Darcy regarded her
hangnail. If she pulled it out, shed stop catching her finger on her
spacesuits fabric, on the cargo netting surrounding her bunk, and on the
upholstered support of her command station. In balance, if she yanked at that
unruly splinter, shed probably bleed, necessitating her signing over her
authority to her second during the entire span constituting: her fumble to sick
bay, her receiving the necessary coagulants there, and her return, back up a
corridor, to her ships wheel room. Many pilots had lost limbs or worse
from spaceborne microbes that needed only a single drop of human blood to turn
human appendages into gangrene tissue.
It wasnt that Harvey
was incompetent; he had been the salutatorian to her valedictorian at flight
school. As well, Harvey was a nice guy; he had insisted that his penultimate
rank suited him and that the buckets of ale, with which he and their classmates
had subsequently doused Darcy, given her nonpareil rank, had been put to good
Plus, Harvey was a great
cribbage opponent. When he and Darcy played together, which was rare since one
or the other of them was ordinarily manning the helm, he utilized the Muggins
Rule. That is, Harvey played rogue. He often threw pairs or tossed consecutive
cards to Darcys crib. Given that extraordinary tactic, he won more often
than his commander.
At the moment, though,
cribbage tricks were the least of Darcys concerns. She had observed a
shadow, which might be indicative that furry pythons were in her
patrol quadrant. Even a petty officer third class could point out that outer
space ought to be clear, not foggy, and that furry pythons, as the United
States of the Paying Galaxies had dubbed those invaders, habitually cloaked
themselves in mists. Accordingly, not only was Darcy thinking twice about
pulling on her errant sliver, but she was also evaluating defenses.
In less time than it would
take her to walk to sick bay, those supervenient others could locate and
squeeze her vessel tightly enough to prevent it from making necessary,
life-sustaining, membrane-actualized, exchanges of gases. Her entire crew could
asphyxiate just because she had gotten tired of snagging a broken bit of
horn-like stuff on textiles.
More exactly, those
seemingly innocuous, otherworldly, chlorine-based life forms, which resembled
asteroid-sized lops tripping on lysergic acid diethylamide, and about which
many dead navigators had filed and transmitted messages, were not only
possessed of enormous crushing power, but also of gargantuan maws. When those
aliens determined, by some kind of electrocardiography produced in their
entrails, that a vessels inhabitants had died, theyd open their
foremost orifices and engulf stagnate ships, lifeless spacefarers and all.
USPG xenobiologists were
stumped by those critters ability to unhinge their oral cavities
sufficiently to swallow objects hundreds or thousands of times their size.
USPGs physicists were similarly stumped by those rabbits
ability to hop along time lines, notwithstanding wormholes and other aspects of
Minkowski space. Darcy, though, was hardly stumped by those
extraterrestrials perfect record of destroying all rocketeers that they
Those beasts were more
awful than radiation and micrometeorites combined. Those colossal, hindgut
digesters would not spare any ship, she or her crew, included.
laughed. Shed get no furlough. Even though she was overdue to be relieved
by a substitute captain, given that those space bunnies were closing the
distance between themselves and her ship at a rate of minutes, she
wouldnt be on holiday any time soon.
At least, she wouldnt
have to face down that more horrific monster, her husband, Tadao.
Tadao had been unwilling to
continue couples counseling. He had, moreover, refused to abide by the promises
he had made in their handful of sessions. Whereas he no longer womanized,
whenever he was angry or frustrated, he continued to strike Darcy with all
manner of verbal violence. Burnt toast or a traffic jam were reason enough, in
his view, for giving her a tongue lashing.
Additionally, he still
blamed his flagrant infidelities on his need to assuage his ego. He had lost
much social status when he was demoted and then fired from Xeno Labs for his
theft of Andromeda Galaxy spores. He conveniently forgot that his former
employer had kindly not pressed charges. Tadao likewise disremembered that
Darcy hadnt abandoned him.
For Darcy, his
longsuffering wife, it was better that the man never got the message that she
was strategically enduring their marriage. As Darcys husband, Tadao was
lawfully required to mind their daughter in her absence, to bring in a salary
on which she had dibs, and to keep her sexually entertained. Those ends far and
away beat the cost of her, the greater earner, paying him alimony - civil law
cared more about disparate earnings than about which party had been
Darcy had furthermore
thought it wise to postpone the divorce until Jinia graduated from high school.
In the captains mind, whereas a marriage of conflict was dreadful, a home
to which only one parent was welcomed seemed like it would be more damaging to
a child, particularly one prone to fashioning combustions.
Truth be told, Jinia was
intentional, but not malicious, in her application of fire to trashcans, to
dumpsters, and to recycling receptacles. She was doing her adolescent best to
convey her thoughts, to her parents, about their dysfunctional relationship.
Sadly, neither Darcy nor Tadao, nor Jinias school principal correctly
decoded Jinias declarations.
