Mox cleared his throat with a croak and stared at the dusty computer monitor. A green claw manicured to a point flicked off a chunky control switch and a lizard handprint was left behind on the panel. The large Komodo dragon in leather pants leaned into the ridged right angle contoured chair.
“They were out here exploring the Zone in this relic, it’s a good thing they believed in a god.” He spat out his serpentine tongue tasting the stale air of the derelict spaceship.
Mox transmitted his thoughts through an implanted neural device, a kind of technological telepathy.
“Can you get this jalopy started? The Kalgirrite must’ve got ’em when they entered the belt.”
Four sections back at the rear of the ship Bloc Wave received the communication on his bright yellow headphones. They matched his thermal goggles and velvet shorts perfectly. The androgynous jet-black-skinned being didn’t wear anything else. Rindos, though nothing like Varans, shared the advantageous spacer traits of longevity and temperature tolerance.
Wave focused his misty angelic eyes on the primitive propulsion system. He reached slender fingers into the mechanism, turned a gear, initiated a startup sequence, and restored power.
“Everything’s intact. I guess they took the crew and ditched the ship. Probably thought it was worthless. No one appreciates the classics.” Bloc’s right eye swirled. “They got eaten, didn’t they?”
Mox raised a scaled eyebrow. “You ready to fly this thing outta here?”
Bloc unfastened a tube from the engine and huffed a big lung full of CO2, then exhaled pure oxygen into the air. “Yes.”
Mox moved over to the navigation station and worked the manual maneuvering controls. The 7cm thick window had a meter-long crack in it but was holding. On the other side was nothing but blackness.
The Zone had long been declared a void of empty space. The Varan understood that a small but incredibly dense blackhole cleared the region. However, vanished star systems left behind a ring of condensed dark matter and an asteroid belt that hid the event horizon. The majority of the field was heavy metals; iron, lead, arsenic, and mercury, intermixed with dark matter. This compacted smaterial interacted with matter in odd ways, particularly if you happened to be a carbon-based life form.
Mox was there to grab a boulder of the stuff, put it in a containment unit and haul it out. The scientists that put him up to the challenge knew there was no way to remove the dark matter material but wanted him to try anyway. For his troubles, they offered a top of the line synthetic crew member named Randall. She and her experimentally enhanced positronic net of a nervous system came bounding through the bridge door.
Randall was physical perfection meets mental unlimitedness. Or at least that’s how they boasted about her. Mox dumped a third of The Brick’s computer memory into her to test her out. The result was the greatest synthetic he’d ever worked with. The fact that she had a thousand years of his personal logs memorized made her adept at working with him.
“Alright buster, this bucket of bolts is ready to roll!” Randall bumped Mox out of the navigation seat with her hip.
She braided her sandy blond hair into a golden spiral that decreased at the rate of 1.61803398875 until it centered itself perfectly at the back of her head. Mox took note of this repeated form found throughout nature, now being recreated by a synthetic being. He slid into the captain’s chair, his long green tail uncomfortably hanging off the side.
“Ok, hit it. We’ll have…”
“…a hell of a time working our way through the dark matter clouds.” Randall turned around and winked a triple pupilled eye at Mox, knowing full well he appreciated her being in perfect alignment with his thinking.
The old metal ship entered the field. Its engines strained to resist the pull of the distant black hole. Bloc Wave tapped the powercube attached to the engine and gave them enough boost to move to higher orbits. Randall chugged the old ship around the first few nearly invisible asteroids.
Mox pulled a small rectangular monocle out of his vest pocket and attached it to his left eye. It powered on and the dark asteroids out the front window came into focus. He could see the chemical makeup of the different elements composing the floating objects. To the naked eye, it was all blackness but Mox saw the outlined shapes of the asteroids with shimmering colors. It had the 8-bit feel of an old video game.
They came to a clearing with three small boulders.
“The middle one, it’s all mercury and dark matter,” suggested Randall as she slowed to a stop.
“I think the right one.” Mox countered in their galactic game of three-card monte.
“But it's nearly all metalloid arsenic?” Randall started moving the ship in.
No sooner had he spoke, when two beautiful yet grotesque creatures became visible crawling on the surface of the middle asteroid. They pulsed with dancing rainbows of bioluminescent light. Their bodies were slimy and bulgy like crustaceans without their shells. Their heads were all mouth with jagged oversized teeth. Eight appendages worked in unison to move them around.
“Kalgirrites!” Randall thought and transmitted to both Mox and Wave.
She turned the ship starboard away from the center asteroid, but it was too late. One of the creatures jumped and floated until it hit the side of the ship. It went straight up the top, pried open a hatch, and crawled in.
Bloc Wave felt all the air rush out of the engine room. He picked up his turbo blaster, pulled his goggles over his eyes, put the tube from the engine into his mouth and puffed CO2. The temperature dropped to nothing and his exhales froze on the end of his nose.
When the creature entered the room it completely filled the doorway. It was both mesmerizing and terrifying. For a moment Wave took in a marvel of the universe until it opened its hideous mouth and made its intentions clear.
Bloc open fired. His rifle threw fist-sized phaser blasts into the slimy translucent monster. It flashed with electric light and screamed a high pitch screech that was heard on the bridge. Wave kept his finger down on the trigger. Rounds ripped through the walls and the creature. It turned and ran.
The Kalgirrite went back out the hatch and jumped away.
“Look.” Mox pointed out the window.
Half the rocks in the field began to glow with moving bioluminescent light. Randall locked the ship’s ancient particle weapons and fired until they conked out. They had no effect. She looked at Mox raising her shoulders in an ‘I don’t know’ kind of way.
“Get the asteroid and get us out of here!” he replied.
Randall opened the cargo hatch all the way and guided the ship perfectly, grabbing the floating black space rock. Then she aimed toward the outer edge of the field. Bloc Wave cranked his powercube to the max and hoped. The old metal ship glided through a sea of sparkling light and invisible asteroids. The lights grew brighter and danced around the ship. Randall saw a way out and pointed the ship at the clearing.
Mox saw a huge field of dark energy through his eyepiece. “We’re not going to fit.”
“Yes, we will.”
Randall swung the ship in a wild spinning turn. The front section was consumed by condensed dark matter. Mox moved to the back of the cabin and watched the control room lose power as Randall and the bridge were engulfed in nothingness. The shadow that she became stood up and held out her arms.
“I feel amazing.”
And then she vanished.
The derelict craft drifted out into open space. Its power was gone. The electric light from the Kalgirrite creatures faded with the asteroids back into the blackness of the Zone.
The Brick pulled up, opened its hangar bay door, and aligned it with the hatch on the drifting ship. Mox and Bloc Wave moved the asteroid aboard their rectangular three-story rust-covered ship and never felt better about being home.
“All we got was a chunk of arsenic, not a trace of dark matter anywhere.”
Mox took off his rectangular monocle and they left the asteroid in the airlock. The inner door came down and tiny lights flickered on the boulder inside the containment unit.
Dedicated to Lisa R.