[Chapter 1 - 012]

The oven dinged, and the other students flocked to the kitchen door like moths to a flame. Before any of us could get our hands on the pastries, though, an all too familiar alarm cut through the chatter.

Ding dong bing bong!

A regular announcement screen.
MONO-9000

All students participating in the killing school orbit are to meet in the Core lobby immediately! And bring those snacks too, I’m getting hungry!~

And the screen switched off again.

Nik sighs.
Nikola

A-ah… I guess these are gonna get cold…

Sal frowns.
Salvatore

Sorry, dear. Maybe it won’t take too long.

Aoi frowns.
Aoi

Sounds like we better hurry…

We all filed out of the cafeteria and into the lobby. I did a quick headcount— sixteen, including me, that was everyone… And right on cue, the orb spun through the mysterious doors, waving its claws like it was on Broadway.

MONO-9000 appears, doing some jazz hands.
MONO-9000

Good eeeeeevening, meatbags! You know… I’m looking around this room, and something’s very, very wrong…

MONO-9000 grumbles.
MONO-9000

Nobody’s dead yet! What do I have to do to get some action around here?!

Tiff grumbles.
Tiffani

This shit again?

Honoka yells.
Honoka

How many times do we have to say it?! Nobody’s killing anybody!!

Gugalanna yells.
Gugalanna

What the hell kinda people do you think we are?!

MONO-9000 looks annoyed.
MONO-9000

Well sorry for assuming maybe some of you cared enough about your families to try and get home?

Jurou yells.
Jurou

W-well o’course I wanna go home! But I ain’t hurtin’ nobody! Momma an’ Poppa, they wouldn’t… It just ain’t right!!

The others murmured in agreement. If even Jurou could stand up to their captor, they could too, right?

MONO-9000 speaks.
MONO-9000

Yeah, you say that now, huh? Kekekekek! I guess we’ll have to find out just how strong your morals really are… Let’s toss a monkey wrench into things!

Vash frowns.
Vasundhara

O-oh this sounds bad…

Ishi yells.
Ishi

Don’t listen to that thing! It’s full of shit! I’m gonna take that goddam monkey wrench and shove it up its ass!!

Michi thinks.
Michi

Does it even have an ass?

MONO-9000 pretends to be scared.
MONO-9000

Oh no, I’m so scared! I definitely couldn’t just rip your lungs out if you try any shit again! Kekekekekek!

Jurou yells frantically.
Jurou

Aaah! Don't joke about that!!

Ping looks confused.
Ping

What’s a lung?

Siegfried yells.
Siegfried

Just tell us what you want already!

MONO-9000 growls.
MONO-9000

I’ll get to it if you all shut up! Anyway!

Its chassis rattled, as if it was clearing its throat.

Close-up of MONO-9000.
MONO-9000

Once I dismiss you, each of you will find an envelope in your dorm. It contains your deepest, darkest secret… and the deepest, darkest secret of one other person in this room.

MONO-9000 speaks.
MONO-9000

And boy oh boy are there some spicy ones! Maybe you’ll find just the weakness you need to commit the perfect crime… or maybe you’ll learn something so terrible, you’ll have to take justice into your own hands… Kekekekek! The possibilities!

No one said anything just yet, but the tension was rising fast. What secrets could this thing know, and how did it find them out? Could they really be that terrible? I wasn’t even sure what my secret could be!

MONO-9000 sparkles.
MONO-9000

…You’ve got three days to think it over! And if no one kills before the deadline’s up, everyone finds out everyone’s secret— as I broadcast it live to the entire world!

Michi looks freaked out.
Michi

You can do that?

MONO-9000 speaks.
MONO-9000

With the power of this station? You bet your ass I can!

Yusra and Riko stood towards the back of the crowd, neither looking particularly impressed.

Yusra frowns.
Yusra

…Hm.

Riko checks her nails.
Riko

…I see.

MONO-9000 blushes.
MONO-9000

Oh, you don’t believe me? I cooooould just go ahead and start the recording…

A button popped out of one of the panels on its side, and it hovered a claw over it playfully.

Sal freaks out.
Salvatore

Wait, don’t–!

MONO-9000 speaks.
MONO-9000

Hmmmmmmm? Weren’t you just telling people to be honest with each other? What have you got to hide?~

Sal frowns.
Salvatore

I-it’s not like that–

MONO-9000 waves.
MONO-9000

Three days, little smegheads… Who’s gonna strike first? Kekekekekek!

With that, MONO-9000 plucked a cinnamon roll off of the tray with a massive metal claw and twirled away. The doors slammed shut behind it before we could ask how it planned to eat anything.

Ishi grumbles.
Ishi

Man, fuck that thing.

Nik looks frazzled.
Nikola

God, it makes me so nervous…

There was silence for a few moments, then Riko spoke up, sounding kind of… bored?

Riko frowns.
Riko

…Is this supposed to make us murder each other?

Tim frowns.
Timaeus

I-I mean…?

Yusra sighs.
Yusra

I don’t doubt that our kidnapper has some skill in the more unsavory kinds of data collection, but blackmail is a… questionable strategic choice, given our situation.

