© 2017 Brett P. S.
book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents
either are products of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
Count Your Stars
Roy Gardner sulked
back in his captain’s chair while he fiddled with the armrest. He
couldn’t manage to get it just level, though if he fiddled with it
enough, it might …
request,” Deanne chimed in across the comm channel.
“For the last
time, Deanne, we’re not upgrading the aft thrusters,” Roy said,
He slicked back his
black, thinning hair, feeling the bald spot on the back of his head.
He and the Zeta had spanned four sectors of the Milky Way, but the
one demon that continued to plague him was male pattern baldness. He
huffed and sunk into his chair, clasping his hands while he stared
out into the viewport, a picture of empty space for lightyears on
end. He watched starlight shimmer as the Zeta traveled faster than
the laws of the Universe normally permitted.
“Oh, I’m over
that,” Deanne said. “But I do think the Zeta could use a fresh
paint job after our last scuffle.”
Roy propped himself
up. “I’ll make a mental note next time we dock, but I’ll tell
you what we really need is a decent payout.”
“What about our last shipment? I thought Anth-metal sold well.”
“Oh, that,” Roy
said. “Are you aware that Anth-metal rusts in a standard
Deanne gathered her
thoughts. “Right, I forgot. Well, at least we recouped our
said. “And that was without my … self-improvement fund raiser.”
“Still going on
about that?” Deanne asked. “You’re handsome the way you are.”
replied sarcastically. “This job is fool proof though. Count your
stars, Deanne, cause after this drop off, we’ll get your paint job
and my new head of hair and still come up in the green.”
started, her words trailing off. “Captain, what exactly did you
pick up this time?”
Roy smiled. “That’s
my little secret. Let’s just say I’d like to avoid contact with
the Federation until we drop this puppy off on Solus.”
illegal, is it?” Deanne asked.
Roy folded his arms.
A particularly long
silence passed on the comm in the form of static. Roy looked up at
the speaker mounted on the ceiling, as if examining Deanne’s source
but to no avail. He resigned himself to wait, an awkward lack of
discussion. Granted, he did go over her head with this one, but it
sounded too good to pass up.
“I guess I don’t
have a choice,” Deanne said. “We’re already half-way to Solus
“Now that’s the
spirit,” Roy said eagerly, swallowing the lump in his throat.
She’d have some choice words after they dock. “Everything will
work out. Trust me.”
Roy heaved a sigh of
relief as he wiped the sweat gathering on his forehead. He’d
dodged a bullet for now. He only hoped that things would work out
after the payout. The deal sounded almost too good to be true, and
Roy couldn’t help but feel something in the back of his head, a
lingering thought, like someone or something telling him he made the
wrong call. Was this what a conscience felt like? It wasn’t a
pleasant sensation at all, no sir.
concentration broke as the Zeta dropped out of FTL due to a massive
celestial body in its path. The sudden transition overloaded the
inertial dampeners and threw him across the bridge. He forced his
head up as pulsing warning lights flowed around him in reddish hue.
Roy saw on the viewport, something vast, larger than any kind of
world he’d ever laid eyes upon. A gaping hole enveloped the Zeta
and soared over his head.
maneuvers!” he shouted.
His words fell short
of anything of merit, however, as a set of celestial sized jaws
enveloped the Zeta. Blackness followed, a deep blackness.
Roy picked himself
up and gathered his composure while he stared at a black viewport
screen. His senses heightened, what little good it would do him at a
time like this. He hurriedly paced over to the console by the
viewport and switched the settings to a different light spectrum,
something that could detect more than visible light. He turned the
dial and stroked a set of keys, and the viewport lit up with colors
of blue, red and yellow in various spots around them.
Captain,” Deanne said. “I’ll run some scans using Thermal.”
The location he
found himself inside appeared vaster than ten cities, definitely more
than a space station like Solus. He panned the horizon, which faded
into the depths of the creature. However, he could see the walls to
his right and left, thick, bumpy gelatinous structures that curved
across from end to end with a convex ground. There was no light
inside wherever it was they found themselves.
“I’m picking up
massive lifeform readings,” Deanne said. “Like, all over.”
Roy slammed his fist
against the console. “Turn us around, Deanne. Let’s inspect our
She happily obliged,
hurling the Zeta around a full 180 degrees to view the gaping hole
they’d flown through. Roy stared at the viewport screen to make
out the depth and shape of what he saw, and it appeared to him as if
their entry was closing. He barely got the words to his lips before
a resounding clang and thud sounded as the top and bottom lines of
their entry point caved in completely and smashed together into a
single crack that spanned hundreds of miles in diameter. He
swallowed the lump in his throat and chose his next words carefully.
began. “Do your scans reveal an exit?”
left him hanging. This would present some problems. Roy stepped
away from the console and straightened the collar on his jacket in
time to see the door to the bridge slide open, an angry dark-haired
woman on the other side. Deanne strode across the bridge, past his
Captain’s chair and up to him. Roy smiled something fake and
prepared a greeting, but he barely managed a fumbled phrase before
Deanne clocked him in the jaw. Roy went down, clutching his face.
