By David Hunter
The Earthstar was making its way across the Omega Quadrant en-route to Alpha-Sagan Prime when the urgent communiqué flashed across the com-screen:
Urgent: Special Parcel Delivery to Zandra Major, UnEx, Space-Dock seventeen at Galdorphus. Rush job, please hurry. Fee 5000 ITF (Intergalactic Transfer Funds)
“Five thousand!” yelled Bogart. He was now having trouble keeping the craft on course—visions of money were impeding his motor skills.
“Take it easy, Bogart,” said Hox, his short and furry partner, “we’re traveling through the Scorpio meteor system and we don’t wanna get tagged by debris. We still owe Nexxus Motors six payments on this ship.” He seemed unmoved by the message, and the promise of money. In fact, Hox hardly ever changed disposition, except when he was angry. He buried his head in some star charts, and looked for Zandra Major. He found it near Vexor.
“Hox, Galdorphus is near Hydra. What about this Alpha-Sagan pick-up?” asked Bogart. He was 8 feet tall, so he had to look down at the 4 foot Hox.
“We’re not going to Galdorphus. Keep on course,” said Hox quietly. He picked up an old issue of the Battlestar Press and began flipping through it. Bogart just stared at him, incredulous.
“Keep on course? Are you mad? That’s five thousand ITF! We could buy a new engine for the ship…” the com-screen buzzed and cut him off. It read:
RE: Parcel Delivery, Galdorphus, fee 10,000 ITF, please reply immediately.
“What the hell is going on? Is this some kind of joke?” said Bogart. He barely noticed the fifty mega-ton meteorite that almost came through the cockpit glass. Hox casually glanced over at the screen, uttered a slight “Harrumph,” and went back to his paper.
Helena, the ship’s engineer, came into the cockpit. She was tall and beautiful, and had short blue hair. She looked at the beeping com-screen and then at Hox.
“Why are we still on-route to Alpha-Sagan? Have either of you seen this message?” She said, “They’re offering us 10,000 ITF…” the com buzzer cut her off too. A new message appeared:
URGENT! URGENT! URGENT!
We will pay 18, 000 ITF. Please reply soon.
Hox could feel the two of them staring at the back of his furry neck as he tried to read his paper. He finally whirled around and slammed his fist down on the armrest, and threw the Battlestar press to the floor.
“Do you have any idea what his means…” he said calmly, “when the price keeps going up incrementally like this?? Hmm? Especially such an absurd fee? It means there is a lot of trouble attached to it. I don’t like trouble. It doesn’t agree with me.”
BeEp. Com screen again.
Will throw in a Hyper-Space matrix,
Hox raised his eyebrows slightly. “You see? A Hyper-Space Matrix, just thrown into the deal? I don’t like it.”
“Oh Hox, come on, what could it be? It’s probably just a packet of lude photos meant to blackmail a high ranking official,” said Helena.
“That’s just wonderful,” said Hox. He was starting to crack. He was always such a softy, especially when Helena was involved.
“Look, let’s just take the trip to Galdorphus and take a look. What could it hurt?” said Bogart. “If it smells funny, we leave.”
“Fine,” said Hox, who still felt uneasy about the whole thing. “Set a course for Galdorphus. And watch the damn meteors.”
“Roger,” said Bogart.
Helena smiled as she left the cockpit. This could mean big things for the company, she thought. A new ship, new offices!! She felt slightly giddy as she walked down the cramped gangway and entered the engine room. Sitting on the work-bench was a large box that said, “Servo, the Do-It-Yourself Android kit,” that she had purchased at a yard sale on Primak months ago, and had never gotten around to assembling. She rolled up her sleeves and went to work, humming tunelessly.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Galdorphus,” announced Bogart, three hours later. He tapped a few buttons on the console and the Earthstar adjusted its flight attitude slightly in order to dock at port 17 at the east side of the station. Bogart was beaming; ten minutes ago the com-screen had chirped on and read:
100,000 ITF! Please hurry!
That’s when Hox finally replied, to make it all official of course.
