Freebie Mondays: Unapproved Hedgehogs Part 2 (Story 16.5 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Freebie Mondays: Unapproved Hedgehogs Part 2 (Story 16.5 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Since we’ve had a few blog posts in a row, it’s time to catch up on freebies!

Since I write roughly 22 stories every year, I thought it might be fun to do a project for 2022.

In 2022, the 22 shorts I write for my blog will be taken from prompts related to the 31 stories in 31 days project from January of 2022. Each will relate to the multiverse that all of my stories take place in, and I will try to keep the main characters that appear on my blog to the background (unless I get a super cool idea).

I’ve written each of these stories on stream. If you want to witness this installment as it was crafted, the VOD is on youtube!

The prompt for this one was: “character awakens to find hedgehogs in their room.”

This prompt ties in with the space universe and features Robin’s somewhat hapless boyfriend, Daniel. Here is the promised Part 2!
. . .

It turned out that tracking a hedgehog through a spaceship was a lot more difficult than Daniel expected. The computer could track lifesigns, but had a difficult time pinpointing individuals unless they were carrying specific equipment or broadcasting on specific frequencies. And the hedgehog wasn’t exactly trying to call home.

Having grown up primarily in space, and never having actually seen a hedgehog in person before, Daniel was uncertain what might attract one or even what they ate. He spent a few minutes after his meeting with Domerin and Robin reading the wiki page for the creatures but it wasn’t much help. Most of their diet wasn’t readily available on a spaceship, and if he stole one of the fresh melons to scatter about the floor, several of his crewmates might lose their minds.

So he started in the corridors that adjoined his quarters and settled with getting down on bended knee to better see from the hedgehog’s perspective. He was fairly sure that the closed doors were sealed tightly enough that the hedgehogs couldn’t get through the cracks. Most spaceship doors were designed to seal in the case of a hull breach, after all, and preserve the atmosphere for the room’s occupants.

That didn’t exactly bode well for how the hedgehogs made their way into his room in the first place. But it did indicate that the rogue had probably headed for an area of the ship busy enough for the doors to open frequently.

The mess was probably his best shot, especially if the little guy was hungry.

He cringed the moment he passed through the door and scanned the bustling space. At this time of day, the tables weren’t packed full, but there were enough people eating, talking and moving through the space that he wondered how anything only a few inches tall could manage to navigate without being stepped on.

Even while not on duty, most of the crew wore heavy boots fitted with magnets so that they could easily navigate the halls in the event of gravity loss. That meant that they could easily step on something somewhat spiky and possibly not notice – especially the larger and more muscular races among the crew.

He couldn’t get down on his hands and knees in the mess hall without drawing a great deal of attention, so he paced the outskirts of the room, scanning each little crevice and ducking his head so that he could check beneath all the tables.

If there was a hedgehog in here, it had to be terrified and had probably tried to hide. But he caught no glimpse of it. And he assumed if it was in the kitchen, someone would have noticed by now. He didn’t hear any screams or shouts, so he assumed he was clear.

Maybe it went to a less busy but more open part of the ship, he reasoned as he ignored the odd side-eyed looks cast in his direction and returned to the corridor.

The cargo hold was probably the largest and easiest to access part of the ship, especially for something that only came up to his ankle. There would be lots of places to hide there, though that would make it twice as hard for him to find the damn thing.

Maybe I should just beg a melon from the kitchen staff. I can promise to replace it next time we make planetfall…

He was in the midst of biting his lip when he heard a sharp exclamation come from a nearby corridor, followed by a shout.

That sounds like my hedgehog!

Without hesitation, he darted around the corner, jogging to catch up with the shouts still filling the corridor.

“Where did it go?” he panted as he caught up with the small group of people who were bending to trace something across the floor.

“OH!” A voice exclaimed around another corner, causing Daniel to dart forward again.

“What is this?” Daniel barely had time to register who the voice belonged to before Crescent bent and lifted a squirming figure by one of it’s back feet. The other three legs flailed savagely as the creature tried to escape the giant raising it for examination.

Why did it have to be the captain’s boyfriend who found the thing? Could this day get any worse?

“I think it’s a guinea pig,” someone else murmured as they leaned close. They strayed in their trajectory however and, when they bumped Crescent’s shoulder, the squirming creature fell from his hand and took off down the hall.

“Shit!” Daniel exclaimed and dove after it.

The hedgehog was faster than he expected. It rocketed halfway down the corridor before it suddenly froze. Finding itself in a relatively open area with nowhere to hide, it suddenly darted back in the direction it came, apparently hoping to find shelter beneath one of the large figures filling the hall.

Daniel pivoted on his heel in an attempt to follow it, but the speed knocked him off balance and he had to catch himself against the wall.

Another group of startled exclamations filled his ears, and he spun just in time to see another tall figure move around the corner. One of his boots came perilously close to crushing the poor creature, but Crescent moved with speed to change the newcomer’s trajectory.

