[Prologue - 007]

MONO-9000 hovers menacingly over the students.

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.

MONO-9000 looks despondent.
???

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!

Tim looks terrified.
Timaeus

Uhhh… th-that was pretty dramatic already.

MONO-9000 blushes.
???

Oh gosh, do you really think so? Kekekekekek!~

That awful, chittering noise– was it laughing?

Tiffani snarls.
Tiffani

Who the fuck are you?

MONO-9000 stops.
???

Who, me?

The robot twirled, like Cinderella showing off her new ballgown.

MONO-9000 poses.
???

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.

Aoi thinks.
Aoi

Welcome aboard… what?

MONO-9000 speaks.
MONO-9000

The H.P.A. Dreadnought, of course! The finest star cruiser to ever sail the galaxies!

MONO-9000 looks annoyed.
MONO-9000

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.

Jurou whimpers.
Jurou

S-so… y’really are an alien…?!

Gugalanna sweats.
Gugalanna

More like a demon! Floating in the air with those big red eyes?!

Jurou yelps.
Jurou

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.

Riko looks nervous.
Riko

…What the hell do you want with us?

MONO-9000 talks.
MONO-9000

Isn’t it obvious? I’m your captain and your chaperone! I’m here to make sure this little… experiment goes smoothly!

Salvatore looks confused.
Salvatore

What? Y-you can’t be from Hope’s Peak…

Ping also looks confused.
Ping

Experiment? But you’re not Ping’s mommy!~

MONO-9000 looks smug.
MONO-9000

Hmm, I suppose experiment isn’t quite the right word…!

We waited for it to elaborate, but it just kept “giggling.”

Yusra makes a face.
Yusra

Now there’s two creepy robots…

Tiffani talks.
Tiffani

Well this sure isn’t ominous as fuck.

Michi looks annoyed.
Michi

Just give us a straight answer already!

Vash starts crying.
Vasundhara

I…I want to– to go h-h-home…

The robot spun around suddenly to face Vasundhara.

MONO-9000 perks up.
MONO-9000

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.

A disturbing close-up of MONO-9000's eye.
MONO-9000

All any of you have to do is murder one of your classmates.

It twirled again, chittering with laughter.

MONO-9000 speaks.
MONO-9000

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…

MONO-9000 is getting ominous.
MONO-9000

Why Vasundhara, I could just see you strangling someone with those cute. little. hands.

Vasundhara starts bawling.
Vasundhara

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.

Siegfried looks terrified.
Siegfried

Wh– what–

Salvatore looks pissed.
Salvatore

–What the hell is going on?!

Gugalanna looks nervous.
Gugalanna

Ni madres– Did I hear that thing right?? Did it say--

Nikola is in denial corner.
Nikola

This– this has to be a joke, right? Right guys? Th-they can’t be serious!!

Michi looks scared.
Michi

…We really are gonna die here…

Ishi screams in rage.
Ishi

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.

MONO-9000 is not terribly pleased with this situation.
MONO-9000

Hey!!!

Ishi continues to holler.
Ishi

The fuck are you talkin’ about?! Nobody here’s gonna start murdering anything but your shiny metal ass! Right??

Jurou yells.
Jurou

Y-yeah! What she said!

Honoka huffs.
Honoka

Right! As long as we work together, we don’t have to listen to that big meanie!!

Gugalanna roars.
Gugalanna

Go back to the hell you came from, El Demonio!!!

Kapono peeps out from his scarf.
Kapono

…Yeah!

MONO-9000 looks big mad.
MONO-9000

…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.

Ishi screams in pain as MONO-9000's claws rip through her arm.
MONO-9000

Number ONE! No violence against the captain.

Tim shrieks.
Timaeus

Oh my god?!

Tiffani looks grossed out.
Tiffani

Holy shit!

Yusra covers her mouth.
Yusra

…I think I might be sick…

Nikola snaps.
Nikola

Okay there’s blood now this is real and happening and we’re all gonna die–

MONO-9000 speaks.
MONO-9000

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.

Ishi clutches her bleeding arm.
Ishi

I will pee on everything you love.

Aoi fusses at Ishi.
Aoi

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.

Honoka smiles grimly.
Honoka

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.

MONO-9000 looks annoyed.
MONO-9000

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!~

Jurou looks miserable.
Jurou

…But… why’s it matter wha’ time it is anyhow…?

Michi tries to snark.
Michi

Careful of what? The janitors?

Michi’s half-hearted attempt at humor made the robot laugh, at least.

MONO-9000 giggles.
MONO-9000

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!~

Ishi flips the bird.
Ishi

Fuck you!

MONO-9000 speaks.
MONO-9000

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.

MONO-9000 beeps.
MONO-9000

OH and relatedly! Number FOUR! Sleeping overnight outside of the dorms is prohibited.

