He was looking out on a galaxy of deep nothing between swirls of color that were planets, asteroids, dust; whatever else that filled the vast everything. Pinpricks of light were stars infinitely larger than he was, and little streaks that he could blink and miss were other ships, with other people in them, with places to go and people to be with. Standing alone on an observation deck, the window half of the room, so that he could feel like he wasn’t on an observation deck at all but was a part of it all - it wasn’t hard to feel lonely. And he was, he would admit, if only to himself. There wasn’t anyone to share the sentiment with anyway.
Despite the loneliness, it was never quiet on Wilbur’s ship, whom he had lovingly named L’Manburg, for the singular man who filled her walls. There was always something, whether it was the rumbling of the drive, the whooshing sound from the coolant case, the echoes of his talons clicking on the floor, or the quiet rustling as he moved his arms or turned his head; but what drowned out the emptiness was the music that he had pouring from every room. It was just whatever he could find, though recently he had discovered that he could stream music from that crazy deathworld that was Earth, and even more surprisingly he had discovered that it was his favorite. There was something about the foreign language, words said that he could not understand, but emotions that were all too clear amidst the many, many instruments that blended together to form a single song - something about it that was infinitely intriguing.
It had gotten so that he was so used to the music seeping into his bones and into his lungs that when he finally returned to port to restock and repair, the absence of it made him trill under his breath and invent his own. He didn’t know if he was any good, so he never let anyone hear, but it quickly became a comforting habit of his.
L’Manburg was well on her way to Dexai when Wilbur noticed something odd on the radar. It couldn’t be a ship, because it wasn’t registering, but it was… an odd place for debris. And it had to be debris, because it was in motion, and the only non-piloted objects that could move like that were parts that had been left by or fallen off of a ship. He flicked a switch on the dashboard, following up with a sequence of instructions to slow down, to figure out what was going on.
It wasn’t hard to decipher when he caught a brief blip, from a signal that had probably not been meant to be seen the way things were looking, and it was obvious when Wilbur looked up only to be met with a large, rectangular ship, painted with stripes of bright, neon orange. There was a docking port, tucked into an unassuming shadow. He had never been more grateful for L’Manburg’s near-invisible exterior, painted black, with the required reflectors being an option that he only turned on if he was in port. With human voices singing from the ship’s comms and the floor vibrating to the drums, Wilbur sat back in his chair and reconsidered every decision that had led up to this point.
Because that was a smuggler ship. No radio presence, large enough to house three dozen travel ships, with the tell-tale architecture that he recognized from the shadier parts of the markets he’d been to - it all added up to an ugly picture, and now he was left with a choice to make. He could sneak by, hope that they weren’t looking at their radar because unlike them he did have a radio presence, and potentially get himself killed because he knew too much to be ignored; or, he could request docking access, pretend that he meant to come here all along, stay for an hour, leave, and not die. Of course, if anyone found out that he’d been on a smuggler’s ship, he’d be looking at a heavy fine and at least two cycles in reform, but they were nearly impossible to find for a reason.
In the end, Wilbur didn’t really have a choice, when it was between probably dying or probably not dying, so he flicked open his reflectors and sent a communication request out to the nearest active receptor. Which, hopefully, was the smuggler ship and not a random travel ship in its docking port.
He got an affirmative, and he reluctantly shut down L’Manburg’s internal comms before he accidentally made the worst impression of a black-marketer ever attempted.
“Permission to dock?” he asked, no trace of uncertainty leaking into his voice. It was dull, professional, the kind of thing that no one would think twice about. Hopefully. The less he tried to justify himself, the more he looked like he belonged.
A pause. Presumably, they were opening up the port.
Wilbur pushed forward slowly, turning, and setting his course in his mind. One good thing about this was that it was actually not very difficult to pull into such a wide bay, so he didn’t have to worry about his piloting so much.
The walls of the port loomed more forebodingly the closer he got. There were dozens of travel ships, most of them as unassuming as L’Manburg, though L’Manburg was more than just a travel ship - she was a house ship, a research ship, whatever people preferred to call it; built for long-term excursions and awkwardly out-of-place among the smaller, sleeker vessels in the bay.
It was only when L’Manburg’s control room was cast into darkness, windows shuttering closed as he pulled her out of drive, that the realization of what he was doing finally set in. He had always been a bit of an outsider, a nobody who occasionally made a name for himself with vulgar insults and strong opinions, but here he wasn’t only an outsider, he was a liability. And he thought that he could convince anyone otherwise? Here, where there were lives on the line and lines being crossed?
But when he stepped out, letting the strangely warm, metallic air wash over him, the port was closed. Of course it was closed - he would be dead otherwise - but now it was all too clear that he had no choice.