“What was that
for?” he exclaimed.
Deanne yelled. “This is your fault! You dragged us inside a
Roy adjusted his jaw
but elected to remain on the floor, else she might be inclined to
smack him again. He probably deserved that one. Boy, did it hurt.
Roy lifted his gaze to meet her line of sight, staring at the
scornful face of a dark-haired woman, tablet in one hand and clenched
fist as the other.
“I don’t see how
it’s my fault,” he said.
said. “Do you presume to know how many Varaxian worms actually
exist in the Galactic sectors?”
Roy rubbed the side
of his face. “Couple dozen, I think.”
Captain,” Deanne said, folding her arms. “Then you know there’s
effectively zero chance we’d ever run into any. Hunters have to go
looking for them, searches spanning solar systems decades in the
“I see your
point,” Roy said, standing up. “But your premise only makes our
encounter extremely unlikely. You haven’t explained how this is my
Deanne grinned an
evil sneer, the kind he hadn’t seen from her in years. Roy choked
a little inside while she stared him down on his own bridge in his
own ship. Then again, it really was her ship, considering who kept
it in working order. Roy took a step back, and she met his movement
“Let’s have a
little look at that precious cargo you talked about so much.”
Roy stepped through
the entrance to his cargo hold once the steel door slid open. The
room lingered in darkness, lit subtly by ambient sources placed at
two-meter intervals around the ceiling. Deanne followed close
behind. She walked a few paces ahead of him and strummed her fingers
across the screen of her tablet, causing the cargo hold to light up
something fierce. He covered his eyes with his hand to shield them
from the abrupt change, allowing his eyes to adjust to the new
Once the golden hues
faded and the cargo hold glowed with details, Deanne pointed to a
shipping crate near the edge of the hold. Steel walls surrounded
them. Over in the far left corner was a plastoid crate, shut tight
with a security code lock. The configuration eluded him, and the
client didn’t exactly hand him a passkey when he picked up the
“I’ve got a
hunch about what’s inside that crate,” Deanne said. “But
before I bust it open, do you have any answers for me?”
“Now hang on a
second,” Roy said, positioning himself between her and the crate.
“Hold it. You’re talking about tampering with the cargo. Who
knows how that might alter their condition?”
“I’ll tell you
what I do know,” she replied. “Unless I see what’s inside, our
chances of escaping the belly of a Varaxian worm are effectively
“Huh,” Roy said,
taking a big gulp. “Well, when you put it like that.”
“Are you sure you
don’t know anything about the cargo, Roy?”
“I’m just a
middle man, Deanne. Point A to point B.”
“Works for me.”
Deanne smiled and grabbed a crowbar from the wall next to her. “Here
She wedged the piece
between the crate cover, lifting the lip gradually. She strained to
push it apart, and she was making headway, but …
“Oh, hell,” Roy
He grabbed hold of
the crowbar and pushed down. With their combined strength and one
final heave, the lid popped off, shattering the hinges in the
process, something no adhesive onboard would fix. He cursed beneath
his breath as he threw the crowbar down and pushed off the lid.
Roy peeked inside,
his face lit up at the sight of a gemstone larger than his head. The
core looked like coarse stone, with spikes of amethyst jutting out in
every direction. He could barely see a pulsing aura to it, as if
some kind of energy traveled from the core to the ends, coming off
the tips in a thin light wave.
“What is it?”
Roy asked. “Is it dangerous?” He paused. “Is it worth
Deanne rolled her
eyes. “It’s an egg.”
“Never seen one
“I’ll let you
guess who it belongs to,” she said, frowning.
Roy paused in
thought. “The client, obviously.” Deanne shook her head, and
Roy pondered a little harder before it hit him. “Ah,” he said.
“Mom’s not happy, is she?”
Let’s Be Real
Roy watched Deanne
lug the crate stuffed with the worm egg. She slid it across to the
stern of the ship, right where the cargo hatch would open. Roy
jumped as the plastoid surface skidded across the corrugated floor
with a grinding scuff. He gestured with open hands, finally clasping
them together as he knelt on the floor.
you,” he said. “Please, don’t do this.”
Deanne kicked the
crate into position with one swift knock from her boots. She folded
her arms, hiding the tablet underneath her elbow as she glared at him
just a little menacingly.
“You want to see
another sunrise, don’t you?”
“But,” Roy said
with a pause. “Meal ticket …”
“Roy, that …
thing will follow us across the Galactic Sectors. You won’t make
it two lightyears before it swallows us again, and that’s if we
even escape from its belly in the first place.” She glanced down
at the crate before meeting his gaze. “Besides, now that I’ve
broken the stasis lock, this little baby might hatch soon.”
me,” Roy said, looking away. “I was going to get new hair and
everything. Easy street for the next five years, babe.”
