Don’t Do Drugs in Space
Echo-1: Part 29
After all our systems checked out we left the planet and headed toward the Varan homeworld. We followed an escort party of four rectangular golden cruisers. Mox told them about the diamond scouts resistant to the Vedma’s light ray and our escort grew in size as a squadron of diamond fighters joined. We were guided to the space station that orbited primitive world of Varan prime.
The orbiting station was the size of a small moon but square in shape. I had mistaken it for a planetary object before. I accessed the Brick’s systems and brought up info on the station. It was held in a steady orbit around Varan and had been in service for over fifty thousand years. It was a multi-purpose station. It was a spaceport for the Varan fleet and the entry point for their homeworld, but it was also a shipbuilding factory. It had gigantic hangar bays where the Varan built their galactic crafts out of the exotic materials their system had to offer. The station itself was made of precious metals and diamond. It had many windows and hundreds of thousands of occupants. A ring of diamond scouts and fighters had taken up position around the station. They were not taking any chances with the Vedma so close to their system.
We docked in a private hangar. The outer hull went through a decontamination process and we were welcomed to the station by a group of Varan delegates. They wore the golden necklaces and armbands that were the traditional clothing of their people. I was given a room with a view of the planet below. I changed into a new set of clothing, another pair of leather pants and what seemed to be a camel hair sweater. I laid down on the bed in my room with the lights off. I watched the planet spin below and drifted off to sleep.
I dreamt of Baba, Yaba, and Faye. They followed me. They talked to me. The called to me to return. They anticipated my every move. They knew me better than I knew myself and they told me so. I would never be complete without them.
When I woke up the station was on the dark side of the planet. I looked out the window and the planet had no signs of life from space. With no advanced technology, it was dark as night below. A few moments later sunlight began to peek out. I watched the Varan sunrise come around the edges of the planet. The light hit the station and lit up my room. It felt warm and wonderful. I lay in the sunbeam for a long time.
I was reluctantly pulled away from my sunrise daydream by a representative that asked if I would be interested in giving a full report to the Varan council about my experiences on the Vedma ship. I said I would be glad to. I was led to an elevator bank and up several hundred levels. The station was huge. I was taken to a room with a large table. Dreyllyn, the Varan leader was there, as well as six others, three male and three female. They welcomed me and asked me to relay my experience as it happened from my perspective. They conveyed a sense of empathy and understanding that made me feel completely at ease with them. I wanted nothing more than to tell them my story. Which I did.
I started with the impression I got from seeing the first video of the Vedma when we were on Varanidi and I ended with the dream I had just experienced. Dreyllen asked me if I believed the Vedma priestesses were the of same cuttlefish species as the Professor, Mildabbar. I confirmed that I suspected as much. We knew that they appear as the species of the beholder, or more precisely as the species of the beholder’s desire. When I cut Faye during our escape she had momentarily changed. There was, of course, no real way to be sure if that was her true form or not.
The Varan hoped to somehow use this knowledge to enlighten the Mega Therion who worshiped the Vedma sisters like they were gods. After I was finished telling them my impressions of the events, they suggested that the mental influence projected on me would wear off in time. They suggested it was my mind that was preoccupied with them and recommended several meditative practices to rid my thoughts of them.
I was no stranger to mind-altering and focus meditation, but I secretly had no desire to lose my connection to the Vedma. If anything, I wanted to go back and try to talk with Faye. I remember the wild look on her face when she was riding after us as we escaped. It was obvious that she would have certainly killed us all. Yet, somehow, I was still in doubt.
I met up with X later in the hanger. Mox was still reporting to his government superiors.
“Is Mox a spy or what?” I asked.
“Unclear. But we discovered a few things. The Vedma know their light ray weapon doesn’t work on diamond ships. Probably why they never attacked Varan. And we think they’re some kind of shape-shifting space cuttlefish.” X smiled at this.
Nidi came running up from behind some crates stacked in the far corner of the hangar. She jumped up on me and growled and barked. I went to pet her and she snapped at my hands.
“They had a whole bunch of questions about her.”
I gave X a look like I did too.
“I was cruising through different parts of the Vedma ship. You know, trying to find out what they are up to and I found this lab. And there was something odd about it. It was like because I went in there, no one followed me.
