Two weeks ago, the writing mastermind NaNoPals came up with a game. Each person participating must give a character, a setting and an item. Everything was the shuffled and each person assigned one of each with the task of writing a short story between one and five thousand words. Well, that two weeks is up so I now present you with-
*drum roll please*
Flugelhorn of the Void!
-Disclaimer- This story is quite silly.
CHARACTER: A five-year old who thinks they are a ninja
SETTING: A spaceship
OBJECT: A flugelhorn!
Flugelhorn of the Void
Gela was the night. A fluid blackness. The unknown darkness. She was the fears, the doubts, the insecurities of the weak. She was everything. She was nothing.
The void was quiet now, that place that bordered between one world and the other, the mundane and the ethereal. It was that place she would slip when duty called, when necessity demanded she step up to her sacred tasking. And sometimes, just sometimes, it was where she came to think.
Her steps were light, barely touching the ground as she moved, making no noise, no suggestion she had been there. In this place, she was a ghast, undetectable, inescapable. Her fingers trailed along the cold, metal walls, stinging with their chill. Heat did not exist in the void and when she was here, she did not need it.
There was sound up ahead, an odd sound to be heard on the ship. She didn’t know how long she had been wandering idle through the halls, contemplating and invisible to all, officers and cadets alike. There were things that were far, far beyond the comprehension of the Service and her order was one of them. She glanced up, searching for a direction terminal. It told her she was in Sector E, the glowing green letters distorted and greyed by her presence in the void. First Officer Vorin’s quarters were near. She continued forward, pressing her body against the ice cold wall to prevent some hapless crewman trampling her.
There was no love lost between Gela and Vorin. He was a small man, just not in stature. Quick to both anger and confuse, she saw little reason in giving such a man her respect. That was to be earned, was it not?
She continued on, focusing her attention on the sound. An awful wail, a combination of shrill cries and flats, grotesquely interwoven into a failed attempt at some macabre melody. It scraped at her ears like nails but on she pressed. Espionage was an important part of her training and she did not want to become rusty, she reasoned as she found herself outside the First Officer’s quarters. The door was closed but that vile sound permeated the metal with ease. She noted the faces of passersby, screwing up in displeasure as they threw sideways glances at the door.
Gela steepled her fingers against the icy door, staring at it with fervour as she considered stepping through the steel. It was possible in the void but left her exhausted. She needed to be able to escape again undetected. The door jolted into motion, the loud pop and hiss of it causing Gela to jump back.
“Urgh, what do you want?”
First Officer Vorin was glaring straight at her, his caterpillar eyebrows knitting together. Gela glanced down at her hands, eyes bulging from her sockets. No, no, no, no, she thought, mind racing. Everything was clear and colourful, no longer hazy or ill-defined as it should be while she walked in the void. The horrid man sighed and shook his head, reaching down to grab Gela by the wrist. She yelped and clawed at him, trying as best she could to wriggle away or step back between worlds but nothing helped. He was a beast of a man, towering high above her and just as wide again. Rotund but strong enough to pull her with ease.
“Put me down!” Her tone was indignant and loud in the hopes of drawing attention of one of the other crew members but they just shook their head at her as she was dragged into the confines of Vorin’s quarters.
“Sit there and shut up, you little animal.”
He threw her carelessly onto a flat sofa, garishly red and stiff from lack of use. She sat, eyeing him with fury as he crossed the room and smacked the digits of his comms unit. It beeped and blipped for a few moments before the connection was put through, leaving them with several seconds of nails on chalkboard.
“Lieutenant Cain,” came the slightly garbled and static-laced voice.
“Leera, come and get your mutt.” Vorin threw a scowl at Gela, who stuck her tongue out in response.
“Gela. She’s here. She was lurking around outside my door.”
“She’s supposed to be at crèche! Urgh, how can a bunch of minders not keep their hands on one five year old for six hours is beyond me.”
“Frankly, I don’t care. Just come and get her. Now.”
He smacked the comms unit and the faint buzz of static died. Gela sighed, hunching her shoulders over and hugging her knees up to her chest. Her eyes darted about the room briefly, looking for anything that might entertain her while she waited, and found her attention landing on a glistening, golden thing. To her it seemed a twist of metal snakes, hugging together like family. Vorin crossed the room and picked the strange thing up, taking it in both hands and raising an outlet to his mouth.
“What’s that?” she asked, voice bold. She wasn’t afraid of him, nor would she sit in reserved silence merely because she was in his presence.
