Back at camp, the Stowaway lay in the planetglow, visibly relaxing, until the Navigatrix was out of earshot. She was getting suspicious, and they thought they might know why, but there was nothing to be done about it. Things were in motion and that was that.
The Engineer had put together an audio translation device that took over the entirety of the ship’s computer. She wanted them to try it sooner than later, because once they were back in there full time, the computer would be otherwise occupied. They hated to disappoint her.
They stood up and caught her eye; “We can try your machine now if you want.”
The Engineer’s face took on the troubled look of anyone hearing the Stowaway’s transformed voice, but she said “Would you like to try the device now? No one will bother us.”
While she tuned radio signals and plugged in wires, she babbled on about the system she’d set up, all the scientific principles she was working with, the codebreaking approaches the computer would run through… and she smiled at them, and said “I’m excited to learn your name!”
The Stowaway had never met another group that used names less, but they smiled at her as best they could. They had the sense that their facial expressions weren’t coming through clearly either, but it was worth a try.
Before this had all started, they’d been part of a small community in the permanently lit zone of a tidally locked planet. They had not, they could admit, been a particularly good kid, and it wasn’t really surprising that they had been kicked out so young. Family had to earn it.
And maybe it was silly to go through the twilight into the night communities without a convoy, but it wasn’t like they could have afforded to join one. The Stowaway didn’t pride themselves on much, but they were a consistently good shot. Good enough to get into trouble, at least.
And so maybe it had been inevitable that they would end up in the wrong part of some nightside town, in some rundown, abandoned neighbourhood, paranoid and twitchy, and shoot the wrong window out, and get the attention of the witches. They replayed it in their mind over and over.
Maybe this was indeed fated; but they’d made the trade, taken the job, tried to find a way to survive it. This was on them. They’d intentionally become the Stowaway and they were going to have to see this all through.
So when the Engineer held up a microphone that she had plugged into a huge array of switchboards and radio transmitters, they held it and calmly recited each step of their journey onto the ship, every trick they had used, each secret they had been given. And the lights blinked…
…and the ship’s engines revved up to support the computer, and they all turned and looked at it, half-immersed in high tide and rumbling and boiling the water around it, and the little lights kept blinking…
…and then finally it all wound down, the air went quiet, and the lights all turned off except for one red one.
The Engineer huffed and frowned and almost looked hurt by the result.
“This should have worked. This is the best audio cipher I’ve ever made – that I’ve ever seen.”
The Stowaway almost felt bad. They reached out and patted the Engineer’s hand.
“It’s not your fault. It’s just the Curse.”
The Engineer’s frown deepened at the untranslatable words that reached her ears, and she turned away, already pulling out wires and unscrewing covers.