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The Runaway: Stowaway

Posted on 25 Oct 2023 @ 1:57pm by Fernanda Ruiz

Mission: M4 - Falling Out
Location: SS Barcelos Rooster, Cargo Bay 4
Timeline: Backpost: 6 weeks prior to M4
3502 words - 7 OF Standard Post Measure

The screaming drifted up the stairs and into the dark hallway, recoiling off of wall, floor, ceiling. It slid through the cracks around Fernanda’s door and woke her from her sleep. She attempted to roll over and block the sound with her pillow, but even unheard she knew the voices were there hovering over her bed. This idea alone swept the last bits of sleep from her eyes .

She threw her pillow to the side and grabbed the stuffed fluffy pink cat with a Cheshire grin from her bed. She named it Buñuelo. Despite that she had just turned twelve and was trying to convince herself she didn’t need kiddy things anymore, Buñuelo was her constant companion.

The yelling, which pitched from low to high, forced her from her room into hall. With one hand, she gripped her plaid pajama pants – the ones mama had made her for her birthday after they’d visited Scotland –while the other throttled the stuffed cat. Even as the sounds grew louder, it’s power to propel her faded and she came to a stop at the top of the stairs…

“Blame me? Me? I did nothing, you’re the one who’s caused all this!” Papa screamed. “We wouldn’t be in this mess – ”

“No! No! No! Don’t. This has nothing to do with you and me, this has to do with you and her. She idolizes you, Carlos! Ahora la tratas como basura! What has changed? Not me! So what?”

Papa angrily hissed, but what he said was incoherent. Fernanda couldn’t make out the words from the top of the stairs, but she heard Mamá’s retort, “What does that have to do with anything? She’s your daughter?”

My daughter,” Papa sneered. “That’s rich coming from you!”

Fernanda’s crate had turned into a home. A dozen tiny lights dotted the ceiling, borrowed from Livvy’s room, casting together enough light to bath the interior in a warm light. Blankets and pillows hid the dark gray floor under a rainbow of color. Spilled out over the walls were dozens of drawings, stacked upon each other. Several layers thick now – new on top of old - it showed a slowly developing talent. Carlos had once said that engineers could never be great artists; their minds didn’t work that way. Fernanda was happy to prove him wrong.

The pictures also worked as a calendar of sorts. Without direct access to the Barcelos Rooster’s computer, it was sometimes hard to tell when a day faded into a new one. It’d been over six weeks since they’d left Earth. Livvy had told Fernanda that the trip was long for the slow-moving freighter, but the girls had expected to be on Bolarus two weeks ago.

Still, they hadn’t panicked (Kathryn Janeway didn’t panic when she was thrown in the Delta Quadrant, did she?) and they resolved to stay their course. Secretly, Fernanda was starting to feel a bit anxious. She’d expected to be able to let Mamá know she was alright already. With every day that slid by, the guilty knot in her stomach grew tighter.

A PADD with An Engineering Guide to K-7 lay open on a tall stack of pillows that Fernanda had shoved out of the way to give her some room so she could pace as best she could. Four steps, turn, four steps turn. Her head was a few inches shorter than the top of the crate, so should could stand all the way up. She longed to secret herself out of her cocoon and explore the Barcelos Rooster, but Lizzy said that was an impossibility if they wanted to keep her hidden. The ship might be large, but internal sensors could pick up something as small as a Tellar rodent. Fernanda was considering doing it anyway: maybe she could play the same trick she used on the spaceport in Havana. Midstride, she bent over and picked up her oversized hiking bag and ruffled through it until she pulled out a black dot, the size and thickness of a poker chip. It was from a game that kids played on Earth, but Fernanda had modified it to give internal sensors false readings. It was a simple recalibration to the sensor to have it ignore what the dot was saying, but the techs would have to know that the discs were causing the problem.

Fernanda clutched the disc in her hand, resolved to try it out, when the hatch to her crate opened making her jump. Livvy crawled on her hands and knees into the space and quickly shut the door behind her. “I got dinner!”

