Starliner

A Discordant Note

Story of Nadric Flywheel

The short, stocky old man spun his tray across the floor, smiling happily as it clanged against the steel frame of the cell door. Ping The sound resonated in the small six by six cell. He chuckled quietly to himself, or at least, he thought he chuckled. After living so long without speaking, it was sometimes hard to tell if he was speaking, or just thinking. Usually, the only sounds he heard were the rattle of the food panel on the cell door, the sound of the food tray being set on the floor, and the boots of his hosts as they walked away. No one ever spoke to him, and so he never spoke to anyone. How long had it been since he’d last spoken to anyone? Well, not that time mattered here in his cell. Still, he supposed it must have been years; not since Algy. He missed Algy sometimes; he wasn’t talkative by nature, but Algy had been some much needed social interaction. But then, Algy went away, just like all the ones before him. While he mused about this, he reclined on his small pallet, glancing at the toilet, wondering if he should go now, or after a nap. Maybe after, he thought. After all, I’m already comfortable. No sense spoiling a good thing. As he lay there dozing, he heard the steady rhythm of the hosts coming to collect his tray. The sound was almost comforting, reassurance that the day progressed as normal. How many meals had he had, courtesy of his hosts?

Sleep overtook him, and with it came the dreams; he did so love dreams. Perhaps not surprisingly, when the mind is idle for too long, as his most certainly was, it begins to crave a certain amount of activity, any kind of activity really. The dreams consumed him, dreams of a younger man haring of across the galaxy (Hmm, what a solid old spaceship), of a beautiful young woman waving goodbye (Quite the looker there, wonder who she is), of looking up and seeing a sky for the first time (Yep, gonna be sick). The images flashed before his eyes, one after another, as if they were memories. The only question, where did the memories come from? Who dreamed me these dreams? Who lived me this life?
As his sleeping mind pondered, another scene flashed before his mind’s eye: the young man, sitting happily, tinkering with a giant engine that was producing a quiet hum. The machine before him was a mass of complex parts; some moved faster and some slower, but all of them come together as if to follow a single magnificent score. That hum was music to the dreaming old man, and he smiled in his sleep at the sound of it.
While he lay there smiling to himself, listening to the symphony of the engines in his dreams, he heard a discordant note. Clank He stirred briefly, frowning at the stray note in the music. He’ll need to fix that. As he started to relax back into the hum, the discordant note came again, and again soon after that. The old man started to rouse from his rest, frustrated by the ugly sound. Ehh? Sounds? With that, he shot up on his pallet, looking about the small cell in alarm. From outside the cell came the sound of boots by the door, and the sound of metal scraping metal. Huh, haven’t heard that sound before. Wait, have I?
With a rusty screech, the old steel door opened, and the old man screamed in pain as light flooded the cell. My eyes!!! he shrieked. Well, he thought he shrieked. After a few moments of futilely trying to shield his eyes from the piercing light, a hand touched his brow, and he felt something slip over his eyes. All at once, the incredible pain faded away to a dull ache. Hesitantly, he opened his eyes again, fearing the return of that horrible agony, but it never came. He vaguely saw a blurry figure standing tall in front of him. Then came a sound, a sound he hadn’t heard in a very long time.
“Well old Dwarf,” came a man’s voice, filling the small space, echoing off the close metal walls in a rich tenor. “How would you like to see the stars?”
After struggling for a moment, the old man finally managed to get his voice to work. “ The stars?,” he coughed out, wondering at the effort.
“The stars.” came the man’s voice, the rich sound singing in the Dwarf’s ears.
“Seen ‘em before.” rasped the old man, his voice weak and husky from long disuse. “Can’t much have happened to ‘em. And no need to yell, dear host.”
“Yell? Ah I see, you’re sensitive to sounds as well, after so long in silence. The opposite of aural fatigue, as it were.”came a slightly quieter response. “As for the stars; well, a hundred years of prison might see a lot of changes in the universe around you lieutenant.”
One hundred years? LIEUTENANT??? All at once, memories of years long past crashed into him as he fell to his knees, images of people long since dead and places long gone. Memories of conversations with his father, of graduating from the academy, of hours spent tuning Mercurius’ rear thrusters, and the pleasure he felt at a job well done. Then, nipping on the heels of those pleasant memories, he was rushed down by a nightmare: fire in the engine room, the ship shaking around him, a hole being punched through the hull. Shadows dragging him from a wreck, hours of inquisition, months of torture at the hands of his hosts. Captors! came the vitriolic thought.
“I understand it’s a lot to take in, but we should get you ready to move. No reason to keep you here any longer than you already have been.” the man whispered to the dwarf, helping him to his feet. “Plenty of time to sort it all out once you’re free. For now, just hold onto the thought that you’re not alone anymore. Your century of solitude is over. Once we get you to the ship, you’ll have plenty of chances to talk it out with us.”
Us? Ship? came the hesitant thought. SHIP! Engines humming, grease under my nails, and food, real food! With a new sense of urgency, the old dwarf rose, looking up at the blurry man through what he now realized were a pair of welding goggles.
“Well, new friend whose name I don’t know,” came his rasping voice, “Let’s get a move on. If only Algy could see this.” With that, he stumbled to the cell door, breathing heavily and humming as he left the man behind.
The tall man watched the old dwarf walk out the cell in concerned puzzlement. Algy? Who the hell is Algy. File said he’s been here alone for over a century? Oh boy, this is gonna be trouble.

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Sorry the formatting got kind of screwed up.

A Discordant Note
MerridockNightsend

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