Retirees in Space (part 2)
Here’s Part 2 of Retirees in Space (originally published in Locothology 2013, an anthology about pirates). You can find Part 1 here.
Retirees in Space (part 2)
by Anne Marie Lutz (copyright 2013)
Hearing returned first. Familiar voices – Milla’s frightened tones, strained with tears, and Mike’s blustery objections to something. The carpet on the deck – carpet! On a ship’s deck! That was Iker’s conceit – scratched at Grun’s arm. Then awareness returned, and Grun barely stopped herself from rolling and grabbing for her gun.
Still, she must have moved. A foot prodded at her.
“Your pet soldier is awake,” a voice said. It was the same voice she had heard on the comm from the pirate ship. Grun blinked and sat up, coiled and ready. Her eyes searched for her energy gun and found it on the deck across the cabin. There were three strangers in the cabin, and one of them had a blaster aimed directly at Grun’s forehead.
The post-stun headache pounded behind Grun’s eyes. She was surprised they hadn’t just killed her – perhaps they had a use for a pilot.
“Don’t move,” said the voice, lilting with a spark that led Grun to think this was a man who loved what he did for the thrill of it. His dark eyes betrayed an unexpected humor as he stared down at her. His military-style boot rested on her ribs.
“I want up,” she said.
He nodded. “Slowly.” He backed off a little, blaster ready. Grun rose with a slowness born of caution and also of her aching ribs.
Hi, Milla and Iker sat at the table, under guard. Mike lay on the deck, out cold. The pirate leader saw her watching Mike and said: “He’s alive. Old fool tried to jump me. Might have done it thirty years ago, but not today.”
The rest of the cabin was in a shambles. Storage compartments spewed supplies everywhere. A bag of emergency rations had split open, trailing algae meal down the side of the bulkhead. As Grun watched, there was a thump from one of the sleeping cabins and someone inside threw a ball of rolled-up clothing out into the passageway.
“Nothing here, Jay!” yelled a woman’s voice from the sleeping cabin. She put her head out the hatch to glare at Grun’s pirate. “Not so much as a gold bracelet. Waste of time!”
“Not like we were gonna do anything else,” Jay said. He scratched at the stubble on his jaw. “Where’s the cash then, folks? People your age don’t run around between star systems with just cereal and a few extra clothes, do ya now? Where’s the cash? Where’s the prescription drugs? I know ya’ve got ’em.”
Iker said, “I could pay you to leave us alone.”
“Now you’ve got the idea.” Jay waved his blaster at Iker, who seemed unmoved. Grun tensed, but another pirate growled at her: “Be still.”
“You,” Jay said. His eyes narrowed at Iker. “Get up. Show us the safe.”
Iker nodded. “It’s in the sleeping cabin.”
Milla sobbed and clutched at his arm. “He’s just going to kill us and take the ship anyway!”
The woman in Milla’s room said, “Don’t trust us, do you? Sad. Send him in, Jay. You’re a handsome old man, aren’t you? Must’ve been a looker when you were young?” She held a gun steady as Iker and Milla preceded her into the sleeping cabin.
Grun’s mind twisted through scenario after scenario. She wondered if they would really just take the money and go, leaving this expensive little space yacht behind them. She didn’t think so. After the passengers had given away the location of any safes or secret compartments, she thought they would be tossed out the airlock so the pirates could take over.
She saw the exact moment when Jay’s dark gaze fixed on Hi.
“You,” he said. “What’s that around your neck?”
“Nothing.” Hi appeared sharp and alert. Grun recognized that look from combat training. Hi was ready for anything.
“Nothing, hell. You’ve got something good there. What is it, a special necklace? Hand it over.” The pirate stalked over to the table and put a hand at Hi’s silk collar and pulled it aside. “Shit!”
The alien rippled from Hi’s neck, lightning fast. It flowed up onto Jay’s wrist before the pirate could let go of Hi’s collar. It stretched, elongated, encased Jay’s hand, wrist, forearm.
The pirate leaped back. “Holy hell, what is it? Get it off!” He dropped his energy gun, trying to peel the alien off with his other hand. In just seconds, it glistened in a mucous mass up Jay’s neck to his mouth.
Everyone was watching Jay. Grun scrambled across the deck, grabbed her energy gun and got off one blast at one of the pirates. The man dropped dead before he sprawled to the deck. The other pirate swore and fired. Fire seared the edge of Grun’s arm, burning up her shoulder. The arm fell limp, but she was still alive. She squeezed the trigger one more time and the other shooter screamed and crashed to the deck.
Blackness tinged Grun’s vision, but she could still see that Jay had collapsed. He was enveloped in a sleeve of clear-and-rose alien, which had somehow grown and thinned to cover his entire body. Jay thrashed. His face through the distorting film of the alien’s body was purpling with hypoxia and grotesque as he fought uselessly against something that gave with his every blow.
Iker walked out of his cabin. There was no sign of the pirate he had gone in with. “This one’s dead,” he said. His voice seemed just as calm as usual. “I have her gun. Shall I – ?”
“Shoot,” Grun forced out. She could no longer see clearly enough to shoot. In fact, she was not sure she was even holding her weapon. “Kill it.”
Iker raised the weapon.
Hi sprung to her feet and leapt between Iker and the fallen pirate. “No, no! Leave it alone!”