Bogart eased the Earthstar into the grav-moorings and put the engines in reverse to slow the ship. Four large arms descended and clasped the hull. Bogart, Hox and Helena made their way out of the air-lock and into the station. The place was teeming with life-forms from all across the galaxy. They found a UnEx (Universal Express) kiosk next to some kind of bakery shop. The thing behind the counter was barking orders and screeching at his beleaguered workers. The place was pandemonium. Hox walked over.
“We’re here to pick up…”
The thing behind the counter, rather gelatinous and furry, interrupted, “Do you have an invoice number?” it barked, “we’re not psychic here you know!”
Helena produced the invoice number by rote. The thing double and triple checked it. It was slow and ponderous, and it took long stretches of time to move its arms to work the computer. It took almost a full minute for it to turn around and order one of the workers to go get the package.
“Is there anything else?” it said, curtly. Before anyone could answer, the shlub had returned with two packages.
“Please sign here, here, here, here and here.” It said.
Back aboard the Earthstar, Bogart was settling back into the cockpit seat and taking the ship out. The mooring locks released and he powered up and set a course for Zandra major. Hox was back in storage staring at the parcel. It was a small case made of Dutronium. Something very powerful was in this box, powerful and important. After a while Helena joined him.
“Which one’s the Hyper-Space Matrix?” she asked. Hox pointed to the smaller box. Helena picked it up, turned it over in her hands. The box was lettered from Earth. Helena read it, but was confused.
“What’s a “Radio Shack?” she asked Hox. He grunted something, but she didn’t understand that either. She shook the box lightly. “Not very heavy, is it?”
“It’s just an electrical component.” He said.
“The question is, will it integrate with our engines without blowing them up? They’re old C-2000’s, not very modern.” She said. “I’m gonna go try it out.”
“I’ll help,” said Hox. Together they went to the engine room.
There were four C-2000 Rhino Rocket engines aboard the Earthstar, ancient machinery that was almost 60 years old. The mainframe reactor powered them all. Helena looked for an Auxiliary port, where the matrix had to be wired. Problem: the ship was never designed for hyper-drive, would it hold up?
“How long will it take to hook it all together?” said Hox, anxiously. A hyper-space drive meant faster deliveries, and more money.
“Who knows? Look at this wiring!” she said, removing an access panel, revealing a veritable rat’s nest.
“Ah. A Bogart home-made job,” said Hox, peering into the mess. “Lovely. This could take a while.”
“We’ve got a few hours until we make Zandra. Let’s get to work,” Said Helena.
Bogart sat at the helm of the ship. With the course laid in for Zandra, and his new wealth all but affirmed, he eased back in his seat and dimmed the cockpit lights. He reached over and hit a switch; light music filled the cabin.
“Ah, Montovani, lovely sounds from the Milky Way!” he said. After a few moments he reached over again and tapped more buttons. The console lit up, and glowed dull green in the dimness. The screen showed Bogart what was ahead on their route; meteor shower near Caligula, wave storm in the Tetra Quadrant, and a few Nebulae near the Birdus system. Routine. At the final leg of the journey was the Zandra system. The chart showed Zandra’s eight moons, Rio, Dejianero, Poopus, Froth, Galecki, Spazk, Montauk, and Feebus.
But no Zandra.
“That’s weird,” said Bogart. He pulled up the star charts on the Zandra Major system. Seconds later they appeared on screen; eight moons, and big old Zandra sitting at the center. The long range scanner however was showing no Zandra Major and slightly altered moon positions.
Was Zandra gone? Bogart’s long finger-tips worked the com. Surely someone would answer….
He got nothing but cold, hard static. Bogart tapped his communicator.
“Hox, you’d better get up here.”
“This isn’t possible,” said Hox, after Bogart explained the situation. He was studying the charts and the long-range scanner, as Bogart had earlier. “The planet is gone?”
“That’s what it looks like.”
Hox looked perturbed. Now they had a parcel to deliver and nowhere to deliver it! No payment even.