“It’s a flugelhorn,” he replied, curling his lip at her, causing his moustache to bristle. “Don’t you know anything?”
“I know lots of things. I probably know more than you do.”
Laughter erupted from his belly like a thunderclap. Gela dug her teeth into her lip and glared at her knees, if only to stop herself from saying too much. I mustn’t reveal the secrets, she thought. No one can know.
“Yes, I’m sure there’s lots a five year old sprog knows that an experienced officer doesn’t. Pah.”
He lifted that thing, the ‘flugelhorn,’ to his lips and his cheeks puffed out like tomatoes, eliciting that familiar vile sound that had drawn her here. From inside the room it was searing. She clamped both her hands over her ears, jamming her eyes shut. Whatever that thing was, she certainly hoped it was not supposed to sound like that!
As she sat like this, waiting for her escort back to freedom, she considered what went wrong. How had he seen her while she was in the void? As an especially dire note pierced through the air, it came to her – the flugelhorn! She’d never seen anything like it before and with the sounds that were being torn from it the thing certainly wasn’t any sort of recreational item. He knows, she thought, chest tightening. He knows. Her brow crinkled as she drew her limbs in tighter. There must have been other ninjas aboard the ship – he wouldn’t have it here for just her. Perhaps there was a mission here? In any case, she doubted that they would know about this strange device. Gela had never heard of something that could pull one back from the void. This flugelhorn was a threat to her fellows of the order. She’d never met them, but she knew they were real. The bonds of ninjutsu were strong and the order were her family. She had to protect them and their mission – whatever it was, it must have been important. There was only one thing for Gela to do.
She had to destroy that flugelhorn.
The wailing of the device squealed to a halt as there was a knock at the door. Gela had barely heard it over the intolerable screeching. Vorin sat the thing down back down on the counter and made for the door. Without pausing to think, Gela leapt up from her place on the sofa and scurried toward the flugelhorn. Her heart was pounding in her throat as she neared it, stretching out her hands. The surface was just out of reach, even on her tiptoes!
“Gela, for goodness sake,” Leera huffed, striding over to her.
Gela’s mother was a woman of presence. She was tall and thick, with the same deep chestnut skin as Gela herself. The imposing woman took a firm grip on her wrist and began pulling her towards the door. They left Vorin’s quarters without either of them even throwing him a glance, leaving the door to hiss shut behind them.
“Mu-um, slow do-own,” Gela whined, being whisked along the halls at a rate of knots.
“Do you know how much trouble I’m in?” Leera said, gasping as her unrelenting pace caught up with her. “Gela, I work on the bridge. That means the Captain sees every time I have to run off and find you.”
“But the Captain likes you.” Gela said with a child’s innocence. “Ze likes you a lot.”
“Oh, hush now,” Leera snapped, pulling at her collar awkwardly. “I’m going to end up on punishment duty one of these days.”
She fell silent, glaring at her feet as she was dragged along. She could hear her mother continuing to scold her but she listened no longer. She needed to get her hands on that device. The flugelhorn sapped her power, undoing her training in the ways of the ninja. It was dangerous to herself and to her fellows in the order. It had to be destroyed.
Gela suffered through the remaining hour of crèche before Leera came off duty. She was grateful to be lead away from the frantic kaleidoscope that was a room full of three to six year olds, despite her mother’s frostiness. Gela didn’t understand what the big deal was – the Captain DID like Leera. She’d never gotten into trouble before. No real trouble, anyway.
After a short trip through a stream of identical winding hallways, the door to their quarters pop-hissed open and she was ushered inside. The door hummed closed behind them and a series of ‘bloops’ came from the security panel as Leera locked them both in for the night. Gela sighed. She might have had the powers of the sacred order of ninjutsu but she had the height of a five year old.
The rest of the day passed quickly and at twenty hundred hours shiptime, it was time for bed. But not for sleep, Gela thought wryly as she settled in between the sheets. The door to her room hummed closed as Leera made her exit, plunging Gela into darkness. She waited. Her mother usually went to sleep between ten hundred and eleven hundred hours, before which she would check in on Gela. Then and only then could she make her move, when she had the whole night and a sleeping ship to work with. Until then though, she lay in the dark and plotted.
Leera had decided to make this a late night, and Gela was losing the battle with her eyelids when her door hissed open just a fraction, spilling a sliver of light into the room. Gela almost let slip that she was awake in her confusion but, seeing naught but a peaceful five year old in her bed, Leera didn’t linger. When the glow of light faded from her eyelids, Gela opened them. Neon green numbers reading 23:17 were the only light in the room. They hurt her eyes, reminding her that she was not a dweller of the light but a creature of the night.
