and gears took you hours, you only ever stop to shove some secret snacks into yourself. Out of habit you toss a ketchup sachet at the skeleton who catches it deftly, even if it seems asleep. Placing it between its teeth, it sucks slowly with little sighs.

“Addict.” You say for the fifth time this week, and as always you get that soft, low snort. For all its annoyances, you actually quite liked its company (when it wasn’t pranking the ever-loving stars out of you.) At your daily running commentary to your diary, you always got snorts, chuckles and grins. Despite that, you still had not managed to find anything concrete about this skeleton, as it refused to pretty much speak to you. If it could.

Chewing on your screwdriver, you plunge deep into your work as your brain idly flings thoughts out of nowhere. Story ideas, what you’d like to eat, skeleton names, what to do after this motherboard, a favourite chapter, skeleton names, could you squeeze in a shower tonight, skele- That’s it!

Practically bouncing up the skeleton, who peers with suspicious curiousity at your smiling expression.

“Crypt-ic. That’s your name now.” You state smugly.

If it had eyebrows, they would’ve been flung into space at the speed its browbones rose, sockets wide and eyelights forming tiny hearts. Then its sockets creases with the deep, bellowing laughter that vibrates your chest, making your heart pick up a beat. You could see into its mouth and frankly, it was amazing. Inside, just like its coat fluff, was a black nebula swirling inside as if the background was cut out. As you look closer, you see it was the same for the back of its sockets.

The skeleton’s teeth were not at all round either, the top set were much larger than the bottom row. Both of which flash fangs sharp enough to cut you straight to the bone if Cryptic so desired. For some reason curiosity wells up, what did it feel like inside of the skeleton’s mouth. Would it be a vacuum? Warm and liquid-like? You stop your own hand rising to reach towards Cryptic.

It takes a long time for Cryptic to stop laughing, your face blushes hotly and you cover your ears. Maybe the skeleton thought it was a stupid name. But you can feel its laughter rumbling around your lungs.

Floating directly in front of you, the skeleton lays on its stomach and winks while holding out its hand, you remember its pranks and eye it suspiciously. Cryptic chuckles softly, easing its hand into yours. You feel that strange fuzz from the first time as, for a brief moment, the hand resists your phasing and you can feel smooth, soft bone.

“nice one.”

Your hand shoots straight through Cryptic’s bones and you smack your own arm.

What.

Your mind rushes with so many questions and statements. Your brain helpfully supplements that Cryptic had a deep, echoing baritone voice, that made your heart stutter, you’d never heard such a rich voice. So, he could speak? Then maybe you could get to the bottom of what he was. Or maybe your hallucinations were getting worse and this was the first sign of audio delusions. How’s he speaking without a throat? What makes it sound so distant yet close? Questions continue to buzz through your head.

Cryptic was looking at you expectantly, so you dumbly stutter your name, wondering if that’s what he wanted. Humming as he mulls over it, he proceeds to float far above your head. You follow him with your shocked expression, stunned to silence. Shaking your head to snap out of your numbness, your temper returns, “YOU COULD SPEAK THIS WHOLE TIME!?”

Carl shouts back, “What you say?”

“Nothing...”

Cryptic cackles evilly as he floats behind a ledge, obviously deciding to take a nap up there.

#

Cryptic. You roll his name once more on your tongue. He could definitely speak, but every time you try to ask him questions about who he was, what his real name was, what he was, where he came from, he would either dismiss it, fall asleep or simply float out of reach. Not another peep came from him for the whole 9 hours you worked…and ranted.

“Seriously, is it really that much effort to give me a yes or no, Cryptic?” You growl at him as you smack a broken bolt out of the wall.

“yeah.” His deep voice sends a little thrill up your spine as the silence is broken.

“SERIOUSLY? Now you answer?”

Cryptic shrugs with a lazy grin, clearly enjoying your frustrations. You could tell, your skull reading was getting better these last few hours.

“Okay, okay, I won’t ask anything more about you then. Since you obviously don’t want to help me prove that I’m not insane,” You half-heartedly hiss at him. Silence as you pull broken wires out of the mess in front of you. “So why all the pranks?”

“s’funny.”

“Not to me!” Crying out as you fling the ball of tangled wires into the scrap heap.

“love ‘em really.” He crookedly smiles.

Glaring, not dignifying him with an answer, you toss more wires on the growing scrap heap. If you could touch him without phasing through him, you’d be strangling his chubby neck.

“Can you at least not do them when I’m working then?”

“…”

“What?”

“you’re always working.”

And that you couldn’t deny.

#

You wake with a start; a loud bang drags you from your dream and a blanket fell from your shoulders. Huh, you don’t remember ever bringing a blanket in here. Wondering why you woke, you see in the darkness Cryptic’s silvery eyelights glowing sharply.

“Wha-?”

He holds a fingertip 5mm away from your lips, shushing you before you ask him what he did. The fuzzy feeling of his finger not quite phasing through makes your lips tingle and you fight the urge to lick them to rub away the strange itch.

Slowly, a low grating sound from above creeps through your ears, your heart begins to thump, and your throat constricts. Who on earth was up there at this time of the night? It was such an odd sound, like the scuff of heels and scrape of nails on metal. The sound echoes in your throat, then a thunderous bang cuts it sharply. You shudder, what were they doing? Whoever it was, they were growling and spitting as objects were flung high above. Your heart hammers in your chest, air frozen in your chest. Trying to swallow, but the fear has you in a panic. It sounded like the place was being utterly trashed, was it one of the colonists? But why?

Regardless of the reason, you had to stop them before they set the whole project back. Reaching for your earbud to get in contact, but a loud static-like noise fills your ears loudly and you pull it out in pain. Well that idea was bust, but you still couldn’t let this continue. Hissing, you go to stand, but a silvery blue aura pins your legs down and you can’t get up.

“Cr—” Your voice echoes before Cryptic could cut you off with his whole hand, the fuzzing completely numbing your lips, traveling along your tongue. Mercury-like sweat beads across the ridge of his brow as he scowls with a stiff smile.

The sounds above cease, a strange, eerie silence settles as a quiet and paced shuffling seems to search above. Then nothing, only the slight panting of whoever was up there. After minutes tick by, your mouth being silenced by Cryptic, the scuffling drags away, and you hear the centre’s door slide open with a whoosh.

Cryptic sighs, his smile not as full as usual, looking suspiciously above him.

“Who was that?” Your voice slightly breathless, a little high from fear.

He shrugs, a frown on his face while he strokes his fur, bones creasing the world behind it. His silence stretches with no end in sight, you shiver as a chill permeates deep inside your chest. First, floating skeletons? Now some aggressive colonist? What kind of job had Sven gotten you all into?

You can’t stop your teeth from chattering, Cryptic snaps his fingers and the blanket nearby slinks around your shoulders.

“know you need to chill out, but this is just chilly.

Frozen air thaws in your chest and rushes out as you hysterically laugh, “R-really? The same word in a row?”

“heh.”

The joke had done its job though, you felt warmer and the fear was ebbing away. There had to be a rational explanation to this. But as the punning skeleton stretches out with a yawn revealing a part of the universe, you rethink. Maybe there wasn’t.

Sans’ POV

“For the last time, can you stop pulling this crap!!!” Sans didn’t even have to dodge; the spanner went straight through him, which was perfect for his lazy habits. Peering down at your shoes, his smile grew larger, you hadn’t noticed that the back of the heel was smeared with ketchup. He sniggered, you were so easy to prank, and it was a great way to pass the time. Sans wasn’t sure why you could see him, but he wasn’t going to pass up a perfect o-pun-tunity.

It had been an amazing week, that flew by far too fast. Each prank you fell spectacularly for, his soul thudded in anticipation for each reaction. He watched as your face would turn into frowns, exasperated eye rolls, angry blushes, but all the time, you had this small twist of a smile in the corner of your lips. He loved how your soul would react, but as Papyrus would say, a gentleskeleton would never comment on a lady’s soul outloud.

You secretly loved his pranks as much as you hated them and that kept him going.

Sans greeted you with the classic hand raise, he couldn’t be bothered with waving, too much effort. Pausing, with a heavy scowl on your face, you grumble, “You got a name I can shout at you, when you’re being a jerk?”

Heh, honestly, he couldn’t muster the motivation to tell you, he’d only end up having to face all the questions you’d have for him. With you already badgering him for answers, he replied sans voice. It seemed to work since you mostly muttered to yourself, your theories wild and imaginative. He was amused by your current theory that he was some supernatural being guarding the space colony. Smiling at your question and he closed his eyes while he felt the growing frustration rise in your soul as it moved towards him.

“Why do I even bother talking to you? I really am losing the plot.” You grumbled in front of him as you bent to snatch up something, pushing him out of the way.

what.

Sans was stunned, you didn’t phase through him, you had affected him. It shouldn’t have been possible. Not when you were both in different parts of… “What?” You were frowning at him as you tied up your hair, then you glanced around, giving Sans time to rein in his shock.

“Really? That one wasn’t even funny.” He snorted at your obliviousness to what just happened and turned over in the air to mull over what was going on, idly listening to the ambience of you working away.

Since arriving here, no human had been able to see him, so he experimented a little when he was curious enough. First, he tried using his magic, when that worked, he moved stuff about to see if anyone noticed. Most complained of being forgetful, whilst others were suspicious. Then he tried to touch humans, he phased completely through them, no resistance whatsoever, nor could he use magic on them. That had been frustrating to find out and he felt a little defenceless, even if the humans couldn’t affect him in return.

Then along came you.

Speaking of, you tossed a packet of his all-time favourite condiment. Instinctively knowing when anything was coming towards him, he snatched it out of the air. It was a curious thing, using a mixture of magic, he could grab corporeal objects and affect them, he could even consume them if he so wanted. Yet, if he wasn’t using the magic actively, everything went through him. Sighing in pleasure as he drank away, he remembered all the failed attempts to try to eat, but it had been worth that particular effort.

“Addict.” You said for the fifth time this week, making him snort, reoccurring jokes never failed to amuse him. Sans liked your company, it was easy-going despite all the annoying questions, he had been pretty lonely without Papyrus and it was nice to find another love-hater of all that was punny. On top of that, he got to hear your slow descent into mock madness as you talked into your earbud. Sans never uttered a word to guide you along your theories, he’d react to the most absurd ones that caused him to laugh and snicker.

Watching as you chewed on your screwdriver absentmindedly, your eyes widened in amusement and you danced along the floor towards him. A grin stretched your features as you beamed at him, Sans briefly wondered what was going on for you to react like that.

“Crypt-ic. That’s your name.” With the smuggest expression Sans had seen, you smirked proudly at your own pun.

Wow. He couldn’t help it, the laughter bubbled out of him and spilled into the air around. It was amazing, so cool. Your face was flushed, and you smiled inwardly as he was bent over laughing in the air. Such a good pun could not go unanswered. Deciding it was worth it, he floated in front of you and held out his hand to a fellow comedian. Suspicion chased away your blushing cheeks, chuckling at your wariness, he pushed his hand into yours, which for some reason been covering your ears.

The strange sensation curled through his phalanges; a sweet, heavy pressure filled his senses. He could feel your calloused, yet warm hand resisting him passing through, his soul flickered with a little pulse at the thought. Drawing his attention back to the matter at hand (heh), he murmured deeply, “nice one.”

Surprised shot up your face, at the same speed your own hand rocketed through his and into your own arm. Glee filled his soul with amusement, if he had known how you were going to react like this, he might’ve spoken sooner. Your face scrunched up, then looked puzzled, your eyes glancing around blindly as you became absorbed in thought. Sans resisted the urge to snicker, in case he disturbed the array of facial expressions. It seemed so weird to him, watching how your skin contorted so easily. He was curious about what you were made of, since you clearly weren’t made of magic.

Eventually, your eyes began to refocus as he waited for you to stop then you uttered your own name. Hmmm, he quite liked it, not that he had any taste for names, but it rolled easily enough in his mouth. Thinking about it a bit more, he idly wondered who named you, what it meant and why you could see him.

Like lightening, your face flashed from shock to deep annoyance, you clenched your fists by your side and yelled, “YOU COULD SPEAK THIS WHOLE TIME!?” Sans laughed heartily and decided now was a good time to sleep out your temper.