“Maybe there’s a glitch in the system,” said Bogart, hopefully. “I can run a few diagnostics and make sure…”
“You do that. Keep on course to Zandra,” said Hox. He turned to storm out of the cockpit and was startled to see an android blocking his way. Hox felt like his heart was about to leap out of his chest. He clicked his communicator. Helena answered.
“Helena? Your pet project is walking about the ship. Just thought you should know. Can you come and get it out of here please??”
“Oh sugar, I forgot all about him! I was so busy with the matrix-thingy!” she said. “Can you baby-sit a while? I’m in the engine room, knee-deep in wires…” Before Hox could yell back, she clicked off.
The android, Servo, stood staring at Hox. He seemed rather regal, elegant. Hox grimaced; he hated androids.
“Well, what the hell are you staring at?” said Hox finally.
“I am called Servo. I could not help but overhear your current difficulties in locating one “Zandra Major,” perhaps I can be of some assistance to you and your elongated compatriot.”
Bogart turned in his seat to get a better look at the android.
“I don’t care what you do, just get out of my way…” said Hox, pushing past the android. Servo “humphed” haughtily, and made his way over to the co-pilot chair.
Bogart cleared his throat. “Are you familiar with any of this stuff? Piloting a space craft I mean?”
“It shan’t take long to become familiar with this antiquated technology, a matter of seconds.”
“Cool,” said Bogart. He turned the music up. Servo’s finger’s flashed across the touch-screens, information was streaming at an incredible rate. Finally Servo finished and turned to Bogart.
“I have confirmed that Zandra Major is at present, no longer in existence. In the midst of life, we are in death, lo…”
“How do you know?” asked Bogart. He was squinting his eyes, looking at Servo’s data.
“The planet Zandra Major has ceased to exist, my good man. Zandra’s eight moons are drifting from their original positions without the gravity from Zandra to hold their orbit. The planet is gone.”
Soon they reached Zandra Major, and their fears were confirmed. Servo was reeling off statistical information, casualty numbers, and any data which happened to drift through his artificial transom. Hox stood behind them, fuming. “Can we see any residual energy signals from the planet’s destruction?”
“This ‘ain’t no starship man. We don’t have that kind of equipment,” replied Bogart. Servo interjected almost immediately.
“Analytic systems do exist aboard this vessel, and are merely dormant. I shall reactivate them, good sirs!”
“Looks like I got me the King of England for a co-pilot,” said Bogart. Servo’s fingers danced over the buttons, information was buzzing and chirping on the screen. Bogart couldn’t keep up.
“You’re sure handy to have around,” said Bogart. Servo stopped and turned.
“It grieves me to report that I have found an energy source consistent with the destruction of a star-class planet,” he said. Suddenly the com buzzed. Bogart started to put it up on the screen, but Servo beat him to it before he even raised an arm. An ugly and angry Vexan appeared.
“I am Glock, of the Vexan Empire. Give us the parcel or be destroyed.”
“Where did the Vexan ship come from?” asked Hox, looking out one of the cockpit portals.
“You have thirty “earth” seconds,” he said, then blinked out. The three of them continued to stare at the com screen. Hox finally spoke.
“How many ships are out there I wonder?” he said. Servo, as usual had the depressing answer. “I detect six battleship cruisers. All cloaked from sensors. Perhaps victory may elude us yet, dear friends…”
“Great! And no weapons at all,” said Bogart. He looked over at Servo hopefully.
“We are unarmed my friend, our only defense is courage…”
“Maybe we can negotiate something,” said Hox. He reached over and hailed Glock.
“Yes?” answered Glock.
“Perhaps we can come to some kind of agreement, an exchange. We never received payment for this delivery and…”
“You have fourteen seconds left,” he said, and the transmission ended.
On the battleship Arrghamuss, Glock sat glowering at his view screen. This tiny courier ship was standing in his way and he did not like it. He liked to destroy things; it was a nice release for him. Of course, he couldn’t fire upon the tiny ship with such a valuable package aboard, but they didn’t know that. Second officer Sprong came over.
“Glock! Hock, meck sphwa gleep!” (they are sending the parcel over! We’ve succeeded! Hail Vexan!)