Aoi huffs.
Aoi

Right? Like, is public humiliation supposed to be worse than being trapped indefinitely aboard a space station by a murder robot that’s telling me to kill my classmates?

Siegfried frowns.
Siegfried

To think, that we now live in such a terrible situation…

Honoka laughs nervously.
Honoka

B-but I mean, that’s good, right? If that robot is making a mistake?

Riko frowns.
Riko

Hypothetically, yes. There’s at least an obvious way to eliminate MONO-9000’s leverage…

Yusra smiles.
Yusra

If we all simply tell each other our secrets, then we’re on even ground, are we not?

…Could it really be that easy? The more I thought about this ultimatum, the more it felt like MONO-9000 must have something else up its metaphorical sleeve. But given the information we had at the time…

Tim thinks.
Timaeus

I guess that would work, huh?

Honoka smiles.
Honoka

I think it’s a great idea!

Vash frowns.
Vasundhara

O-oh… but it sounds kind of scary, too?

Sal frowns.
Salvatore

Kapono frowns.
Kapono

Could be… dangerous…

Tiffani grins.
Tiffani

Yeah, what if someone’s a serial killer?

Michi frowns.
Michi

I mean… if there was one, they’d probably kill someone either way, right?

Aoi thinks.
Aoi

But I guess this is the kind of motive that would force their hand, if it revealed their identity… Maybe we shouldn’t–

Nikola looks terrified.
Nikola

Y-y-you’re not being serious about this, right???

Honoka yells.
Honoka

Yes, that’s quite enough of that! We’re high schoolers, nobody’s going to have a secret so bad that we can’t talk through it together…

Sal chews on his pen.
Salvatore

…Let’s see what the secrets are first, before we jump to any conclusions. But it’s not as if we have much left to lose up here.

Ever since MONO-9000 left, Sal’s been acting a little off…

Jurou thinks.
Jurou

Do y’reckon all of us even have secrets? I ain’t got anything what someone would hurt a feller over…

Tim laughs.
Timaeus

Yeah, I have no idea what mine could be?

Ishi snickers.
Ishi

Oh, I can think of a few ideas… Hey Guga, Tim eats cold ravioli straight out of the can.

Guga cackles.
Gugalanna

He does what?! Wahahahaha!!

Tim gets defensive.
Timaeus

Wh– is that such a crime??? Look, it’s already cooked, it’s one fewer dish to wash and you don’t have to wait for the microwave–

Michi looks comically scared.
Michi

There might be some murder-worthy secrets here after all…

Honoka yells.
Honoka

Stop being ridiculous! Doesn’t this just prove we’ve been getting all worked up over nothing?

Yusra speaks.
Yusra

Well, it’s not nothing, of course. But I think we should be willing to sacrifice a little privacy for the safety of the group.

Riko looks imperious.
Riko

Stooping to murder would be far more damning of one’s character than any secret that robot could come up with.

Tiffani speaks.
Tiffani

…So, uh, just to clarify, you want us to sit in a circle and reveal our darkest secrets to the class like it’s show-and-tell?

Yusra smiles.
Yusra

Yes?

Honoka smiles.
Honoka

Well not right this instant of course, but what about tomorrow morning, in the library at nine?

Those girls sure didn’t leave much room for argument. Not everybody sounded entirely on board, though.

Guga frowns.
Gugalanna

…That early?

Jurou laughs.
Jurou

Hahaw, that ain’t early! I’m in!

Vash whimpers.
Vasundhara

D-does everyone have to go…?

Honoka smiles gently.
Honoka

Well, it would be best if we had as many people as possible, right? I can bring snacks!

Aoi frowns.
Aoi

I guess I’ll go if everyone else is going… But if someone did take advantage of the secrets to kill someone, wouldn’t it be easier to narrow down the culprit if–

Ishi yells.
Ishi

Nobody’s killing anybody!!

Aoi huffs.
Aoi

I said if! We have to look at all sides of the problem…

Siegfried looks away.
Siegfried

I think it foolish also, to reveal our weaknesses so easily…

Yusra speaks.
Yusra

…Well, not everyone has to show up for the meeting, I suppose. But I highly encourage it! Tomorrow at nine, then, in the library…

Ping bobs her head.
Ping

Ping will be there! But Ping may be sleeping.~

Kapono speaks.
Kapono

…I’ll… be there.

Tim smiles.
Timaeus

Me too!

Murmurs of both assent and dissent rose up from the crowd– too muddled to make out a clear majority. I guess I’ll have to wait and see how things shake out tomorrow.

Nikola stopped me as I turned to head back to my room. Oh, right, the food. The pastries might have gone a little cold, but they still tasted just as wonderful as they’d smelled! If I closed my eyes, I could pretend it was Mom’s cooking, and that I was back home and not up here, staring death in the face.

But I had to face it– we all had to. So I made my way back to my room, wondering whose secret I would wind up keeping… and what the heck kind of secret could be mine? I’d never been much for secrets…