“There were dead wolves on operating tables. Strange genetic experiments going on. They were messing with the Mega Therion DNA. Attempting to breed them into obedient, super wolves or something. Initial Varan reports suggested they took a hundred thousand year evolutionary jump in just a couple generations. There were puppies connected to wires and machines and some were in a kind of incubation chamber. It was creep city.
“There was a small room off to the side of the lab and Nidi was locked in it. I was alone in the room and she was barking and growling and whining. She was jumping frantically against a glass door. I looked at her and she looked at me. I smashed my bike through, opened the top, and she jumped right in.”
Nidi circled around X.
“She wanted to get out of there. It was obvious. So I took her.”
X ruffled the fur of the little pup.
“A group of robots found me in the lab and fired on us. I drove off and as soon as I left the lab section, there were wolves on my tail again. It was pretty clear that area was off limits to them. The Varan suspect that the Mega Therions are being manipulated on all sorts of levels by the Vedma. And you know what? I agree with them. Look at her, she’s not an evil creature.”
We walked toward the Brick. Nidi ran ahead of us. She tore across the hangar, her nails scratching the floor as she attempted to make high speed sprinting turns. She ran into the Brick.
X was keeping her, that much was for sure. As synthetic life forms, we couldn’t reproduce, but I could see a motherly instinct shining through my naked tattooed friend. She loved the little wolf already and she would raise her as her own. No one was going to stop that.
On board the Brick, Werner and Forklift were busy fussing with the whale tanks, dumping a crate of ice lobsters into the tank for the whales to eat.
Dr. Death had finally come around and apologized a million times to everyone for breaking codes of conduct that no one else lived by. He’d given an extremely serious and detailed report to the Varan.
“Look, off the record, I know I said it once, but I’m sorry about my performance on this mission. I broke protocol and I know it. It could have killed us all. I let down the team.”
The big guy was really beaten up about it.
“Well, we’ll see if Uzi wants to court-martial you when we get back. It might do you some good to bust you down to private.”
X punched him in the stomach and he didn’t have to feign injury. He looked worried, the big lug. He probably thought he would get court-martialed. I’d never seen this side of him. His sense of duty and pride was shattered by his falling under the Vedma spell.
X kept giving him the business. “Alright, Gomer Pyle, are these whales ready to head back to the Banga or what?”
Death and the team snapped to work and prepped the cargo bay for our return.
The Varan were very pleased with the job we had done and the reconnaissance we brought back on the Vedma was priceless. They offered me a trade. In light of the newfound usefulness of diamond ships they thought it would be a good idea to rebuild their fleet for when the Vedma came back. In the meantime, they could use every diamond ship they could get their hands on, in case the Vedma came back sooner than later.
I said that they could have the Sunshine scout back, I assured them that Sunshine had no desire to own a ship and that they were welcome to it. They insisted that they give me something in return. I asked if they could make a diamond battle suit that would fit Dr. Death. Apparently, it would have to be custom built and would take time to complete. I needed nothing.
X assured me that Jonas would be fine with us returning the ship and that Uzi would get over it.
Death, given the spark of an idea for a diamond battle suit, pressed the issue and the Varan delivered a huge chunk of raw asteroid diamond. The chunk was almost as big as the Sunshine scout was. It was secured in the bay next to the whale tanks.
We also were given a supply of one hundred diamond cased Varan rockets, just in case the Vedma decided to bother us on our return trip. Mox had little interest in them, but X accepted on behalf of the Banga crew.
Mox returned to the ship with Zandar Vandar Blunt and Dreyllyn. Nidi ran charging up to them barking and growling. Blunt bent down and whispered to her. She calmed down and to my surprise walked perfectly in line with him. The Varan had a way with animals.
Dreyllyn presented me with a pair of silver Varan gauntlets. The two large metallic wrist guards fit snuggly around the arms. I clamped them on in thanks. The right band could be used to produce an electronic energy shield that was about two square meters and curved around the wearer. It would also stun any attacker on contact. The left one had an interstellar communication device as well as a considerable computation unit with a scanning array. It was kind of a do it all wearable super device. They both were capable of interlinking with my neural transmitter and activated with thought command.
X was offered a golden pair, which she refused as she wore no clothing. The Varan, who also followed this o-natural style, completely understood. I suggested that Dixon might find them useful on her future home planet. The shield had a secondary use of acting as a big heater, which is what the Varan used it for most.