“Blaugh,” said Glock.
The tiny parcel drifted off until it was centered between the two ships. Glock ordered a tractor beam to retrieve it. Gleefully he made his way down to the cargo hold. Once there, he stopped and hailed the Earthstar.
“You have made a wise choice Earth-people,” he said. “Now you may leave…”
Bogart didn’t need to be told twice. He engaged the engines and took off. Servo was at the console, looking at engine schematics. Hox looked like he was about to have a coronary at any second.
In the cargo bay of the Arrghamuss, Glock stood in front of the Dutronium case containing his prize. He pushed aside three ensigns and took it. He smiled a rotten orange smile.
“The Galaxy is mine!” he said, laughing.
He opened the box.
And found nothing.
Bogart had the Earthstar at almost full throttle now and the ship was rattling uncomfortably. They agreed to try hiding in the Antares system where stellar gasses negated any tracking sensors.
“He’s gonna be mad,” said Bogart.
“We had no choice, friend,” said Servo. “Sic Semper Tyranus! Thus be it ever to tyrants…”
“Right dude,” replied Bogart. Hox called down to the engine room to check on Helena. “Listen babe, I hate to be the bearer of bad news…”
“What’s going on up there? The ship is shaking like a leaf. Why is Bogart running the engines at full throttle?”
“We had a little run-in with a Vexan named Glock, Captain of the Vexan militia. He wanted our package, so we sent him a ringer. He’s gonna be mad…”
“An empty case,” said Hox. We need hyper-drive, or we’re dead.”
“I need help. Can you send Servo down here?”
Hox turned to the cockpit. “Servo, can you fix a Hyper-Space Matrix?”
“I can fix anything my good man! Point the way!” He said, and was out the door.
Bogart interrupted. “Hox, sensors are picking up ship signatures. It’s Glock.”
“Can we get more speed?”
Bogart looked at the control panels, and blinked once, “Nope. No more speed.”
“Our only chance is Antares. How long till we reach it?”
“An hour or so.”
Hox looked sour. “That’s a destroyer-class war ship chasing us. We need hyper-drive and we need it now.”
Down in engineering Helena was beside herself. In a matter of minutes Servo had completely rewired the auxiliary port. It looked as good as new.
“Servo, I could kiss you!” she said.
“All in the line of duty my dear. By studying the ships schematics I was able to adjust the engine’s speed drag,” he said. He pushed a button over on the console.
“What was that?”
“I increased the engine’s speed threshold by 10 percent.”
The com buzzed. “What did you guys do? My speed’s up by…”
“Ten percent, I know. Servo again,” said Helena.
Servo then routed the hyper-space matrix into the auxiliary port. He was finished in minutes.
“So, do we have hyper drive?” asked Helena.
“We may need a few moments for the ship’s mainframe reactor to calibrate the matrix into its system. I calculate 3.7 minutes until full power-up. Now, if there is nothing else, I must return to my post and aid my good fellow, Monsieur Bogart. Good day Madame! Adieu!” said Servo. The lights suddenly went out and the ship heaved and they were thrown to the floor.
“What’s going on up there?” yelled Helena into her communicator.
Bogart’s voice, tinny, and calm, “Glock found us. Hold on.”
There was another violent jolt. Helena almost dashed her head on a support strut, but Servo caught her.
“There’s nothing more we can do here. Let us leave for the front, and prepare for battle. Onward!” said Servo.
Moments later they were in the cockpit. Servo took his seat beside Bogart. “You are a brave man, facing danger alone. But I am here to assist you now. Have no fear!”
“What’s our status?” asked Helena.
“We’re okay. Our protection grid held up,” said Bogart. Hox scanned the vicinity and found the Arrghumuss only 300 kilometers aft, and gaining.
Bogart came alive.
“They’re firing again. Everybody grab something,” he said neutrally. He rammed the controls all the way to the left as far as they would go. The Earthstar did a tight spiral and barely avoided the blaster-ray from the Arrghumuss.
“That was too close. How long until we have hyper-drive?” asked Hox. Servo was already on it, checking systems.