Livvy was a tall girl, standing nearly six inches taller than Fernanda, with thick red frizzled hair that was only kept in check by a hastily tied blue bandana wrapped around her head. They’d met through Fernanda’s school, who’d arranged for the students to make viewer-pals with kids who lived with their families on ships. The two girls had become fast friends due to their shared infatuation with all things Captain Janeway.

She laid down a plate of food and pulled the white napkin she’d draped over it off to reveal something that looked to Fernanda like picadillo Mamá enjoyed making. Fernanda hated it, but she was starving and she grabbed the fork and started shoveling food into her mouth. “Water?” she asked through a mush of food. Between Livvy’s chores in the morning and her school work, she could only deliver food once or twice a day. Despite her slight frame, Fernanda had been plied with enough food to feed an army since she was little; the forced diet was excruciating.

Livvy handed over a bottle of water. “So, no one is saying nothing about why it’s taking so long. Mom keeps telling me that ‘we’ll get there when we get there,’ whatever that means.”

“I thought you said they let you look at the star charts?” Fernanda said, slightly annoyed at her friend.

“They do, promise. But…well, not this time. I dunno. I think – maybe – I dunno. It’s stupid.”


“No, it’s stupid. I don’t want to, like, worry you.”

Now Fernanda was worried, dropping her fork and staring at her friend, “What?”

“Well. Okay. Like, they didn’t let me see the charts one time and that’s because we were going into Cardassian space and they didn’t want to worry me.”

“You think we’re going to Cardassia?” Fernanda shrieked, eyes open wide. That was the exact opposite direction they were supposed to be heading.

“No. Maybe. I dunno.” She slumped, “Sorry.”

Livvy didn’t have many friends her own age – the twins Simon and Keith were the only other kids on the Barcelos Rooster. They were closer to adulthood now: sixteen and already doing more jobs on the ship – and she looked ready to cry. Fernanda sat down next to her and patted her leg, miming what her mom would do. “It’s okay. These things happen. We’ll just have to figure out where we are.”

“Mm-hmm.” Livvy nodded, brushing away a tear that had collected in the corner of her eye.

“Anyway – ee!”

Both girls screamed as the hatch ripped open and there stood a thick man, shoulders like boulders poking out of a tank top, a ruinous scar running from his left temple in a crescent shape to the corner of his mouth. “Found ya,” he murmured in an accent that muddled his hard consonants.

With a thick fingers he reached into the crate and pulled out Livvy by the scruff of her green shirt and made a motion to do the same to Fernanda, but stopped short thinking better of grabbing a girl he didn’t know. He squinted his eyes, realizing he did know her. At least in a way. “I know ya’. You Lizzy’s pal. From Earth. Lizzy what have you done?”

“Let go of me, Ry! Let go!” Lizzy blustered and tried to kick him in the shins, but he just stretched her out away from him with his long tree-like arm.

“Out with ya. Fergie ain’t it?”

Fernanda scuttled out of the crate, shoulders slumping. This could only mean one thing: they’d send her back to Earth. Fear weighing down her words, Fernanda muttered her name under her breath.

“Ey? Didn’t hear ya’. Cap’ll get you both straightened out. Let’s go!”

Still holding Lizzy, he propelled Fernanda in front of him with his empty hand and started guiding her out of the cargo bay that was stacked twenty feet high with crates. The hatch they exited was painted with a white number four and, once outside, Fernanda found herself in a narrow walkway. The man, Ry, had to turn sideways to sidle past the bulkheads and down the long corridor past three other hatches splashed with three, two, and one.

When the reached the end, they went through another door and this time, the ship opened up. It was no longer a corridor, but a wide-open room with locker, each labeled with a name, a green spacesuit hanging inside. Fernanda’s fear ebbed a touch as it dawned on her. She really was in space! She started to crane her neck around, looking for a window so she could see the stars.

There were no windows here, though, and Ry was prodding her to take a slight left toward another hatch in the wall. They were in yet another corridor, slightly wider than the first, but still tight. This one had multiple doors in the wall, each with a nameplate on the outside. The final one in the row, positioned beside yet another hatch, was marked ‘Captain.’ Ry knocked loudly with his knuckles. The door opened. Fernanda stepped through.

There was a woman sitting at a small gray desk in equally small living room packed with a couch. To her right, Fernanda could see a bedroom with two beds sitting inches apart from each other. It dawned on her that this was Livvy and her mom’s home. No wonder Livvy didn’t think the crate was all that bad!