X thought this was a good idea. “Please let Hands take this pair as well, he can give them to his girlfriend.”
Dreyllyn handed me the golden pair. “Thank you all. Your courage on this mission will not be forgotten, you are friends of the Varan. Travel far.” Dreyllyn turned and left the ship.
We closed the cargo bay door and headed up to the control room. Blunt reached for my shoulder with his black and pink clawed hand.
“It’s you and me, let’s get out of here.” He grinned at me and stuck out his tongue. I smiled back and we walked to the elevator. Nidi continued to walk at Blunt’s side.
Dr. Death stayed below with the whale team and the gear. Mox and X got off on the second floor and supposedly were going to the lab. Blunt and I continued on to the control room. I stashed the gold gauntlets under the co-pilot seat and joined Blunt at the controls. Styx took up a place at a side computer console. The Sentinel droid was at the back of the room in a powered down state. Nidi curled up in the seat with Blunt.
We were given permission to launch and headed out of the station back into space. Mox had refused any maintenance on the Brick. He suggested that the ship had so many otherworldly upgrades that no one but Styx, Blunt, and himself could work on it. It turned out that Mox was not only the captain of the Brick, but he was also the mechanic. Apparently, he was considered one of the greatest ship engineers in the galaxy when he was younger. He insisted that he just copied things he had learned from others. Which was maybe true, but he had a very impressive and interesting ship. I wasn’t even sure how it worked.
We were given an escort to the edge of the system. I spun the ship around and flew backwards, letting the Varan homeworld star shine in on us. It was that last time I would see the sun for while. Blunt accused me of being sentimental, then encouraged me to fly this way for a while letting the light beam through the one window on the Brick. We both sat there, lizards under a solar heat lamp. Ok, I wasn’t a lizard, but the rays did feel great on my skin.
After an hour or so we were too far away for it to be effective, so I said goodbye to the Varan solar system, flipped the ship around and increased our speed. Our escort stayed behind and we entered the deep space shipping lane to the wormhole. I set us at our top cruising speed and we were off to catch up with the Banga.
Blunt’s eye’s were closed, but I got the sense he was completely aware of what was going on. I looked out of the window at the endless stars ahead of us. Piloting a ship through space is a truly amazing experience. At times it requires every ounce of focused attention you can muster and other times you just sit back and watch the universe unfold before you.
Later that day we passed a small convoy of hauling frigates. The three identical long tubular container ships moved in a row like a long train. They dwarfed us in scale, each container unit was easily a kilometer in circumference and twenty kilometers long. At the front was the lead hauler, a chunky fifty deck ship with several rows of windows and a large grappling arm hanging off the bottom for manipulating cargo. Directly behind it was another hauler and container rig followed by the third that was traveling backward. Its hauler was at the rear facing behind them. Instead of an arm, the last hauler had a pivotable cannon. I guess they were only worried about people following them.
They must not have picked us up on their sensors and they made no attempt at communication with us and did not deviate their course at all. We drifted past their starboard side unnoticed. I watched the long cargo tubes drift by like a bloated metal snake.
Blunt must have known what I was thinking. He opened one eye. “Don’t scan them or they might notice us.”
Not that my hands were on any controls, but I put them in my lap anyway.
“They’re hauling fuel and ore from the other side of the wormhole. These shipping lanes have pretty heavy traffic.” Blunt said.
I tried my best to see the beings inside the haulers, it was hard to make out more than some kind humanoid forms silhouetted through the windows. It looked like they had some kind of dance floor disco lighting in their ship. I might have been mistaken, but it looked like they were dancing. They passed by without incident. Space was empty in front of us again.
I looked up the ship type in the Brick’s computer. I kid you not about the name, Jersey Jakz Galactic Hauling Corporation. Jakz is actually the name of a mostly freshwater world on the edge of the 5th system. It’s capital city Old Jakz developed into an endless stretch of technologically advanced skyscrapers. The youth population was over 200 billion and their energy needs were endless. The second city on the planet known as Jersey became one big spaceport. Its truck stop was a place of legend. Jakz became the supply depot for the sector. After the wormhole was discovered and galactic travel was massively expanded, Jersey Jakz started their own hauling fleet.