#

Stars, maybe he shouldn’t have spoken after all. The incessant talking was ricocheting in his skull and he decided to bring back the silence in hopes you would stop. This just incited you more as you egged him to speak again, constantly questioning his existence and who he was, why he was here. Slowly, the questions became ranting and he went back to being amused as you inflicted your own questions on yourself. Nine whole hours you chatted away and you eventually said the only thing that seemed worth the answer.

“Seriously, is really that much effort to give me a yes or no, Cryptic?” You growled at him as you smacked a broken bolt, that had been giving you some trouble for fifteen minutes before you took to bashing it with a wrench.

“yeah.” Maybe you’d leave him alone. Or not.

“SERIOUSLY? Now you answer?” You pouted unhappily.

Sans shrugged, lazily grinning, your pouts were still amusing, even if you were being a huge pain in the coccyx.

“Okay, okay, I won’t ask anything more about you then. Since you obviously don’t want to help me prove that I’m not insane,” Finally. Now you were getting somewhere, Sans hoped that would be the end of the stream of questions. But somehow, you managed one more.

“So why all the pranks?” Oh?

“s’funny.”

“Not to me!” That curl to your lip returned, as you threw something away in mock anger.

“love ‘em really.” It was funny how shy you acted towards your love of his pranks.

Puffing up like an insulted Ice Cap, you tossed more stuff away as you scowled and huffed.

“Can you not do them when I’m working then?”

“…” Had he ever seen you stop since you got here?

“What?” You brushed away a strand of loose hair, looking exhausted, sweaty and messy. It was the look of someone who needed to learn how to relax.

“you’re always working.” You were as hard working as Papyrus, but even Papyrus knew when to rest and recover.

With dark smudges underneath, your eyes widened as your mouth opened and closed, you turned away and remained silent the rest of the evening.

#

You were shivering. What kind of idiot doesn’t put a blanket over themselves when they sleep? With a slow flick of his wrist, he pulled a blanket over the top of your trembling frame. Sighing, he closed his eyes as he was lulled to sleep by the gentle humming of your soul.

#

Sans’ sockets snapped open, his soul pulsing with aversion. Above him, he felt a dark pressure, as though someone stood directly on his sternum and it pushed out the air from his chest. Of course, he didn’t need to breathe, but it did help flush his magic clean, so this caused an irritating scratching feeling in his mouth and ‘throat’.

Struggling with all his might, he managed to finally sit upright and suck in a deep breath, clearing his already murky magic. As he sat panting with silvery sweat running down his skull and spine, he listened to the noises. An eerie hollow moan echoed through his skull and filled his skull with static. Sounds of scraping filled the air and they drew closer and closer.

Sans glanced to your sleeping body, but you only stirred once uncomfortably. Chomping on the tip of his index, he decided to just check-out what was happening. Not that it was any of his business in this world, but just to make sure.

Floating sluggishly to the hatch door, he pushed it slightly. Cautiously peeking through the gap, he glanced around. Stiffening when his attention is drawn to a shadow laying across the floor in front of the hatch. Its shadow bobbed up and down as heavy panting shook its frame. Sans shivered, about to pull back when a huge box came streaking across the room and slammed into the hatch, causing Sans’ magic to falter and he fell back below the vent.

A gasp instantly drew his attention as he watched you flail in the blanket and you instantly sat upright with a wild-eyed bleary look. Confusion spreading across your face as you belatedly registered the loud sound. Quickly, your attention focused on him, a small irate gleam flickered in your eyes.

“Wha-?”

Sans felt panic tickle his soul and he quickly silenced you with his finger to your lips. Slightly distracted by the numbing feeling spreading in his finger, he watched the hatch door, but he could see the thrown box’s shadow between the grates blocking you and him inside.

As the scraping escalated into a flurry of anger and smashing, he felt your heart and soul thumping through your lips against his magic. Fear crept slowly and your body jolted in pain as a loud hiss of static poured out of your earbuds, forcing you to throw them away. Sans felt he could trust you to not do anything stupid as you sat frightened and in fresh pain, so he lowered his finger down.

So, what did you do? With a determined, frightened face, you tried to stand up and take on whatever was out there. Sans should’ve known, he was dumbstruck but reactively pinned you down to the floor. Why did he do that? He wasn’t quite sure, but damn the stars if he was going to let the only person who could see him go up into that dark pressure. Irritation twisted your features and you went to berate him, “Cr—” Sans was already in motion to cut you off, but some sound leaked out to echo across the core room.

The sounds above cease, a strange, eerie silence settled as a quiet and paced shuffling seemed to search above. Sans felt the pressure shift from anger to a focused fury as it hunted. As the minutes ticked by, its fury mounted to a point that it needed to vent and the pressure stalked away.

Sighing, he couldn’t help the curiosity that struck a chord in him. Something felt wrong about this whole situation.

“Who was that?” Your voice slightly breathless, a little high from fear.

He shrugged as he idly stroked his jacket’s fur, who indeed. At this point, a thousand ideas formed in his skull and equally were debunked as he ticked them off.

You couldn’t stop your teeth from chattering, the sound would normally make Sans feel a bit queasy. Instead, he felt a strange worry, so he snapped his fingers and the blanket nearby floated till it sunk around your shoulders.

“know you need to chill out, but this is just chilly.

First, surprise widened your eyes, then a broken laugh spilled from your lips and a tight smile that didn’t quite reach your worry filled eyes spread as you huskily whispered, “R-really? The same word in a row?”

“heh.” A strange tightness eases in Sans’ soul as you relaxed into the blanket.

Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, he mused. There was a rational explanation to this, but it didn’t necessarily mean that it would be rational to him. Glancing from the corner of his socket, not only were you a human that shouldn’t be able to see him, you had managed to physically touch him with no hint of magic. Yawning as he spotted your eyes darting to him, he chuckled to himself, so what kind of being would all this make sense to?

Chapter Text

Well, just sitting around wasn’t going to solve the mystery of what just happened. Eyeing up Cryptic warily, making sure you were no longer pinned down, you stood up gingerly. Brushing yourself down and wiping the cold sweat from your brow, you listen once more for any sounds.

Only the distant creak of resting metal answers back, so with one hand on the ladder, you heave yourself up to the hatch. Somehow, a box had been pushed up right to the entrance and you bang your shoulder against the metal plate. The box barely budges, but it was enough to look through a small gap.

A slight gasp catches in your throat as you peer outside. Strewn about the floor, you catch glimpses of heavy, expensive machinery laying in broken piles. God, what had happened? You desperately try to open the hatch, but it’s heavy weight presses on it keeping it glued shut. A cool breeze behind you makes you aware that Cryptic has sidled up behind you. Holding out his hand, you see the tell-tale glow of his powers as the blockade slides to the side.

Too grateful to be irked that he hadn’t helped sooner; you scramble out of the core room and out onto the centre’s floor. You couldn’t believe your eyes, it looked like a giant child had a temper tantrum and threw the repair equipment around as easily as chucking toys.

As you walk around numbly in the devastation, you see what look like scorch marks slashing the floor open. Touching one, it almost felt hot still and you flinch backwards. Who would do such a thing?

Closing your eyes, you reorganise your thoughts and walk over to a table, sifting through the mess looking for a tablet. Upon finding one, you slap open emergency comms to Sven and fidget as you wait.

His clear, stern tone calling your name in concern rang out through the mic, instantly filling you with relief, “Give me an overview on what’s happening right now.”

Quick to the point, you explained rapidly about the situation in the training centre.

“I’ll be right over, while you wait, I want you to start documenting the damage. I will be bringing this up to Seymour and the higher ups, as well as the team when they wake up. No word of this to anyone else for now.” The call ended and you picked up another dusty tablet, patting them both down.

Turning around, you see Cryptic floating around as though not interested in the mess around him.

With a timid smile, you hold up a spare tablet up to him, “Think you can help out, Cryptic?”

Not bothering to reply, the tablet just glows with a silvery blue shimmer and it floats about smoothly recording the side opposite to you. Smiling gratefully, you shuffle around in companionable silence. Sometimes, a noise would startle you and Cryptic would pause to look over you curiously. You could only wave that you were okay.

But you weren’t okay. The more you recorded the damage the more you realised the strength of this person that had caused this chaos. What if you had gone out of the hatch when you tried to? By stopping you, Cryptic had probably saved you from any harm.

Sighing in relief, you couldn’t help but look at the lazy skeleton in admiration. The nebula fluff nestles around his skull perfectly as he frowns at the tablet like a forced chore and while scratching his jaw, his eyelights catch your staring.

Swoosh

The doors fling apart and Sven strides with purpose into the room. His sharp eyes drinking in every detail as his permanent frown deepens, wrinkling his scar to a more distorted form. Coming close to you, he takes in your flushing cheeks and cold sweaty appearance and allows himself to sigh.

“Come.” Sven orders and marches you along the corridors. You were thinking it felt familiar when the medical ward’s doors opened wide. Dr Fahren turned around with a surprised expression and stood up abruptly.

“Any thing wrong, Captain?” Fahren sidesteps around Sven to have a closer look at you.

Putting on his official business smile, Sven gestures loosely, “Just a check-up, that’s all.”

“Captain, I’m f-“ A slight dizziness has you suddenly dipping to the side. Dr Fahren catches you deftly and feels your clammy skin.

“Ah, it seems to be shock.” Gently moving you over to a bed, Dr Fahren rests you down and raises your legs up with a cushion. As he begins to unbutton the top of your shirt, you try to wriggle from his grasp, but his firm, gentle hands keep you from moving. When you stop wiggling, he leans back and covers you with a blanket. Already feeling better surrounded by people, you felt a little bit stupid laying on the bed, but a stern look from both Sven and Dr Fahren stops you from getting back up.

“What ever happened?” The doctor turned to Sven with obvious curiosity.

“An incident.”

The doctor frowns, clearly unimpressed and turns back to you with concern. “Just rest here for a moment. I’ll run some more tests just to be safe.” He pats your arm affectionately and returns to his desk.

Sven settles down beside the bed, “Tell me everything, no detail left out this time.” You shrink into the blanket, already knowing you’d need to leave out Cryptic.

#
After explaining the whole scene, all the way from the loud bang waking you up to what you observed whilst recording, you end up sitting there waiting while Sven rubs his grizzly morning stubble.

“Hmm.” Sven mutters and you open your mouth to ask what his thoughts were, but Dr Fahren returns with a smile.

“Everything seems to have come out clear, again just some dehydration and a little malnourishment this time but visiting the mess hall a few times will sort that out.”

After hearing the doctor’s report, Sven sighs and stands up, “Thank you, Dr Fahren. I’ll be returning back to work for now.” Turning towards you, he gives you one more glance over, “When you’re ready, come meet me back at the training centre.”

Leaving at a brisk march, Sven takes another look and then walks out of the door with a swish.

Dr Fahren raises a brow and turns to you questioningly. You could only shrug your shoulders and shake your head, if Sven wasn’t going to discuss it to the doctor, you could hardly divulge. Sighing, Dr Fahren smiles knowingly and tells you to rest for a few moments.

Listening to his fading steps, you turn over to snuggle into the blanket awkwardly. Staring you right in the face were two frowning sockets looking at you with…disappointment? Cryptic lounges on the bed next to you, scratching his fibula with his slipper.

Whispering harshly, “Cryptic?! What are you doing here?”

He huffs, face disinterested in you but still not budging from the bed.

“Cryptic…”

Yawning, he ignores you and rubs his pom-pom between his fingertips.

“Cryptic, you can’t be here!” You urge him to leave, but he just snorts derisively.

Jumping when you hear Dr Fahren’s voice calling your name out in mild worry, you try to hide Cryptic with the blanket…But it just phases through him…right, you forgot about that…

“Are you alright? Anything the matter?” You feel your face flush with embarrassment as the doctor walks back over and you feel Cryptic’s stare boring into you.

“No, nothing Dr Fahren.” A nervous smile spreads across your face and you can tell that he doesn’t quite believe you. As Dr Fahren sits down next to you, telling you that you can talk to him anytime if there’s a problem, you begin to notice the blanket slipping, the mattress moving…suspiciously.

