Senn had been lost in space for five months when the devil first offered her a deal.
He appeared in the mess as she was reconstituting protein. Naturally, she assumed the isolation was getting to her, and she retreated to her bunk to cry; but the next morning, nothing in the tiny kitchen was where she’d left it.
A week later, fixing the water recycler, she felt a presence behind her as she squinted into a slimy valve.
“Have you considered my offer?” The devil had a voice like black velvet: smooth, soft, and dangerous. “I can get you home.”
Senn stilled her shaking hands; she couldn’t risk breaking the plumbing further. “You’re just a figment of my imagination.”
“Sure,” the devil snapped his fingers, and the recycler gurgled back to life. “Now can we talk?”
Tall and thin, he had leathery maroon skin, beady black eyes, and cloven hooves. His scaly red tail lashed.
“I’m not interested in anything you have to offer.” Senn ran from the utility room.
“Restarting the distress beacon? Again?”
The devil sat cross-legged on the console as Senn punched in the distress code.
“How’d you get lost out here, anyways?”
She should ignore him. He was either a manifestation of total evil or a hallucination, and nothing good could come from either; but she hadn’t spoken to anyone else in six months.
“I was working a contract at Astoria Station when their fusion core malfunctioned. Everybody had to evacuate. I happened to be on this ship, but the jump drive did something weird.”
The devil leaned forward, grinning. “You just ‘happened’ to be on this ship?”
Senn reddened. “For work.”
“You’re a pilot?”
“No, a janitor.”
Senn was sick of emergency rations, chunks of protein and bags of green vegetal goo. As an experiment she tried frying the protein cubes, but the result was suboptimal.
“My offer still stands,” the devil pinched his nose against the awful stench.
Senn missed her father, who could make a delicious meal out of anything. Did her parents think she was dead? Her terror was giving way to anger. “I’m not giving you my soul,” she snapped. “Why do you keep bothering me, anyways? Don’t you have better things to do? Go back to hell.”
The devil’s face fell. He disappeared, leaving Senn feeling guilty and ashamed.
Senn didn’t see the devil again for several days. Alone again, she decided to do a deep clean of the ship. She wiped down the viewscreens in the bridge, washed the sheets on her bunk, and sent a vacubot prowling the corridors. It was almost a relief when the devil appeared, sitting on the counter in the mess as she scrubbed dishes.
“The place looks nice,” he mumbled after a long silence.
“Thanks,” said Senn. “I like having something to do.”
“Can I help?” The devil asked, so quietly Senn almost didn’t hear him.
She nearly dropped a plate in surprise. The devil stared at the floor, not meeting her eyes, and Senn suddenly understood why he kept coming back: he was as lonely as she was.
“Here,” she handed him the dripping plate and a rag. “I wash, you dry.”
The devil took the plate from her and began wiping. After finishing the dishes, they organized the storeroom; the devil stacked boxes of protein neatly on the shelves and called out the expiration dates to Senn, who noted them on a clipboard. They decided that the next day they would tackle the navigation room, which was a mess.
“Senn! Wake up!”
“Leave off.” she pushed the devil away. She had been having a lovely dream: sipping a mocha in her favorite cafe and flirting with the handsome barista.
“Come on, you’ll want to see this!”
The devil chivvied her out of her bunk. She followed him to the bridge, dark but for the flashing red distress beacon and a riot of stars on the viewscreen.
“There!” Light fountained across the screen. “A comet!” The devil bounced in excitement. Senn giggled.
They spent hours lying on the floor, watching stars roll past and naming new constellations. Senn’s were mostly mammals from ancient earth, like cats and horses. The devil preferred luxury vehicles: The Galaxy Cruiser, The SuperNova.
“What is an immortal soul, anyways?” Senn sat in the medbay rolling up her sleeve. “Is it something you’re given, or something you make?”
The devil removed the pre-filled syringe – a monthly cocktail of vitamins, Amifostine, and nanobots – from its packaging. He gently turned her head to look away as he positioned the syringe against her shoulder. “It’s a little of both, and something more. It’s what exists between you and other people.”
Senn flinched as the needle pierced her. “Do you have one?”
The devil didn’t answer.
After almost a year, Senn got a response to her distress beacon from a small planetary settlement. They transmitted a code to patch into the ship’s navigation system and promised to send a rescue vessel to meet her. They would rendezvous in one month.
Senn danced around the bridge, laughing and screaming. Finally she sat in the captain’s chair, exhausted. Alone.
She found the devil hiding in one of the cargo holds, curled up in a ball, crying. His tears looked human.
“What if they won’t let me on board?”
“They’ll let you. Or I’ll pitch a fit.”
They sat in the mess, rehashing the familiar argument as the rescue ship’s tractor beam pulled them in. Senn squeezed the devil’s hands, wondering if they had always been this warm.
His tail thumped the floor. “But I’m…”
“We’ll tell them you’re a genemod. People do all kinds of weird things on Astoria.”
“You’ll help me?”
Senn was already envisioning the feast her father would prepare for them: spaghetti, salad, fresh bread. “Of course!” The devil wiped tears from his eyes. He smiled.