Swinging her legs out of bed, she felt along the wall to the cabinet and once there began to clamber up. Leera had always bragged about how neat her child was. She may not have done if she knew it was so Gela could sneak out at night. Once on top of the cabinet she crawled along to the end and felt for the top of the wardrobe. The cool breeze from the air vent swept across her fingers. Her eyes were reacclimatizing to the darkness quickly after the brief light exposure, painting the dark shapes of the furniture before her. Effortlessly, she hauled herself up on top of the wardrobe.
Once up, the edges of the vent were easy to find. Its light colour was like a beacon in the gloom and the chilly air that emanated from it could not be missed. Gela’s tiny fingers felt for the edges, where the vent met the wall, and carefully peeled it back. Unbeknownst to Leera, Gela’s air vent was without screws. Well, it had been since she got her hands on that screwdriver, anyway. With care, she set the vent down and crawled into the duct.
It only took two feet of passageway for her to reach the step up to the main ring duct. It wasn’t a large step, only about a foot or so and she easily pulled herself up. The main ring duct went around the whole ship, following the hallways in the shape of an oblong, with lesser ducts sprouting off for every room and passageway to deliver recycled air from the bio-deck. Faint light shone up through the ceiling vents of the hallways. To get back to Vorin’s quarters, it was a left from here. Gela threw a quick glance at her hands, the only way she could remember left from right, and started on her way.
A few people still travelled through the halls but none of them looked up. People on night shifts rarely paid attention to anything, Gela had found. They didn’t want to be there and didn’t care about what was going on unless it was directly related to them. They just wanted to do their job with as little effort as was humanly possible. Even without slipping into the void, it was easy to go unnoticed at night.
Gela’s pulse quickened ever so slightly as she came to the duct which should lead to Vorin’s main room. That was where she had seen the flugelhorn last. He had no reason to take it into the bedroom with him. It should be easy – drop in, grab the horn, sneak out via the recyc-pipes. She’d done it many times before, just not in Vorin’s quarters. But as she approached, her chest began to tighten. A light was on. She crawled carefully over to the vent and peered down into his main room.
Vorin was there, the light glaring off the top of his shiny head. The flugelhorn was in his lap as he fiddled with something between his fingers. Gela mouthed ‘flump’ in anger, a word which Navigation Officer Korck had assured her was a most heinous swearword. She watched as closely as she could through the grating as Vorin fiddled with what looked like a small electronic device. He turned it over in his hands and worked at it with a tiny pair of pliers for a while. She waited patiently, intent on getting that flugelhorn tonight. Finally, the device he had been working on was lodged deep within the opening of the horn and he jerked it a few times, testing if it would fall out. It didn’t. Placing the horn on the sofa beside himself, he packed away the few tools he had been using into a case and walked out of her vision with it. She pressed her cheek to the vent but never caught sight of him again. She flinched, every muscle in her body spasming as a harsh buzz filled the room. Vorin appeared briefly into view again as he crossed the room towards the door.
“Blast it, Vorin, I’m tired of arguing about this over and over again.”
The voice was faint and slightly distorted by the vent but it was clear enough. It was Captain Sam Worth and ze sounded exasperated. A few moments later and ze was in view, resting hirs hands on the back of the couch. The Captain was slim and wiry, very much unlike Vorin, and Gela had heard rumours that ze could punch through a steel plate with hirs bare fist.
“I know, Sam, I know,” Vorin said, his voice oddly placid. “That’s why I called you here tonight. To let you know I’m dropping it.”
“Is that so?” The Captain drew hirself upright again, flicking a lock of cropped blonde hair from hirs eyes. “Why the sudden change of heart?”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about it, after what happened at the last dock. I’m beginning to think that maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m not leader material after all.”
Vorin sighed and sank into one of the arm chairs, its red colour matching the sofa. He took his head in his hands, cradling it. Gela chewed her lip. She had always hated Vorin but at this moment he looked so small, so hurt.
“I’m sorry,” the Captain said. All the frustration had been sapped from hirs voice. Ze stepped around the sofa and sat opposite Vorin. “The role of a captain isn’t for everyone. You’re a damn good engineer. I don’t know why you don’t want to progress down that route. I’m not saying this to hurt you-“
“I know, Sam.” Vorin’s voice was ever so slightly curt but Gela found it difficult to find her usual contempt for him. He was like a deflated balloon. “I’m trying to agree with you. I wanted to thank you.”