“Watch out!” he exclaimed as he grabbed the captain’s arm and jerked him to the side. “There’s a guinea pig running around and you don’t want to step on it!”

Domerin grunted softly as he shifted his foot, stepping closer to the side of the corridor than he initially intended. He kept his balance without issue – because of course he did – but he nearly knocked Crescent off his feet in the process. Luckily, the captain grasped his boyfriend’s arm and drew him close so that he could regain his feet without difficulty.

“You okay?” Domerin asked, casting a worried glance at the shorter man.

Crescent grinned. “I’m fine. Oh! But where is the guinea pig?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s a hamster,” Domerin corrected gently. He almost seemed like a different person whenever he spoke to Robin or Crescent, and that made Daniel chafe in his presence all the harder.

Why does he have to be everywhere today of all days?

“It’s actually a hedgehog,” he corrected gently, though he had already informed Domerin of that a few hours ago. Perhaps it slipped his mind in the long list of other things he had to take care of.

“Here it is!” Crescent exclaimed, once again lifting the squirming creature by the leg. This time, he folded his other hand beneath it and cradled it close to his chest so that it wouldn’t dart away. After a moment or two of uneventful stability, the creature seemed to calm.

“Look at him!” Crescent cooed. “He’s so cute.”

“He’s a little bundle of trouble,” Domerin replied, his tone somewhat dry. Then he lifted his eyes and pinned Daniel with his gaze.

“That’s the last one, sir,” he said as he straightened. He almost snapped to attention, but no one else in the hall had and he thought it might be awkward. “Now, hopefully, we can find who they really belong to.”

No sooner did he speak the words than did a shrill shriek drift from another corridor. It was somewhat muted by the distance it had to travel, but someone quite clearly exclaimed, “Rat!”

A cold sweat broke across the back of Daniel’s neck. Why did this keep happening?

Domerin arched a single perfectly shaped midnight eyebrow. “Sounds like you might have more work to do,” he murmured.

How many of those damn things are there? Daniel gritted his teeth. When he found who had put him up to this, he was going to make their life a living nightmare!

“Er, right, sir. What do you want me to do with this one?”

“I’ll take him,” Crescent said right away. He was still cradling the small creature against his chest like it was a child. He did not ask the captain if he could keep it, which made Daniel’s stomach drop.

What was he going to do with all these things if he got saddled with their care? The real culprit could easily lie and say they had nothing to do with the situation. Then Domerin would only be angrier at him than he already was.

“We’ll take him to Robin’s workshop,” Domerin replied, sliding an arm around Crescent’s shoulders to guide him down the proper corridor. But before they disappeared around the corner, Domerin glanced one last time over his shoulder so that his eyes fell squarely on Daniel.

“I’ll see you in an hour for that test,” he declared.

Daniel froze so he wouldn’t cringe. The moment the captain and his boyfriend disappeared around the corner, he took off toward the most recent shriek at a dead run.

*   *   *

“Okay, I’m pretty sure this is really the last one.” Daniel sighed as he stepped through the doorway to Robin’s workshop – often jokingly referred to as her ‘office.’ The tables lining the space were piled high with scraps and tools awaiting use in her various projects.

Robin was bent over a central table holding a torch in one hand and a pair of tongs in the other. She deactivated the blowtorch and set it carefully aside before she lifted the heavy metal mask covering her face. She was grinning underneath.

“Nice!” she exclaimed. “Might as well put it with the rest.” She motioned toward a small cage that had been constructed to hold the tiny creatures – which had proven all too capable of escaping the pot he originally used to coral them.

There were six of the little beasties in all, and they were currently pawing at the spaces between the bars, seeking someway free so that they could continue exploring the ship.

“No one has come asking about them, have they?” Daniel asked as he carefully nudged several of the hedgehogs away from the door to the small cage. He was still hoping he could luck out of the second half of this situation by finding who stashed the critters in his room.

“Nope,” Robin replied with a light shrug. “You’d think if they were pets someone would be quite distraught over their disappearance.”

“Maybe they thought they were leaving them in a safe place,” Daniel muttered. He was satisfied he had cleared the opening enough to risk unlatching the cage, but it was difficult to manipulate the small door while still holding the hedgehog firmly in one arm. “Though I kind of think someone is putting one over on me, having a laugh, trying to get me in trouble.”

He glanced over his shoulder and noticed Robin pulling a hand away from her mouth, as if maybe she had been chuckling and trying to hide it. She quickly pulled her hand behind her back and shook her head. “Who would do that, Daniel, really? Use sweet innocent creatures as part of a prank?”

Daniel frowned and turned back to the cage, which he’d finally managed to wrangle open. It did seem odd that someone would throw half a dozen hedgehogs into the cold void of space without any plan for what might end up happening to them. But it was also clear that Domerin didn’t know anything about any pets, so they couldn’t have been acquired for anything good.

He slid his hand through the small opening in the cage and plunked the hedgehog among his fellows. But as he retracted his wrist, one of the smaller critters dove for the door and managed to wriggle through.

