Chapter 1.4

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Calvin nearly walked into the small figure ahead of him before he realised someone else was in the area. The girl from the escape pod took a wobbly step forward and past him, eyes closed. By the time his surprise wore off she was several feet away and he turned to follow.

“Um, miss…” He felt a twinge of guilt at forgetting her name already. There was no reaction from the girl and he put a hand on her shoulder. She gasped and stiffened as if electrified, startling Calvin into backing away, “Sorry, nobody is supposed to be in this… um.”

Jessie sank down on the floor and he could see her shoulders shake as she started crying.

“I’m sorry, did I startle you? It’s okay, you remember me from earlier right? The… computer guy?” He grimaced even as he said it but the girl was clearly upset enough that proper titles weren’t important. She dried her eyes on her sleeve and looked up at him.

“Please don’t tell Misa I did it again.”

“Did… did what?” Calvin offered her a hand up and the two stood facing each other in the dim hallway.

“He always worries when I walk in my sleep and he’s probably already worried cause I’m lost and he’s gonna be upset at me.” Her voice got increasingly choked up as she spoke and tears started flowing freely again.

“I’m sure he’d understand. You can’t help it. My uncle used to do that all the time when he was worried about stuff. Almost sent himself off in an escape pod once.” Calvin started to put a hand on her head but hesitated as she started hiccuping. It was hard to tell if he was helping at this point, but at least she wasn’t crying as much. She pinched her nose and held her breath for a few seconds and then exhaled, letting out a last weak sob.

“Misa always tells me I used to end up in the cargo bay a lot, so he always had to check boxes before delivering them.” She sniffled again but was smiling faintly, which Calvin took as a good sign. She finally looked around the hallway and frowned again, “Where is this?”

“This is the maintenance area, it’s usually off-limits.” Jessie looked alarmed suddenly and he quickly added, “But it’s okay, you’re not in trouble. We just need to get you back to your room.” He fiddled with his tablet a little and pointed down the hall, “Just this way, I’ll take you back.”

Jessie held out a hand to him and he took it hesitantly.

***

The door to her room slid open with a sigh after Calvin left, and she frowned at the dim blue lights. The lights were making her stomach upset for some reason. Another door up towards the main hallway slid open for a second, filling the hallway with a more familiar yellow glow. It slid shut again, but not before she heard someone grumbling from inside. Just when she turned back to the terrible blue room the door slid open again, this time letting someone’s harsh cursing flow out for a second. She took a few timid steps towards the strange door and froze when it opened again. This time all she heard was grunting and the sound of fluttering paper.

Inside the room was a scruffy looking man, straining against a tether attaching him to the wall. He didn’t notice her at first, focused solely on trying to reach a paper on the floor. He looked up as the door didn’t shut again and seemed surprised to see her.

“Um… a little help please?” His voice was gruff to match his appearance, but not unfriendly. He gestured to the paper, his hand stopping suddenly at the end of the tether again. Jessie picked up the paper and held it just within his reach. He took it gently, nodded his thanks and carefully inserted it back in the weathered book beside him.

“Why are you tied to the wall?” Jessie asked finally, unable to pull herself away from this strange situation.

“Because, little one…” The man looked up at her again with surprisingly dark eyes, “I’m the big bad wolf. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?” He grinned toothily and let out a barking laugh when she took a step back.

“That’s not funny.” Jessie pulled her arms to her chest and frowned at the man, “You’re a person, not a wolf.”

His nostrils flared briefly and his smile faded away completely, “I think you know a person can be more than just a person, don’t you, little one?”

Jessie clutched her shirt nervously and took a half-step back, “I should go back to bed.”

“Wait…” The man lunged forward and his hand hit the end of the tether, startling Jessie. She stumbled backwards into the hallway and took off, leaving the door to sigh shut again.

The man stretched his arm out towards the door for what seemed like an eternity but it didn’t open. The girl didn’t return. His tattered book held little appeal now and he cradled it as a pillow in one arm. The lights finally dimmed as he shut his eyes and failed to sleep.

***

Sam frowned at his messages. Four from mother, one about his ship, and one notice about the other pod. Some long haul civilian ship had Jessie, that was the good news. The ship was a total loss; he needed to upgrade anyways so that was unimportant. His mother had sent four messages now that they had missed calling her. If she knew about Jessie and the ship, it would have been much worse. Still, he had to get her back and a new ship quickly or there would be hell to pay.

“You made your call yet?” Vortran’s voice was strained from underneath the computer, where they held a loose wire in place.

“Just checking my messages, Mother didn’t find out yet. I may just beat her to the punch.”

“She still gets upset when you break your toys?”

“Not exactly…” Sam cleared his throat and started the call. This wasn’t a conversation he wanted to have with his old friend just yet. The signal pinged a few times and he got a hold message, “I’m on hold, you still good down there?”

“On hold means you owe me a drink after this.”

“Fine, I guess I owe you that much.” The prospect cheered him up a little. If he could beat Jessie to the nearest station there’d be time enough.

***

Jessie was already awake when Mark knocked. He poked his head in and smiled at her.

“We just got a message back from someone, mind taking a look to make sure he’s who he says he is?”

“Misa called?” She jumped up and darted past him into the hallway, then started dancing impatiently as she didn’t know where to go. Mark pointed the way and she took off, leaving him to hurry after. A few missed turns later he finally herded her into the communications room where Calvin was waiting. He yielded his chair to her and brought up the transmission. “Misa!” She shrieked a little and pressed her face against the screen as a man appeared on the other end.

“I think that’s confirmation.” Mark said, shaking his head at Calvin. Calvin had reached out to pull her away from the screen but stopped, clutching his tablet unhappily.

“It’s good to see you too, Jess, now can you let me see the other people so I can find out where to pick you up?”

“You have to say sorry first! You’re late!” She bounced on her knees, her hands perched dangerously close to several important buttons on the console.

“I’m sorry, I know I’m late. I’ll make it up to you, okay?”

Jessie relinquished the chair to Mark reluctantly and peered over his shoulder at the screen.

“We’re headed to the nearest station for a layover, think you can meet us there?”

“Yeah I can arrange that. I’ll probably be there a day or two before actually so I’ll meet the ship when it lands and take her off your hands.”

“Don’t be late!” Jessie shouted at him, causing Mark to cringe.

“I won’t Jess, don’t-” The signal cut out suddenly.

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