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
The massive starship Centurion had just streaked through an iridium vapor ring seventy-two light years from the Cationic Galaxy when Systems Navigator Teuth, a land adapted cephalopod, fell to the floor of the control room and began to flop like a fish. “Send a medical team to control level one immediately!” First Officer Jeff Bland ordered, although the bio-transmitters that all crew members wore had probably already summoned help.
“Something wrong with his environmental conditioning?” Helmsman Dorg, a species of Canidae who resembled Earth foxes, took two steps back and stared at the eight thrashing tentacles. The student he was instructing looked horrified.
“Teuth has been working in an oxygenated gas environment for thirty-nine months,” Jeff said as he knelt on the floor and tried to make sure his alien friend didn’t harm himself. “The Centurion is dysprosium shielded but we might have picked up some kind of immune radiation from that gas cloud we just passed through.”
The inner-ship transporter door opened and Keeper rushed in followed by a team of medics. “His life functions are failing,” Ging, the chief medical officer, said as his assistants held the tentacles and he performed an internal scan. “But we don’t as yet have an origin.”
“Perhaps if Teuth were placed in his natural environment it would help with your diagnosis,” Keeper suggested.
“I’ll have him submerged in one of the Biosphere oceanic control tanks while we do our testing.” Ging and the medical crew had already lifted the injured crew member with a Graviton beam and were floating him toward the gyro port.
“Teuth is fond of dining on Gesperian horn-pods” Jeff Bland said. “He claims they are a health food. I don’t suppose we have any on board?”
“We have a few, but only the non-radiant ones.” Leika appeared beside Keeper. The Organic Science Officer wore a shimmering gown made of transparent Alurian spider-silk. The lavender spines she had instead of hair were waving hypnotically and her flashing baby-powder blue eyes made one of the younger medical technicians transporting Teuth go temporarily blind and stumble.
“Easy Leika,” Jeff said. “Most of these younger cadets are still virgins.”
“Give me a break, lizard lust,” Leika said. “When there’s a Porosities Species on board every stubbed- toe gets blamed on her sexual attraction.”
“I’m tempted to return to that gas ring to see if we can determine if it contained anything that might have caused Teuth’s problems.” Keeper ignored his crew members’ constant squabbling. He flicked open a communication port to the medical level explained his theory to Ging and adding. “ if we do go back, is there any chance that our ship’s engineer might be hurt by more radiation?”
“Officer Teuth’s condition was deteriorating so fast we had to place him in a cryonic storage tube,” Ging said. “No vapor radiation can pass through a foot of solid ice and remain a gas.
“We’re not due in the Cationic Galaxy for the Deep Space Exams for another seventy-two hours,” Jeff said. “I guess we could call this diversion a field trip.”
“Turn around,” Keeper ordered Helmsman Dorg. “Let’s find out what the Hell we stepped in.”
“Lizard lust?” Jeff Bland was staring at Leika but holding tight to a very expensive Nuvarian equalizer purchased on Mateusz 17 for 16,000 credits. It supposedly rendered him immune to her slave-creating sexual attraction aura.
“The reptiles on Junaro 4 often take up to three years to couple,” Leika said. “Even at that glaciated speed I doubt you could keep up with them.” She laughed when she saw the amulet that Jeff was gripping tightly. “That’s a piece of woocoo!” She closed one eye, stuck out her tongue and the equalizer banged into a cloud of foul smelling dust just before she followed Keeper to the analysis arrays. She was laughing hysterically now and even Keeper was trying not to smile. “If I wanted to waste my time with a squamation like you … a ball of Gordo dung with chicken-wire wrapped around it wouldn’t stop me!”
Keeper took Teuth’s place instructing a group of space cadets while the Centurion journeyed back to the gas ring. “Since our land adapted navigator is temporarily under the weather I’ll go over the basics of interstellar travel and geography,” Keeper told the wide eyed youths.
“Is Teuth going to die?” A sad looking member of a reptilian species named Denz asked as he glanced around nervously.
