Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
Keeper and three hundred expedition members, gathering exotic life forms from across the universe, were enjoying a feast of Maltese Eels, Gesperian horn-pods and Lembayo water-plant in honor of their cephalopod navigator’s fifth anniversary of joining the crew. Suddenly brilliant lights the color of fresh blood flashed throughout the massive dining room and a booming recording warned of an IMPENDING SECURITY BREECH.
With a crack of thunder and a tremendous flash of ozone, a giant winged worm as large as a storage tank materialized on the pad used to return oversized laborers to work levels. Tables overturned and the crew ran in all directions to the sound of breaking dishes and shattering glass. Guest of honor Teuth, dropped three of the Vorboolian cocktails he held in his eight tentacles as the giant worm wiggled across the domed room and devoured the electrical circuits in the atmospheric lighting panels with grinding rows of circular teeth.
Organic Science Officer Leika burst from the gyroscopic transporter seconds later brandishing a zookeeper’s diminution gun. “Don’t do that! You’ll only make her angry,” she yelled as the star ships security forces attempted to vaporize the monster with blasters. Seconds later Keeper and his stunned crew watched as Leika reduced the giant to the size of a bug and then chased after the flying creature and captured it in a bottle.
Male crew members were already beginning to stagger toward Leika like love-sick zombies. Leika grinned at Keeper. “Sorry,” she said. “This rare Winged-Kirminas is undergoing second-stage metamorphous and was scheduled for release in terrarium level six. That idiotic transfer technician you hired from some slum planet blundered again.”
“Did you have your assistants escort the sixteen-ton worm to the transporter room while you monitored the release from the safety of your lab as I requested?” Keeper looked stern.
“According to the biologists on Mateuse 17, only five of this species exist in the entire universe, despite their formidable shielding. I was only making sure this specimen came to no harm at the hands of your clumsy crew.” Leika’s eyes were radiating a soft baby powder blue … but the spines she had in place of hair looked ready for a fight.
“Leika, you know the male members of this crew have a hard time functioning while you are in their work areas,” Keeper scolded. “That Porosities attraction aura you unconsciously release when you are near men is destructive to their concentration.”
“It’s not my fault your crew can’t control their sexual responses?” Her emotion-charged eyes flamed yellow-red.
“I’m sorry Leika, you are the most brilliant biologist I know, but your insubordination leaves me no choice but to confine you to quarters … for twenty-four hours.”
“Twenty-four hours!” Leika screeched. “You treat me like a child!” She knocked the rest of the drinks out of Teuth’s tentacles before she kicked over the table Jeff Bland sat at and stomped toward the gyroport.
“That went well!” First Officer Jeff Bland commented as he wiped spilled liquor and half eaten horn-pods from his uniform.
“I’m only trying to get you to follow the rules,” Keeper called after the tantalizing crew-member, “… someone on this ship has to be in charge!”
Leika slammed the transporter hatch and vanished without looking back.
Less than six hours later, a sleepy First Officer Jeff Bland was summoned to the ship’s bridge by Navigator Teuth; he met Keeper as they entered the gyroport. The Captain had received the same message. “It hasn’t been twenty-four hours!” Jeff looked at his watch. “Don’t tell me Leika has found a way to jimmy the time-lock on her quarters.”
“This doesn’t sound like Porosities trouble,” Keeper said. “This sounds like the real stuff!”
“You don’t think that half the things that go wrong on this ship are not due to that walking sex bomb? I find that hard to believe!” Jeff said as the transport mechanism began to move. The gyroport rotated much like a gyroscope, efficiently conveying those inside to any section of the massive globular spacecraft.
“I find our Organic Science Officer delightful and entertaining,” Keeper said. “Although I am immune to most of her more annoying charms.”
“Annoying?” Jeff moaned. “She once cornered me in a restricted area of engineering level three and forced me to hand feed her orgasmic grape-pods while splashing around naked in a pool of fermented Lustarian oil.”
“I warned you of the dangers of this voyage!” Keeper smiled.
Teuth was staring at a distorted communications hologram when they arrived in the ship’s main control room. A transparent dome the size of a football stadium covered hundreds of similar areas. “Problems?” Keeper asked.