The people of Jakz are a kind of slimy green amphibian. They’re rather small people, about a meter and a half tall. They look like frog people, big gooey eyes, webbed hands and feet. They always travel with a good amount of fresh water as they need to submerge themselves on a regular basis for health purposes. They have short lifespans of just fifteen years and tend to be complete hedonists. For Jakz, life was a short childhood followed by a big party, lots of breeding, and then an early death.
Their long-haul ships always have a gestation chamber on board so they can replenish the crew during the journey. A robot crew generally handles all the navigation and work during the flights. The Jakz onboard party the whole time and usually attempt to make as many stops as the robots will allow. They are notorious gamblers and experimental drug addicts. Besides being major fuel suppliers they also run a great deal of black market natural and designers drugs, mostly brought to their homeworld for the enjoyment of their people.
I looked over at Blunt. “So those haulers are also galactic drug smugglers?”
Blunt snickered to himself. “Yeah, are you into that kind of stuff?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know if synthetic life forms can get high?”
This cracked Blunt up. He reached forward causing Nidi to stir in his lap. He tapped into the controls manually. It was 47 hours until we caught up to the Banga. He flipped the inter-ship communicator. He didn’t have a neural transmitter.
“Do we have any of that Jakz Juice left?”
There was a crashing sound of someone fumbling around in the dark bumping into things. Then Mox’s voice came over the communicator.
“We do indeed. Who’s asking?”
Blunt gave me a sly look. “Hands was reading about Jersey Jakz Hauling Corporation.”
More fumbling in the dark noises followed. “We’ll be right up.”
Blunt looked at me. “They’ll be right up.”
He seemed to be thinking something over. “We’ll have enough time to wig out a bit and then get a good nap in before we arrive. You think that big guy will keep it together for the rest of the trip?”
Nidi, jumped off Blunt’s lap and ran barking to the door. Several moments later it opened and Mox and X came through.
“Oh, hello my sweet little Nidi, you are so cute, yes you are!”
Mox transferred control of the ship to Styx, ordered the Sentinel droid to take whatever actions were necessary to defend the ship, and plopped down in the chair behind me and Blunt. He had a small glass vial in his hand with a glowing fluorescent yellow liquid in it. It looked like bright toxic waste.
“There’s no real way to tell exactly what this will do to you.”
Styx stirred at his computer panel. “Effects will. Diminish Focus. Synthetic Unit. Six Hours.”
Mox seemed surprised by this robotic outburst. “Are you teaching him your language?”
X jumped in the seat next to Mox, curling her feet up and snuggling up next to him. “Have you ever dropped acid Hands.”
I had not. “I’ve astral plane traveled.”
She liked this response. “Oh, then you’ll be ok, this is going to be totally groovy, man!” She leaned forward and punched me in the arm.
I connected to Veronica and told her that we were planning on taking some elicit space drug. She laughed and said she would keep an eye on everything and that she would check in on me in the morning and see how I was fairing. A second later, Veronica had clearly spoken with X.
X then spoke to me through her transmitter. I heard her voice in my mind: “Don’t be such a square Hands, Veronica is cool.”
Mox uncapped his vial and flipped it upside down and produced a small glob of bright yellow goo on his finger. I looked at it closely. I could see that there were small microscopic lifeforms swimming in it. He extended his finger and dabbed it in X’s eye, then his own, then Blunts, and then he reached toward my head. I pulled back a bit wary of whatever those little radioactive looking amebas were. He placed his clawed hand on my face and quickly dipped his finger into my eye. I blinked a bunch and rubbed my eye.
“Don’t worry about it, this will give you a new viewpoint on space travel. The Jakz have been tripping through space for a ten thousand generations. Just sit back and look out the window for a while.”
I did as I was told. Nidi, probably feeling sorry for me, jumped into my lap and I pet her soft grey fur.
X tapped into the sound system on her Robo-rust-a-gogo and music came over the communication system. She said it was called Melody’s Echo Chamber, and it was sweet melodic psychedelic rock-n-roll with a mellow female singer. I looked out the window. The stars seemed to burn brighter. I could see them moving and pulsing. Blunt lowered the cabin lights. I could see the red glow of the Sentinel’s eye. The computer panel lights were all different colors. I was really high. That juice hit home fast. It had a mellow euphoric vibe. I pet Nidi until she was fast asleep. Blunt and Mox had a giggle fit that passed to me and X and seemed to last so long my face was hurting. Then we all leaned back in our chairs and gazed dreamily out the window. The stars trailed across the sky. It was beautiful. X was right, it was totally groovy.
