The bizarre robot wedged itself through the doors and floated around the room, dragging its knuckles along the floor as if it was pouting. Now that I could see it in the light, it wasn’t quite as terrifying as before. More just… weird.
Ughhhhh you guys ruined my dramatic entrance! I was gonna have cool music queued up and everything… but somebody had to go pee on the couch like a frakking animal!
Uhhh… th-that was pretty dramatic already.
Oh gosh, do you really think so? Kekekekekek!~
That awful, chittering noise– was it laughing?
Who the fuck are you?
The robot twirled, like Cinderella showing off her new ballgown.
Why, I’m MONO-9000, the captain of this here hunk o’ junk! Welcome aboard, young lady!
MONO-9000… the captain…?
For a few moments, nobody dared to speak– we were desperate to know what was going on, but just as terrified of finding out. Aoi was the one who finally broke the silence, their curiosity getting the better of them.
Welcome aboard… what?
The H.P.A. Dreadnought, of course! The finest star cruiser to ever sail the galaxies!
Well, by “galaxies” I mean it orbits the earth at L-E-O. And I guess “finest” doesn’t mean much when you humans have barely scratched the surface of space travel. Catch up with the rest of us already! S-M-H!
As the robot grumbled, murmurs and whispers began to fill the room.
S-so… y’really are an alien…?!
More like a demon! Floating in the air with those big red eyes?!
AAH! That’s even worse!!
Riko had been right all along, hadn’t she? I glanced up at her, expecting to see some condescending smirk… but she looked just as scared as the rest of us.
…What the hell do you want with us?
Isn’t it obvious? I’m your captain and your chaperone! I’m here to make sure this little… experiment goes smoothly!
What? Y-you can’t be from Hope’s Peak…
Experiment? But you’re not Ping’s mommy!~
Hmm, I suppose experiment isn’t quite the right word…!
We waited for it to elaborate, but it just kept “giggling.”
Now there’s two creepy robots…
Well this sure isn’t ominous as fuck.
Just give us a straight answer already!
I…I want to– to go h-h-home…
The robot spun around suddenly to face Vasundhara.
What? Why didn’t you say so in the first place?! It’s easy peasy! Especially for you, you’re so big and strong! All you have to do…
Its cheerful voice belied the awful words it said next.
All any of you have to do is murder one of your classmates.
It twirled again, chittering with laughter.
Just look around! Plenty of easy targets, huh? And there’s so many fun ways to do it, too! Kekekekekek! Stabbing, slicing, bludgeoning, kicking, punching, poisoning, smothering…
Why Vasundhara, I could just see you strangling someone with those cute. little. hands.
P-please stop…!! Uwaaaaahh!!!
The thing was inches from poor Vasundhara’s face by now, and it was the last straw. She broke down, and her desperate sobbing opened the floodgates for the students around her.
–What the hell is going on?!
Ni madres– Did I hear that thing right?? Did it say--
This– this has to be a joke, right? Right guys? Th-they can’t be serious!!
…We really are gonna die here…
Leave her the fuck alone!!!
Ishi grabbed one of MONO-9000’s spindly arms and swung it away from Vasundhara like an oversized yo-yo.
The fuck are you talkin’ about?! Nobody here’s gonna start murdering anything but your shiny metal ass! Right??
Y-yeah! What she said!
Right! As long as we work together, we don’t have to listen to that big meanie!!
Go back to the hell you came from, El Demonio!!!
…I guess it’s about time to establish some rules, huh?
Just as the others began to rally behind us, MONO-9000 regained its bearings. It sprouted a second pair of arms and lashed out at Ishi, its razor-sharp claws ripping her upper arm and our weak resolve to shreds.
Number ONE! No violence against the captain.
Oh my god?!
…I think I might be sick…
Okay there’s blood now this is real and happening and we’re all gonna die–
Number TWO! No vandalization of the ship interior. This is school property after all, and I’ll have to clean up your mess! So please try and control your bladders.
I will pee on everything you love.
Not until we get your arm patched up! Anyone got something I can use for a bandage?
Kapono poked his head out from his scarf and nervously fiddled with the edges, but Honoka quickly undid the bow around her waist, giving him as comforting a smile as she could muster.