Livvy’s mom looked like a larger version of her daughter wearing gray overalls. As Fernanda studied her, however, she saw major differences. Springy red hair was contained in two short braids. Her deeply lined face had lost whatever youthful vigor she’d once had and now steely gray eyes probed at this strange pre-teen in front of her until, like Ry, she recognized the face.

“I told ya, Cap, I thought there’s stowaway. I got the sensors reconfigured and found her straightaway. With Miss Lizzy here.” Ry shook the other girl.

“Fernanda. You’re Fernanda. Oh, I should have known,” Livvy’s mom exhaled and groaned. “The authorities on Earth contacted us two weeks ago asking if you’d somehow managed to get on our ship. I should’ve stopped there and searched by hand instead of relying on the sensors. Oh, God, Livvy what have you done?”

Fernanda saw her friend wilt under the gaze of her mother. Starfleet officers definitely don’t let other people take the blame. “It was me! I told Livvy she had to help me!”

Livvy’s mom looked at her and just shook her head. “Oh, God. Okay. Ry take Livvy to the mess. I’ll deal with her there. Fernanda,” she patted the couch next to her desk chair. “Sit. Let’s talk.”

As he was dragging her from the room, Livvy tried to smile encouragingly at her friend. Ferenda tried to feel as confident as she could when she walked over to the worn-out orange sofa and sat gingerly on the edge of one of the cushions.

The older woman examined her for several breaths before asking in a surprisingly warm voice, “Do I call you ‘Fernanda’ or do you like something else?”

Words spilled out of a Fernanda’s mouth in a whirl of sound. “Fernanda. Ms…err…Livvy’s mom, this isn’t Livvy’s fault. I came up with the idea. I just needed to go to space and to get off Earth and to, um, like, do other things. Are you going to send me back? I don’t want to go back to Earth. I’ve got to get to a space station named O…”

Livvy’s mom held up her hands to stop the flood of words. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down. First, call me Captain Allison. Or just Ms. Allison. Second, I’d call your mom if I could and put you on the next available ship back to Earth.” Fernanda slumped. “But I can’t.”


Captain Allison hesitated and shook her head as if answering questions she’d posed to herself. “We’re out of range of the subspace relay points for the Federation.”

Fernanda nodded her head. “We really are in Cardassian space?”

The Captain hesitated. “No. Not Cardassian space.” She muttered under breath about Livvy remembering everything. “Just in a bit out of range of the relays. Nothing to worry about.”

“Okay. So. My mom is going to be freaked out. I thought I’d be somewhere else now.”

“I think just about everybody on Earth is freaked out. You’re on the nightly news.”

“I…I am?”

“Yeah. If I hadn’t just met you and whoop you for doing this to your mom.” She sighed. “Okay, okay. So, here’s what we’re going to do. You’ll move in here with me and Lizzy. You can take the other bed.”

“But…isn’t that your bed?”

Captain Allison shrugged. “I end up sleeping in a bunk on the bridge most nights anyway, especially now that we’re – “ She cleared her throat. “But everybody works on this ship and that goes double for you. You’ll start out helping Livvy with her chores, then you’ll get your own.”

“Okay!” Fernanda said a bit too brightly. Real work on a real starship, it was a dream come true. Forgotten was the guilt, the nervousness of being found, the dread of facing Mamá.

Captain Allison frowned at her then said very sternly, “Listen and this is important: when I tell you to do something, you do it.”

“Like its an order?”

“Because it is an order. It can be dangerous out in space. You don’t screw around and you don’t go exploring the ship. Most of my crew are hired-on. We’ve worked with them before, but they come and go. The only other people you take orders from are my first mate Patrice, Julia, who’s also our engineer, and you take orders from Ry, who’s our cargo master. No one else, got me?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good. It could be six weeks before we’re…back in range of the relays. Then I am immediately calling the Federation authorities. I bet there will be hell to pay. Now that you know me a little and you got the ground rules, I need to read both you and Livvy the riot act.”