“We received an encrypted message from Mateuse 17, but the data was scrambled before our computers could decode it.” Teuth’s eight tentacles were busy moving through the light beams under the image attempting to find out why.
“A problem with technical engineering,” Jeff suggested.
“No,” Teuth said. “All our transcribers appear to be working correctly. Our messages are being jammed by something from a distance.”
The words were barely out of the former sea creature’s mouth when alarms once again sounded throughout the ship. “POSSIBLE HOSTILE FORCES APPROACHING!”
“Take us up to max light speed until we find out what we’re dealing with,” Keeper ordered.
Moments later, Helmsman Dorg, a species of Canidae who resembled Earth foxes, barked his report. “We are at maximum speed and the unidentified craft is still closing fast!”
“Can we obtain reverse light?”
“Negative! The erratic orbits of the stars in the approaching galaxy prohibit any kind of time heightened travel.”
“Identification!” Keeper commanded.
Teuth was the first to report. “It appears to be a very large A class Hammurabi vessel possibly from one of the troseddu systems. Mateuse 17 has no diplomatic relations with that part of the universe and considers the authorities there outlaws!”
“Hammurabi? I’ve never heard of them.” Jeff was amazed, it was one of the few times he had seen worry on the ship’s captains face.
“The Hammurabi are a small family in the business of mining planets for exotic minerals and gems.” Keeper said. “They need millions of workers for the hundreds of worlds they deplete and they use ruthless tactics to maximize profits.”
“That sounds like Wal Mart back on Earth,” Jeff suggested. “Do these people have medical and retirement plans?”
“I’m afraid what we have pursuing us is a massive slave ship,” Keeper said, “and there are no benefits …. the Hammurabi work all of their laborers to death.”
“Aren’t we going to put up a fight?” Jeff demanded.
“That’s not possible,” Keeper said. “The reason Mateuse 17 doesn’t interfere with their disgusting human rights violations is because they are so powerful. When you control half the wealth of this part of the universe you can buy the best weapons and protection.”
“What are we going to do?” Jeff covered his ears to block out the repeating alarms.
“We’re going to run,” Keeper said. “Teuth, guide us into the dancing sisters in G sector at max speed,” he ordered.
“We’re in deep trouble and you want to go to a party,” Jeff moaned.
“The Dancing Sisters are a series of star systems that orbit each other with erratic trajectories that routinely hit and miss … scattering planet debris and clouds of hydrogen gas in random patterns.”
“Sounds like the inner-city in Chicago each time the Cubs lose!” Jeff moaned as the ship changed course drastically and massive G forces slid him across the floor.
Keeper held tight to Teuth’s holographic projection mount. “Sorry,” he yelled at his young friend. “But I’m afraid we’re in for a wild ride!”
A dozen M43 stars had begun to circle each other as they were drawn into a massive black hole. Each of the red giants held hundreds of planets and other astrophysical bodies in wildly fluctuating orbits that resembled a crowded skating rink with half the people moving in one direction and the other half going the opposite way. There were bound to be collisions. Planets exploded from direct contact while gravity from other near-misses siphoned off huge chunks of matter and gasses as big as continents. The resulting cataclysm was like a doorway into hell.
“Will you be able to navigate through this?” Jeff screamed at Teuth as the Centurion entered the star clusters at near the speed of light. The massive gravitational pull of the black hole was bending light inside the spacecraft and Keeper, Bland and Teuth appeared as distorted images in a carnival funhouse … long and lean one moment and short and fat the next.
“There is no way to tell,” Teuth yelled. His voice sounded a mile away one moment and so close the next you could hear all six rows of teeth tattle in his head. “The laws of physics cease to exist once we move past the event horizon!” Burning spheres of molten rock hurled past the transparent dome. Jeff Bland took control of the ship and veered to the left, just as two moon-sized objects collided head-on and exploded less than a million miles away directly ahead. Chunks of matter, some as large as buildings, struck the outer shields and sent the alarm systems shrieking about impending disaster. First Officer bland guided the huge spacecraft through several near misses but the almost collisions were getting closer.
“Twenty seconds before we reach the event horizon … and then there will be no escape … for anyone!” Teuth’s tone suggested he was speaking at a funeral.
