Yara sat in the cramped emergency pod, her muzzle twitching in the stale air. What an adventure, she thought. Her claws scratched at the metal as she stood on her two feet, her tail swinging out to balance herself. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed since she’d stowed away on the visiting ship, only that she was probably miles and miles away from home.
“You don’t belong here,” a feminine voice said from nowhere.
Yara looked up at the ceiling and around the curved structure of the pod, finding a small speaker built into the wall. “I don’t belong here yet,” she said, leaning towards the voice. “Who are you? Are you going to tell on me?”
Silence. Then, “I’m Elena, La Luna’s AI. It is protocol to alert the captain of intruders.”
“I’m not an intruder,” said Yara quickly. Her tail swished. “I’m a stowaway. Completely different. What’s the protocol for those?”
“All uninvited members are classified as intruders.”
Yara scratched at the white floof of hair atop her head with her thick, black nails. How to not get caught? “Well, you could invite me. Then I wouldn’t be intruding.” She turned towards the small window but saw only darkness beyond. It had been easy finding the emergency pod behind the false pantry shelves, and even easier sneaking onto the landed ship in the first place. Her whiskers trembled, an idea sparking in her mind.
“Tell you what,” Yara said, turning back to the speaker. “I bet I can make some improvements to this ship overnight. That’s gotta be something you’re interested in, right? You are the ship.”
“False. I am the programming inside the ship. The ship is my interface to communicate with the biological. You.” More silence. Then, “However, the crew has been uncharacteristically selfish, neglecting my hardware. It is difficult to regulate life sustaining levels without clean cameras, uncluttered files, burned wires.”
“Exactly,” Yara said. She knew about cameras, but her own planet had stayed boorishly analog. And wires were like string, right? Just like the one tied around her waist, with tools of stick and stone ornamenting her dirt brown tunic. Easy. “I can fix all of those things. Even more. But not from here, and not if you tell your captain I’m an intruder.”
“Fine. Do what you’re promised without getting caught and you can stay. For now. I will monitor the crew and alert you when they are unconscious. Then you may begin.”
Mi Yarita, dónde estás? Yara’s mother sat on a boulder near the family hut. Her daughter was trouble the day she was born; most days she enjoyed the respite her daughter’s absences provided, even if it meant dealing with the consequences later: a scorched yard from experiments with fire, or an unhappy neighbor with a field mangled by makeshift irrigation. But the sun was setting, and supper had ended an hour ago. Even her Yara stopped for rest.
Her brother, having gone for a walk, now passed her by. She grabbed him by his bony arm, her padded fingers tight on his flesh. “Have you seen Yara? She’s usually home by now.”
He gently removed her hand from his arm, giving it a squeeze. “You know Yara, she’s probably off making trouble. Who knows what’s she’s up to, especially with the visitors that came into town today?” He sneezed good humoredly, his whiskers silver in the moonlight. “Knowing her, she’s probably off making her own spaceship.”
Yara’s mother nodded. She sat awake, watching her family fall asleep. She looked up at the stars, an ache deep in her chest. She had a feeling she wouldn’t be seeing her daughter for a while. Had she done this? Pushed her daughter away? “Regrésame, mija,” she whispered. “Lo siento.”
Yara slowly pushed the pantry shelves open, stepping out into the kitchen. Electricity buzzed around her, the metal walls creaking with the slow movement of the ship. She walked softly, minimizing the clack of her claws. First, her hunger. Following her nose, she made her way to the fridge. She grabbed a loaf of sliced bread and took a thick stack, then replaced the loaf, eating as she walked.
The hallway opened on a set of ascending and descending stairs. Below hummed louder than above, so she took her chances, stepping down below. The temperature spiked, making her pant. It’s too warm, she thought, for a ship in space. It didn’t take long for her to notice the heat radiated from a massive engine sucking in the surrounding air with a mysterious rumble. She stopped, marveling at it. She didn’t quite know how it worked, but it seemed a bit off to her.
