Nap yawned, looked around for the source of all the commotion, and groggily took another nap. True to his name, he liked to take naps all day in a maintenance closet that had some nice warm piping. He knew all the best napping spots on the Frostips.
Nap was named that way after Napoleon. His parents thought it might bless him somehow to do great things, like the ancient general. But there wasn’t much to do for glory on a generation ship. Sure, there were jobs to covet, and placements to go after. But very few of them were actually essential, most of the rest were there to keep people from going restless and crazy. Nap, you see, was cursed with a brain. He had asked his parents one day why they didn’t name him ‘Leo,’ which sounded a lot more active and powerful. They replied that they simply hadn’t thought of it. They weren’t too bright.
Nap saw the futility of it all. Born in the middle of the journey, he knew that there was nothing to do but exist. Others would eventually colonise the planet, but they were a century in the future. They would indeed make history, by touching down, breaking down the Frostips, overcoming the difficulties of the foreign soil and creating the first extrasolar colony. But the guys in the middle of the journey, they didn’t matter. Nobody would remember them. Like a centuries-old relay race, someone would take pictures at the starting gun, and people would remember the guy who would finish the race. But the guys in the middle? Who cares?
Becoming a Scout was one of the few actually interesting jobs on board. But Nap never liked it, so many things could go wrong… It was the curse of having a brain. Besides, not many Scouts actually came back. Nap had no intention of struggling to get first in line for a suicide job. He’d rather take a nap.
Another possibility was becoming an officer. It was a glamorous job, with plenty of responsibility, and some officer placements actually required brains, like astrogator, pilot, etc. Nap thought long and hard about those, but in the end, he decided that that was futile as well. The trip was long, too long to entrust on a single squishy human brain. Luna took care of that, their course. Even that was uneventful, what, they had like three whole course corrections in his entire life? Some piloting there. Sure, from the point of view of the AI, it was a stressful, responsible job. But by human standards? You might die of old age before realising you took a wrong turn. Not that you could actually take a wrong turn, it was an old expression Nap liked. Or didn’t like. His mother kept saying that about him, ‘You took a wrong turn, son. Somewhere along the way, you went wrong.’
Nap cuddled with his pillow and got comfortable. The noise out there! What were they doing? It was as if the whole ship was shuffling around, everybody banging things.
Ordinary people could get on with their lives, even in this environment. They would work, eat, sleep, fuck, fall in love, ask permission for a child, get knocked up, raise the child. Day in and day out, gossipping about, watching old movies, reading old books. They never thought about how small their world was, how they were all locked inside metal cylinders that were hurtling through empty space at fractional speed of light. They never thought about the millions of tons of space debris that were shooting towards them like bullets, caught by the great icebergs at the ships’ noses. They never bothered about living their whole lives on the same ship, literally going in circles as they rotated to simulate gravity. Sure, some went about from one Frostip to the other. There were a few entrepreneurs, some just wanted a change of scenery. But, in truth, the ships were the same. The people were the same, across all five ships. It wasn’t like the movies, where you visited a foreign place and saw new cultures and new languages. Here, in the fleet, they were all the same.
Nap couldn’t stop thinking about those things. A few years ago it was really bad for him, so he took pills. It was a nasty time, and he didn’t remember much from back then. He got help and swore off of that. But the feeling remained. That sinking emptiness, that lack of purpose, that sensation of doom and gloom that followed him around.
The others felt a bit of that with the radiation accident on Frostip 5. The refugees that suddenly flooded the place made things tense. Living quarters were assigned to families and people who actually worked, the rest had to pile on makeshift cots. Those were too crowded, and Nap didn’t really like being around that many people. So he wandered, being homeless. He didn’t mind. He knew all the best napping spots.
Bang! Okay, that was it. Nap stood up and slapped himself awake. Something was really happening out there. He peeked through the maintenance closet. Something was up down the corridor, a serious racket. It was far more noisy than a couple of boys bullying each other or something. Nap picked up his ‘Do not disturb’ hotel sign, which he had custom-made. He saw that on a movie and loved it, so he carried one around and hung it out the door during his frequent naps. Then he rolled his pillow into his napsack and carried by the strap on his back.
He walked down the corridor. Someone was shouting. A woman? No, two of them. A gurgle? Was someone choking? He crouched close and peeked around the hatch. He narrowly fought down a yelp and covered his mouth. A woman was standing tall, covered in a makeshift armour made of ship parts. She held a pipe that was sharp at the end. The end was dripping blood.