The next thing you know, you’re trying to stand up to stop yourself from spilling to the floor when the mattress slips from under you. You feel yourself falling forwards and Dr Fahren’s handsome face comes rushing towards you, his glasses sparkling in shock… a loud crash is heard, and a hard tug pulls you to the ground forcing you to land harshly on your knees.

“Goodness! What on earth happened?” Dr Fahren rushes to pick you up and you hiss when your leg stings, a trickle of blood already flowing through your work trousers.

Seeing that there was no serious harm, Dr Fahren smiles at you with a mischievous glint in his eyes, “Do you need a plaster?” You begin to shake your head, “Cause I think you’ve scraped your knee falling for me.”

Your mouth drops open, you can’t believe he’s using another pick up pun. You hear a gagging, strangled sound behind you as you look at the doctor with a creeping blush.

Clearing his throat with a shy grin, “Well, I think that’s enough of that. Let’s get that knee sorted before I let you go back.”

#

With a moping Cryptic trailing behind you, you walk carefully back towards the training centre. As the doors open, you see the team gathered in a circle with Sven pointing out various equipment. Entering, they turn towards you, Josh and Jane smiling worriedly.

“Ya alrite, hon?” Jane whispers to you as you walk to her side. You nod softly and Jane squeezes your hand endearingly.

“What I wanna know is who fucking did this shit?!” A team member named Sam shouts out in exasperation. You could agree, you wish you had managed to spot the person.

“None of the colonists should have access to this area. So, someone with clearance had to have done this.” Another frustrated voice yells.

“And the only one who “heard” this person is someone who mentions freaking skeletons the first day, not only that but she’s been acting weird all week. Are we really going to trust someone like that right now?” Sam continues, his large frame expressing his anger.

Excuse me? Jane’s hand tightens around yours before letting go when you step forward.

“What do you mean by that?” You cut in irritated.

Scoffing, Sam turns to you with hostile eyes, “You’re ‘working’ all day and yet nothing gets done. You’re so far behind that maybe you decided to trash up the place so everyone else’s progress was fucked.”

“How dare you; I’ve been working with this team for years!” You scowl, hurt and upset by their accusation.

“I fucking dare because all my hard work has been fucked up. Not that you’d understand when you’re just fucking about. We all seen you stay down there in that room…Yeah, speaking of that.” He thrusts out his tablet towards you, snarling, “Normally, we can track each other, right? But you see here on this map, you suddenly blip off last night. When all this shit was going down, were you really down in the hatch or were you up here smashing up the place?”

Everything feels tight and close as Sam further presses his point, “Do comms really just conveniently go off like that during this shit? Or maybe…” He leans back with a malicious grin.

“This was all just an accident. You meet a nice colly-boy, you turn off your comms and have a midnight fuck. You guys just got a bit too rowdy, you know?” He sneers nastily, “Would explain all the other nights you stayed here and still didn’t get any work done.”

“Fuckin’ bac’ off Sam, yer overgrown twa’!” Jane steps in and shoves Sam backwards, moving in front of you as if to protect you. “Who ya think ya are, huh? Yer jus’ a noobie who only been here fer a year! Wha’ d’ya kna ‘bout me girl!”

Sam bristles, “Well, maybe when she’s normal. But you can’t deny she’s been acting fucking loopy, pranking people and giggling to herself out of nowhere! Maybe she fucking caught something off that colly boy!”

Sven finally cuts in, annoyed at the squabbling, “We’ve all been working together for years, we all know that we can trust each other. It is unlikely that any one of us would do this act if we were in our right minds.” Sven gestures towards you and you feel your stomach hollow out, “We’ve already been to the medical ward to get assessed by Dr Fahren, there is no issue with her health.”

What? Sven hadn’t brought you to the medical ward to make sure you felt better after being frightened? You remember his sigh and his glances towards you. Sven had taken you there to see if you were the criminal. You felt the blood drain from your face, and you step backwards.

Jane calls your name and turns to shout at the others, “Are ya bastards blind o’ summit? Tak’ a fuckin’ look around, ya think she did tha’?”

Despite hearing her defending words, you were already running far away from your team, your friends, your family. How could they not trust you? After all these years, how could they think that this was you?!

Confused, you look around in an empty hallway and see an opening in one of the side vents that needs repairing. Crawling inside, you curl up on yourself and cry quietly to yourself. Everything felt a bit too much, how were you supposed to handle what was going on?

You wish you were like Jane, able to deflect and attack with words to shut any insult out, her confidence making it easy to prove her strong will. Opening your eyes, you see a speckling silver light dance along your skin and you turn to see Cryptic staring at you.

You try to smile; you really do but it turns into an ugly sob and you lean back into your knees to hide your leaking tears. Without saying a word, you feel him comfort you as he sits down by your side. Quietly, you lament to him about your troubles and he frowns for a just a moment before his smooth skull clears up, listening to you intently.

Bit by bit, your vision blackens and you fall into a deep slumber. For a moment, it feels like you’re leaning on a fluffy cloud that smells like a sweet rainbow fruit doused in ketchup.

Chapter Text

Sans had spent ten minutes watching you fumble with the metal hatch, during that time he sent a tendril of his magic to trail outside after the dreadful presence. The probing magic twisted and turned down the corridors before it came to a dead end and the aura was nowhere to be felt. Clicking his teeth together in annoyance, he stretched out, drawing back his effort and continued to observe you futilely shoving at the vent. But when he noticed the skin on your shoulder had started to graze, Sans decided to come help.

Floating behind, he eyed a bruise that had begun to form and scowled. It was a cinch really to push the box aside, but Sans never liked to put in more effort than what was worth doing. In the end, what was the point in doing so? He sighed as you scrambled out of the core room, then resigned himself to following you.

As soon as he had floated out after you, the heavy residual pressure of that dark aura crushed him, and he felt his magic quickly becoming supressed. Staggered, Sans tried to pull his magic together, a bead of sweat trickling down his chin. The thick, cloying air got stuck in his mouth and left it tasting like rot. Slowly, he formed a little protective cover around his soul and the weight lifted enough for him to take in the details of the room.

You were already bent over a tablet, in a panic, gasping as you held back tears while you spoke about what had just happened. Surrounding you was utter chaos; someone had come through and utterly destroyed the place. Sans felt his soul cringe at the sight of so much effort gone to waste. See? Even if you did work hard, something will always come along and mess it up.

Lost in his thoughts, he remembered flashes of blue petals, high-pitched laughter and vines as cold as space. A shiver ran down his spine, he felt a little lost until you appeared next to him.

A flush of warmth soothed his unsettled soul as you smiled sheepishly, “Think you can help out, Cryptic?” You waggled a tablet to demonstrate what you wanted.

Now, Sans wasn’t sure what to do but he took it anyway, not revealing he was stumped. Twisting the tablet this way and that with his magic, he noticed it was on a video recording, he’d seen Paps use this when displaying his puzzles online. With an assured flick, he clicked it on and let his magic lazily take both him and the tablet around the room.

Sans wasn’t paying attention at first, he recorded the splashed-out contents of toolboxes, the disarray of smashed up electronics and torn out wires. However, he soon noticed the strange sights around him. How boxes far too heavy for a simple human had been flung across the floor. Dents further up the walls, too tall for even Paps to reach. Then along to his left, a large, dense box sported a heavy cut that had been gouged out. Though it wasn’t just the fact that it looked like someone had cut a hot knife through butter that shocked Sans. No, it was something else.

Investigating closer, he held out a shaking hand. Holding up his fingers to the cut, a hot searing pain rushed up his bones and he pulled back, rubbing a strange residue between his fingers.

this shouldn’t be here. Sans thought to himself.

But it was.

Bang.

A loud noise had you squealing and hopping on the spot, causing Sans to glance over towards you. You waved at him, assuring him you were fine. Sighing and looking around, he saw the culprit, a sheet of metal had fallen forwards with an unusual handprint dented inside of it.

Sans frowned.

What was going on?

Scratching his chin while his thoughts flung all over the place, flickers of memories and traces of voices whispered through his skull. Then a pair of twisted, grinning eyes flashed in his mind and the sensation of being watched hit him hard making him nauseous. In an instant, his eyelights instantly latched on to yours and his nausea faded.

Warm, beautiful eyes—

Swoosh

A man with a powerful stride (who Sans knows now as Sven) marches into the room, instantly taking in the situation and takes you away. Shaking his head, he followed along, noting that he had never been this way before.

#

His nose ridge hurt. Sans browbones were nearly touching his bridge when the ‘doctor’ had started to unbutton your shirt. Claiming it was shock as he tried to reveal your neckline while all you could do is wriggle helplessly under his pinning hands.

Blue magic rose up from his soul as he agitatedly rolled back and forth in the air behind you, watching this ‘doctor’s’ every move. Sans didn’t like the obvious interest he was giving you; it was…suspicious. Who watches someone that much? This ‘doctor’ was definitely up to no good. Sans clicked his teeth together.

When the ‘doctor’ touched your arm, giving it a strange, lingering pet, Sans wanted to flip the tray of syringes. Making shooing noises when the ‘doctor’ walked off, Sans noticed that your attention was taken by Sven (who was sitting a bit too closely) while you retold the whole story…leaving him out.

Tch.

When that smarmy ‘doctor’ came back, the smile on his face gave Sans the chills. Honestly, it looked like the ‘doctor’ would try to eat you alive if he could. Sans shuddered and scowled, scooting a little closer to you, nearly resting on the bed. But you didn’t notice him, to his disappointment. Your eyes seemed to be locked onto the ‘doctor’.

After the ‘doctor’ reported his findings, Sven sighed, giving you a sad, concerned look and eventually left you and the ‘doctor’ ALONE together. Worse of all, you looked like you were completely alright with this fact. The ‘doctor’ raised his eyebrow to you and as if you read his mind, you shook your head and smiled apologetically.

Only when the ‘doctor’ was away from your sight did you finally notice him.

“Cryptic?! What are you doing here?”

You’re acting like he wasn’t here the whole time, why did he waste his time coming along with you, if all you were going to do is ignore him. Huffing, Sans stayed still, ignoring you instead.

“Cryptic…”

Sans twiddled with the soft pom-pom between his bones, stars, he loved his hoodie. Yawning, he continued to focus on everything but you. Giving you a taste of your own medicine.

“Cryptic, you can’t be here!”

heh. What, scared your ‘doctor’ buddy will see him? Ashamed to be pals with a skeleton? Or do you really like the ‘doctor’ that much? Sans was picking at a loose star on his pom-pom when the bed jolted, and something was flung over the top of him.

Really? You tried to cover him up from the ‘doctor’ with a blanket? Sans phased through the blanket with a heavy glare, but you weren’t paying attention (again.)

“Are you alright? Anything the matter?”

At his grating voice, you were blushing. BLUSHING! Since you liked puns, Sans really thought you had better taste than that. He wrinkled his brow again as you simpered at the ‘doctor’ with a smile. That’s when the ‘doctor’ began to sit on the bed next to you, his hand creeping closer, telling you how you could rely on him.

Sans snorted, watching that hand slide over to you, but you didn’t seem to notice it. Using his blue magic, Sans slowly shifted the mattress and blanket away from the ‘doctor’, hoping he’d fall, and you’d see what a creep he was.

Your soul flared with panic and you stumbled to get up, jolting Sans who accidently pulled the bed harshly. Falling forwards towards the ‘doctor’s’ face, Sans could see the ‘doctor’ look almost eager to meet you.

not happening. Sans shifted his magic to wrap around your soul, a flood of ghostlike memories flooding him and he pulled you down to the ground. A self-satisfied smile curled his mouth when the ‘doctor’ stood stupidly, silent from the shock.

“Goodness! What on earth happened?”

Sans’ smile dropped when the smell of blood hit his nose. Concerned, he held out a hand to touch you, but the ‘doctor’ pulled you up out of his reach.

“Do you need a plaster? Cause I think you’ve scraped your knee falling for me.”

Grind…grind Sans’ teeth smashed and ground themselves together at the terrible joke. It was downright disgusting, so obvious what the ‘doctor’ was playing at. Sans could feel the ketchup wanting to rematerialize and spew from his mouth.

