Deep in space, Aberdeen sat on a balcony overlooking a grand party her mother hosted. Everyone wore their finest clothes. The music was loud; a type of remixed jazz. Aberdeen searched her mother out among the crowd of guests. Upon spotting her, she gazed at her mother’s attire; a long silk dress, the colour of shock blue. This was matched by elaborate feathers and sparkling jewels that hung in her blue hair. Her mother’s hair swung down her back, which highlighted her large dragon tattoo. Aberdeen eyed the lead in her mother’s hand and followed it to the golden robot dog sat beside her. It was tall and thin, and even from where Aberdeen sat, she could see the cogs moving inside it as if it had a tiny heart beating.
Aberdeen’s mother laughed gaily. She had the full attention of a young officer with braided hair, who was smartly dressed in his green and gold uniform. As he chuckled along, his head dropped back and a cool thin line of rose-smelling cigarette smoke slid from the corner of his mouth.
Aberdeen continued to watch the party from above. As usual, there was no sign of her father; probably in the engine room of the ship, she guessed. She browsed at all the fresh fruit and flowers in the tall bowls and glasses decorating the table. She knew that they had been picked up the last time the ship had docked at one of the satellite stations. She had learnt that the fragrant, exotic flowers had been grown in large artificial garden domes and she longed to see one.
She looked down in awe at the musicians. A large man sat at a glass piano, his fingers elegantly flitting from key to key. Aberdeen could see his fat belly though through the transparent top of the piano; it wobbled tastelessly as he played, a huge contrast to his regal demeanour. Aberdeen also noticed a tall, skinny man, strumming a black shinny double base and three female trumpeters who all wore brown and white stripy suits.
Draped from the metallic ceiling were candle-shaped lights, and in between them dancers gambolled on trapeze ropes. They wore porcelain masks and flamboyantly displayed peacock feathers, midnight blue and jade green, in their hair. They matched the rhythm of the quintet perfectly, Aberdeen thought.
The floor was polished to a high shine and Aberdeen could see the refection of the sociable people in it. In the corner of the room was an old gentleman who caught Aberdeen’s interest. Upon his head was a black top hat and he rested a glass monocle on his eye, which magnified his golden brown iris so even Aberdeen could see. His long twisting moustache made Aberdeen giggle.
There were no children however, and Aberdeen wondered what the workers’ children were up to. She suddenly felt quite alone.
Aberdeen picked up some of the plastic cocktail sticks that had been dropped on the floor; planting them along the edge of the balcony and playfully imagining them growing into amazing flowers. She soon tired of the game and thought about going downstairs to join the party, but knew that her mother would not be pleased; her mother felt that children should be seen but not heard and, where possible, not seen at all. Her mother had not wanted children. Aberdeen knew she hadn’t been planned and her mother, a socialite, did not have time for her, nor did she wish for her daughter to mix with the other children on the ship, as these were the workers’ children. The elite children had been shipped off to boarding school, but Aberdeen had not settled in well there and caused fights with the other children. She was returned to her parents in disgrace.
Aberdeen had wanted to play with the ship workers’ children, but her mother, on one of her brief and rare visits to see her daughter, told her horrid stories about them. “They have revolting lice in their hair,” she had said, and “Do you want them to jump at you and bite you?”
So instead Aberdeen spent all her time in the company of her robot nanny; her Guardian. Her Guardian was programed to do whatevershe wanted, as long as it did not disturb the child’s parents. It was efficient but uncaring, which had led partly to Aberdeen becoming the same way. The Guardian was responsible for her education too and arranged her meals and even dressed her. It was also programmed to tell stories. The wondrous tales and adventures of frightful dragons and grand castles were her favourite and she would spend her time imagining dragons flying around her room acting out her own brave endeavours.
Early the next morning, Aberdeen awoke thinking she had heard screams and cries for help. Frightened, she locked her door and snuggled tightly underneath her covers. The thick duvet muffled the cries from outside, and before long, she had drifted back to sleep.
When she awoke some hours later, having convinced herself that the commotion from the night before had been a terrible nightmare, she opened her door and sat on her bed waiting for her Guardian. Minutes later, it still hadn’t appeared.
Aberdeen browsed her room to pass more time; it was only fair she allowed her Guardian a little extra before she left the room. Her room was plain compared with the lavish party setting of downstairs, although she knew she could have it decorated any way she desired. She chose to not have a lot. What she liked doing the most was playing with her robot snake. Aberdeen was content with her few intimate toys rather than having extravagant playthings she had no need of. She had books, but she preferred to be read to. The furniture was clinical white, undecorated and simplistic in design. Everything served a purpose and there wasn’t even a carpet on the floor, just white lino. There were pictures on the wall, but none that she had chosen, as if put there by someone who had no knowledge of her at all.
She suddenly remembered the soft toys she once had, which consisted mostly of dragons, but they had been stored away when she had been sent off to school. Her mother, still angry at Aberdeen’s quick return, as if she was but a nuisance, had not retrieved them yet. She much preferred her robot snake anyway.