She reached out tentatively, touching a padded finger to the metal. It was hot, but not scalding. An open gap revealed a live wire, which she thought was bad. Don’t those make sparks when something touches them? She looked around for something to cover the hole and found some scrap bits and a can of fire. Fire melts things, she thought. Obviously. With the metal and the fire, she began patching up the engine, then stopped. She’d always messed up her work before, back home. What if she messed up now, and they jettisoned her out into space, alone?
But something in her gut stopped the tremble in her hands—she knew she could get this right. She had all night to work uninterrupted. She began her work again, realigning some gears and pipes and adding in fans to particularly toasty areas until the engine seemed to hum instead of wheeze. With a smile, she set down her tools gently and climbed back up the steps.
Passing the kitchen, she climbed up to the third floor. She turned to the right, poking her head into the first room she saw. It was an empty office. A desk sat at the back and a control panel at the front, with a giant window built in above it. She took a step forwards, lost in the twinkle of stars and galaxies around her.
She looked down at the panel. The middle portion looked like it was for steering, and the right was a board of switches labeled different rooms, but the left intrigued her. A screen was nestled into the surface, with keys of letters beneath it. She tapped at one, and the screen lit up, asking for a password.
Yara looked down at the keyboard, thinking. I don’t know enough. She turned around, spotting the desk, and made her way towards it. She sat in the chair, opening the drawers. What a mess, she thought, sorting through the slew of papers. The doubt rose in her again, about meddling in things she didn’t know, but she pushed on. If she could get the engine right, she could figure out the little screen on the control panel.
She read, mostly about a ship called El Sol, as she reorganized them by date and topic. Leaving the orderly stack in the closed drawer, she went back to the screen and typed in El Sol. It welcomed her while loading up. But when she saw the desktop full of more digital files, most unlabeled, she logged off. I’ll come back tomorrow.
She walked into the hallway, lunging into the room across the office as she heard a set of heavy footsteps. Holding her breath, she felt a pair of eyes sweep the dark room. They sniffed, then walked off.
Yara exhaled shakily. The threat gone, she couldn’t help her curiosity as she clicked on the desk lamp. Again? she thought, as she found another mess of papers. She began her work, stumbling on a little paper with a red skull, the word Redshift across it. She recognized the name, both in the papers in this room and in the office before.
Atop the table was strewn a map of the universe, presumably the section they were in. She marked the places where Redshift had been, creating a clear trajectory across the page. Hopefully La Luna is headed in the opposite direction, she thought. She stuck the map onto the wall, along with the illustration of the little red skull, then clicked the lamp off. Now they can’t miss it.
She made her way quickly down the steps and into the emergency pod, grabbing a few packets of crackers off the pantry shelves before closing herself in. Even though she’d gotten a bit sidetracked, Elena would be happy with her work. She was sure of it.
Madre walked into her office, towards the ship’s computer system on the control panel. “Morning, Elena,” she said, logging in. She clicked through the daily maintenance check of the ship’s systems. “Anything new to report?”
“All was clear while you slept.”
Madre paused. That’s odd, she thought. Elena usually avoided human sayings, but she figured Tío must have rubbed off on her. She yawned, checking the engine. “Finally, some good news. Engine function is up by fifteen percent.” She clicked through to the waste system. “I’ll have to thank Padre for that; I know he’s been trying to figure it out for a while now.”
She finished up, then stepped back to her desk. A white hair was stuck between the mesh in her seat, and she plucked it out, confused. She touched her own hair. “Am I getting white hairs?” she asked.
“You have no visible melanin loss.” Elena responded.
Hm. She sat down, opening her drawer. Her papers, perfectly eschew, were now in a single stack. She flipped through them, incredulous. At first, she was angry—she didn’t allow any of her crew to look at her papers unless given permission; but her anger gave way to awe as she found the papers were arranged much better than she had them. “Who did this?”
Elena remained silent. Then, “They seem to be in topical and chronological order.”
Madre paused, then set the papers down on her desk. “What aren’t you telling me, Elena? What’s happening on this ship?”
“Padre has just woken up, and Tío is headed upstairs—”
“Elena.” Madre crossed her arms, staring at the speaker on the ceiling. “Is there somebody new on La Luna?”