Then you gaped, a smile twitching at your lips and a flush to your cheeks, that’s when Sans felt the sauce bubbling in his mouth and dripping down his chin. If you laughed at a joke of that calibre, well what did that say about his puns? Of course, that was the only reason he was annoyed.

“Well, I think that’s enough.” Oh Stars, was it enough. Sans needed you out of this room as soon as possible and as far away from this creep as he could get you.

#

Sans couldn’t stop hearing the pun play through his head.

Fall for me, fall for me.

It was awful. How could you smile at that? Sans couldn’t help but feel almost defeated by the fact. There had been so much promise in your humour, now this. You were falling for a damn playboy ‘doctor’s’ petty pun. Shaking his head, he let out another drawn out sigh.

#

Sans didn’t really want to listen to this ranting, but he stuck around for some reason.

“What I wanna know is who fucking did this shit!?” A tall, burly man yelled, Sans idly thought if this man would’ve tried to stand up to see what was going on in that situation, like you had. Sans doubted it.

“And the only one who “heard” this person is someone who mentions freaking skeletons the first day.” This didn’t look like it was leading anywhere good, so Sans straightened up from his relaxed posture. “Are we really going to trust someone like that?”

You got a problem with skeletons, bud? Sans floated forward when you took a step forward, worried that you looked so small compared to this Asgore-sized pea-brain.

“What do you mean by that?” Sans had never heard your voice go so deep and dark with irritation.

Sans felt his own annoyance flare up as the man before you belittled you and accused you of destroying the area. How could you? All you did was work…and yet the reason you were being blamed was because Sans had never stopped getting in your way…

Shame made his cheeks dust with silver and he bit his mouth line in self-hate. You had asked him over and over to stop pranking, that you were working. Did he stop? No. Yet Sans didn’t have long to wallow in his emotions.

“Do comms really just conveniently go off like that during this shit? Or maybe…” Sans felt as though a rock had dropped into his soul as the man’s face contorted into a taunting grin.

“This was all just an accident. You meet a nice colly-boy, you turn off your comms and have a midnight fuck. You guys just got a bit too rowdy, you know? Would explain all the other nights you stayed here and still didn’t get any work done.”

Sans felt his eyelights disappear, his field of vision widening, yet his focus narrowed down on to every slight movement of this man. Slight vibrations shook Sans’ frame as slow burning anger took hold of him.

w h a t

For the first time since Sans had arrived at this strange world, he wished he was visible. As magic coiled up, little silvery snaps of magic sparked from his bones, Sans felt that he dearly wanted to see the moment that this man’s face dropped in fear.

Sans was many things, but an idiot wasn’t one of them. He knew fine well what the man was not so subtly implying. Cracking his index finger, he allowed his magic form.

Jane cuts in, disrupting Sans’ train of thought as she shoved Sam backwards, yelling at his face. Her wizened features crinkled in disgust as she berated the overgrown lump. When the argument grew more heated, Sven eventually spoke up, “We’ve all been working together for years, we all know that we can trust each other. It is unlikely that any one of us would do this act if we were in our right minds.”

Sans wondered at the wording, was he suggesting something? Suddenly, Sans felt your soul plummet in shock, twisting around to face you, he watched as your face paled and your lips trembled.

“We’ve already been to the medical ward to get assessed by Dr Fahren, there is no issue with her health.”

Ah, Sans understood your feelings now. Sans felt your turmoil course in your soul as you turned on your heels and fled the room. Sans left to chase after you, but not before tying the laces of Sam’s shoes together.

You hadn’t gotten far; Sans followed the trail of your soul’s energy. When he caught up, he was a little puzzled, you were no-where to be seen, but a little sniff drew his attention downwards into a barely open vent.

Curled up in a sobbing mess, Sans felt his will break a little and he shuffled close to you. Your swollen eyes looked at him tearfully and your face crumpled.

“C-cryptic…”

His soul felt like it was bleeding.

“What am I going to do Cryptic? They don’t believe me! They think…” You gasped, holding a hand to your mouth, “Am I really crazy? Are you real, Cryptic?”

Sans didn’t say anything, he couldn’t. What could he say to convince you that he wasn’t some figment of your imagination?

“I tried so hard, Cryptic. I tried so hard to keep working, to catch up. But there’s so much work to do…” The guilt welled up, threatening to take him down into your mood.

All he could do was listen, taking in all your words. Eventually, your defensive curl loosened before you slumped against him, fast asleep. Sans stroked your tear stained face sadly. In response, you mumbled and snuggled at his fingertips.

“Cryptic…”

Whispering your name back, he dried your face and leaned back. With his sockets drifting shut, he let himself feel the strange sensation of your body heat affecting his.

Chapter Text

Halting uncertainly, you looked left then right. A strange static overlays your vision making the surrounding corridor dim and fuzzy.
Had the light system faltered? Squinting, you move forward to see if you need to go fix the grid. But where to go?

.-.. .. ... - . -. .-.-.-

Closing your pretty much useless eyes, you listen, ears straining. A faint buzz hums along the walls and you stretch your fingers along it feeling for the reverberations.

Like a line going taut, the humming tightens and pulls you along. You hope that this leads to a working system, but all it does is pull you towards a blank dead screen.

Sighing, you press the screen multiple times, fruitlessly hoping that the 14th button press would work by a miracle. Obviously, it didn’t, and you lean backwards to look around the corner. More bleak darkness.

Frowning, you puzzle over how to navigate through this strange event.

.-- .- - -.-. ....

The screen flickers, a green hand with a hole cut out points to the left. Confused, you look back around the corner again. A faint, glimmering light glints in the distance. Maybe this was this colony’s emergency routine?

Trusting the system, you walk towards the next light. Another green hand points the way, then another and another. Moving from sign to sign, your head squeezes uncomfortably, it feels like you were forgetting something. As soon as the thought crosses your mind, to your right you see a new corridor yawn open.

Had that been there before?

Curious, you take a step forward towards it. The hand next to you switches quickly to an insistent yellow stop pose. A soft creak further in the corridor has you looking up just in time to see a shadow float across the back wall.

Cryptic?

Even now that skeleton was causing you trouble, you chuckle to yourself and take another step. A screen appeared immediately to your right with that insistent yellow hand, urging you to stop. As you look at it longer, it switches back to green, pointing for you to go backwards helpfully. You smile, grateful it would show the way back when you got Cryptic.

.-- .- - -.-. ....

More hands appear, it seemed almost every step had a screen suddenly. At least you wouldn’t get lost this way and press forward still. Slowly, you begin to recognise the corridors for the training centre, the hands almost plaster the walls in yellow symbols, but you no longer saw them really.

The shadow appears again, scurrying along the walls, so you quicken your pace to try and catch up.

“Cryptic?”

Maybe the skeleton had come back to look for you in the core room? As you turn around into the final corridor, a huge red holographic hand hovers in front of the electronic doors. Had the zone been shut down?

As the temporary colony engineer, you had to check out what was happening. The current situation was far too unclear for you to know what to do right now. Activating your EPS, you step forward through the hologram. A bright light almost blinds you as hundreds of red hands blipped up, screeching a warning and strange garbled text float in the air.

The system must really be malfunctioning, but you still had to go ahead and find out what lay behind this door.

As though they heard your thoughts, the red hands immediately disappear and leave your eyes swimming with the afterimages. You take a moment’s breath before you take the last step towards the doors, tugging them open forcefully.

White light fills your vision, as the sight of the training centre appears before you. It was pristine, the core engine was raised from the platform below and revealed the core for all to see. Instantly you feel the weightlessness as you begin to drift from the floor.

Only a singular piece was missing, you smile, feeling the weight in your pocket. You must’ve brought it with you to fit the last bit in, you pull out a slightly curved metal shell. The inside reminds you of Cryptic’s fluff and it shimmers a rainbow light across your fingers.

Elated that the job must be nearly finished, you drift over, ready to complete your mission on this colony.

A low whisper comes along a faint breeze that lightly pushes you to the side. You look up with confusion.

What was that?

Curious, you tilt your head and turn around. Was there someone here?

The sound came again, the breeze now stronger till you end up standing to the side, holding onto some tool crates left behind. The whisper became louder, surging to a wail, mournful and pitiful.

A prickle creeps along your arms and neck, making your hair stand on end. The wailing was like a banshee, starting low before creeping up in an agonising pitch. Was someone in pain? You go to stand, but your legs feel as though something is wrapping tight around them. Frozen in place, you helplessly listen.

Bit by bit, a faint sound like something heavy being dragged along the floor slinks closer. The clunky shuffling was the only sound to punctuate the weeping. The door that you had pulled open before, now creaks, a gloved hand wraps around the edge and forcefully pulls it aside.

You duck behind the crates, breath hitching in your throat.

Click..click..click..

The sound of someone’s steps echo in the room, steadily you wait till they stop before peeking cautiously around the edge of the box. It was as if the figure had brought a cape of darkness inside with them, inky goo clung to the ceiling and fell across the floor in clumps of writhing worms. The light rapidly fades as the black slithers outwards, slowly encompassing the room. Observing closer, you see that the tall figure was completely encased in the darkness as well, only their lipless twisted grin shows.

Reaching out towards the core, the inky tendrils snap from their hands and latch on to the core, dying its rainbow brilliance in grey. You gasp out loud.

The figure stiffens and turns around deliberately and where there should’ve been eyes, only empty sockets stare at you. Scrambling backwards away from the figure, it lurches forward, it’s smile stretching more and more.

Unable to break your gaze away, you feel as though you’re being sucked into its sockets. Your body lifts up and a wind blows past you. As you stare ahead, you realise you are no longer looking into vacant sockets but an endless hole that you were falling down.

Looking up towards what should be the ceiling, you see a rapidly shrinking light closing as a figure continues to stare down at you. The tunnel seals shut and you no longer know which way you fall.

.-.. .. ... - . -. .-.-.-

Closing your eyes shut again, you hear a faint tinkling of glass and try to reach out towards it. The colour red blinds you and you feel a cut open across your fingertips. Scared, you blink your eyes and see large pieces of a shattered mirror slowly twirl around you.

Trying to peer into one, a mirror shard swirls closer and pauses. At first, you see a dark figure around you then it shines once before you see your team members glare at you in fury and disgust. Even Jane’s old eyes are filled with distain. Everyone mouths out of sync with the words that echo from the mirror.

“Can’t trust you.”

“What a freak.”

“Just leave us alone.”

“Were you even working?”

“Bet she was just fucking around.”

“Could’ve caught anything really.”

“Can’t Sven just scrap her already.”

“You let the project fail.”

“The core was destroyed because of you.”

“You let us all down.”

The words continued to run rampant, repeating around in circles till they blended into one voice. It plucks and fills your head so you desperately try to cover your ears, shirking from the hatred that dribbles from the mirror.

“You’ll kill us all.” Their merged voice screams at you and the mirror smashes.

In the black shattered pieces, you see your reflection staring at you wide eyed. Your chest heaves up and down, your breath starts steaming up your EPS helmet, till you can no longer see through it.

When the steam clears, another mirror is in front of you. Blue petals fall behind you before the image shines twice and you’re facing the colony leader’s streaming face.

You see Seymour’s walking orb covered in cracks as his bleeding fingers dig in deep, but still he hobbles along, his eyes aflame.

“I’ll kill them.”

“I’ll kill them.”

He mutters repeatedly.

“Monsters, the lot of them.”

“Better off dead.”

“My boy, where’s my boy?”

As if knowing that you were looking, his eyes turn to you, “This is your fault. If only you weren’t here.”

Seymour staggers towards the mirror, towards you.

“You crazy bitch, I’ll kill you!” He raises his orb and smashes it against the mirror, the blood of his fingers splattering across the cracks.

Once more, your broken reflection stares at you. Your chin quakes as your teeth chatter and terror fills your heart. What was happening? But before you could think more on it, you hear the distinct sound of a skeleton floating by.

“Cryptic?” You cry out helplessly.

A slight swish of air makes you turn around hopefully, but only another mirror faces you silently. Shaking your head, you feel an ominous sensation creep up inside.

It shines thrice, before a Cryptic with empty sockets stares at you. In his hands, he clutches a pair of red gloves.

“y o u”

Cryptic didn’t have to say any more, his shaking bones curl around the leather gloves, his entire being conveys his utter loathing. Silver tears drop, a soft pitter patter on the fabric.