This’ll work, yeah, Pathologist?
MONO-9000 apparently couldn’t stand to be out of the spotlight for more than 5 seconds, and it let out a dramatic sigh as Aoi started binding Ishi’s arm tightly in the purple fabric.
… Anyway… Number THREE! Since there’s no day and night in space, obviously, daytime will begin at 0700 and end at 2300! Certain areas of the ship will be restricted at nighttime for maintenance, so please be careful!~
…But… why’s it matter wha’ time it is anyhow…?
Careful of what? The janitors?
Michi’s half-hearted attempt at humor made the robot laugh, at least.
Kekekek! Well I am your janitor, too! I’m lots of things aboard this ship! But more importantly, entering the restricted areas is breaking the rules, and good heavens, we don’t want that do we? Unless you wanna end up like her!~
Kids like you should be asleep at night, anyway! Nothing good ever happens after midnight!
It bobbed up and down excitedly, as if it had just remembered something.
OH and relatedly! Number FOUR! Sleeping overnight outside of the dorms is prohibited.
D-d-dorms? But I didn’t… see any…
Maybe that’s what those doors with our pictures on them are for…
Now who sleeps in whose dorm, well, that’s none of my business, kekekek! But if anyone wants to fill me in on the gossip– hey we got a paparazzi right here, don’t we? That’s like your job, right?!
You’re not fucking funny, now spit out the rest of the rules before the poor girl bleeds to death!
Ooooohoho! Even Sal’s losing his cool! L-M-F-A-O! Whatever happened to Mx. “Let’s just pretend like nothing’s wrong?” Did piss-girl’s little boo-boo give you a spook?
Oh I’m so sorry should I smile more? Is this better, sweetcheeks??
Kekekekekek! If you insist, darling, rule number FIVE! Unless given permission, the captain may not directly interfere with students that follow the rules! Isn’t that nice of me? You guys have free reign of the place!
At least it couldn’t attack us willy-nilly, and Ishi had sort of broken the rules… even if we hadn’t known what they were yet. Technically fair?
I guess that’s something… if we can trust what you say at all.
Why make a rule like that? You sound like you’d rather just kill us on the spot…
Yusra don’t encourage them?? But… there was a strange little pause before the thing responded.
…I can’t tell you everything, silly! Don’t wanna skew the results! We’re extremely committed to scientific integrity here!~
Anyway! Are you kiddos ready for the fun part??
Just get it over with already.
Rule number SIX! The only way to leave this place is to murder one of your fellow students. But wait, there’s more!!
What do you mean there’s more?!
Well yeah, you don’t just get away with murder scot-free, kid! You also have to survive the class trial! Everyone else gets the chance to investigate the murder and vote on whodunnit! Just like on C-S-I!
Uwa? What’s a see-ess-eye?
B-but how?! We don’t have remotely enough resources or experience to– I mean I’ve read some mystery novels but that’s not the same thing!! The entire premise of this is–
…What happens if we get it wrong?
Well that’s part of the fun, isn’t it?! Get it right and the killer gets punished for the crime! And if you get it wrong, the killer goes back to Earth, just like I said! As for the rest of you… spoilers, kekekek!
Why the hell should we trust you? Would you truly let us go…?
Why don’t you kill somebody and find out, fancypants?! I’m an orb of my word!
St-stop talkin’ like we’re gonna… Like anyone’s really gonna… k– ki–”
Nobody is gonna be killing anybody. Ishi’s right. That thing…
Salvatore pointedly ignored MONO-9000’s presence as he turned to face the crowd.
It can’t touch us long as we follow the rules, right? What’s stopping us from waiting it out until someone comes to rescue us?
Yeah! Or we find our own way out!
Ohhhh I wouldn’t be so sure of yourselves. Maybe you can get by for a few days… But I’ve got some fun surprises in store for you!~
What the hell is that supposed to mean?!
I literally just said it was a surprise, dumbass! So don’t get too comfortable with your friends here…
…All it takes is one person.
It raised a single claw, and let our uncomfortable silence do the talking.