“Hands… Hands…. Hands! How are you feeling?” I opened my eyes to a very bright light, I could hardly see. I looked down my chest to see a giant iguana staring me in the face. I snapped out of it.
I was under the heat lamps in the small room off of Mox’s lab. The four-armed Veronica medical avatar was standing over me. Blunt was sprawled across the floor on the other side of the room and Nidi was licking his face. He was coming around.
“Whoa, what happened. I remember getting really cold.”
Blunt sat up. “You kept wanting to go back to get in the Varan sunbeam. So I brought you down here. A good idea, I feel great!”
I felt so dried out I could hardly talk. “I feel horrible.”
Veronica handed me a smoothie, which I savagely drank. I sat up and the iguana scurried off me.
“You aren’t a Varan, you can’t sleep under a sun lamp for hours and expect to feel good. Drink up, it will get you back to normal.”
I think I had a good experience? I remembered having a bunch of fun, chasing Nidi around the ship, swimming with the whales, and then being really cold. Jakz Juice certainly packed a punch.
I staggered to my feet and put out a hand to Blunt. He leaned back and put his weight on me. He pulled himself up and almost knocked me over. He was a dense creature. We walked with Veronica to the lift. She rode up with us to the control room.
Styx and the Sentinel were minding the ship. Veronica went over to the Sentinel and removed the neural transmitter that was still attached to him.
“Thanks for bringing this back for me. Dying is never a fun experience.”
She tossed the device into the air and caught it with her other hand on the same side. She headed back down to be with Henry. “See you later, boys.”
I smiled and waved at her many arms. I walked over to Styx and reached out to touch his jagged shoulder. He was able to perceive my touch, which surprised me. His head spun around in a way only a robot’s can.
“How long until we reach the Banga?”
Styx opened the blast shield, which I had no memory of closing. We were still in space. And in the distance, way ahead of us, was the Banga. It actually looked small from so far away. But I could make out its blue engines behind its bulk.
“Klorgstav, 1 hour, to intercept.”
That only added to my confusion. I looked over to Blunt who was now taking his customary pilot seat. “That juice lasted two days?”
Blunt smirked. “Well, after the first 12 hours we decided to take some more. Do you remember when you and X climbed into the trees chasing the monkeys?”
I did, sorta. It was vague at best, but I remembered X with a monkey in her arms and I remembered falling out of a tree. “I feel out of the tree, right?”
“Twice. Ha!” Blunt laughed at the thought.
I took my seat next to him. Styx had moved to the side station anticipating my actions.
As we got closer and closer, the Banga got bigger and bigger, a colossally gigantic ship. The rear engines looked like big blue suns. The circular dark matter core containment unit, the size of a moon, bulged out of the top and bottom of the ship. Eventually, the entire sky was filled with Banga. I couldn’t even see past her. It was nice to be coming back home. Two fighters came out and escorted us into the hangar bay.
When we entered the hangar we were finally free from radio silence. The chatter filled my mind. Jonas wanted to meet with me. Dixon wanted to see me too. Vronsky was demanding the outcome of the mission. Veronica was giving out the details.
I piloted the Brick in. Uzi was standing on the deck with four escorts in full battle armor all armed with rust-blade assault rifles. His tank-vehicle was parked to the side with four more Zero-G commandos behind it. Tom was sitting in the driver’s seat of a large flatbed whale transport vehicle. Sunshine was climbing out smiling and waving. I set the Brick down, perfectly hovering a centimeter off the floor. I reached under the seat and grabbed the golden Varan armbands.
Blunt looked at me for a moment, grinned his lizard grin and spoke to me in Varan. “I’m already on my ship. Tell them I’m sorry we lost the big white bear.” He lifted up the necklace he received from the Inuit and spun it in his claws. “You might be on your ship too. Mox hasn’t asked anyone to join us in some years. I agree with his choice. We lost our co-pilot thanks to that Dr. Death guy being out of control. You know our pilot robot was over 300 years old. I suppose his time had come.” Blunt shrugged. “Well, anyway, the Banga is a nice place to visit until we get to the wormhole station.”