Aberdeen felt herself becoming increasingly frustrated; why wasn’t her Guardian coming to dress her? She wasn’t used to waiting. When the rage become too much, Aberdeen jumped and stamped her feet screaming for the Guardian to come. When it still hadn’t arrived, she sulked down the hallway until she came to the balcony. All the food and glasses were still left set out, but there wasn’t anyone around. Aberdeen descended the staircase and quickly snatched some of the food. On her way back to her room, she grabbed an opened bottle of wine.
As she crossed the polished floor however, she froze and looked at her sad reflection. Her plain looks gave way to a sour jawline, giving the impression that she rarely smiled. In truth, Aberdeen realised that she hardly did. Her shapeless chestnut hair appeared dull. She looked as far away from the fashionable figure of her mother. Her words rung in her mind.
Spoilt, bad tempered little child!
Aberdeen promptly scooted back to her room. Perhaps her Guardian had arrived.
Aberdeen was furious to find it hadn’t. She slid her food underneath her bed and squeezed under herself, thinking mean thoughts. She ate some of the food and sipped the wine, which made her sleepy. Eventually, not realising how long had passed, and getting rather bored, she played with her small robot snake. She built high obstacles out of plastic bricks for it to slither around. She tried to imagine that the snake was a dragon from one of her stories and that the bricks were castles. When she had drained the wine however, Aberdeen soon found herself slipping into a slumber.
But when she awoke, her angry temperament hadn’t left her. Where was her Guardian?
Just then, outside her bedroom door she heard two muffled grown-up voices.
“It’s a shame; she was beautiful, taken in the prime of her life,” the first voice said.
“She was a mother too,” the second voice replied. “I hear she had a child, a girl, although nobody ever really saw her.”
Aberdeen got out from under her bed and opened the door. She frowned at two officers who were stood in the hallway wearing gas masks.
“Oh, look, Barnabas, there’s a child here, alone in a place like this!” one of them said, pointing and grabbing another mask from his bag which was slung over his shoulder.
“Who is she?” the second offer asked.
“I’m Aberdeen Gale,” Aberdeen introduced herself, pulling herself up as tall as she could and staring at them both.
“Oh, this must be the girl no one ever saw. Poor thing, she must have been forgotten,” the first officer said, holding out the mask for her to put on. Aberdeen glared at the mask; it was a strange shape, light brown in colour with two round windows for eyes. She spotted a dull copper filter hanging from it. The gas mask itself could have been really old if it not for the fact that there was a green triangular light flashing on it.
“I don’t like it!” Aberdeen shouted, folding her arms across her body and scowling at the men.
“Oh, the poor thing, she’s frightened,” Barnabas said, a hint of patronisation in his voice.
“I’m not poor at all,” Aberdeen snapped. “My father is in charge of the ship. I need you to take me to him at once as my robot has not come for me.”
Barnabas knelt down next to Aberdeen. “You poor child,” he said softly. “Everyone is dead. There was a distress signal, which we picked up.” He helped her to put on the gas mask.
Aberdeen could not believe what she was hearing. She tugged at the gas mask, rearranging its strange structure. It felt heavy on her face and it made her want to itch her skin. Barnabas offered her a smile. He looked to his colleague for support, who continued to talk as if Aberdeen was invisible.
“Maybe the girl survived as she leads a solitary existence? Well, that will have to change now.”
Barnabas continued to smile at her.
“You must come with us, my girl,” the other officer instructed, holding his hand out to Aberdeen. “We need to take you off this ship and back to a halfway station for quarantine. Juno is probably the nearest one.”
“Your robot is not coming,” Barnabas told her as if he had sensed her thoughts. “All the worker robot signals were shut down when the distress signal was issued.”
Aberdeen glared at him, “I don’t believe you!”
“It’s true,” Barnabas said. “It’s part of the fail safe protocol. When the distress signal is sent it allows for every eventuality, even robot attack, so it shuts them down.”
Aberdeen stood still, her mind racing, she did not know what to do.
“It was some sort of virus,” Barnabas continued. “We are not sure of all the facts as yet, but from what we can piece together it looks as if one of the crew members released a fast acting, deadly virus as a grudge. We suspect a chemist.”
Aberdeen must have looked blankly at him, as he continued. “We were on our way to arrest him anyway. He had been developing new Class A drugs and had become paranoid.”
Aberdeen took a step backwards unsure to believe them or not. She wasn’t quite sure what ‘Class A’ drugs were, but she definitely didn’t like the sound of them.
The other officer said, “Look, we haven’t got time for this. We need to get you off this ship; it’s going to be decommissioned.”
Aberdeen ran back into her room and scooped up her snake and placed it in her pocket, then followed the two officers along the corridor and away from the only home she had ever known.
Text copyright © Jane Yates 2015
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