…Damn it, it had a point, didn’t it? If any of this was true in the first place… Despite all our talk of working together, the reality was that we barely knew each other’s names, never mind what brought us here, or what we would do to escape–
Wellllllllllll I better skedaddle and let you guys get to your self-inflicted massacre BUT here’s a little station-warming gift! You’ll need them to get into your rooms, so try not to lose them!
Suddenly MONO-9000’s back pair of arms sprouted out again, this time bearing a pile of wallet-sized tablets that it proceeded to toss on the floor. Hopefully they’re not very easy to break…
Enjoy your stay!~ …But not too much! I wanna see some action!! Kekekekekekekekek!!!
The robot spun around one last time, and bobbled off through the door it came from.
The clicking and whirring of machinery dissipated, leaving us with the low background hum from before… and an atmosphere of tension so thick Michi could have cut it with his chainsaw.
No one said anything for a while, aside from Ishi’s occasional whimpering as Aoi adjusted her makeshift bandages. I shuffled over to the couch and put a hand gingerly on her uninjured shoulder.
Ishi, are you gonna be okay… Aoi, is she gonna–
I’m fine! I’m– I’m gonna be fine, Tim! Don’t you dare start worryin’ about me! That fuckin’ toaster’s the one who’s– OW!!!
We’ll need a first aid kit badly, at the very least. But if we can get in the rooms now, maybe there’ll be something…
I nodded shakily and looked around. The others began to speak up too, now that someone had broken the silence.
Wh-what was that thing…?
Ay dios mío…
…such a complex machine… Who has the time and resources to build something like that? For this?
…Whadda we do now?
I– I’m not sure… But, well, we know what we’re not doing, right? We’re not gonna panic, we’re not gonna hurt each other…
Don’t panic… don’t panic… no one else… gonna get hurt…
…Yeah. As long as there’s hope of waiting it out, or escaping some other way… there’s no reason for us to try anything like— like that. No motive!
Exactly. The situation is terrifying, but far from hopeless just yet.
And I don’t know about you all, but I’ve got a little more faith in us than I do in that tin can over there…
So the plan is… same as before? Work together, try to, uh, stay positive… It’s the opposite of what it wants!
Nikola immediately perked up, as if someone had flipped a switch.
You’re right! Yeah! Okay! Fake it till you make it, right??
I mean the alternative is murdering each other, so…
…o-okay… I’ll try…
…I suppose, if that is all we can do. But I do not plan on grinning like a bumbling fool.
Aw but Sieg, you have such a cute smile!~
Now I definitely will not.
Michi snickered at that little exchange, and though most of the others remained quiet, their faces started to lighten up a little. Kapono peeped up again from behind his scarf, and little Ping absentmindedly warbled a tune. Even Jurou, who’d been bawling his eyes out, mustered a smile. Maybe we weren’t entirely screwed after all…
Tiffani was the last to speak.
Damn guys, what a load of hope-y bullshit. But hey, if it pisses off the toaster I’m always down for being petty.
So, um! We should focus on what we can do now, right? Which is– first of all– get some proper bandages for the Jammer, then, um, get those things working…
Honoka, having cheered up a bit now that she sort of had a plan, pointed to the tablets on the floor with her cane– no one had touched them yet. I sifted through the pile and found one with my name on it, in glowing red letters across the front.
Oh! And we should check all the doors again… If the robot plans to keep us here indefinitely, there should be food somewhere…
Alright. Split up and look around?
The others nodded and splintered off into groups. I picked up Ishi’s tablet thing, too, and brought it over to her. She’d grown quiet and a bit woozy from the pain.
I said… don’t worry ‘bout me….
…I’m gonna take her back to her dorm. If you find anything remotely resembling a first aid kit, bring it over, okay?
Yes, of course… Thanks, Aoi.
I hugged Ishi gently around the shoulders, and steeled myself to leave the room. Everyone seemed to be getting along okay… given the circumstances. That was good, right? But MONO-9000’s words wouldn’t leave my head. Just one person, any one of us, could shatter our fragile alliance and send us all spiraling into chaos and despair.
What I never could’ve known was how soon it would happen… or who it would be.