He was staying on the Brick, he had work to do. I put my hand out and placed it on his chest, he returned the gesture.
“Yes, Hands.” He giggled, leaned down, and pet Nidi. He whispered something to her and she followed me out.
“Later Styx.” He swiveled his head around and beeped at me then continued to work on the Brick’s computer system.
I took the lift down. It stopped on the second floor. Mox and X walked on. Nidi jumped all over them. X fluffed her fur and pet her and baby talked her.
Mox elbowed me in the side. “Hell of a victory party. You’re my kind of spacer.”
The door opened on the bottom floor and we walked down the hall. The Rust-a-gogo and the two Rust-robo-com suits were stowed against the walls. We entered the main storage hold and Nidi ran in barking and chased all the monkeys back up into the trees. The Brick’s door was opening. Werner and Forklift were getting the whale take ready to move.
Dr. Death was holding the four-armed Veronica’s lifeless avatar in on hand and his rust-cannon in the other. He seemed to be back to his old self. He set down the cannon, pulled a black trench coat out from under his arm and tossed it to X. She caught it and slid into it.
“Thanks, buddy, you back in business?”
He nodded and looked mean.
“Radical. Maybe we’ll hold off on the whole court-martial thing.”
The Bricks only door opened and Nidi ran and growled at Uzi who was standing tall and intimidating looking. He looked down at Nidi, glaring at her with his red and yellow eyes. She backed off, then ran over to the side of the deck and defecated.
X walked over to Uzi and gave him a hug. The old tough guy smiled, he had a soft spot for her.
“Can we keep her? Look she’s marking her territory. Nidi this is Uzi, Uzi this is Nidi, you know like VaraNidi”
The little gray fuzzball of a wolf ran over to Uzi and jumped up on him, placing her front paws on his thigh and then she did something I hadn’t expected. She talked.
“Ooozi.” Then she growled at him.
The old man was touched. He reached down and pet her.
X loved this. “Awwww, that’s the first word she’s said. Grandpa Uzi.”
Nidi jumped and ran around the commandos. “Ooozi, Ooozi, Ooooooozi!”
She ran over to Sunshine who squatted down to hug her.
Uzi gave orders. X and Death went off with him for debriefing. The Save the Whale gang was reunited again and after many hugs, tears and laughter, they got busy moving the whale tank onto the transport vehicle. Four of the troops remained behind to I guess keep an eye on the situation. Mox went to meet Jonas. And at the back of the hangar was my blue Robo-a-gogo and Wingus and Dingus, like they had been waiting the whole time for me to return.
I went over to them. They hummed a little tune and blinked at me. Not really much of a homecoming from my little robot buddies, but also it wasn’t bad. From their perspective, I suppose nothing had changed. I felt changed though. I opened my gogo bike and I changed back into my black Banga uniform. It felt good to be back in my clothes, even if they were just standard issue Zero-G commando pilot fatigues. They felt more me, somehow. As I was changing I realized I was missing my bone knife.
I stashed the gold gauntlets in my gogo and walked back onto the Brick. Tom had backed his transport in and they had craned the whole tank, two whales and all onto the back of it. Tom gave me a customary nod.
I had a vague notion and when I looked among the fruit trees in the Bricks cargo hold, I saw my knife. A silver Lutung had it in his hand and he was poking it into the branches of the tree. I walked over the tree and tried to talk him into tossing it down to me. The monkey ignored me. I hoped Mox would eat him next. I started to climb up and he jumped to another tree, knife in hand. I dropped back down to the floor and walked over to that tree.
Veronica, was laughing at me from inside the tank. She asked Forklift to give me a hand. He undid a tank hose and blasted the monkey with a jet of water. The knife dropped and I was able to track it perfectly and catch it by the handle.
I was definitely beginning to own this new body of mine. It was really starting to feel like me. I stuck the knife back in my boot where it belonged. With the Save the Whale team all aboard, Tom pulled the flatbed out of the Brick’s cargo hold. Two of the commandos moved out the small tank full of Varan ice lobsters and the huge slab of diamond.
I was the last one off the Brick and I did find myself hesitating. I walked to the door and Zandar Vandar Blunt’s voice came over the communication system speaking in Varan.
“Glad you got your knife back.”
I stepped away from the rusty ship and its door closed behind me.