His sockets flare with pure hatred, a bright nebula pours from his narrowed eyelights.

The mirror shatters.

A soothing voice coils around you as if petting you gently, you curl up into the dulcet tone.

“You can’t do anything, so just let it all happen. Let go of the pain.”

Your agony slowly melts away, darkness coiling around your feet, pulling you under.

.-- .- - -.-. ....

Peeking upwards, a blue petal rotates above you, sparkling. One side shimmers as it reflects Cryptic banging on glass.

The darkness around you draws backwards turning into a blue and black void with the specks of cold stars glinting in the expanse. The air is ripped from your lungs, ice forms along your lips, your body feels on fire and a pressure tries to push your insides outwards.

You were falling backwards and before you, the reappearing training room seems to be ripped asunder, pieces of metal floating into the space around you. Just ahead, the broken core twirls around in a shattered mess, everything fading away.

Tears crystallise painfully in your rapidly frosting eyes, but a movement far away makes you shift your sight. In the distance, Cryptic desperately bangs on the glass windows of the training room door, shouting your name. But you can’t hear his cries, only pure silence surrounds you.

Slowly his arm comes through the door and it grips the other side, urgently trying to pull the rest of his body through. His eyelights look agonised as he claws dents into the door.

... .--. . .- -.-

Even with no air, from your mouth a single word spills out.

“SANS!”

Around you two enormous hands close shut and you disappear between the holes.

Gasping awake, you lurch forwards and lean straight into familiar arms. Jane instantly wraps herself around you, pulling you gently from the vent. Her voice croons, calming you down, “S’alright gal, s’alright. Justah dream. S’all a dream.”

You can’t help the bubbling bawl that breaks out nor the thick, hot tears splashing out across Jane’s shoulder. Clutching as though the world is breaking around you, you let the torrent of emotions stream forth.

Chapter Text

Slowly pulling backwards, you smile tearfully at Jane, thanking her for the hug. She waves off your thanks, “Nee problem, gal. Hav’ ya been sleepin’ ‘ere all night?”

It was already the next day? Disorientated, you look around. You notice that Cryptic wasn’t around and a deflated sigh escapes you.

Jane cocks her head, “So, wanna tell me wha’ tha’ was all ‘bout?”

Puzzling, you realise you no longer remember the nightmare, “Must’ve just been about ruining this for everyone.”

Jane growls, “I’ll wrin’ tha’ twat Sam’s neck fer makin’ ya cry! Man, ya shudda seen ‘ow ‘e fell afta ya left. Bloody nonce tied ‘is lace ta’getha, busted ‘is nose righ’ up.” You laugh, her threats and his misfortune making light of the heavy feeling squashing down your chest. With the laugh, a gurgle from your stomach squeezes out and you flush from embarrassment as Jane wheezes heartily at your red face.

With Jane’s arm swung around your shoulders, you let yourself be pulled to the dining hall yet again. The heavenly scent of baked goods fills the air and you spy a feast of breads and pastries.

Pains forgotten in front of the luxurious food, you pull yourself onto a bench with Jane and snatch a particularly tasty looking bun. Tearing bit by bit into the hot bun, you look around to see the dining hall is decorated like a pastel Earth café. It was an extremely sweet feeling to see people mill around happily in the bright atmosphere.

As with most café themed places, you see a stash of ketchup packets that were squashed into a cup at the top of the table. Smiling to yourself, you make a mental note to take as many as you could for Cryptic.

Speaking of Cryptic, you wonder where he could’ve disappeared to. All you remembered was crying on him and the next thing you know, you’re being hugged by Jane.

“Oh, I must be lucky to see my favourite patient twice in the same day.” You knew that voice and turn around to see Dr. Fahren smiling happily. Jane chokes a laugh into her cinnamon swirl and turns away to cough. You glare before smiling back at the doctor.

“Well perhaps I’ll be seeing you more often since you’ll be having plenty of free time.”

“Huh?” You ask dumbly.

“Your week’s rest?” He looks genuinely puzzled and curls a finger along his lower lip.

You twist to look at Jane in confusion.

Jane looks guiltily at the doctor’s words, “Ah was goin’ ta tell ya once ye’d eaten. Sorry hon.”

She coughs, “Sven’s pullin’ ya off tha’ team fer a week. He jus’ wants ya ta feel 100% fer ya go bac’ ta work.” Jane scratches awkwardly at her neck, a complicated expression on her face.

“I’m so sorry, I had not meant to upset you. Sven had asked me for my medical opinion but he seemed set on giving you a week off.” Dr Fahren puts a reassuring hand on your shoulder.

Forcing a grin, “No, no, it’s fine. I completely understand where Sven is coming from. Hopefully this will sort itself out eventually.”

Dr Fahren grins, “Of course, whatever the “this” is that you speak of. Well, I must be off, we have a few people coming down with a bit of a bug, the usual. Take care.” Nodding towards you and then to Jane, he carries his plate away on a tray out of the dining hall.

“Tha’ man fer definit’ has a crush on ya, flower.” She snickers as you cringe.

“Is it that obvious?”

“Only as obvious as tha sun is light an’ tha’ space is dark.” Jane toys with a tapioca pearl from her drink, then with an evil smirk she leans forward, “Maybe ya should hav’ som’ lovely memories wit’ tha’ man b‘fer we hav’ ta’ go.”

You flush, “No! Not at all! Jane, he’s not even my type!”

The smirk twists even more, “So wha’ is ya type then? A caramel beaut’? Dark an’ broodin’? Hmm?”

An image of a nebula swirling and white lights sparkling in amusement passes across your mind.

“DEFINITELY NOT SKELETONS!” You burst out.

Jane is frozen in place. Staring. Before tears well up in her eyes and she falls backwards on the bench, clutching her stomach. Embarrassed, you clench your bread and march away in a fluster.

Laughing, Jane catches up with ease and flings her arm back around your shoulder, squeezing fondly.

Still red in the face, you pout, “So, what’s your type then, Jane?”

“Definitely not colony leaders.” She cackles.

“Seymour? Really?” You giggle ignoring her jab, smiling at Jane’s proud posture and nod. “Why?” You ask out of curiosity.

“Man’s grumpier than a cat ‘n jus’ as cute.” She smirks smugly, “Jus’ needs tha right owna ta curb ‘is tempa’.”

You splutter and laugh at her outrageous statement, cute was hardly the image Seymour conjures up for you.

You continue walking aimlessly and your smile falls away, “Hey Jane? Do you think Sven still trusts me?”

Humming thoughtfully, Jane mulls for a moment before answering, “In all ‘onesty, hon? Yea’, I’d lik’ ta think tha’ he’s just pullin’ ya off fer now ta ease tha otha’s.”

A tension you didn’t realise you had buckles away and your shoulders droop in relief. Seeing this, Jane hugs you tightly, “Jus’ think it as a holiday, hon! Take yer time checkin’ ou’ tha place an’ relax. We’ll fix it all up an’ find tha bastard who’s causin’ trouble.”

You smile a little self-consciously. Could you really just go out and have fun while that was left behind? Jane shook you as if to say, ‘O’course.’

But where in the stars has Cryptic gone off to?

Sans POV

Rapid clicking and banging resounded up ahead of him as he swirled through the corridors. Sweat dripped down his skull as he carefully concentrated. Where? The looming presence bounded above him, making his soul shake and spin. With his magic surging, he tore down the vent above him with a crash. Straining his hearing, he waited. Clicks chatter away further up the vent and he breathed out slowly. Before moving forward.

Chapter Text

“Cmon, gal! Light’sa burnin’!” Jane shouts from outside your apartment. Quickly you shove on your socks and lace up your shoes. Looking in the mirror, you take a glance at your outfit. Cute, casual. Perfect.

Rushing outside to Jane, you end up walking straight into her with your backpack full of snacks, drinks and ketchup clunking loudly against the door. With a light laugh, Jane’s arm links with yours and she slowly leads you away. She confidently keeps her secrets about where exactly you both were going, but you knew it would be one of the town areas.

You buzz with light excitement before, down one of the many corridors, you spot Sam with a freshly plastered nose standing beside Carl and you shrink against Jane defensively. Luckily, they don’t notice you as their attention is engrossed with another man that you didn’t recognise. Curious, you took in the man’s proud and haughty face. How his jaw juts out and his head tilts backwards, so he physically looks down his nose at people.

Jane notices the others as well and with a scowl, she hurries you along the walkways towards a pair of large open gates. Curious, you observe its structure and you recognise the locking system with its air lock as you pass under the archway. A clever safety mechanism.

Stepping through those gates reveals another world to you. It was like a picture straight out of a book. Behind you lay cold, mechanical structures, yet before you lay a desert oasis. It was dimly lit by a soft light making you look out across the black sky and see the pinprick of the sun glowing brightly over the horizon of the moon. As the light began dying, lights all around you switch on with a honey amber glow, giving the market an ethereal look.

Tall buildings that seemed to be made of sandstone stretch upwards to a large dome. It was fascinating and you’d never seen anything like it. Brightly coloured fabric made makeshift roofs and shelters that hung loosely from the street walls. There were gardens filled with wildlife and insects buzzing around, a light mist hung in the air from sprinklers just turning on. How did they transport everything all the way here?

Still drawn in, you take a step forward and feel the sand crunch underneath, in the distance you hear the babbling of a fountain. A flock of birds startle you; you’d never seen real animals freely moving around, you’d only ever seen them kept in pens to preserve the species or as pets. You can hear people squawking in the distance, passing on their wares like special treasures.

Jane’s laughing shakes you away from the fantasy-like sight, “Amazin’, huh? When we were fightin’ off them pirates, we c’fiscated a lotta their goods. Illegal animal breedin’, terra traffickin’ an’ all sorts reall’. Woulda cost tha Fed ta’ much ta transport it all bac’ so we got ta use it.”

You numbly nod, amazing was one word for this place. The sheer awe inducing reality of a desert town being placed on a moon colony made your mind blank out.

Jane wickedly grins, “We didn’t only jus’ hav’ sand, ya know.”

Confused, you turn towards her, “Wha-?”

“Ah…Jane, I didn’t expect to see you here…” Seymour interrupts you as he hobbles towards Jane almost eagerly. You feel a little cheated by your first impression of him as a cold, cruel man when you compare his current demeanour to it.

Jane smiles with a hint of mischief, “O’really? Not keepin’ an eye ou’ wit’ them mon’tors o’ yours?”

Seymour blushes and coughs delicately into his own hand.

“Ahem, well I was just wondering if I could show you around the place since you were here.” He suggests with an embarrassed grimace.

“Sho’ me aroun’? I built tha’ place, if an’thin’ I should be showin’ ya aroun’!” Jane’s smile curls even more as she teases the leader.

His face goes beet red and he seems to look at you for help, with a smiling sigh, you touch the side of Jane’s arm gently. Jane laughs at his flustering and decides to show some mercy on the poor man.

“Well gal, I gotta leav’ ya here, gotta explor’ tha place.” She grabs Seymour and ‘runs’ off with him as fast as he could walk, giving you a sly wink.

“Jane? Where are you going?” Your laugh joins hers as you watch her act like an excited academy girl.

“A gal neva’ reveals ‘er secrets.” Jane waves before pulling Seymour abruptly around an alley, leaving you behind in the peaceful atmosphere as you hear their fading laughter. Completely puzzled but not surprised by her actions, you scuff your shoe in the sand, crunching it as you think with a smile.

This place obviously needed to have every stone unturned in it, and you eagerly skip to the nearest gardens, fascinated by the sight of real-life insects. Tapping your earpiece to connect to your lenses, you let it inform you of each different type. You spent a whole hour investigating the wildlife till you could find no more; the dim light causing them to retreat into their nests and homes.

A little happy sigh escapes your lips and you stretch after seeing a sleeping field mouse tuck itself into a blue flower for the night. The waft of a delicious scent floats through the air, luring you towards a street stall with fresh food sizzling on a large open grill. Lines of people wait to be served and others were sitting out on benches deep into their own conversations. Joining the queue, you let yourself get lost in the aromas and the blended background of chatter.