“Right,” the Captain said, back stiffening. “I’m glad I could help. I know it isn’t the answer you wanted to hear but… yeah.”
Gela had always suspected the Captain was the socially anxious type deep down. Ze could bark orders like the best of them but when it came to these quiet, sensitive situations, ze always seemed a little lost and a lot uncomfortable. And, oddly enough, whenever ze spoke with Gela’s mother. Hirs skin was so pale it was easy to see hir cheeks flush with awkwardness.
They both sat in silence for a few moments as Gela watched tensely. When the Captain finally rose to hirs feet, Vorin too jumped up and scurried over to the sofa, where the flugelhorn lay. He picked it up, holding it out to the Captain.
“Here,” he said. “I want you to have this for a couple of days. As kind of like a peace offering.”
Gela’s eyes nearly bulged out of her head. Sneaking into Vorin’s room was one thing but into the Captain’s? Leera would go ballistic if she found out.
“Oh,” the Captain said, reaching a hand out gingerly toward it. “Thank you?”
Ze half shrugged, smiling awkwardly as ze took the horn. Vorin simply nodded enthusiastically.
“It’s my best horn. Just to make sure you know there’s no hard feelings about the report.”
“This really isn’t necessary-“
“It is,” Vorin said, pushing the horn towards hir. “I acted like a child and I’m sorry, Sam. This’ll be the last you hear out of me, I promise you that.”
The Captain gave him a kindly smile. Ze was good at those, Gela thought. She’d overheard people talking about hir and recalled one person describe hir as ‘walking the line between pretty and handsome.’ Someone else had simply called hir dreamy, which Gela didn’t understand at all. Gela dreamed about lots of people and it never seemed to make them special. The pair of them exchanged farewells and the Captain left, with the horn, and Gela cursed again. Why Vorin would give up such a device? Perhaps his mission was complete? She grimaced, fearing for any fellow ninjas who may have been on board.
Just as she began to shimmy backwards towards the main duct, the sound of Vorin chuckling wafted up through the vent. Gela frowned. What was he laughing about? She shook her head and continued on. She had a mission to complete.
Gela had never been to the Captain’s quarters. She knew where they were and had walked past the door several times, each time getting in trouble for being in an unauthorised part of the ship. They were the only living quarters near the bridge, situated there so the Captain could be in control at a moment’s notice. The Captain might not have been one with the way of ninjutsu, but Gela looked up to hir. Ze was the one everyone turned to when there was trouble and ze could tell anyone to do anything and they would. Everyone listened to hir. As a child, mostly ignored by everyone, this was a most envious trait.
She now crept along the shoot off duct that lead to the Captain’s main room. Light sprouted up through the vent, letting her know that ze was most likely still awake. She sneaked forward until her face was over the vent and put her ear against it. There was a soft hiss in the distance. The shower. Gela wedged her fingers under the vent grate and carefully prised it up, as she’d done this countless times before. She pulled the grate away and peered down into the room with a sparkle in her eyes.
The Captain’s room was tidy to the point of being desolate. She could see barely anything but plain furniture. Nothing to play with or watch. Only sparse shelves and impeccable neatness to add to the enigma that ze was. But there, on the dining table, was the flugelhorn. She didn’t linger any longer, lowering her legs carefully and hanging for a moment. As she looked down, she realised the Captain kept the standard issue coffee table pushed over to the wall and not directly beneath the vent where it was in most rooms. Coffee tables weren’t tall, she reasoned. What different could it make if it wasn’t there? Her arms made the decision for her, tiring to the point where pulling herself up was no longer an option.
Gela plummeted downwards and hit the carpet hard, rolling to her side in an effort to break her fall, just like a good ninja should. It wasn’t a move that she had perfected yet though and pain shot through her feet and her knees, making her screw her face up, ready to cry. Gela had a mission though and she forced herself up, desperately choking back tears.
The sound of the Captain’s voice from the shower room startled her enough for the pain and tears to be instantly forgotten. She stumbled over to the dining table and began to clamber onto one of the chairs. A squeak came from the shower room as the water was turned off, silencing the gentle pitter patter. Gela grabbed the end of the horn and pulled it toward herself, not realising how heavy it would be. A quick glance around gave her hope – the Captain kept a recycle box next to his disposal chute!
