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Concentrated Power

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In the center of the ship there is a disused engine.

A hulking piece of metal, dulled with age and singed around the base from the day it shorted out for good, it sits, an ugly old thing.

Occasionally she lays atop it, makes it her throne, stretches out and trails her arms over its sides to trace the subtle markings welded there and, deep down, feels nothing.

Cold and impersonal, the enormous steel case holding in what was once a powerhouse of pistons and fuses, is nothing- certainly not something to grow attached to.

 

Her new engine is different.

At the front of the vessel, in the center of the control room, hanging limp and breathing slowly, slowly, there is a beautiful piece of work.

 

More often than would be deemed appropriate she stands before him, strokes his cheek, admires the craftsmanship.

Less often, still inappropriate, she cracks her palm against that cheek in a slap of futile frustration.

She has never been especially appropriate. Aggressive, though, yes. Ambitious, certainly.

She has always had the best of everything. Food, weapons, jewelry; transportation is no exception. Once upon a time that chilly slab at the center of the ship was the best the universe had to offer, a magnificent piece of technology torn from a booming civilization on a recently conquered planet.

But time passes, technologies change. In hindsight she thinks she should have known it would be her own home world that produced the finest source of power. It is a point of pride, and she gloats to anyone who’ll listen in the moments before they’re culled.

 

He’s so young.

She can see it in his face, when she comes close to wipe the misted gunk from his eyes beneath the goggles. He blinks at her, idling as they float in space. Under the blankness, under the blood, he is practically a wriggler.

But he has grown up too fast, even without her interference, seen too much and hidden too long. For all his brilliance he threw tantrums like a boy half his age when he was first brought aboard, before the light went out of him.

His eyes still flash, like mad when they’re flying, slower when she tells him to rest, faster again when a snide comment riles him up.

There’s fire in him yet, her psychic.

 

With no one around, with the crew sent away, she steps close and strokes his cheek, whispers soft, cruel things that make him flinch.

She cleans the tiny flecks of blood that sometimes leak from his ports, and that makes him flinch as well.

She asks questions that go largely unanswered, laughs hard when he tells her, in binary, just where she can shove the trident in her hands. The message flashes across every screen, crude enough to make her smile, discrete enough to feel special.

 

He hates her.

She doesn’t return the sentiment, platonic or otherwise, but appreciates the interest that he vehemently denies.

These are good days, the ones where he’s angry, where he talks through flashes of text and blips of sound. More often he is silent, trapped, suffering in darkness and looking bleak and empty enough to make her roll her eyes.

Such angst.

She doesn’t pity him either, though she can see why someone might. His face is handsome, even laced with wires and nodes, and his body is lithe. He is pitiable in every sense of the word, a pathetic shivering wreck of a troll, broken, deconstructed, miserable and bitter.

Sources tell her he was hardly moonshine and stardust beforehand, but that is neither here nor there.

She asks him, once, if anyone has ever pitied him before, and the feeble whimper he makes in response is hardly an answer at all.

She never really wanted to know in the first place.

 

She shows him off, her handsome, practical trophy, her secret weapon, her memento of the fall of the Signless.

When he is mentioned, that mutant piece of filth, the ship shakes all over, vibrating with the rage her helmsman longs to feel.

As a rule of thumb she has stopped speaking of the Signless, begun wiping him from history.

All that rebellion talk was starting to get on her nerves anyway.

 

She is wiping away much of their old history, these days, forging a new path. She barrels through the universe, culling and conquering and savoring each moment. She has seen more corpses dropped into the void of space these past few sweeps than ever before, but she remains unconcerned.

What are a few lowblood soldiers anyway? There is only one weak and weary peasant she wants to save.

She extends his life, keeps him young, keeps him fresh.

The ship would barely run at half the speed she’s used to, were he to drop dead tomorrow, and that is simply out of the question.

As more than half her crew has faded, fell, he lingers with her, shudders along and shivers at her touch.

Had she left him home, she mentions, fed him into the greedy hands of any number of murderous rogues or heartless slave traders, he would be dead now, forgotten.

Here, she has made him something great.

 

On the night that there is no one left to send away, she sits cross-legged on the floor of the control room, skims her fingertips across the surface of the murky water.

She is alone with her helmsman, without even a ghost to keep her company, and she does not mind.

For all she knows, they might be the last of their kind. She thinks it sort of sad, sort of funny. It’s all too appropriate.

The only transmissions from home come in the form of pained shrieks and dying breaths. Her planet falls to pieces, burns, and she stares sternly into the flickering, flashing eyes of the engine.

Soon, he says on every screen, soon, soon, soon, soon. And though she pretends not to know what he means, what is soon, she feels no fear.

She feels no hope, either.

 

Soon, he says in clicks and beeps, in weary machinery and popping, snowy images.

She strokes his cheek, slaps him, screams in his face to fill the silence that drifts between them, and sulks.

She tells him to go faster, but the order seems to make no difference. He is slowing these days, bit by bit.

She strokes his cheek again, and the power that flows into him seems a mere trickle compared to what it once was.

 

She clings to handholds and watches as the inevitable catches up with them.

The cause of the shrieks and moans and gurgles, the thing that swelled from her own familiar hive ground and leveled a civilization, is farther reaching than she ever could have dreamed.

She stands furious, helpless for the first time, sneering as her helmsman seizes, as blood pours from his mouth, as he short circuits.

She watches him die, waits, and when the whole vessel has slowed to a creaking stop, she tries to reverse it.

Her touch does nothing.

She swings out a leg to kick him hard in the side, snarls her rage and kicks again, again, till she exhausts herself and sinks back to the floor.

After a few minutes, the auxiliary power kicks in.

 

At the front of her ship, her engine hangs limp and unbreathing, an ugly old thing.

She leans against it, makes it her pillar.

She presses her cheek to the tangle encasing its legs and breaths in deep the scent of new death and live wires.

Low in her chest, sharp behind her eyes, for once, she feels something.

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