She knew that woman, she was in his old neighbourhood. What was she doing-
“Give up your son and join us, or die,” she snarled at the other woman who was crying on her feet.
“Please, no! Don’t hurt him,” the mother begged, half-drenched in her husband’s pool of blood.
Nap’s eyes darted around the room. He knew the layout by heart, a child would easily hide in… There! Behind the panelling of the desk, an out-of-reach area where nobody ever walked close. It popped open to reveal some wiring for the living quarters. And sure enough, Nap spotted the end of a boy’s shoelace.
“Is he here?” the woman taunted, jabbing her makeshift spear into a cupboard on the wall. The mother cried desperately beneath her. “Or here,” she continued, jabbing another cupboard, throwing pans and glasses on the floor.
The room wasn’t big. It wouldn’t take her long to find the boy. It was easy to overlook the hiding spot, but if you were meticulous about it…
“Where is he?” she demanded, kicking the mother in the face.
A thud came from the behind the desk. Then a whimper.
Nap was no hero, that much was certain. His mother was disappointed in him. His teachers were disappointed in him. Heck, even he had been disappointed in himself. Definitely not a hero. But he was too smart for his own good. He could see the whole thing play out. The armed bitch was clever, striking the mother to elicit a response from a frightened little boy. What monster does that? When had the fleet become home to murderers and sociopaths? He couldn’t let this happen.
The armed woman walked purposefully towards the desk, turning her back towards Nap.
It was now or never.
Nap unfolded his napsack, ripping the Velcro in a quick swipe. The armed woman heard him and barely had time to turn around. Nap expertly tugged the thing open with a single shake and fit the whole napsack over her like a sock.
“What? Who the fuck-” the woman protested, pushing and twitching around, but she fell on the floor, tangled and blinded.
Nap rushed to the desk and popped the panelling open. A scared little boy, no more than four years-old, covered in snot and tears. “Quick, with me,” he said as softly as he could and grabbed the boy out of his hiding spot.
The armed woman flailed around, unable to free herself. But it wouldn’t be long before she’d manage to find purchase and pull the napsack off of her. Nap paused at the door, and stared right back into the mother’s eyes. In a silent second, an accord was made.
The mother rose with renewed fervour and fought with the trapped woman, kicking and screaming and cursing at her. Nap ran with the boy in his arms. He ran down the familiar corridors, down the shaft to the next level, feeling gravity bite at him a tiny bit more.
He panted. Crazy, it was crazy. He ran past corpses. People, left and right, on their beds, on their kitchen floors… No, not people.
The mother screamed. It echoed. So surreal.
Nap shut the boy’s ears and ran. The armed woman stomped on the metal corridor, climbing down the stairs, waving her spear around. It was dripping blood all over the place.
Nap ran, carrying the boy, his breath heavy, his heart pounding. He struggled to bring the layout on his mind. Think. Think… Yes! There was a napping spot right around the bend, one of his favourites. Nobody ever stumbled through there, it was right above the artificial wombs section, for the animal breeding. It reeked of methane emissions, so people avoided it.
He ran towards it, and frantically looked around for the spot. His mind was blocked, sweat was dripping down his eyebrows into his eyes, it had been too long since he had been here.
He found the niche and stuffed the boy in. He looked up at him with innocent eyes. Snot still dripped down his nose. Nap wiped it away with his sleeve. “Stay here,” he whispered. “No matter what you hear, don’t make a sound, okay. Shh. Hide in here.”
The boy nodded.
Nap stood, and pulled his pillow on his chest, holding it just like he had been carrying the boy up till now. He ran back towards the armed woman and took a sharp turn, making sure she saw him. She chased after him and the decoy of the boy.
Nap wasn’t in shape. All that napping, all that moping about… He could barely keep this up for a minute or two. His lungs burned, he hadn’t ran like that ever since he was a boy himself. It wasn’t clever running inside a Frostip, that’s how you got bumps and scrapes. The woman caught up to him. Damn, how fit was she anyway?
A wet sensation in his t-shirt. Had the boy’s drool and snot got all the way into his clothes, touching his skin? Nap touched the spot, his fingers came back red. Then he realised. A spear tip, nothing more than a sharpened pipe really, was sticking out of his chest.
That couldn’t be good.
His legs gave way and he fell. The pain was there, but compared to the pain of the exertion, this was a welcome timeout. His eyes blurred… His eyelids fell. His lungs didn’t hurt anymore, it was calm and serene…
He pulled out the ‘Do not disturb sign’ from his pocket and hung it on the spear tip on his chest.
Nap took a nap, smiling. Finally. Some peace and quiet.