// 2020-08-29 // by Neon
[The previous section of this story can be found here. The next section can be found here. If you are a new reader, the first section of this story can be found here.]
The starship Enterprise from Star Trek had a way bigger bridge than this, River though to herself. River found herself in a room roughly the same size as her quarters.
When she had been instructed to "Report to the bridge", she expected something, I don't know... more luxurious? The bridge was utterly spartan; it had a singular harness seat mounted to a track built into the floor to slide along the room and large holographic blue-tinted displays lined the walls— each was covered in diagrams, visualisations, and a dotted Braille-esque script that River obviously couldn't read. There was a distinctive lack of any actual physical controls, buttons, or levers anywhere. Dim blue light strips lit the room from the ceiling and floor, much like the rest of the ship.
There were two coffin-sized spacey-cryo-tube-looking chambers standing vertically at the two corners at the front of the room. River had no idea how she knew, but somehow, she instinctively understood that these metal space coffins were inertial dampening chambers, designed to submerse and cushion the body from extreme accelerational forces in the event of emergency manoeuvring procedures or an imminent high-speed collision. The bridge of this ship felt more like a space-age information bunker than a control centre for piloting a cutting-edge starship.
Oddly enough, the bridge was completely empty. You'd think that when a ship's captain tells you to meet them on the bridge, they'd be there, right? Maybe that was the goal in being late, to keep River on her toes in suspense? River was nervous, but also giddy at the thought of being here still. Lady Fiir was mysterious and intimidating, but also... beautiful. Her ship was amazing, being in space was amazing, and the confidence with which she held herself was amazing. River's gut buzzed like a beehive with anticipation. Fiir didn't even have to be here, and yet look how flustered and worked up River found herself. Is it weird to have a crush on an alien? A particularly strong and menacing one who you literally just met, to be specific?
River heard a raspy sigh above her head and instinctively looked up to the ceiling above her head.
In the moment, River saw the reflective metal butt of a pistol racing toward her face and then everything turned into stars. She screamed and reeled from the inertia of the hit, flying back and smacking her tailbone up against a wall and then writhing around embarrassingly in zero-gravity. She cupped her hands around her cheek, now bloodied from the sharp corner of the pistol hilt she'd been struck with. Tears welled up and her lip quivered.
Still blinded from the pain, River heard Fiir chastise her, "Weak. A sincere attacker would have blown a hole through your skull. Be mindful to your surroundings, lest they be mindful to you."
River struggled to open her teary eyes and sniffled. Fiir stood floating over her with a devilish smirk and held a hand out. River stared dumbfounded like a deer in the headlights at Fiir's outstretched arm for a moment and hesitated. She slowly, fearfully reached out and let Fiir help her up.
Fiir quipped nonchalantly, "The pores of your gloves secrete a regenerative coagulant that should be compatible with your biology. Massage it into your face a bit; you'll be fine."
River frowned and wiped at her face again, indignantly. She was such a fool.
River felt inept. None of this was anything like what she'd imagined a futuristic space-traveling adventure was supposed to be like. She'd always dreamed that maybe one day she'd be someone special, get to talk to little green men, stuff like that. But this? Fiir was right. She was weak. She didn't know the first thing about fighting or anything like that. None of this made any sense to her.
After they had first met, Fiir had told River that she had some kind of uncontrolled psychic power. As far as she knew, it was the reason Fiir was even keeping her around. River didn't feel psychic at all. I mean, hell, Fiir's ship had read River's mind; not the other way around. What if she really was useless?
Fiir put a hand on River's shoulder and basked in the unwelcoming fearful tension that emanated from the scared young woman. Fiir's mouth began moving, but there was a momentary pause before River heard any speech. The translator struggled to find an appropriate expression to convey Fiir's words, "I need you to make yourself useful, Terran. The chessboard has been set, and pawns are being moved."
Fiir paused for a moment and then spoke slowly, "My ship, Kalte— I am sure you have spoken already— has intercepted a connection to a terrestrial communications uplink and we are pulling in a local telecommunications feed from your homeworld." River was about to butt in, but Fiir continued to monologue, "My intuition tells me that some of your-- digital associates, so to speak, may be of value to us right now. The ones that led you to the Zeta Reticulans in the first place. I need you to find them for me."
River was confused, "Find... my conspiracy friends? Wait, why? I thought you said I was weak and.... if you have a communications whateverlink, why don't you just do it yourself? What do you need me for?"
In a menacingly calm but almost sing-song tone, Fiir continued to patronise her, "Ah, River. I figured this may come as a bit of a shock to you, but you were in custody for just over two weeks¹ before I retrieved you. Kalte can fill you in on the details, but suffice to say that since your abduction the situation on your world has escalated and as a result the circumstances we find ourselves in have changed. Significantly."
River blinked a couple times. Still confused, River replied in a defensively snarky manner, "Soooo, this means that you, a super secret alien spy or something, need me, some Earth girl, to dox her internet friends. Am I getting that right? Seriously?"
Fiir took her hand off River's shoulder and floated slightly closer. She gently ruffled her fingers through River's wavy long hair. Fiir made a sickeningly suave but definitively ungenuine pout and whispered softly into River's ear, "That's exactly what I need from you, Terran."
Footnote 1: Linguistic note, "Weeks"
The word "week" is used here as that is the translation that River would have been given, however the length of time being referred to is (more specifically) one ASC/ASB12 week. One ASC week is equivalent to 164.52 Terran hours, roughly 4 hours shorter than a Terran week.
ASC/ASB12 stands for Architect Standard Calendar, which is a subset of the Architect Standard Base 12 Unit System. These units are derived from the intrumentation present on gateshift craft and other Architect constructs that litter the galaxy. These units have become a de-facto standard system of measurement to coordinate between diverse cultures in a modern galaxy.
Art sourced under free to use license. Minor edits made by me in GIMP. Source assets are listed below.