furry pythons in her patrol quadrant
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The Hero Code
by KJ Hannah Greenberg



Darcy regarded her hangnail. If she pulled it out, she’d stop catching her finger on her spacesuit’s 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, she’d 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 ship’s 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 wasn’t 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 use.

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 Darcy’s crib. Given that extraordinary tactic, he won more often than his commander.

At the moment, though, cribbage tricks were the least of Darcy’s 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 vessel’s inhabitants had died, they’d 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. USPG’s 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 encountered.

Those beasts were more awful than radiation and micrometeorites combined. Those colossal, hindgut digesters would not spare any ship, she or her crew, included.

Involuntarily, Darcy laughed. She’d 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 wouldn’t be on holiday any time soon.

At least, she wouldn’t 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 hadn’t 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 Darcy’s 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 wronged.

Darcy had furthermore thought it wise to postpone the divorce until Jinia graduated from high school. In the captain’s 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 Jinia’s school principal correctly decoded Jinia’s 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 hadn’t been a sensitive child, Darcy still would not have divorced Tadao since divorce would not have kept him out of Darcy’s life. That tawdry being would have retained visitation rights, about which he would have had to communicate with Darcy. What’s more, he would certainly have shown up at Jinia’s 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 wouldn’t 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 moments earlier.

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 Jinia’s 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 station’s 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 measures.

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 ship’s boson cannon and she needed to focus.

The managers of USPG’s 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 weren’t 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 men’s 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 captain’s chair and yelled at her to dash to sickbay. He yelled again when he saw the image that was growing on Darcy’s screen.

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 station’s 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 ship’s 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 Darcy’s viewfinder.


“It was good to know you, Harvey. I could have been your lover had we existed on a different time line.”

“What!?” Harvey pressed the lever which released their plasma beam. Only one furry python now faced the ship.

“Didn’t know we had that capability!”

“Weren’t supposed to know. First mates are charged with secrets. Don’t you remember how you engaged the screaming quarks while serving under Captain Green?”

“Touché! That was before bosons could be controlled reliably.”

“You got promoted as a result. Wonder how I’ll be as a captain?”

“You’re sticking with me, sailor.”

“I’ll never swing your way in this lifetime or any other.”

“But think of our cribbage…”

The asteroid-sized space critter floated closer to Darcy’s vessel. It extended a hidden limb and began to wrap that member around her ship.

“I hope we have this lifetime. Now’d be a good time, Harvey, to release the planet killer.”

“Trick’s not yet regulated. I don’t have it.”

The fuzzy python began to squeeze the ship. One by one, dying life support systems flashed on the captain’s information board. The oxygen levels at her command station, too, were dropping.

“Idiot life form! Probably male. Nothing personal, Harvey, but note it didn’t bother with warnings before taking action. We should have been hailed.”

“Might not belong to the Intergalactic Peace among Conscious and Unconscious Species Legion.”

“Harvey, your mother was a saturnine squid. Logic is moot - no joke intended - in outer space.”

The chief officer shrugged. He thought about his husband. He thought about his favorite cribbage schemes.

Darcy was full of thoughts, too. She again reached over her subordinate to bring the ship’s external microphone to her lips. She activated the intergalactic button on its translator app.

“I’m going to tell your lover you’re a coward.”

The squeezing’s intensity abated a small amount. She had gotten the creepy crawly’s attention.

“I’m 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 some more.

“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 blasts.”

The squeezing stopped altogether.

“If you don’t cease and desist completely, I’m going to report that you cut class.”

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.

“Honoring your 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 right mind.”

“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 insubordination.”

“I could accept a captainship.”

“Space would be very boring without me as a cribbage opponent.”

“And very lonely without a good friend.”

“Sleep tight. Dream happy.”

“You, too.”

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 shuttle’s sleep-inducing gas, Darcy’s 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 spouse.




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