Milla emerged from the sleeping cabin and sank to her knees at Grun’s side. Through the haze of faintness that cushioned her perception, Grun noticed that Milla was smeared with blood. The older woman held one of the emergency med kits. After a moment’s fumbling with wrappers and seals, Milla administered an injection of the pain medication. Then she wrapped a cool gel bandage around Grun’s forearm.
After a moment of almost indescribable relief, Grun’s thoughts sharpened. “Why not kill it, while it’s uh, otherwise occupied?” she gritted out to Hi.
“Because that’s not part of the deal! It won’t hurt us now. It has what it wants.”
“Holy God,” Mike grumbled as he sat up, holding his head. “What in hell can it want, Hi? And I never thought about divorce before, I swear I didn’t, but after this day – ”
“I love you, too,” Hi said. She bent over the twisting form of the alien-encased pirate. The man’s face had turned almost black.
Grun spared a moment’s hazy regret for the loss – he had been a beauty – but then wrenched herself back to reality.
“What does it want, Hi,” Milla pleaded. “Tell us for God’s sake!”
“Genetic material,” Hi said. “Human DNA. And not ours, it agreed, and not from the humans on Forst or the tourists it depends on.”
“What in hell is it going to do with human DNA?”
Hi stood up and took a deep breath, as if she were letting go of stress. She rubbed the skin of her neck and shoulder. When her hand came away, Grun saw her skin speckled with little dots, each one a clotted tiny wound where the alien had clung.
“It took your blood,” Iker said. “It had your DNA. Why go to this extreme?” he gestured at Jay, who had fallen still.
“The alien swore to the ambassador it would not hurt me, but it has to have some means of staying alive.” Hi drew her silk collar over the abraded skin. “I am fine. It took nothing but a little blood.”
“But what does it need to consume that pirate for?”
“DNA,” Hi said. She sounded impatient, and finally a little shell-shocked. “Its species needs the DNA. It will take it back to Forst, to the containment zone.”
Mike put a beefy arm around her shoulders. “Leave her alone now. Can’t you see, she’s exhausted?”
“We’re stranded.” Iker looked at Grun. “Is there anything you can do about the navigation or communications back to Forst?”
Grun nodded. “Now that I have time.” The gel bandage and the shot had dulled the pain. She felt lightheaded from the drug, but there was no choice. She accepted Iker’s help back to the helm. The first thing she did was scan for the pirate craft, but sensors showed nothing nearby.
“Huh,” Grun said. “I think they left someone aboard, and they scrammed as soon as they realized there were problems.”
“Just as well,” Iker said. “Here, Milla has brought some hot tea for you.”
Grun sipped it and winced. It was loaded with sugar, cloying on her tongue. “I don’t like – ”
“I know. But you need it right now. Where will we be if you faint, and we’re left here with no comm or propulsion in the middle of nothing?”
“Hi knows how to work the comm,” Grun said. “Mike knows something about the drive.” A few minutes later, she had figured out what the accomplice at Forst Control had done to their ship. She entered code to free the comm. As soon as she began sending their location and a mayday, the comm spat a stream of gibberish that resolved into a frantic voice. It did not sound like the voice of Forst Control.
“Forst Control to Ramblin’ Days – ”
“This is Ramblin’ Days.” Grun winced again at the name Mike had saddled the little yacht with.
“Forst Control to Milla. Where’s Milla?”
Grun laughed. “Must be the ambassador. The old boyfriend,” she said to Iker. Then: “This is Captain Grun. We are fine, need a little medical attention but all are well. We need assistance in debugging our nav computer and yeah, also in transporting some dead pirates.”
There was a babble of confused voices and Forst Control came back online, cool and professional. “Pinpointing your location and sending rescue. What is the status of the pirate vessel?”
“Gone, but we have four of them here, three deceased and one – on storage,” Grun said. She raised her eyebrows at Iker, who shrugged. He didn’t know what to say about Jay either.
“Warning to Forst Control,” Grun added. “The pirates had planetside assistance. Someone capable of uploading course changes and weapons programming from Forst Control.” More than likely they’d done it themselves in order to appease the alien parasites and to kill a few pirates, but the diplomatic approach seemed prudent, now that Grun needed their help.
After the flurry of acknowledgments, Grun locked down the helm and went back to the main cabin. The pirate leader lay like some grotesque biology experiment on the deck, but someone had pushed him off to the side. Hi and Mike sat close together on the couch, and Milla’s voice contributed a jittery background as she ran through her feelings about the pirate attack, trying to relieve her stress.
“Milla, come here,” Iker said. “Enough now, you can tell the officers later.”
“They damn well better honor Hi as a hero of Forst,” Mike blustered, a drink in his hand. “She saved the alien species!”
“By helping them evolve, yes, dear,” Hi said.
“And they could fund a day at the casinos. That would be a nice mark of appreciation as well, don’t you think?” Iker said. “Milla rather likes the slots.”
Hi yawned behind one delicate hand. “Now I think I am very tired, and Grun needs to sit down. Would someone get my origami kit? Will you, Iker? I find it calms my nerves, to focus on detail.”
Iker bowed. “At your service.”
Grun settled with her feet up and the voices of her passengers droning in her ears – about origami, Iker thinking out what this would do to the tourist industry on Forst and the price of stock, and Mike looking for a vid of a football game in the locker under the couch, which had somehow escaped being looted. Grun smiled. Heroes of Forst, indeed. All ready for a nice meal, after the rescue ship came, and perhaps a nip of something before bed.
This was originally published in Locothology 2013, a pirate-themed anthology. A link to the Kindle version of the anthology is here.