For such a large ship as the Barcelos Rooster the bridge was cramped with five stations, all within arm’s reach of each other. The three small view screens attached to the bulkhead in front of the helmsman’s station, where Allison sat, showed the starfield zipping past. The ship wasn’t fast – cruising at warp 6 – but it wasn’t as slow as others.

Although clean, everything bore almost fifty years of wear. It’d been her parents’ ship before it was hers, and Allison hoped to have the ship updated after getting the pay from this latest gig. The Federation retrofitted everything for free in its civilian yards, but after the destruction of the Utopia Planitia Yards, the line’s already significant wait became eternal. Hither and yon, yards were requisitioned by Starfleet in the aftermath. Even as Starfleet built up its facilities as 40 Eradani A, and more and more yards became available for civilian ships, the backlog was enormous.

So, she had to use a yard in a non-Federation world. She’d been loath to take this job, but neither she nor the ship could wait anymore. The latinum they were being offered would pay for all the updates and repairs, and even leave a small profit. She’d risked everything.

She stared into the starfield. Thinking of it as Romulan space was only habit. The Free State claimed ownership of all the old space of the Empire, but that was little more than words. It was wild and dangerous, filled with pirates – Romulan and other species alike – warlords fighting over rocks as they tried to piece together a new empire, and people just trying to survive. The Romulan Republic was the best of the lot, but still was fighting hunger as much as they were warlords and the Free State. Hence this shipment to Tucanae, a planet that had barely been able to sustain a small colony before the Romulan star went nova. Now, there were nearly five million living there.

“Our little guest is settling in?” Patrice yawned as he came onto the bridge interrupting Allison’s thoughts. He was slight man, with curly brown hair with flecks of gray, an oval face, and a hook nose that dwarfed any of this other features. He’d joined her crew twenty years ago with Julia, his wife after their Starfleet careers had sputtered. Their twins had been born onboard, just like Livvy.

“Hmm.” Allison pinched the bridge of her nose. “I was already scared about this job, now I’m terrified. A million things could go wrong out here and we’ll never be heard from again. Her mom would never find out what happened. Can you imagine?”

“No. We’ll just have to be cautious.”

“I shouldn’t have taken this job.”

“If we hadn’t, the Rooster wouldn’t make it another two years, then where would we be?” Their twins had been born on this ship and he felt it was more like part of the family than just a home. “I don’t know. There weren’t really any good choices, were there?”

“No. And there’s the convoy,” Allison noted, trying to convince herself. “And the hired escort. The rendezvous with the Tucanae ships in a week. We should be good.”

“Right,” he sat down at the engineer’s station and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. It was his turn for a bridge shift, but Allison often stayed so they could talk. “It’s weird being within spitting distance of seven other ships and not being allowed to talk to them over subspace communications. As if anyone is going to pick up those comms.”

“I’ll do anything if it means keeping some Romulan breakaway warlord or Gorn pirate from spotting our shipment of food and medicine.”

“It’s just all wild,” Patrice sat down at the captain’s station. “I remember patrolling the Neutral Zone before the War, worried a D’deridex-class ship would suddenly decloak and start shooting. Now here I am flying across Romulan space putting all my hope in a late-class Romulan Bird of Prey.

“It’s not the only thing to change. After all the changes in the Federation the past fifteen years, I keep wondering what kind of universe we’re leaving our children.”

“Geesh, Al. Can we not talk politics this early in the morning?”

Allison shrugged. “Everything feels like politics anymore.” She waved her hand toward the view screens. “You think we’d be out here getting paid as much as we are to bring essential supplies to Romulans if it weren’t for the politics of the Federation?”

“No. On the other hand, if it weren’t for the messiness of Romulan space, we’d be stuck waiting for another four years for a retrofit. Rooster would be laid up long before that.”

“So, we’re war profiteers?”

Patrice gave her a flat look. “No, we’re doing what we can. Both for them and for us.”

Doing what we can use to feel like a good thing. Now it felt like whenever they did something good, your head was on the chopping block. After a couple minutes of silence, she heaved herself out of helmsmen’s chair. “You have the bridge, Number One.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.” Patrice yawned again, propping his feat up on the console. “I’m looking forward to that retrofit. It’ll be nice to get some real sleep for the few weeks the Rooster isn’t flying.”


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