The panels reverberated violently to the rhythmic thuds of bass. What had started with simple head bobbing evolved gradually into foot tapping. Keystrokes were pressed in harmonic patterns. His fingers fluttered until the silky sound captured his limbs, his arms stirring the air in smooth undulations. Malik was overtaken, his torso swayed as his mind was taken prisoner by the melody, snatched away from the outside world. He glided over to the environmental controls, sliding the light down to a more appropriate darkness.
The slow tempo smoothly transitioned, elevating to a mighty crescendo. Malik slammed into the pilot seat, swiveling the cushion around in circles as he continued to make waves with his arms and shoulders. As the bass shuddered through his skull, a surge of energy coursed through his muscles, causing his movements to grow jagged, violent. The beats repeated, commanding his every move like an auditory puppeteer.
But as the climax descended, the noise relinquished its control of his body. The rhythm slowed to a small series of heartbeats. Malik eased his breath as he gently coaxed the flight settings, pressing buttons and picking at switches in time with each remaining thud. Silence returned, and he reclined in the chair, a self-satisfied smile stretched across his lips.
“I really wish you wouldn’t listen to that garbage while inside me,” Niner-3 piped in.
“It ain’t good unless you can feel it in your guts,” Malik said, irritated at the disruption of his tranquility.
“It makes my wires jiggle.” Niner-3 lowered his vocal output. “And that makes me self-conscious.”
“I don’t think I need to point out how absurd that statement is, Nine,” Malik scoffed as he flipped another switch.
“It’s just noise! Constant thumping in an obnoxious time signature,” Nine whined. “I have heard more harmonic beats coming from your erotica videos.”
“Hey! I never uploaded those to you,” Malik raised an eyebrow. “Have you been hacking into my personal com again?”
“I see it every time you make a data transfer,” the ship chastised.
Malik’s cheeks flushed bright red as he stared out into the viewport; a feeble attempt to remove eye contact from the ship.
“Well, that’s awkward,” Malik pointed out, rubbing his neck in discomfort.
“Though I must say for one who boasts such a roguish personality, your taste is very vanilla,” Niner-3 taunted disappointingly.
“Hey! That’s…” he started, narrowing his eyes and pointing viciously at the ceiling.
“Hang on, we got company,” Nine interrupted.
“What?” Malik looked over to the sensor array, a sudden look of dread seeped into his face. “Oh shit. Is that who I think it is?”
“Razor Clan,” Nine confirmed. “At least two squads of them.”
“What the hell are they doin’ so far out here…” Malik’s voice trailed off as he watched the enemy specks fan out on the screen.
“What the hell are we doing so far out here?” Nine pointed out.
“Vacationing,” Malik evaded. “But I highly doubt they’re doing the same. Now what do we do?”
“Well, whatever it is, we better do it quickly. They’re headed right for us.”
“Fuck! What’s out there?” Malik tried to push back his panic, clawing at the viewport as he searched for any scrap of shelter in the void of space.
“Well, let’s see: open space, open space, open space…” Niner-3 commented, taking no effort in hiding his sarcasm. “…ancient minefield…”
“Let’s go!” Malik veered the controls, causing Niner-3 to turn sharply as they headed for a new direction.
“Wait, WHAT? Hold it, you can’t navigate through…”
“It’s your choice, fight them, and certainly die, or try and not fight them but maybe get blown up in the process, and then die. Maybe. Or not,” Malik offered. He could hear Niner-3 processing the outcomes in his memory banks.
“Be fucking careful,” Nine finally complied.
“That’s no way for a machine to talk,” Malik mocked.
The ship swooped into the inanimate chaos of the minefield. Venerable relics of a war long passed were scattered across the field like scintillating death glitter. Many of the mines had been deactivated, but as the ship scanned the area, the companions discovered several stray sentries that still possessed their explosive teeth.
“Easy, easy!” Niner-3 warned. “That one! That one right there is active, get away!”
“Goddammit, Nine! Compensate if you’re so uncomfortable with my flying,” Malik growled. “Now what are they doing?”
“Trailing behind. But they’re still after us,” Nine reported.
The Razor Clan ships were maintaining a careful distance behind their quarry, weaving in and out between the decaying mines. Their interceptors were built for speed and hit-and run chases, giving them the ability to toy with prey in a playing field of empty space.
Inside the field, it took effort for the ships to alter their course at their tremendous speed. Their advantage was stolen as the enemy ships struggled to navigate through the treacherous close quarters.
The danger was made morbidly clear as two explosions radiated behind Malik, the pirates suffering casualties in the chaotic mess of the archaic battleground.