The chef behind the stall happily hands you some skewers after scanning your Federation badge to pay. Sitting down on an empty bench, you notice that the dusky light still hasn’t changed after all this time. Days were much longer on this moon as were the nights, but it only meant you got to enjoy the dimming and brightening of dusk and dawn even more.

After eating, you get up to continue investigating. You notice that what you first thought was pure sandstone had one a layer of sandstone around a metallic core, how sandstone doors glided open sideways automatically when for some reason you were expecting old-fashioned hinges swinging outwards. Amber lights, clearly recoloured to fit the terrains theme, beeped and glittered along the ways, simple technology to track people’s movements and locations. Through some open windows you could see hologram furnishings and walls mostly adopting to a desert-like appearance, although some rooms clearly stood out with more advanced features.

Wandering through narrow alleyways that let you peek into small quiet gardens made you feel like you were walking among your stories. Over in the bushes, you spot on a bench a couple kissing in the dark and you flush with embarrassment, hiding behind the corner. Upon another glance, you realise it was Jane and Seymour sweetly holding hands, staring at each other with passion. Shyly you slink away so not to disturb them as you smile to yourself. It seems like such a nice place to hang out and bring others to…

You wonder what Cryptic was doing.

 

As the old adage from Earth says, speak of the devil and he shall appear, you catch a flash of a swirling nebula dash by one of the alleyways. Confused, you chase after him around the corner, you only catch a flash of his face twisting up in concentration, before he slips away again. Catching up as fast as you can to the corner, you see no sign of where he might’ve gone.

Then as if the world was engulfed in darkness the alleyway ahead is consumed by shadows. Confused, you backpedal but the blackness creeps forward almost as if chasing you. Running a little faster, unsure of what was happening, you end up in the open and see a large orb absorb the sky above.

Pluto. Bit by bit the world around you is completely covered in a thick blanket of darkness. You had only heard of this in the academy when training for the Pluto section. Every 124 years, Charon and Pluto enter a 5-year long eclipse cycle. Every 6 and half days Charon eclipses Pluto and vice versa. A dual dwarf planet system. In awe you watch as it completely engulfs that small fading dot and the last of the dim light vanishes around you.

Shaking yourself from the sheer sight of Pluto’s celestial body sealing away the sun’s light, you trace back through the soft amber lit alleys. Yet as you walk further into a particularly long alley, it becomes dark, darker yet darker than all the others places you’ve been.

A roaring static noise once again fills your earpiece, making you wince and crumple over yourself. From the corner of your squinting eyes, you see a black shadow standing in a darkened window ahead, its unseen eyes staring at you. Nervous with the urge to escape growing, you shuffle forwards, keeping the shadow in your peripheral. As you begin to come up to the window, you feel that need to run fill your brain but the static grows louder and angrier causing you to cup your ear as you try to pull the earpiece out which felt like it has been welded to you.

The tension as you pass intensifies, you could almost hear a ragged breath become harder and rougher as you shakily walk by. Its sight digs into your back as you continue forward, the closer to the end of the alley the quieter the static becomes, before only a ringing silence is left. Against your better judgement you turn around to check out the window once more.

But there wasn’t a window anywhere to be seen.

Rubbing your eyes, you suddenly feel tired and exhausted. You wonder if the stress of being taken off the team and this intense exploring has finally caught up to you. Shaking your sweaty head with an anxious smile, you resolve yourself to go back and head to bed. You’d look for Cryptic another day when it was brighter if he wasn’t back from doing whatever skeletons do.

What do skeletons do in their free time anyway?

Chapter Text

Slowly walking back to your room, still in awe at the sight of a planetary eclipse, you just couldn’t believe how lucky you were to see such a rare sight. It gives you tingles; you replay the scene in your head once more and look outside from the dimly lit corridors. Pluto had completely engulfed the small sun and you look out to the pitch-black moon surface.

It was nearly hour before the surface began to have a dim light, the tiny sun low in the sky. With a hum, you continue through the colony. Before you knew it, your feet had taken you in front of the training centre.

Feeling embarrassed, you scratch your arm, but your mind starts to churn about work. Is it going well? Have they managed to sort it out? Do they all still blame you? Has anyone started to work on the core instead of you?

Nervous, you take a quick peek through one of the windows, but no-one was there. Breathing a sigh of relief, you enter the room. Looking around, you see that your team has indeed managed to salvage most of the tools. Some of the gouges were already being repaired and the destroyed box sat in the scrap pile.

A little less guilty, you wander around wishing you were still part of the team just to be able to help, but you know that Sven would be furious to find out if you touched anything. Wistfully skimming your fingers over the core hatch, you wonder if Cryptic is inside.

Looking around anxiously, just in case someone is somehow secretly here, you creak open the little door and slip inside. Only darkness greets you, so you click on the night vision on your contact lens, had the vandalism broke the lights down here?

A slight groan of metal vibrates under your feet as you step forward. Old ketchup sachets lay littered about, but other than that, there seems to be no sign of your skeleton buddy.

“Cryptic?” You whisper out loud, just on the off chance he was playing a prank and staying hidden. “Are you here? Come on, guy, just want to know if you’re okay.”

Silence, you feel a little silly for talking to the dark, but with no-one around to make fun of you, the feeling soon disappears. Yawning, you slump against the wall. Maybe if you stay for a little while, he might turn up.

Remembering his twisted face, you feel a muted worry as you slip into a slumber.

San’s POV

Could barely see, could barely feel. Something choking his magic, hurts, hurts. Thick pain. His soul was yelling under the strain. Darkness smothered everything. Lashing out, Sans felt his magic give a final surge, summoning a bone attack, hot liquid splashed over his hand as a cry of pain faded into the distance. Panting heavily, he felt his vision fade.
..-. .. -. -.. .... .. --

Your POV

Jumping up with a yell, you hear the clatter of something heavy above your head. You pant, a vague feeling of unease creeps into your body. With shaking hands, you cover your face, the last shreds of your dream fading but the fear didn’t disappear. Cryptic? Why were you worried for Cryptic?

You couldn’t remember, but the idea was completely stuck in your head. Another bang from above makes your head flick towards the sound, sweat runs down your back as you pick yourself up. Was the vandal back? Now at the bottom of the ladders, you look up cautiously. Cryptic had stopped you last time, would you be in danger if you check it out?

You pause a moment too long and freeze as a loud creak screeches out as the hatch above opens. A pair of eyes stare at you and you stumble onto your rear.

“Haha, I thought it might be you.” Josh sticks his head fully into the vent. “You’re lucky it was me who found you. Sven would kill you if he found you on sight. Come on, come on, it’s just me up here.”

Laughing nervously, you get up, shaking your head. This colony was really getting to you. So many strange things were happening that it has you on edge all the time. Maybe you really did need this break off work.

Climbing up, you meet Josh outside the hatch and pat yourself down.

“What was the yell all about?” Josh tilts his head quizzically.

Scratching the back of your head, you chuckle, “Just a bad nightmare. Nothing big.”

“Haha, thought the rats had gotten to you. Seriously, though, you shouldn’t be here. If any of the other guys had caught you, you can bet your ass Sven would’ve pulled you off completely.”

“I know, I know. I just…you know…work is…”

Holding up his hand, Josh frowns, “This is the entire reason you’re on break. The job’s getting to you, working nearly every night, staying cooped up down in that little room and barely eating. It’s not good for you.”

Flushing with shame, you look down at the floor. Josh was right. You should be resting…but instead of work, your mind was now focusing on Cryptic. Not one for superstition, normally you wouldn’t worry about a silly dream. However, since meeting a floating skeleton, you think that maybe you should trust your gut instincts more.

“Come on, get yourself some food, go make the best of your time off. When you’re fit and ready, we’ll be glad to have you back.” Josh claps his large hand on your back, gently pushing you towards the door.

With one last wistful look at your job, you resign yourself to leaving. You had another duty to take care of now, anyway. If that dumb skeleton was perfectly fine, you’ll strangle him somehow. Surely you’ll figure out a way to do it.

Rounding the corner, you spot a group of people wandering towards you. You recognise Sam, Carl and the man from the day before.

Carl waves at you, “Hey! How you feeling?”

“Getting better, still enjoying this break before I come back.”

Sam snorts, “Don’t need you back anyway.” He thumbs towards the man next to him. The stranger’s jaw juts up as he looks down at you.

Carl glares at Sam, “Don’t worry, this is just Clay. He’s the last head Engineer’s son and is just going to help out with the plans his father left behind whilst you’re off duty.” Carl smiles sweetly, but Clay snorts derisively.

“Not like it’d help. You’re better off starting from scratch, old coot was out of his mind. Even better, just quit the whole project. What’s the point of this shitty training centre anyway? Just giving the Feds more power out here.” Clay snarls and spits on the floor.

Wrinkling your nose in disgust, while Carl’s neck goes red with embarrassment. Sam just stands there, arms crossed, looking amused.

“W-well, anyway, we gotta get to work, so we’ll see you around, right? Get better soon!” Carl stammers and hastily walks forward, Sam snickering behind him as they follow.

Clay turns to scowl at you, before disappearing around the corner. Feeling affronted, you end up near stomping all the way to town, as you decide to avoid any more of your team who could be in the mess hall.

#

As you sit on a bench, munching down roasted fruit skewers for breakfast, you mull over the fact that you have no idea where Cryptic could be. At all. The last time you saw him, he was in the town. Could he still be around? Probably not, but where else could you look?

.-- . ... –

Looking at your lens’ map, you check out the area. Below you, to the south, were the training centre and dinner hall, where you just came from. Zooming closer, you search. The East was just a residential area with the farmland further along. Cryptic wouldn’t really be there, would he? North…seems to be under construction, you probably can’t get in there anyway.

That just left the west side. Your instincts tell you that would be a good place to start. Chomping the last of your breakfast, you set a course towards the west side. The industrial side of the colony.

#

The plumes of steam billowing from spires are sucked up by vents high above to be recycled and purified. The clanging, zipping, whirring sounds ricochet around you, so loud you need your earpieces to go into muffled mode. You see amongst the buildings drones and mechanical arms working, while 3d printers mould parts for colony expansion.

The walls around you seem to breathe as they ripple, as the buildings constantly rearrange themselves as they work behind their surfaces. Very few people walk the streets, most people either rushing from one building to another with drones chasing after them carrying their heavy loads. Instead, androids seem to manage the surrounding areas, ignoring you as you pass by.

Peering in between the multitude of narrow alleys where thin arms whizzed through carrying materials from one building to the other like a huge carousel, you wonder how the Earth you were meant to find Cryptic amongst this planned chaos.

Looking ahead of the main street, you see the buildings seem to go on forever. Nearby you see a food stall, with a female-looking android kneading something. Their shockingly yellow eyes latch onto yours before looking down. Intrigued, you move closer.

The smell of fresh bread hits your nose, your tummy grumbles and you notice it’s already lunchtime. How you sometimes wish you were an android so you could just work and never stop. Getting closer to the stall, you eye up the fresh bakery goods on the counter. You can’t really see them properly, but they seem to be in odd shapes.

Turning to the android, you see that they look a little less completed than the other droids around you. For starters, they only had half of a hairstyle, their gears and plates on complete show on the back of their head. The hair you could see forms a long blue fringe with yellow accents, it was completely senseless to cover a working eye on an android.

The said fringe is flicked back as they look at you with a smile stretching their pale face, metal plates for cheeks somehow bending aside. You wonder if they’re in an experimental stage.

“How can I help you, darling?” A deep voice rumbles out of the feminine android as it tugs its large starry apron with long slender fingers.

A little taken aback by the smooth speech, you smile a little more confidently. Yes, it was definitely in its developing stages.

“Um, can I have one of those bread buns please?”

“Why, of course, sweetie! I hope you like it!” They pop it on a plate for you to sit at the stall, you were deeply curious about this android.

You look down to the bread bun then a little spurt of laughter escapes you, the android has made the bun into its own face. What craftsmanship.

Their long yellow and blue eyelashes flutter at you, they look eager for you to try their creation. You take a bit and a soft fluffiness fills your mouth; you moan with pleasure.

The android’s smile spreads even wider, “Anything with my face on HAS to taste delicious, wouldn’t you agree?”

