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by Taylor Vaughan

The Indefinable Fatigue rocked as the pirates breached the hull. Captain Daniels drew his ray-gun and prepared himself for battle. They’d never steal his precious cargo. He’d rigged the ship with explosives, and if he fell in battle, he’d...

“Captain,” Science Officer Andrews’ voice crackled in his earpiece. “I think you’d better take a look at this.”

“Not now, Andrews,” Daniels said, blasting a few space pirates and ducking through a bulkhead, “I’m busy.”

“It’s something they found in the cargo hold, sir.”

Daniels paused. A pirate’s laser blast hit him full in the chest, disintegrating him instantly. The words “GAME OVER” swam in front of his vision and the battle faded away, revealing his chamber. He stood up and stretched.

“I guess I can come take a look,” he said. Although he didn’t like to show it, he was excited. Space travel bored him to no end. The only excitement to be had besides the VR sims was scrounging in the ship’s massive cargo hold.

Even with superliminal technology, it could take years to travel between the stars. By the time the ship got to its destination, frequently the delivery was no longer needed. As the millennia passed, its crews had stuffed the junk deep in its expansive cargo holds, slowly filling them with crates full of obsolete robotics parts, terraforming equipment, or in at least one case, freeze-dried parrot meat. Every once in a while, though, someone would find something interesting. Those were the moments they all lived for.

“What do we have?” Daniels asked as he entered the science bay.

“I’m not entirely sure, captain,” Andrews said. “I’m fairly certain it’s old-Earth technology, but its function is unclear.”

Daniels examined the device. It was deceptively simple-looking, as most old-Earth technology was. It was a cube, its faces subdivided into nine sections apiece, each section a different color. He picked it up. It felt cool to the touch, and nothing inside seemed to be moving.

“The sides rotate,” Andrews said, taking the cube from him and demonstrating. “This leads me to believe that one is supposed to line up all the sections so that each side is a solid color.”

“Some kind of lock,” the captain guessed. “But what could be inside? It’s so small.”

“No idea, sir,” Andrews said. “But whatever it is, we have a crate full of them.”


Daniels put out a standing order that all crew members not on duty were to work at unlocking the cubes. The task was astonishingly difficult. Anytime anyone seemed to make progress, an ill-advised rotation would undo all their progress.

“Old-Earthers were bastards,” Daniels muttered to Andrews a few days later.

“They must have been geniuses,” Andrews said. “Whatever these cubes contain must have been of paramount importance or secrecy for them to have been locked with such difficult mechanisms.”

Daniels’ communicator crackled to life. “Captain, come to the engineering room quickly! We’re about to open one of the cubes!”

Daniels and Andrews rushed to the engineering room to find Chief Engineer Jacobs holding one of the cubes, a single turn away from completion.

“How’d you do it?” Andrews asked.

“It was fairly simple once I figured out the pattern, sir,” Jacobs said. “I can show you if you’d like.”

“Not now,” Daniels said. “First, open the cube!”

Jacbos twisted the cube, lining up the squares so that each face showed a solid color. Daniels could almost feel the pressure in the room drop as everyone held their breath.

They waited, first for five seconds, then for ten, then for fifteen.

Nothing happened.

“What’s wrong?” Daniels asked. “Why isn’t anything happening?”

“I don’t know, sir,” Jacobs said, still staring at the cube in his hand as if it were about to explode.

“I’ll tell you why nothing’s happening,” one of the junior engineers said. “Nothing’s supposed to happen. These cubes are nothing but toys!”

The assembled crewmembers muttered to each other and slowly filed out of the room, leaving Daniels, Andrews and Jacobs still staring at the cube.

Finally, Jacobs lowered his arm and placed the cube on the table. “I think they’re right, sir,” he said. “Nothing’s going to happen.”


That night, Captain Daniels dreamt of spinning cubes as large as planets. He drew close to one, its faces turning and rotating until the colors lined up. Light shone from the center as it split in half. Within were smaller cubes, which opened to reveal even smaller cubes, and so on for eternity. Cubes all the way down.


As he walked into the mess hall the next day, he noticed all of the crewmembers were playing with the cubes. Chief Engineer Jacobs sat at his table, a pile of solved cubes on his left and a pile of unsolved ones on his right.

“What are you doing?” Daniels asked him. “You already solved one and nothing happened.”

Jacobs shrugged. “They’re fun, sir. I’m working on my algorithm for solving them. I’ve figured out how to solve any cube in less than thirty moves. Anyway, it’s not like there’s much else to do.”

“I’ll stick with the VR sims,” Daniels said.

When Daniels returned to his chambers that night, though, he picked up the cube he’d been working on. He twisted and turned its faces until he fell asleep.

The ship was almost silent the next day. Nobody spoke more than necessary, their attention focused solely on the cubes. By unspoken agreement, they placed the completed cubes in a pile to the side of the common room. The pile grew larger as the crate of unsolved cubes emptied out. The captain himself was the one to solve the final cube. He placed it on the top of the pile.

The entire crew had gathered. They stared at the pile, still hoping that something would happen, but nothing did.

“Well,” said Daniels, “that’s that. Back to your stations, everyone.”