“1.5 minutes. When the auxiliary light flashes, we shall have hyper-drive.” He said.
Everyone stared at the auxiliary light. It was not flashing.
The world keeled over again as another blaster-ray from the Vexan battleship nearly tagged them. It was close enough to disrupt power supplies and the crew of the Earthstar sat in complete darkness for a few moments. The emergency panel was flashing and buzzing.
“What’s wrong?” asked Hox from his position on the floor.
“Shields are gone.”
The com chirruped, and Glock came on screen.
“You cannot run from me. Your shields are off-line and your pitiful little vessel cannot hope to out-run a destroyer-class Vexan battleship. Give me the parcel, and I promise you a swift death,” he said.
Just then, the auxiliary button lit up.
“Mr. Bogart, you now have hyper-drive,” Said Servo.
“But we can’t use it yet,” he whispered, “we need to pre-determine a course or we’ll hit a meteor or a planet or something.”
“Any port in a storm my good man,” said Servo. He hit the aux button and jammed the controls forward.
“Once more unto the breach dear friends!! Once more unto the breach!!!” Servo yelled. The ship rattled like an old tin can. The noise was cacophonous.
As Glock sat staring, the Earthstar simply disappeared into nothingness.
The Earthstar came out of hyper-drive somewhere in the Solaris System and a sigh of relief came over the crew. Back in engineering, Helena and Hox were staring at the Dutronium case, wondering what to do with it, and its mysterious contents.
“Well, we can’t keep it. Can we sell it? Make our money back?” asked Helena.
“Anything that the Vexan militia is interested in can’t be very good for humanity and the universe at large. I say we bury it, so other people of Glock’s ilk can never find it, whatever it is.”
Helena nodded agreement.
The Dutronium case and its contents were jettisoned over Primorak, a deserted planet near the Seti-Nine system. It drifted in orbit for 15 days before the planet’s gravity snagged it and pulled it down. It tumbled through the bio-sphere, ablaze. Had anyone been on the ground looking up, it might have seemed like a shooting star or a piece of meteorite cascading through the upper atmosphere. It finally made its way down into the lower strata, landing on a dune and burying itself, some three or four feet into the sand.
Six years later, or more, a lone man came trudging through the barrens and came across the case. A geyser had dislodged the thing from its hiding place in the ground, and it lay in the dusty sunlight. It’s previously shiny sheath was now dull and matted, scarred by years of sand-blasting from Primorak’s fierce dust storms. He stood looking at it for some time, did the man. Sensing that this object was not from this world, he looked up towards the sky, shielding his eyes from the gritty wind, but he could see nothing. His eyes fell back down to the case. He picked it up and tested the weight of it. Not heavy at all. He placed it in his satchel, and headed home towards his hovel, back by the cliffs. The night storms were coming, and he needed shelter fast.
Night on Primorak was treacherous; winds howled at untold speeds, and temperatures were well below biological endurance. The man, who had no name, was bundled up by the large stone cook stove, and basking in its hearth. He nibbled on roasted vermin, and stared at the case sitting across from him on a table. He stared for many hours, his only company the wailing winds and the sound of the sands, beating and scraping at his walls. After a time, he rose and crossed the room. He picked the case up. He opened it.
Inside was a glass ball. He could see his reflection in it, and the image startled him; he had never seen his own image before. After a few moments of making funny faces into its glassy surface, he reached in and grasped it. He held it up; it refracted the fire-light from the stove, and it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
Suddenly, his hands began burning, but he couldn’t put the orb down. It had fused to his hands. Seconds later, he was unable to move his entire body; skin, muscle, sinew, heart, lungs, organs, everything, crumbled.
The orb fell to the floor of the hovel, because there was nothing left to hold it up but ashes, and they too fell to the floor. The thing began eating the ground, and the walls, and the roof, until nothing was left, and it lay exposed in the sand once again.
An hour later, the planet Primorak was gone; dusty motes of granite hung suspended in the void, the orb at its center gliding listlessly through the dark matter of interstellar space.
Where Glock would find it, three weeks later.