Vasundhara whimpers.
Vasundhara

D-d-dorms? But I didn’t… see any…

Aoi thinks.
Aoi

Maybe that’s what those doors with our pictures on them are for…

MONO-9000 gossips.
MONO-9000

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?!

Salvatore growls.
Salvatore

You’re not fucking funny, now spit out the rest of the rules before the poor girl bleeds to death!

MONO-9000 gloats.
MONO-9000

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?

Salvatore grins spitefully.
Salvatore

Oh I’m so sorry should I smile more? Is this better, sweetcheeks??

MONO-9000 speaks.
MONO-9000

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?

Riko sighs.
Riko

I guess that’s something… if we can trust what you say at all.

Yusra speaks.
Yusra

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.

MONO-9000 giggles.
MONO-9000

…I can’t tell you everything, silly! Don’t wanna skew the results! We’re extremely committed to scientific integrity here!~

Riko hisses.
Riko

Bullshit.

MONO-9000 sparkles.
MONO-9000

Anyway! Are you kiddos ready for the fun part??

Kapono hides in his scarf again.
Kapono

…no…

Nikola tries to hold it together.
Nikola

Absolutely not!!!

Tiffani looks annoyed.
Tiffani

Just get it over with already.

MONO-9000 speaks.
MONO-9000

Rule number SIX! The only way to leave this place is to murder one of your fellow students. But wait, there’s more!!

Nikola wheezes.
Nikola

What do you mean there’s more?!

MONO-9000 giggles.
MONO-9000

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!

Ping looks spacey.
Ping

Uwa? What’s a see-ess-eye?

Timaeus looks frantic.
Timaeus

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–

Aoi looks serious.
Aoi

…What happens if we get it wrong?

MONO-9000 speaks.
MONO-9000

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!

Siegfried looks scared.
Siegfried

Why the hell should we trust you? Would you truly let us go…?

MONO-9000 sparkles.
MONO-9000

Why don’t you kill somebody and find out, fancypants?! I’m an orb of my word!

Jurou is crying.
Jurou

St-stop talkin’ like we’re gonna… Like anyone’s really gonna… k– ki–”

Salvatore looks angry.
Salvatore

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.

Salvatore smiles.
Salvatore

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?

Honoka barks.
Honoka

Yeah! Or we find our own way out!

MONO-9000 giggles.
MONO-9000

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!~

Honoka yells.
Honoka

What the hell is that supposed to mean?!

MONO-9000 looks annoyed.
MONO-9000

I literally just said it was a surprise, dumbass! So don’t get too comfortable with your friends here…

MONO-9000 raises a claw.
MONO-9000

…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–

MONO-9000 waves.
MONO-9000

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…

MONO-9000 sparkles.
MONO-9000

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.

The gang, sitting on couches and moping.

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.

Timaeus looks really worried.
Timaeus

Ishi, are you gonna be okay… Aoi, is she gonna–

Ishi yells.
Ishi

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!!!

Aoi looks worried.
Aoi

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.

Vash looks scared.
Vasundhara

Wh-what was that thing…?

Gugalanna shakes her head.
Gugalanna

Ay dios mío…

Riko looks nervous.
Riko

…such a complex machine… Who has the time and resources to build something like that? For this?

Kapono frowns.
Kapono

Jurou also looks nervous.
Jurou

…Whadda we do now?

Honoka looks serious.
Honoka

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…

Nikola tries to calm down.
Nikola

Don’t panic… don’t panic… no one else… gonna get hurt…

Timaeus thinks.
Timaeus

…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!

Yusra speaks.
Yusra

Exactly. The situation is terrifying, but far from hopeless just yet.

Salvatore smiles grimly.
Salvatore

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…

Timaeus smiles.
Timaeus

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.

Nikola grins.
Nikola

You’re right! Yeah! Okay! Fake it till you make it, right??

Michi shrugs.
Michi

I mean the alternative is murdering each other, so…

Vasundhara tries to smile.
Vasundhara

…o-okay… I’ll try…

Siegfried frowns.
Siegfried

…I suppose, if that is all we can do. But I do not plan on grinning like a bumbling fool.

Salvatore flirts.
Salvatore

Aw but Sieg, you have such a cute smile!~

Siegfried looks embarrassed.
Siegfried

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.

Tiffani smiles maliciously.
Tiffani

Damn guys, what a load of hope-y bullshit. But hey, if it pisses off the toaster I’m always down for being petty.

Uh… thanks?

Honoka thinks.
Honoka

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.

Yusra also thinks.
Yusra

Oh! And we should check all the doors again… If the robot plans to keep us here indefinitely, there should be food somewhere…

Tim smiles.
Timaeus

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.

Ishi looks worn out.
Ishi

I said… don’t worry ‘bout me….

Aoi frowns.
Aoi

…I’m gonna take her back to her dorm. If you find anything remotely resembling a first aid kit, bring it over, okay?

Tim sighs.
Timaeus

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.