As they turned to go, a deep rumbling sounded throughout the ship. The cubes tumbled and slid down the pile and across the floor, twisting and reforming themselves into humanoid shapes, until eventually there were dozens of tiny cube people scattered across the floor.

“Thank you for awakening us,” one of them said, stepping forward. “When will we arrive?”

“Who are you?” Daniels asked. He hoped these cubes weren’t hostile. He’d left the ceremonial captain’s blaster in his cabin. Most days there wasn’t much use for it, aside from opening cans when the kitchen’s AI was in a stubborn mood.

“Your passengers,” the cube-man said, confusion in its voice. “En route to planet Cubensis.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Daniels said.

“Well, let us talk to the captain,” it said.

“I am the captain,” he said.

“Captain Richards of the Indefinable Fatigue?”

“This is the Indefinable Fatigue, but there’s nobody named Richards onboard. I’m Captain Daniels. When did you book your passage?”

“Earth year 2957,” the creature said. “We’re refugees from the Geometrical Wars, fleeing from the dreaded Conicals.”

“The Earth year when we last left port was 9432,” Daniels said. “By the time we reach our destination, a couple more decades will probably have passed. Captain Richards is long dead. I have no idea what the Geometrical Wars were, what the hell a Conical is, and I’ve never heard of a planet called Cubensis.”

A murmur went up among the cube-people. A small pang of fear hit Daniels. Would the cubes try to take over the ship and fly it to Cubensis themselves? Would they, to end their misery, blow up the ship, taking everyone else out with them? The truth was far more terrifying.

“Well, then,” the self-appointed cube leader said. “We will travel with you until we reach a planet we find livable.”


The cube-people quickly made themselves at home. Their small size and cubical shape enabled them to easily wedge themselves into various nooks and crannies around the ship. Crewmembers frequently thought themselves in an empty room only to be severely startled when one of the cube-things would move in the shadows, emerge from the ventilation ducts, or pop out of someone’s locker or ribcage.

“They have to go,” First Mate Williams said. “The crew’s morale is at rock bottom.”

“What do you want me to do?” Daniels said, “Dump them into space?”

“Why not?” Williams asked.

“They have a right of passage,” Daniels said. “They paid my predecessor to be transported on this ship. I have to honor that.”

“Why?” Williams asked. “You didn’t honor the agreement to deliver that shipment of five hundred tons of bananas to Alpha Centauri.”

“That was different,” Daniels said. “The bananas rotted before we were a tenth of the way there. That was a really stupid thing to try and ship.”

“These cube-freaks are a stupid thing to try and ship! You could have a mutiny on your hands!”

“Do you really want the Indefinable Fatigue to have the reputation of dumping their passengers into space just because they’re a little annoying?”

“Reputation?” Williams laughed. “We go centuries between stops. Nobody would remember it happened even if anybody knew they were here to begin with.”

Daniels sighed. “I’m just not comfortable with killing them all. They’re war refugees. What if they’re the last of their kind? I could go up before the Galactic Council for intentionally causing an extinction.”

“So you’d have to do some community service. Transport and dump trash into some dying sun or something. Big deal.”

“I’m not killing the cube-monsters,” Daniels said. He put the ceremonial captain’s hat on his head. “I’m the captain and that’s my final word.”

“Yes, sir,” Williams said glumly. When the ceremonial captain’s hat was involved, argument was out of the question.


Six months later, they finally arrived at their destination, planet New New New New York.

“What do you have for us?” the dockmaster asked, glancing disinterestedly at the Indefinable Fatigue.

“Three thousand tons of EMP grenades,” Daniels said.

“Don’t need ‘em anymore,” the dockmaster said, yawning. “The robot uprising ended peacefully about ten years ago. Sorry.”

Daniels trudged back inside. “Another rejected delivery,” he said. “Stick it in the cargo hold.”

He noticed the entire group of cubes standing around the window, staring out in excitement.

“Captain,” the cube-leader said, coming up to him. “What planet is this?”

“New New New New York,” Daniels said.

“This is the planet for us! All those giant boxes outside make us feel at home.”

“What, skyscrapers?” Daniels said.

“Back on our home planet, we built boxes that reached to the heavens, that...”

“OK, it’s fine,” Daniels said, waving his hand dismissively. “As far as I’m concerned you can live wherever you want.”

“Thank you, captain,” the cube said. “I apologize for the inconvenience we might have caused your crew. I’m transferring payment to your account right now, and I’ll adjust the originally agreed-upon amount for the extra time spent.”

“Sure,” Daniels said.


Several weeks later, the ship was on the way to its next destination. Daniels realized he’d never checked to see how much the cubes had paid him, so he pulled up his bank account.

They’d left him 600 credits, barely even enough to buy lunch. Apparently there had been quite a bit of inflation in the past six and a half millennia.

“Captain,” a voice buzzed over the intercom. “We’ve found something in the hold. You might want to come take a look at this.”

“Whatever it is, dump it overboard,” he said without a second’s hesitation.



Taylor Vaughan is a writer and game designer living in Savannah, Georgia. You can find more of his work at taylor-vaughan.com or follow him on twitter at @vaughantay. This is his first published story.