Cursing, Daniel jerked the cage closed, worried he’d have to start his chase all over again. That gave the rogue critter just enough time to tumble to the floor.

Ignoring the scrape of the door opening behind him, Daniel crouched and attempted to wrangle the last hog back into his grasp. But the voice of the new entrant once again froze him in position.

“Do you have those upgraded battery packs? We need to get these tests started.”

Was Domerin following him today?

It was certainly starting to feel like that was the case!

Freed of pursuit, the hedgehog ran headlong into a small sphere of metal perched against the base of the table. Disturbed from its precarious perch, the dome fell on top of the creature, neatly trapping it beneath. But it only took the thing a moment to realize that its prison was light as a feather, and the small dome began inching toward the captain’s boots.

Robin snorted, then snickered. She slapped her hands over her mouth when Daniel glanced in her direction, then spun so her back was to him. “Yeah, Daddy, I have them right here.” She presented her father with a small bundle of rectangular chips.

Domerin didn’t take them, however. He swept past his daughter and stopped just beside the awkwardly exploring dome. “Is this still going on?” he demanded with a frown.

Robin answered with a small snicker, but she quickly schooled her expression when Daniel glanced in her direction.

He was just about to lift the dome from the hedgehog and return it to its cage, but Domerin beat him to it. With a single sweeping gesture, he knocked the metal aside and scooped the hedgehog into his hand so that it lay on its back.

For a moment, Daniel was terrified he would squeeze his hand closed and crush the poor thing. He had no idea why he thought that; Domerin had never actually exhibited a disregard for life. But he sounded annoyed about something – perhaps the fact that this situation was still unresolved.

“Sweetheart, I think it’s time you let Daniel in on this whole charade. I need your boyfriend to help me test these armor modifications.”

It was clear Domerin wasn’t speaking to him, but the words made his heart skip a beat.

What the hell is going on?

Domerin lowered a finger of his free hand toward the squirming creature in his hand and, again, Daniel got the impression he was going to do something terrible to it. He extended a hand and tried to ask the captain to stop, but his finger had already come into contact with one of the quills just beside the hedgehogs tail.

Instantly, the thing froze. Its feet stopped moving and its eyes looked like a pair of glass balls.

Daniel was about to unleash a little cry of shock when Robin burst into gales of laughter behind him. Rather than fading, her laughter grew louder until it filled the whole workspace.

Daniels’ cheeks turned red and burned with a fire he couldn’t define. Slowly, he turned to glance up at Domerin, who flashed him a shockingly reassuring look.

“They aren’t real,” he explained, holding the critter up by the leg to demonstrate. It held exactly the same position as before rather than flopping straight like a dead creature might have.

“I built them!” Robin exclaimed excitedly as she came around the table where she had been working to pluck the thing out of her father’s grip. Then she set it next to the cage and opened the door.

One by one, she pulled the hedgehogs free and touched the quills near their backsides and they fell still.

“I wanted to see how realistic they actually look,” his girlfriend admitted, casting him an apologetic look. “I really thought you’d catch on right away. They’re only programmed with a handful of reactions to various stimuli.”

“Why do you have mechanical hedgehogs?” Daniel demanded when he finally managed to make his tongue move again. He couldn’t help remembering that his day had started with his girlfriend’s father finding a pair of her underwear near his couch and, until now, that had seemed like the least of his crimes.

Robin shrugged. “Some people might like to have something that resembles a pet but won’t actually drain the ship’s resources. And I have lots of mechanical things, Daniel.” She motioned to the workshop they occupied. “I get lots of ideas.” And then she grinned, clearly quite pleased with herself.

Daniel’s jaw fell open. All this time he’d been running around like a crazed chicken that just lost its head, and Robin had probably been able to deactivate those creatures remotely!

“Who… who all was in on this?” he demanded, his voice almost a squeak.

“Daddy knew,” Robin admitted sheepishly. “I might have sent him to talk to you so that I could check on how things were going. I didn’t expect you’d sleep so late!”

He should have been mad. He should have been furious. But at the moment he was simply so relieved that he could barely breathe.

He wouldn’t have to face the captain’s wrath. He wouldn’t have to spend the next three weeks nursing hedgehogs while he tried to re-home them. He’d worry about how big a fool his girlfriend made of them later.

“Come on,” Domerin murmured and motioned toward the door. “Their waiting for us to start.”

Before he could follow, Robin threw her arms around Daniel’s neck and laid a light kiss on his cheek. “Sorry to have sent you running in circles, but you were just so damn cute the whole time.”

Daniel’s cheeks flamed red again, but he only allowed himself a moment to embrace his girlfriend before he swept in her father’s wake. He wasn’t in trouble – which was a distinct relief. But he still had plenty of time to earn Domerin’s ire if he didn’t cooperate with the drill.

One thing was certain though – he was going to have to get Robin back at some point!

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