The Razor squadron continued their pursuit, but Malik’s twitch reaction developed from years of time and money wasted at the sim arcade gave him an edge. A little left, pitch forward, yaw eighty degrees. It was almost natural to him.
Reality soon dawned on him as his playing field slowly diminished, the edge of the explosive caltrops rapidly approaching. He scanned the area in desperation as he darted around obstacles. The remaining pirates danced above him, waiting to meet him on open ground.
Malik spotted an uncharacteristically large asteroid, covered in metallic protrusions. He let of an evil giggle as an idea percolated in his mind.
“Alright, bear with me, I’m going to do something stupid.”
“I…what?” Nine’s voice was riddled with annoyance. Now was not the time for any of Malik’s antics.
He punched the throttle, much to Nine’s discomfort. Sweat leached onto the controls as his nervousness manifested. Nine’s admonishing protests grew louder as Malik darted ahead of the remaining clan ships, the proximity alert screeching on the console as Malik brushed dangerously close to each mine’s sensors. His eyes were glued to the screen, waiting until the pirates were a comfortable distance away before executing his ploy.
With a precise calculation only a physicist, or a lucky bastard of an astounding degree, could implement, Malik tore the yoke to the side, forcing the ship to abruptly about face. As Malik hit the thrusters, the ship ate up its remaining acceleration, and Nine slowly drifted backwards towards an active mine.
“What in seventeen Hells do you think you are…” But Nine was not allowed to finish his protest as he was hurled upwards, the main engine scorching space on Malik’s command. A warning blared onto the sensor screen, the mine did not appreciate the intrusion.
Seconds before the sedentary explosive unleashed its deadly payload, Malik slipped Nine behind the asteroid, leaving a cataclysmic explosion behind them.
“Shut off everything. NOW.” Malik ordered. He was suddenly plunged in darkness as the ship complied with no words of either praise or reprimand. Silence shrouded the cockpit like a heavy fog, not even the slightest electronic hum could be heard.
Malik jiggled the insides of his ear with a finger. Prolonged exposure to loud music had bestowed upon him a permanent ring contaminating his hearing. He shook his head violently as he waited for the tension to dissipate.
They watched the sensors as the pirates circled the area, scanning for their presence. A few tense moments later, the pirates broke off their attack and exited the minefield.
“Well, that appears to have done it. They’re backing off,” Nine reported.
“Yep, I’m amazing.” Malik stretched his arms out with a dastardly smile. “Alright, let’s get the hell out of here.”
He released the ship from the surface of the rock, and made a gentle glide back into the minefield. But even though the pirates had left, he was not alone.
“Wait a minute. I’m getting a weird energy signature dead ahead.” Nine reported.
“Probably just an active mine. I can get around it.”
“No, wait, it’s getting stronger. It’s following us,” Nine moved his field of vision to the viewscreen, displaying an odd metallic barbed orb hurdling through the mines. As it drew nearer to them, the strange shiny entity expanded, its barbs suddenly glowing in an eerie light, steadily increasing in intensity. “Shit, that’s an homing turret! It’s charging up! Get us the hell out of…”
But the warning was barely processed as the cockpit suddenly flooded with blue light, and a shower of sparks splashed into Malik’s face. The cockpit lights flickered dangerously as the main electronics systems struggled to maintain power. Damage reports started flashing red in front of his panicked eyes.
“Nine!” Malik shouted, desperately pressing buttons to regain control. He flipped on the manual stabilizers, magically still functional, and he frantically shifted the ship out of the turret’s range.
“I…thi…ow…” Nine’s voice fizzled out in a series of painful electronic scratches. The cockpit went silent again. Malik was left in the muted light as the emergency power lit up the void with its melancholy glow.
“Nine! Stay with me! Aw, shit, shit, shit! It’s okay I’ll get us out of this.”
Only silence responded. He tore out his personal com from his pocket and yanked a menu from the screen.
“C’mon, where’s the nearest fucking planet? Great. In the middle of fucking nowhere. No place to land. Shit!”
He had made a terrible mistake.
He bolted out of his chair and sprinted to the supply cabinet. Ripping open the cabinet doors, he flung parcels, medical units, and ammunition around until he found the toolbox resting peacefully on a shelf. Desperation tore at his mind as he ran back to the cockpit.
“It’s okay, it’s okay. Shhhhh-shh. I’ll fix this, don’t worry,” he coddled as he plunged to his knees, tearing open a metal panel from under the controls.
He frantically clawed at the chaos of wires inside, forcing back tears as he yanked out singed bits and pieces, attempting to refit new parts with shaking hands.
“Oh gods, I’m so sorry.”
The thought of being stranded in space dawned on him. Malik could not bear the thought that he might lose the only friend he had in the whole rotten universe.
“I’m so sorry…”