“Is the Hammurabi vessel still pursuing?” Keeper was considering his options … die or be taken captive.”
“They have reversed their engines,” Teuth’s sigh of relief was audible as was all those crowded into the control-room
“Maintain speed but stay just outside the event threshold,” Keeper ordered. “Hopefully we can put a bottomless pit between the us and the slavers.”
“Our propulsion systems have all shut down and we are being pulled backward!” Teuth reported.
“A tractor beam!” Jeff groaned. “ Didn’t you say these people could buy anything?”
“Looks like our new towing friends have just pulled us out of disaster,” Keeper said. “And I can imagine what their price is going to be.”
“I hope it’s not hot,” Jeff moaned. “In the mine where they put us to work … I hope it’s not too warm.”
Keeper tried several times to get Leika to leave her quarters. She kept insisting with great indignation that her time wasn’t up. “We have problems,” Keeper told her. Hundreds of aliens resembling scorpions with Verulian lasers clutched in their pincher hands had already taken control of the ship.
“More than before? I thought your quota of blunders would go down once I was confined to quarters!” Leika was still furious when she entered the bridge. “What the hell is going on here?” A Scorpinion guard, with a twenty-thousand volt electric tail arched over its scaly back, knocked her to the ground and then locked her arms in restraints.
“These creatures are tough fighters, but where is the brains behind their enterprise?” Jeff Bland asked Keeper as they lay bound together on the floor of the Centurion.
As if in response to his question, a large sphere of swirling energy appeared in the air several feet above the control room floor. With an ear-shattering bang, a dark haired scowling woman appeared in the midst of the captives. She was richly dressed and had a long crooked nose hovering over layered necklaces of priceless gems, obviously placed there to distract from her dermic shortcomings. “I am Nora Hammurabi … and with the unfortunate demise of my brother Richard … I am now the supreme leader of all eighteen Troseddu systems.”
“The Hammurabi are notorious for killing other family members and seizing power,” Teuth whispered to Keeper.
“I hope you will enjoy working with my company.” The ugly matriarch went on.
“Like a fish enjoys being fried,” Jeff whispered to a worried Teuth.
Helmsman Dorg who was restrained on the floor next to Officer Bland, unfortunately made a barking laugh. Nora was furious and had two Scorpinions lift him off the floor. “No one laughs at the Queen,” she said. With the wave of her hand, the small fox-like crewmember was thrust into the air by millions of volts of electricity and fried alive before the crew’s eyes. “I think you will find me extremely charitable,” Nora said. “But I will not tolerate subordination. Each of you individuals will receive compensation based on the work that you perform … as your work diminishes … so will your rewards.”
“She plans to starve us to death,” Jeff whispered to Keeper, “and if we work real hard she’ll make the misery last.”
“I vow the loyalty of my subjects,” Nora told them. “Now as soon as you all have sworn allegiance to me … your new lives will begin.”
The crew members were forced one by one to kneel before the Queen and swear fidelity. Nora was not only ugly, but ruthless and cruel. A twitch of an eye or any deviation from complete subjugation was dealt with by a painful death. Random crew members were brutally murdered to put fear into others. Jeff Bland moaned when a cursing Leika was dragged before the woman.
“You’re a Porosities aren’t you?” Nora smiled. “Your charm and beauty are legendary throughout the galaxy … almost a match for my own.”
Leika snorted a laugh. “You could place anyone next to a pig like you and they would look wonderful! Where did you get those ears … off from a Nuebarion weasel?”
Nora’s piercing scream made even the Scorpinion guards try to cover their ears. The captives on the floor moan in agony.
“Death is too quick for someone like you!” Nora was twisting in rage as her guards lifted Leika from the floor. “For some time I’ve been considering a public event that will show my workers just how unwise it is to challenge my authority! Bring her along.” Nora told her guards. “This special event may take days to prepare … the rest of you will start work immediately.”
“Didn’t I tell you Leika finds trouble wherever she goes?” A distraught Jeff Bland trying to make light of the situation as he whispered to Keeper. He was hoping for a positive response as they were marched into the slave ship
To his horror Keeper hung his head and choked on the words …
“I’m going to miss her too.”
TO BE CONTINUED …