He caught her out of
the corner of his eyesight. Deanne walked up to him across the
corrugated floor and placed a hand on his shoulder. She patted down
a few times before she lifted it and strode past him. The sound of
footsteps halted, however, followed shortly by her final say.
“Let’s be real,
Captain,” Deanne said. “You’d have lost it all in six months.”
Roy strapped himself
into his Captain’s chair. He fitted his signature jacket up tight
and slicked back his thinning hair. Handsome just the way he was. A
loser is what he was, nothing but a petty smuggler aboard a
half-derelict vessel. He considered himself lucky to have anyone
with time and money put up with his lax attitude, let alone Deanne.
He sure was lucky,
but he shoved those thoughts to the side and brought up the console
aboard his armrest, fitted with buttons and knobs. Roy glanced out
through the bridge viewport screen, a sea of blackness and vitals as
far as he could see. He grabbed hold of the manual pilot controls on
his console, one hand on the joystick, the other on the weapons
he said. “What’s the physiology of a Varaxian worm? Any
commented over the comm channel. “It’s an interstellar creature.
It only needs to feed once every thousand years. No organs to speak
presents a problem. We can’t kill it?”
“Killing it was
never an option, Captain,” she said. “However, if we agitate the
lining of its belly, we might cause it to unclench its jaws for a
brief moment.” She paused. “It won’t be long, but it’ll be
enough to fly out if we time it right.”
“That’s if the
sorry beast chooses to open wide in the first place,” Roy said.
“How many times has this worked?”
answer my question, Deanne.”
“Chances are slim, but it’s all we have.”
“Works for me,”
Roy replied, sulking. “Not as if I have a choice in the matter.”
He peered at the viewport screen. “You know, I think I found the
perfect sore spot, right underneath the left lower jaw.”
“FTL is primed.
We’re only going to get one shot, Captain, but before you do
anything, we need to jettison our cargo.”
Roy sneered. “Come
that we leave without her egg in tow,” Deanne said. “We won’t
get very far with it onboard now that she’s found our ship.”
Roy ran his hands
across his face. “Can’t I at least think about this? You should
see the check this fellow …” His words trailed off as Deanne
“Captain, there is
no choice, unless you want to spend the rest of your days inside the
belly of a space monster.”
“Well, I mean,
there are …”
Roy sighed and sunk
deeper before he straightened his posture upright. He placed his
hands on the console, one on each control. He breathed deeply
through his nose and began his transition into character. With a
stern voice and a bit of a grumble, he spoke.
“Do it. That’s
“Yes, sir!” Roy
heard something clank in the stern of the ship, near the aft
thrusters. “Package deployed,” she said. “Now give that beast
one giant tooth ache to remember.”
Roy gripped down
hard and fired a set of laser cannons newly equipped to the Zeta.
The crimson streams tore a swath through the flesh of the creature,
barely a peck on the surface. He pressed down harder and raised the
penetrating power of the laser cannons. Steady streams of heat
gushed out as Roy curved the Zeta in tandem.
“What are you
doing?” Deanne asked.
Roy smiled. “Just
leaving mommy dearest a little something to remember me by.”
Roy finished his
line work in time to catch the jaws of the creature opening. The
movement wasn’t like the kind a person might expect. For something
as distant as an asteroid in a planet’s upper atmosphere, the jaws
moved with extraordinary quickness. They cracked for a brief moment,
just as Deanne had suspected, but without a wink of hesitation, she
pushed the Zeta into FTL. The worm’s mouth vanished into starlight
as the Zeta presumably pushed past the teeth and gums. The Zeta
hadn’t exploded, so that was something. Roy unstrapped himself and
patted down his jacket and face. It was all there.
Roy turned to catch
Deanne bursting in through the sliding door. She ran down and looked
as if she were about to sock him again, but she paused, smiled and
held out an open hand. Roy took it eagerly and shook. The two of
them shared an exchange of pleasant expressions, and for the first
time in a long time, Roy was happy to cut his losses.
“I never want to
do that again,” Deanne said.
replied. “From now on, I’ll run my packages through you first.”
Deanne looked past
him and through the viewport screen. “What exactly did you carve?”
she asked. “Some kind of design?”
“Just a message,”
Roy said. “A little something for anyone who finds themselves in
the creature’s belly in the next thousand years or so.”
answer my question,” she said.
“Hey, what I wrote
is between me and the worm.”
Deanne folded her
arms and took a step back, sizing him up. He’d never tell, not her
of all people. Sometime though, long after he’s dead and gone,
some unlucky jerk is going to find himself in the belly of a
multi-millennia old titan, and he’s going to read the scars by the
inner jaw and know who’d been there before.