“With such a pretty face like yours, why wouldn’t it?” You retort playfully back, then stop still as you see the droid blush with blue. Wow, this android’s creator must’ve gone all out to make a droid blush.

You could feel the creator’s deep love for their droid, as you watch the droid wave hands at their face as if to cool the blush away.

As you continue to eat the delicious bun, people start to gather at the stall for their lunch break. With a bunch of pretty compliments at their customers, you watch the huge range of emotions seemingly cross the droid’s beautiful face.

You order a custard bun this time and marvel at the delicious goo inside. Eventually, the workers return to their jobs and you’re still sat at the stall, munching away.

With a hand pressed to their cheek, the android swivel on their…high heels?

“Oh, I do love humans. They’re so funny and just adore my marvellous cooking, but I must say, I’ve never had a human stay at my stall so long as you. Did you fall for me, sweetie?”

You choke on the mouthful of bread and hit your chest to get the food down. The android flusters and quickly gets you a drink of water.

“My, my. Do be careful, sweetie! I can’t have a human dropping dead at my shop. It’d be bad for my budding reputation! Plus, dust is so hard to wipe away from the counters.” They look at you with concern, as if checking you really were okay.

“Dust?”

“Yes, dearie. When things die, they turn to dust.”

“Oh, you mean ash. Well, that doesn’t happen instantly you know?”

“Hmmm. ‘Ash’ is that what it’s called? How odd, that doesn’t sound familiar at all.” They tilt their head in puzzlement, screwing their gorgeous eyes up in concentration. “No matter, either way, it’s still no good!”

You listen to them berate you at long length about the repercussions to their fabulous plans and how they aim to start a famous baking show here. Smiling as you listen, you wonder who created such an amazing AI, they sounded so inspired and determined.

The rant dies down, they straighten with a pout and you laugh, “I’m sorry, I just think you’re amazing, sorry for causing so much trouble, it seems.”

The blush returns and they loftily wave the apology off.

“It’s fine, dearie. Just be more careful, can’t have my first fan passing away so soon.”

You laugh once more, “Well, thank you for the concern. I’ll be extra careful so that I can visit this amazing stall again.”

“Come back anytime, I’m always open.” They take out a nail file and start working on their fingers. You’re in awe by such humanlike actions and wave in admiration as you leave.

Full and content, you can now focus on finding that dumb skeleton. Biting your lip, you bring up your map and cross off a fifth of the main street. Now to check the side streets.

Chapter Text

Your POV

Three days, three whole days with no sign of Cryptic anywhere. You have now crossed off a whole third of the industrial zone without a single sign of the skeleton. You feel like you are losing hope.

Slamming your head on the table in front of you with a loud moan, you hear a mechanical male voice chide you. M, as the android called himself, is looking at you with a reproachful expression.

“Darling, you can’t just go around hitting your head off my stall when things don’t go right. You’ll ruin your not-as-lovely as mine face.”

You snicker, “Thanks M. I can only dream of being as lovely as you.” You squish your cheek up as you lean forward over his table begging for one of his delicious burgers. Somehow the android made the bun a sparkling blue and yellow colour. The android seemed to be struggling for a name that was as outstanding as he was for the burger.

With an exasperated sigh at your whining, he bends over the table, fluttering his long lashes as he peers at you with his piercing yellow eyes.
“I do wish you would tell me what troubles you so much, sweetie. It’s clearly distracting you from my ever-growing brand.”

You smile sadly at him, not sure how to explain that you’re chasing around after an invisible skeleton that only you could see.

“I think you’d end up calling the humans to take me away for being crazy, M.”

“All humans are crazy; they clearly are, since I’m not already famous.”

Chuckling into your burger, you really didn’t understand how M wasn’t already famous, but for different reasons. He had an amazing mind, it was extremely complex, more so than a human you would hazard. You had the funny feeling that they were actually experiencing the emotions they showed.

How fascinating. Maybe…maybe you could tell him.

“M, I-“

“Lass? Wha’ ya doin’ here?” Jane walks over, her arm linking to Seymour. M gives a huff and crosses his arms, annoyed with the interruption.

“Taking that break, like you said.” You blithely reply.

“In tha’ industrial area?” She looks sceptical, you smile almost sheepish.

“Just…miss the smell of metal and work, you know?” You lie, though not completely. You really did miss work, but you really want to find Cryptic more. The growing unease for him refuses to shift or grow smaller.

Jane seems to accept the lie, nodding as though she would miss it as well.

“So, what are you doing in this area, hmm?” You leer at Jane, changing the topic, “Hardly an area for a lovely date.”

M perks up behind you and leans forward to listen to the gossip with sparkling eyes. Jane looks between you and the android with a little confused expression before grinning just as leerily.

“O’, I don’t kno’, lass. Ya gotta ask my lovah boy here.” She says with a smirk.

Seymour jumps with shock and his wrinkled face turns red, a little smile twitching on his lips. “I can’t ruin the surprise, you know that.”

Jane grins wickedly, before snatching up the last of your burger. Her face distorts a little, “Ew, tha’ was kinda gross hon, ‘ow can ya eat tha’?”

M slaps an arm to his chest in shock, clearly insulted.

“Huh? It’s really good, I love it.” It really was a good burger, even if it did look funny.

“Riiiigh’…” Jane’s sceptical look returns, “’ow ‘bout ya ditch this place wit’ me and lovah boy ‘ere? Com’ see wha’ tha fuss is ‘bout.”

Seymour looks slightly put out but doesn’t complain. Not wanting to ruin their date, you shake your head, but Jane insists, her strong personality pushing you into accepting.

With a sigh, you agree, “See you later, M. I’ll come get another delicious burger next time.” Jane pulls a face.

M sulks, “Clearly your friend has no taste for greatness!”

“Clearly.” You snicker and wave as you leave with a puzzled looking Jane. M waves back and Jane looks a little startled by the action.

Further away, Jane entwines her arm into yours, “Wha’ a weird droi’.”

“M? He’s fab, really funny guy.”

Jane gives you a perplexed expression, but shakes her head, “If ya say so, hon.”

#

 

The industrial zone slowly fades away as Seymour shows you how the travel system works. Standing on a small platform, he clicks a button, a small jolt making you stumble as the square beneath you rises before it begins to skim along the ground. You really wish you had found out about this sooner.

Your surroundings begin to change as metal walls merge into wood, then the wood takes over. The smell of fresh pine, herbs and flowers fill the air. All around you are trees, tall and stretching towards the solar lights on the roof of the dome.

In between all the trees, wooden houses were dotted about and colonists wander around amongst the plants, gathering berries and herbs from floating containers. What really catches your notice though, were the dark looks Jane and you were getting. Colonists close their open doors, chattering people silence as you hover by.

The air around here seems to be unwelcoming and buzzing with anger.

“Seymour! Why bring outsiders to fix that accursed place?” A woman barks from the distance.

Accursed place?

A murmur of angry agreements ripples around, people walking forward towards your group.

“Now, now. You are not the type of people to be superstitious like this.” Seymour holds his hands out, reasoning. “Whatever is happening here has nothing to do with the new buildings.”

“Bullshit, ye’ve disturbed some bloody space creature. Never should’ve trusted the Feds saying there’s nought out here!”

Seymour’s face goes neutral, but you can clearly feel the amount of impatience he has for this sort of talk emanating from him.

Whoever is out there causing this disturbance, be assured that the guards are investigating into the matter.”

The colonists’ brows all furrow, clearly unhappy with the dismissive comment.

“You ain’t seen it yerself, Seymour. The marks, the glows. It’s some bloody space beast, ain’t nothing you can say to change my mind.”

“Jim saw the beast, then it killed him for it!”

Seymour sighs, “The case with Jim has already been settled. The poor man had a heart attack, he was getting on, it’s not a surprise.”

“That’s shite and you know it, Seymour! When’s the last time anyone had a heart attack? It was fright I tell ya!” The man becomes restless, getting more agitated by the second.

A loud set of claps shocks the colonists, Clay covered in grease and dirt comes walking into the crowd.

“Break it up folks, you know Seymour is as blind as it comes. Feds just want this place to themselves; we all know it. Just wait till they pull the rug from under him, bet it’s the guards themselves causing this shite.” He drawls, but a fury curls in his eyes as he looks at Seymour.

The crowd shakes their heads, spitting at Seymour’s feet and heading back into the woods, disappearing from sight. Seymour’s back stiffens as Clay turns to him fully, “Clay.”

“Seymour.” A curt, angry nod before he too disappears into the woods.

Confused, “What’s Clay doing here? Thought he was working at the training centre?”

“Met Clay, have you?” Seymour sighs, “He blames the Feds for his father dying on the project. Thinks they killed him for how he wanted to change the project to be on Pluto instead. That it was too dangerous to be here, but the Federation insisted it had to be on Charon. Despite their differences, he really did respect his old man and his death really hit Clay hard.”

“So why is he working at the training centre?” You ask, completely stupefied.

“Ah, he says he wants to find out what his father found so dangerous in the first place.”

A feeling of dread settles in the pit of your stomach for some reason, but you can’t quite pin the reason.

Jane comes up to Seymour, stroking his arm affectionately, “Le’s go see tha’ surprise, lovah. Migh’ take yer mind off o’ things.”

Nodding his head, he holds her hand and squeezes.

#

Seymour’s surprise was…well a surprise. Jane and you gape at the huge mountain rising in front of you. You watch as automated gear works outside of the dome, terraforming the ground around a frozen moat.

Charon’s well-known mountain in a moat.

Seymour puffs up proudly, “Someday the ground around it will have all toxic moon dust removed. We have soil coming from Earth to be able to plant a whole forest around the surrounding area. Look over there.”

He points over to the metal frames slowly rising into the sky.

“That’s the start of the dome. We have a project on both Charon and Pluto, you know.”
Curiously Jane turns to him, urging him to continue.

He smiles eagerly, “We’re adding more mass to their cores, to increase the gravity. The idea is to create a liveable atmosphere, this area will become a reservoir and we will be able to expand out across the surface of Charon. One day, we will live near that mountain, this will be my legacy.”

Staring at the mountain, you feel a strange twinge in your chest, the longer you look the stranger the feeling grows in your head.

Jane shakes you and you blink rapidly before turning to her, “Huh?”

“Ya alrigh’, hon?”

“Of course, it’s just so beautiful.”

Seymour nods while Jane gives an increasingly worried face. He goes without noticing the subtle hints from Jane, “With the academy being built and this dome, we’ll be able to expand both into space and across these two planets.”

Eventually after explaining more depth into the mechanics of the two projects, Seymour guides you to a seat and you all sit watching the machines work, the solemn aura of the mountain seeping out and calming your surroundings.

#

After Seymour’s surprise, you split up from them and return to the industrial area. Somehow you feel like you were not Cryptic any justice, you were going around wandering aimlessly with no clues and then you go off to look at a mountain instead of looking for him.

Slapping your cheeks, you check your map for the thousandth time. Red areas were marked from your previous searches. You wonder if you should go further west, ignoring the organised path you had been taking.

Turning into an alleyway, you make your way to the outskirts of the industrial area, but not before picking up a takeout burger from M’s stall.

The area gets increasingly more crowded with buildings, the alleys becoming narrower and narrower. You squeeze in between pipes and come out into a crossroad. You look at each path pondering, which way should you take?

You take the east path.

.-.. . - .----. ... / - .-. -.-- / - .... .- - / .- --. .- .. -.

The area gets increasingly more crowded with buildings, the alleys becoming narrower and narrower. You squeeze in between pipes and come out into a crossroad. You look at each path pondering, which way should you take?

You take the east path and the world goes black.

.- --. .- .. -.

The area gets increasingly more crowded with buildings, the alleys becoming narrower and narrower. You try to squeeze through, but get a little stuck between pipes, it’s hard to breathe but you manage to wriggle out. You come out into a crossroad and your headless body slumps in front of you.

-.-. --- -- . / --- -.

The area gets increasingly more crowded with buildings, the alleys becoming narrower and narrower. You squeeze in between pipes but you scorch your hand and flinch back, the pain stings so you take more cautious steps. Gingerly, you come out into a crossroad. You look at each path pondering, which way should you take?

You take the north path.

A loud bang resounds behind you, a growl grows and you turn around to see a flash of darkness. You fall to the ground; a wetness spills out behind you and you roll to your side as a roaring pain suddenly hits your head.