Darcy regarded her screen.
For a moment, the aggressors were static.
In spite of everything, if
Tadao earned as much as Darcy and if Jinia hadnt been a sensitive child,
Darcy still would not have divorced Tadao since divorce would not have kept him
out of Darcys life. That tawdry being would have retained visitation
rights, about which he would have had to communicate with Darcy. Whats
more, he would certainly have shown up at Jinias milestone events,
whether he was invited or not. Accordingly, it was less draining for Darcy to
keep: Tadao, their flame-prone child, and her pilot role than to disconnect
from any of them.
On balance, if Darcy would
learn that a space rabbit had gobbled up Tadao, it wouldnt trouble her
too much. The last time that she had been Earthside, he had dared to point out
that she had developed fiddly bits.
The captain again regarded
her viewfinder. The unnatural clouds appeared closer to her ship than they had
Darcy exhaled. Despite the
money she had paid for tutors, her parenting skills had proved insufficient.
Every time that Darcy thought she was establishing good boundaries with Jinia,
she had gotten closed out by Tadao.
There had been the instance
when Darcy, who was orbiting Jupiter at the time, and who had prohibited Jinia
from getting intravascular Wi-Fi, had received, from Tadao, a silent finger.
Specifically, Tadao had hastened Jinia to a human/electronics interface clinic.
On another occasion, when
Darcy was working a full galaxy away from home, she had learned that Tadao had
bought birth control for Jinia. Prior to that mission, when Darcy had been
Earthside, Darcy had forbid Jinia from obtaining contraceptives and from being
sexually active with any of Jinias calculus study partners.
Darcy regarded the tear in
her nail, again, and as quickly returned her focus to her main viewer. In the
near distance, menacing swirls were gathering.
The captain snorted. Life
was unfair. Her alliance with Harvey, her soulmate, would forever stay
professional and platonic. That singularly sweet, mindful, and loyal man, the
one who sat on the Board of Directors of the GBLT Pilots Association, had
a husband of his own. Truly, the only recreation in which she would ever be
able to engage him was cribbage.
Darcy eyed the command
stations emergency chest. In bold letters, in plain Intergalactic, it
read break glass in case of crisis. A small hand axe, quaint, but
useful when electronic systems failed, hung nearby. Inside of that box sat a
sealed beaker of experimental bacterium whose infection vector was greater than
that of Yersinia pestis.
Despite the fact that the
Intergalactic Peace among Conscious and Unconscious Species Legion forbid such
contagions to exist anywhere outside of their sealed labs, in practice, every
USPG starship kept a ration of that biological nastiness. Should any USPG ship
be boarded and the crew killed, then the raiders, too, would die. Darcy
wondered why fuzzy pythons had not previously been annihilated by such
Sighing, she thought about
her hangnail, about the men most central to her life, and about how such
contaminates could have protected her when she was a flight plebe. Darcy shook
her head to vanquish all of her errant thoughts. The foul, grotesque brume was
almost within range of her ships boson cannon and she needed to
The managers of USPGs
flight school had been more interested in collegial status than in appropriate
conduct. At the same time as that administration claimed that all
sailors vocabulary ought to be clean of pejorative language, Darcy and
the rest of the female cadets had been dissed with every nasty noun, verb,
adjective, and adverb known to their male instructors and peers.
Even these many years
later, in her captainship, Darcy noticed that words with derogatory nuances,
while officially banned from USPG exchanges, constituted the content of
everything from quartermasters inventories of chewing gum to questions on
license renewal forms.
Sometimes, foul ideas
werent even masked. As recently as 2090, a commodore had asked Darcy,
how can you be pregnant and continue to fly your ship? That man
claimed to be trying to protect Darcy and her unborn from the wilds
of space. Although he was merely a lieutenant, his uncle was the rear admiral
to whom Darcy reported.
In contrast, Harvey and
other soldiers of his ilk had not suffered persecution from either teachers or
contemporaries. Since he was anatomically male, Harvey was regarded as
upholding ancient pilot traditions. At the academy, gender fluid men were more
fully approved of than were females of any nature.
Darcy breathed out another
sigh. Too many of the men at the spacers academy had compensated for
obsolete knowledge, worn out traditions, unresponsive body parts, and for other
personal liabilities by libeling or slandering female students. They never
accepted that their rhetoric disrupted USPG as a whole or that their fleet
commander had a vagina.
Although every now and then
that admiral punished episodes of unconscionable behavior, which were expressed
among her ranks, by forcing some of the worst offenders to take early
retirement, the mens patterns of harassment, overall, remained
entrenched. For instance, there had been a recent memo, from a young cadet,
which Darcy had seen, and which described an educational environment much too
similar to the one in which Darcy was educated.
Momentarily distracted by
her vexation, Darcy bit down, twisted her head, and pulled the annoying shard
off of her finger. A klaxon chimed.