“No,” Keeper said. “Teuth has been frozen like a fish filet and we’re going to thaw him out when we know how to fix him up properly.”
“Are you going to eat him?” A girl named Nora who resembled an earth gazelle looked ready to cry.
“Not unless he gets us off course,” Jeff Bland told them.
Keeper smiled and shook his head and then asked. “Who can tell us how planets are named?”
A bright eyed girl who looked like she might have at least some Porosities blood in her stepped forward. “Almost all planets are named for the star they orbit and for their orbiting number. For example Maltese 17 is the seventeenth planet outward from the star Maltese.”
“Very good, Yanadx,” Keeper said. “And in the event that the star is not named, and most stars are not, the planet has two numbers one for the star and one for the orbiting location.
“The same rule applies to moons,” Nora said trying to compose herself. “For example the fourth moon of Jasphere 2 or the seventh moon of Mendorean 13.”
“Then why isn’t First Officer Jeff Bland’s home planet named Sun three?” Denz asked.
“We have to remember that the names we choose for stars and planets are for our own use.” Keeper said. “The inhabitants of these worlds most assuredly have their own names for everything.”
Helmsman Dorg announced that the Centurion was approaching the troublesome gas ring. “That’s all for today,” Keeper said.
“Can we ride Ardovian Whales in one of the biosphere oceans?”Yanadx asked.
“Only if you can hold your breath for at least three hours,” Keeper told her.
The iridium vapor-ring that surrounded the Cationic Galaxy was deep, at points nearly ninety light years across. The Centurion’s analyzing sensors were picking up abnormalities in the strange gas and the holographic display above the control floor was flashing pages of data readouts and pulsing red warning messages. “We’re approaching a density cloud within the ring that our onboard devices cannot penetrate,” Dorg, announced. He had assumed Teuth’s duties as well as his own. He now stiffened his normally relaxed tail, a species trait that showed the Canida had detected danger lurking in the unknown.
“Launch three visual probes,” Keeper ordered. “Two around the outside and one through the center.” He smiled as he gazed at Dorg’s flag-waving appendage. “If there’s quarry in there we’ll flush them out!”
The crew watched the three probes launch from the ship like torpedoes and within seconds disappear into the cloud. The hologram overhead became multiple screens showing a three hundred sixty degree view from each probe. Suddenly a beam of red orange light struck the probe running along the left side of the cloud and the robotic sensor was vaporized in an explosive ball of fire; within seconds the other two probes were also destroyed.
“Use a photon burst to disperse the cloud!” Keeper ordered.
“Someone thinks the neighbors are getting a little too nosey,” Jeff said as he fed the data into an analyzer. He glanced at the organic science officer and grinned. “I think it might be one of Leika’s numerous stilted-beaus.”
“Beaus?” Leika spun viciously on the first officer. Her normally dream inducing aquiline-green eyes had become a shade of fiery volcanic-red. “I have no suitors! If I desire any species they are mine … if not, they die.”
“The last time we saw Garwon he was floating in deep space,” Jeff said, “after you ordered him to jettison himself. But that sure looks like his ship. And it also looks like your amphibious friend and his companions are about to feast on a helpless Octopodian bivalve ship!”
As the gas cloud dispersed the holographic display now showed a dark, ugly cigar shaped vessel holding a ship that resembled a giant clam shell captive with a spider-web of pulsing high energy beams. Suddenly the two halves of the ship opened and a stream of wiggling aquatic creatures were sucked into the larger vessel. “Dinner is served!” Jeff tried to joke but he was sick to his stomach.
“Looks like we arrived a little too late,” Keeper said.
“But not for those!” Jeff pointed at the upper part of the hologram where the dispersing cloud showed at least a half dozen bivalve ships fighting for their lives against a dozen more cigar shaped attackers.
Keeper ordered all crew members to battle stations and within minutes the Centurion was blasting away at the enemy ships. The largest of the cigar-shaped vessels caught fire on one end and then sped away. “He must have realized this is a no smoking area,” Jeff quipped.