There was a clatter as the Captain was obviously wrestling quickly back into clothes, prompting Gela to move again. With the flugelhorn tightly clamped against her with both arms, she leapt from the chair. She narrowly avoided falling on impact, but she didn’t slow. She ran as fast as she could across the room, more waddling with the ridiculous device in her arms, to the recycle box. Once there, she thrust the flugelhorn on top of it and began to clamber up. This was perfect! All she needed to do was to drop the infernal thing down to be crushed in disposal and then she could slip into the void-
The Captain’s incredulous cry sent a stab of panic through her. She was caught! No, she thought, brow frowning with resolve. Not yet. She had to complete the mission or all of this was for naught. She pulled herself up the last little bit and slapped hard on the disposal chute’s ‘open’ button.
“Gela, what are you- No, no wait!”
Her intentions became clear as she began to lift the flugelhorn up to the rapidly opening chute and hirs voice filled with panic. Ze darted across the room as Gela struggled with the heavy device, hirs fingers extending just enough to graze against the golden metal before it plummeted into darkness. Hirs face dropped, horrified and stunned, turning to her. She was unable to tell if he was shocked or furious. Ze raised his voice to her. Ze’d never raised hirs voice to her before.
“Gela! Why would you-“
A shuddering boom from the disposal chute cut hir short and instinctively ze grabbed Gela and turned hirs back, shielding her from the blast and flecks of shrapnel that whizzed past. Thick, black smoke began to plume from the chute, which now hung limply from one hinge. Gela’s ears rung and tears flowed freely down her cheeks now but she never sobbed. Her body quaked with shock in the Captain’s arms, wrapping her own around hirs neck. Ze turned hirs head to look back at the wall, jaw slack.
“He tried to kill me,” ze said, aghast.
“Captain!” someone called from outside. “Captain, are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” ze called back, standing up straight and lifting Gela with hir. Ze made for the door, hitting it open with a fist. Gela glanced over her shoulder at the people there, all stunned and whispering. The Captain barked at them, voice brimming with authority. “Get First Officer Vorin and Lieutenant Cain here in the next two minutes or find me some crewmen who aren’t utterly useless.”
Ze never let the shaking Gela go, holding her tightly as she clung to hir. “I just had to get rid of it,” she said through tears as the Captain paced restlessly.
“What were you even doing here?” ze asked. “And how did you know about the bomb?”
“I just had to get rid of it,” Gela repeated and ze sighed, patting her hair.
They remained like this for what felt like a long time, Gela simply listening to her racing heart and the high pitched squeal in her ears residual from the blast. As long as it felt, it was over too soon as a commotion came hurtling along the corridor and back to the Captain’s door. Ze set her down on the sofa, her feet dangling over the edge, and made for the door.
The moment it hiss popped open, the Captain’s arm was drawn back and thrust forward, right into Vorin’s nose. Gela gasped, cupping her mouth in her hands, a reaction shared by all who watched.
“Throw him in the brig,” the Captain boomed, shaking out hirs now aching fist. “That rat tried to kill me.”
The gasps from the crowd repeated and Vorin’s voice rose up to contest but Gela saw him being dragged away before he could say anything of sense, face bloodied. The Captain began to fire orders at the remaining crewmen until only one remained. Leera.
“Gela!” she cried, rushing past the Captain and into the room to scoop Gela up in her arms. “What are you doing here?”
“Saving my life,” the Captain said.
Leera turned to face hir and Gela leaned back in her mother’s arms to peer between the two of them. She narrowed her eyes, understanding that they had just shared an important look but having no idea what it meant. Ze took a step closer.
“I’m sorry about her, Sam,” Leera said, before quickly correcting herself. “I mean, Captain!”
Ze seemed to flush slightly, brushing the still damp hair from hirs face. “Don’t be. That wasn’t a small explosion. We got shrapnel with it halfway to the lower deck. I wouldn’t be here now.”
Leera squeezed Gela. “And just what were you doing here?”
“I just had to get it.”
“That’s all she’s said since it happened,” the Captain said, a tinge of worry in his voice.
“I’m fine,” Gela said, as the realization came that whatever trouble she may be in, it wouldn’t be as bad as she thought. She smiled brightly at the Captain and ze smiled back.
“Well in that case,” Leera said, putting Gela down on the sofa and moving closer to the Captain.
The began to speak, hushed tones that Gela could not hear. She didn’t try to. There was nothing they could say that would beat her relief right now. The device was gone. That terrible flugelhorn that threatened her kind was vanquished. Leera turned back to the sofa.
“Oh, for goodness sake, where has she gone now?”
“Quite the escapologist,” the Captain said with a laugh. “I’ll help you look.”
Leera smiled at hir. “Thank you.”
Together, they both rushed out into the corridor to search for the vanishing child.