Harvey straightaway pushed
her out of her captains chair and yelled at her to dash to sickbay. He
yelled again when he saw the image that was growing on Darcys
Darcy stumbled, but
regained her footing. She regarded her finger. A drop of blood shone on her
skin. She stuck her digit in her mouth and ran.
Harvey once more looked at
the command stations vid. He considered himself more resilient than the
average spacer, but did not want to play hide-and-go-seek with furry pythons.
Then the first mate shrugged - deception was irrelevant - the aliens were
nearly upon the ship. He fired the boson canons.
A portion of the fog became
transparent, hence it revealed a bevy of chlorine-based, asteroid-sized lops.
Harvey next activated all
four of the ships HELLADs. Supersonic waves bounced around the craft as
something within the refolded miasma exploded.
Not waiting for their
enemies volley, Harvey fired a special sequence of EMPs. For a second
time, sonic waves rocked the ship after another explosion took place within the
yet approaching murkiness.
Darcy, who had returned,
her pointer finger wrapped in some sort of artificial skin, reached past her
top officer and deployed sentient vehicles. Thereafter, her ship somersaulted
backward since enormous, supersonic waves wrapped it after multiple explosions
occurred inside the nevertheless progressing haze.
Finally, that cosmic smoke
dissipated. Two enormous furry pythons and a significant amount of space debris
appeared on Darcys viewfinder.
It was good to know
you, Harvey. I could have been your lover had we existed on a different time
pressed the lever which released their plasma beam. Only one furry python now
faced the ship.
Didnt know we
had that capability!
to know. First mates are charged with secrets. Dont you remember how you
engaged the screaming quarks while serving under Captain
was before bosons could be controlled reliably.
You got promoted as a
result. Wonder how Ill be as a captain?
with me, sailor.
Ill never swing
your way in this lifetime or any other.
But think of our
The asteroid-sized space
critter floated closer to Darcys vessel. It extended a hidden limb and
began to wrap that member around her ship.
I hope we have this
lifetime. Nowd be a good time, Harvey, to release the planet
Tricks not yet
regulated. I dont have it.
The fuzzy python began to
squeeze the ship. One by one, dying life support systems flashed on the
captains information board. The oxygen levels at her command station,
too, were dropping.
Idiot life form!
Probably male. Nothing personal, Harvey, but note it didnt bother with
warnings before taking action. We should have been hailed.
Might not belong to
the Intergalactic Peace among Conscious and Unconscious Species
Harvey, your mother
was a saturnine squid. Logic is moot - no joke intended - in outer
The chief officer shrugged.
He thought about his husband. He thought about his favorite cribbage
Darcy was full of thoughts,
too. She again reached over her subordinate to bring the ships external
microphone to her lips. She activated the intergalactic button on its
Im going to
tell your lover youre a coward.
intensity abated a small amount. She had gotten the creepy crawlys
Im going to
tell everyone in your colony that you pick on the weak and helpless and that
you run from fighting creatures your own size and strength.
The squeezing diminished
We have cameras and
audio recorders to prove that you tried to board without following
intergalactic protocol. If this ship is trashed, those instruments will
automatically jettison in a safety tube designed to withstand atomic
The squeezing stopped
If you dont
cease and desist completely, Im going to report that you cut
As fast as it had appeared,
the furry python swam away.
Darcy had realized that the
transmigrants lack of messages was an aspect of its intention to engage
in manipulative acts. Namely, she had grasped that the invaders might be
nothing more than giant bullyboys. Thus, she thought to quash the last attacker
by articulating his interests. It was a weird feint, she admitted, but she had
nothing left to lose as her ship was out of effective ammunition.
Much later, at the space
academy, Harvey was heralded as a hero. Harvey reveled in the accolades that
the fleet admiral bestowed upon him and tolerated her kisses. Before going to
their respective quarters, Darcy drenched her officer with ale. She believed
that turnabout is fair play among friends. As well, Darcy sighed again about
their never being able to be paramours; Harvey was a rare valiant.
The next day, when the two
boarded an Earth-bound shuttle, their own craft being locked down for a
going-over and repair, Harvey asked Darcy why she had reported their shared
victory as belonging only to him.
cribbage game. By dumping everything on those fuzzy pythons, you bought me
time. I needed it; attempts at aggressive domination always put me out of my
You were never in
your right mind.
Careful, fly boy. Be
that as it may, I still outrank you and could write you up for
I could accept a
Space would be very
boring without me as a cribbage opponent.
And very lonely
without a good friend.
Sleep tight. Dream
Darcy exhaled, wishing that
flight school commissioners could be as easily routed as had been those
colossal, deadly, spacefaring, would-be intimidators. Another exhale followed
her thoughts about the value of dear friends.
Succumbing to the
shuttles sleep-inducing gas, Darcys last thought was about her
family. If Jinia could channel her rage, she could succeed as a young
professional. Retraining, though, would never make Tadao into a suitable