The Centurion listed to starboard as a barrage of Niobium torpedoes exploded on the starboard side and vaporized the graviton stabilizers. For a moment it looked like the Centurion might be in trouble but Keeper ordered all power onto the shields while the vessel’s Gadolinium Cannon was charged. Radiant beams of light criss-crossed a light-year wide battle area and made it look like a giant energy blanket of destructive power was being woven.
The return fire from the enemy vessels was formidable but the Centurion’s energy shields held until the GC spread outward like an exploding star and within minutes all the remaining enemy vessels were streaking away at light speed.
“Let them go,” Keeper ordered. “Prepare to assist any survivors.”
Of the six bivalve ships only one held living life-forms and only a few of the aquatic creatures were able to communicate.
“Garwon and his murderous crew members have been supplying food to the Swarm,” a tentacled crew member named Blad gasped as he lay dying in the control room of the Centurion. “Our Vandens is the ninth galaxy those insectosodals have invaded and left in ruin.”
“Our navigator Teuth was poisoned by this gas cloud when we passed by,” Keeper said. “He is from the planet Densalt 4 in your galaxy and looks to be very similar to your species. How is it you escaped and were able to put up a fight?”
“The oceans of Densalt 4 have been drained and replaced with blood. Our scientists developed an antidote for the gas radiation but our entire planet is being consumed by the Swarm,” the dying creature said. “We were part of a convoy that fled our stricken world and then we were ambushed by Garwon.”
Several of the survivors had already died and the crew member talking to Keeper took a last gasp and then seemed to wither. “Get this man to the cryonic chambers!” Keeper ordered. But it was too late. By the time a medical team arrived, Blad and the others were no more than dried seaweed on the floor of the control room.
‘What’s a Swarm?” Jeff asked Keeper as the medical crew placed the remains of the bivalve crew members in transparent storage bags.
“The Swarm is a slang name for an insect species as large as an earth cow,” Keeper said. “Each female lays over a million eggs every twenty-eight days and the young are ready to reproduce in less than a year. Every one-hundred million years or so the insects begin to migrate across the universe … destroying every living thing in their path. I believe it was the Swarm that consumed all life on Earth and not a meteorite when they passed through the Milky Way Galaxy sixty-five million years ago.”
“Looks like if we don’t want to end up like the dinosaurs we better stock up on Raid,” Jeff said. All the Centurion Crew members except Keeper looked hopeful.
“Is this some kind of advanced Earth weapon?” Leika asked. For once her eyes were a hopeful blue and she was looking at Jeff with a kind of hesitant respect.
“It’s something we use on Earth to kill insects,” Jeff said sheepishly. “But the ones that we kill are smaller … much … much smaller!”
“It’s not just the size that makes the Swarm dangerous,” Keeper explained. “They have an advanced technology that has the scientific minds on Mateusz 17 looking like Earth’s Bobblehead Dolls. The Swarm will often destroy entire planetary systems once they have exhausted all the resources. A preservative is often injected into their food supplies to keep the suffering victims fresh and alive … often for centuries. Whole stars are extinguished when they dump their waste. Their ships are faster and more powerful than ours and their numbers are approaching infinity. They kill without remorse or pity and they fear nothing in the known universe.”
“So how do we stop them?” The enormity of the killing and destruction was something new and terrifying to Officer Bland.
“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Keeper said.
“You don’t mean you’re going to fly the Centurion to Vandens!” Jeff stammered. “You heard what Blad said … the oceans in that galaxy have been drained … and filled with blood!”
“Mud, blood, Swarms or fear,” Keeper chanted. “Nothing you say can keep us here!”
Leika smiled but Dorg and most of the others looked stricken.
“I don’t want to be hung-up twitching in some smoke-house for a few hundred years,” Jeff gasped. “We have to keep a positive attitude about this! We’ll most likely be captured and eaten immediately … won’t we?”
“Possibly,” Keeper said looking at his shaken crew members. “If the part of the Swarm that catches us is especially hungry … but Teuth is our friend and if there’s any chance we can save him … we’ll take it.”
TO BE CONTINUED …