Your entire right side is missing, you scream and scream and scream and scream and—

.- -. --- - .... . .-. / --. ---

The area gets increasingly more crowded with buildings, the alleys becoming narrower and narrower. You squeeze in between pipes and come out into a crossroad. You look at each path pondering, which way should you take?

You take the north path.

A loud bang resounds far behind you, the growl seems to be nearing and you turn around to see a stooped figure dashing towards you. You run and the world turns upside down as you fall backwards.

You feel a ripping pain in your stomach and you look down. Your guts are spewing out and you try to pull them back in as you scream, where are your legs, where are your legs, where---

-.-- --- ..- / -.-. .- -. / -.. --- / - .... .. ...

The area gets increasingly more crowded with buildings, the alleys becoming narrower and narrower. You squeeze in between pipes and trip out into a crossroad. Coughing and spluttering as you stand up and dust your legs down, clinging to them with shaky hands for a moment.

You take the west path.

Looking around you spot a packet of ketchup; eager you rush around the corner. Cryptic looks at you stunned with his mouth wrapped around another packet of ketchup and you run forward with a smile.

“Cryptic. I finally found you!”

You take in his appearance, he looks fainter than usual, his hoodie torn at one corner and a huge bruise circles his socket with a cut lip. Cryptic’s head begins to sweat silver beads.

“you…you shouldn’t be here.”

“Cryptic…what happened.” You step forward to touch him, your fingers sliding through him and he looks at you sadly.

“I-“

A growl roars behind you and you feel a tug wrap around your chest as you’re pulled forward. Cryptic is floating away and you see your body wrapped in a sparkling blue glow.

“What’s going on?”

“not the time, start running, I can’t keep pulling you for long.”

Slamming your legs down to the ground, you run as fast you can as the sounds of snarling and sound of smashing brick creeps closer.

As you run further and further with Cryptic, the sounds begin to die down and only silence echoes behind you. Panting next to a dustbin, you lean against the wall as you shakily glance at Cryptic.

He seems to be in a worse state than you and you gulp in air.

“What was that?”

Cryptic opens his mouth as you feel a pressure from above. Tearing your eyes away from Cryptic rapidly draining face, you look up and scream.

Cryptic shouts out holding a hand towards you, your dismembered hand reaches out towards him as you flop to the ground, your eyesight splitting for a second before you can only see from one eye. You choke on your screams and blood, Cryptic’s yells go distant as you try to fight the growing darkness.

-. . .- .-. .-.. -.-- / - .... . .-. .

You take the east path.

You take the east path.

You take the north path.

You take the east path.

You take the west path.

You take the—

#

The area gets increasingly more crowded with buildings, the alleys becoming narrower and narrower. You wonder if you can squeeze between those pipes, you feel unsure and look curiously at them. You hear a growl up ahead, the same voice you heard in the hatch.

You cover your mouth and hide behind the pipes, scorching your back but it was better than being found by the vandal in an alley no-one knew you were in. Scared, but determined to know who it was, you peek out and scream.

You barely feel the pressure of your skull caving in before the world revolves once more.

.-.. . - .----. ... / -.- . . .--. / - .-. -.-- .. -. --. / - .. .-.. .-.. / .-- . / --. . - / - .... .. ... / .-. .. --. .... - / - .... . -.

Chapter Text

San’s POV

The increasing headache in Sans’ head was growing, a strange sense of dysphoria engulfing him. His vision seemed to overlap, the alleyways never-ending as he travelled the same alley over and over.

Sometimes when he looked behind, he would see your shadow before it crumpled away. Sans didn’t understand what was happening, what was this headache. Why did it feel like a dream looping that he couldn’t quite grasp the concept of.

Shaking his skull, his bones trembling as he peeled apart another packet of ketchup. He really wished he had something more substantial, like Grillby’s fries or burgers. Sighing wistfully, he concentrated on using the food as fuel to repair his damaged magic.

He heard your gasp as you reached out to him, shadows overlapping your body. Stunned, he couldn’t even react as the world faded.

Shaking his skull, his bones trembling as he peeled apart another packet of ketchup, accidentally spilling some onto his jacket. He really wished for Grillby’s fries or burgers to heal all this pain.

Reflecting over what had happened, he realised he had to find you. Somehow, as if by fate he heard your distant screams and he moves towards the high-pitched sound. The world turned around.

#

Travelling through the never-ending alleyways, he tried to escape…

Your POV

You turn left, Cryptic falls before you and fades away, crumbling.

#

The world turns and twists, your vision blurs as you stare at your missing feet, something creeps up behind you. Darkness.

#

You squeeze out of the pipes.

Pain. Darkness.

#

The pipes.

Screaming. Pain.

#

Pipes.

Cryptic. Dust. Blood. Guts.

#

The pipes look daunting and you can’t place your finger on it. Well how could you? Your fingers are now missing. Clutching your bleeding stumps, you stare in numb confusion at the pipes till your vision fades.

#

The walls were so narrow, a claustrophobic feeling wells up inside of you. Your hands tremble as you step through the tiny alleyway, you couldn’t explain the fear that was building. Ahead you stare at a small gap between some hot pipes, but you hesitate, taking a step backwards. In the distance, you hear a growl up ahead, tilting your sweating head in confusion, you recognise it as the same voice you heard in the training centre.

Walking backwards, you hide around the corner you had come from and peer around the corner carefully. A strange premonition comes over you and you trust in your gut instinct like the time it urged you to find Cryptic, so all you do is watch as you listen to the snarl get louder.

Blinking, you squint your eyes but all you can see is a slow moving shadow walk by the pipes, casting shadows over them that seem to stretch out into the alley. Thinking of the time when Cryptic held you back in the core room, you clasp a hand over your mouth, refusing to make a sound.

The steps and keening growls seem to fade away. Tentatively, you walk into the alley, listening with each movement you make. The vandal doesn’t seem to return and you make it to the pipes. Peeking through you can’t see anyone, so you squeeze through the gap quietly.

You look down the north corridor where the vandal had walked towards, so you continue to step gently into the south passage when something crunched under your feet, you freeze and strain your ears with your heart in your throat.

Hearing nothing, you look down and spot a packet of ketchup, you almost breathe a sigh of relief as you turn around the corner. Cryptic looks at you stunned, his mouth wrapped around another packet of ketchup and you quietly step forward with a smile.

“Crypt-”

Sharply, he holds a bony finger to his mouth and you nod in understanding. In your eagerness you had almost shouted, you were so overjoyed to see him well.

Or so you thought, with wide eyes you take in his appearance, he looks fainter than usual, his hoodie torn at one corner and a huge bruise circles his socket with a cut chin. Cryptic’s head begins to sweat silver beads.

“you…you shouldn’t be here.” He whispers around a mouthful of ketchup, intent on eating the whole thing, packet included. Suddenly, you remember the burger from M’s stall and rummage around in your backpack.

Pulling out the sparkling burger, you see Cryptic’s eyelights widen.

“how?” Then he shakes his head and his trembling hands clasp around the burger. With each bite, you can see Cryptic become more solid, his bruise fades away and his cut seals shut. Amazed that food could heal him so instantaneously, you wonder if Cryptic relied on food. Feeling bad for only feeding him ketchup, you resolve to bring him back bigger meals once you both get out of this mess.

Pushing the thoughts aside, you step closer as he scarfs down the last piece of food. “Cryptic…what happened.” You step forward to touch him, your fingers feeling the slight buzz of his magic and you feel the familiar resistance.

With a renewed face, he smears some ketchup from his cheek with his thumb and holds it in his mouth, pulling back his hand to reveal the ketchup had disappeared. Distracted for just a moment, you look into his thoughtful expression staring back at you.

“later. first we have to get out of here.”

A growl roars far behind you and you feel a tightness wrap around your chest as you’re tugged slightly forward. Cryptic is moving away, his hand waving you to follow him, your body wrapped in a sparkling blue glow.

“What’s going on?”

“not the time, let’s get a move on, I can’t keep pulling you for long so be careful.”

Distant smashing and the hiss of pipe steam fills the alleys with echoes. A shiver runs down your spine. You wonder what would have happened if the vandal had caught you, they seem so aggressive.

 

As you creep along the walls with Cryptic, the sounds begin to die down and only silence lingers behind you. Eventually you reach the end of an alleyway and hide behind a dustbin with Cryptic on lookout. Leaning against it, letting your panic ease away, you shakily glance at Cryptic.

His eyelights are sharp and focused as he looks around the sprawling alleways and up at the walkways littered above nervously.

“Are we safe?”

Cryptic closes his sockets and takes in a deep breath before nodding.

“I think so.”

You want to pounce on him with questions, how did he get those injuries? Was it possible someone else could see him? Where had he been? As if reading your mind, he cracks open one socket.

“later.” He reaffirms and you can only nod in defeat. Standing up, your legs no longer quaking, you watch as Cryptic looks around a corner before ushering you along.

#

You can’t explain the feeling of being back on the main street. As if the entire dread was lifted from your shoulders and you could straighten your back fully. Despite the sparse crowd, the hum and drum of life around you settles your thundering heart. You could almost kiss the ground and every person here for the safety you now feel.

Cryptic seems to share your relief, his once wide sockets now drooping and a lazy but still tight smile returns to his face. Walking down the main road, Cryptic floating just ahead of you, his eyelights still looking around cautiously.

Catching up to him, you hiss out of the side of your mouth, “Want to explain where you’ve been?”

“first explain where you got that burger.” He counters. The burger? Was he still hungry?

“Ermmm, further down this street actually.” You point, still confused. “So are you going to answer me or…?”

“let’s pick the ‘or’ option.”

You scowl, “Do you have any idea how worried I’ve been? You just up and disappear! Now you’re not even going to tell me what’s happened? You were covered in injuries.”

People nearby start looking at your rising tone, you motion to your earpiece and smile apologetically.

“gotta let some skeletons stay in the closet, right?” Cryptic snickers at his clever play on words, you feel a vein wanting to pop in your skull from frustration. But you knew by now that trying to force anything out of this bone boy was impossible.

Sighing angrily, you stomp ahead towards M’s stall. Sitting at the stall you huff and M turns to you with a glamorous smile, “So, you’re safe darling, that’s good~”

He’s already moving a bread bun onto the counter and you pick at it in a sulk. Glancing at Cryptic, you see shock on his face, his jaw slack. He opens his mouth as if to speak, but closes it and floats forward.

Cryptic circles around M and you try not to look like a crazy person, keeping your eyes trained on your food. Waving a hand in front of M’s eyes, he leans back with a frown.

“What, you never seen a droid before?” You blurt out and clap your hands over your mouth, Cryptic gives you a dry look as if you insulted him.

"Why, of course I’ve seen other droids, sweetie~ What an odd question. Though I’ve not seen one half as perfect as me.” M preens himself, while Cryptic rolls his eyelights in disgust.

What was he doing? Cryptic was acting a lot more active than you’d have given the skeleton credit for. With an annoyed expression, Cryptic parks himself right in front of M and sits on the table, blatantly staring.

Was he expecting M to see him? Had an android picked him up in the past? Tapping on your lens, your scanners still don’t pick up anyone around you.

Turning it back off without a second thought, you watch as Cryptic’s scowl deepens and deepens. With a growl, he flings a bread bun at M’s face.

“What the stars!” M’s voice yelps out but still keeps his sultry tone.

With astonishment you make a face at Cryptic and mouth ‘What the hell, what are you doing?’ But he’s already sidled down the side of the stall, chucking back a bottle of ketchup he swiped in the confusion.

You kick the bottle and his annoyed face brings it back up, but not before he squirts your shoes with some. Sometimes, you really wish you could grab Cryptic and throttle some sense into his petty skull.

What was even his deal?

Turning back to M, you fluster with some tissues to help out with the mess.

“My~ I guess even my cooking wants to kiss my perfect face!” M smiles brightly, laughing off the incident as he looks at a mirror, polishing his face.
Cryptic tsks underneath the stall and you throw him a dirty look, but you still order some burgers for him later. Waving goodbye to M, you march ahead, ignoring Cryptic for his behaviour.

With an obvious eyelight roll, he follows after you.