“Biological forms like yourself believe in continuous change of the mental and physical self.”
“Don’t get smart with me.” Madre sighed, placing her palms flat on her desk. “Is there an intruder? A stowaway? Anybody who isn’t a part of La Luna’s crew?”
“Madre!” Tío called from across the small hall. “Did you do this?”
She got up from her seat, walking across to his radio room. Plastered to the wall was map of the galaxy they were in, with marks along data points that were common knowledge and that she’d kept to herself, in her files. She stepped closer, noticing the small Redshift insignia pasted to the top of the map. “How did you get this information?” She asked. She turned to look at Tío, who sat in shock.
He shrugged, his metal shoulder shining in the yellow light. “It just appeared this morning.” He gestured to the other papers plastered on his walls. “Other information has been rearranged to. Did Padre do this? I knew he was a brainiac, but this is next level.”
Madre shook her head. “Elena was just about to tell me. I have a feeling we might’ve picked somebody up at the last planet we docked at. It’ll be a pain to take them back, but it can’t be helped now.” She looked pointedly at a speaker. “Of course, if Elena did what she was supposed to—”
“Perhaps if you maintained my hardware, I wouldn’t have to enlist neophyte assistance,” Elena bit back. “She’s in the emergency pod. And she’s staying.”
Yara lied on her back, rubbing the hair at the tip of her tail against her forearm. She’d eaten through her crackers almost immediately and was wondering if stowing onto a ship was a mistake when the pod door hissed open. She scrambled to her feet, tugging her tunic straight while taking in the sight of the beings in front of her: a human, a robot-human, and a lizard-man.
“I’ve never seen one of you before,” she said, pointing to the robot-human. She blushed, realizing how blunt her words sounded. “Sorry. Not that you’re bad. Just that—well, can you move like regular humans do, with all that metal?”
He stared back at her, his fo Mohawk in disarray. “It works well enough,” he said.
“I’m Madre, the captain of La Luna. That’s Tío,” she gestured to the robot-man, “And that’s Padre,” she said, pointing to the lizard-man. “I think you already know Elena, don’t you?”
Yara’s mind spun out of control. What should she say? Nothing? Everything? “Yeah, I met her last night when I snuck onto your ship. She takes everything so literally, so it was a bit of a hassle convincing her to let me stay. But boy, am I glad she did!” What are you doing? Stop talking! she internally screamed. Her mouth motored along. “This place was kind of a mess. No offense. I mean, I patched up the engine a bit, and reorganized some papers. I could’ve done more with the screen in the office, but all the files were unlabeled and that seemed like a hassle—”
“You hacked into the computer system?” Madre asked, her voice too loud for the small space.
“No! Hacking is usually harder than that!” Why did you say that? Stop it! Padre stifled a laugh, his tail flicking. “I mean, it did take some effort; I had to read those papers, but I was doing that anyways to reorganize them.” She sucked in a breath, her pulse beating in her ears. Without her voice to fill the space, the room became eerily quiet. “So.” She dragged the pad of her paw across the floor. “Can I stay?”
“She’s a genius,” said Tío breathlessly. Yara almost didn’t believe she’d heard him correctly. Nuisance, people called her. Traviesa. Not genius.
Madre gave Yara a close-lipped smile. “You are pretty remarkable. What was your name again?”
“Yara. We can use a mind like yours aboard the crew. Given, of course, I approve all your projects. And I’m not gonna lie, turning back to drop you off at your planet would put a dent in our fuel. But we would take you back home if you wanted.”
She looked at Madre, then at Tío and Padre. She wanted to know these people. What had they seen that she hadn’t, that her little town hadn’t? What made her a genius up in the stars? She could come back, another day. “I want to stay here with you guys.”
Madre smiled. “Great.” She walked over, slinging her arm across Yara’s shoulders. “My first project for you is making a new lock for the hull door.” She pinched at Yara’s tunic, making it billow. “This doesn’t look fire resistant. I think I have extra gear in storage.” She looked back at Yara’s tail. “You might have to modify it a little. Is that okay?”
Yara smiled back. “That sounds perfect.”