The engineer stumbled into the cargo hold and dropped his bags like they were made of lead. At the moment, he couldn’t think of any place in the galaxy where he’d rather be. Not that that was a surprise.
His pilot wandered into the hold wearing underwear, a bra, and a towel wrapped around her head. She blinked at him and frowned. “I didn’t know you were back.”
“I just got in.” He flopped down on the floor next to his luggage.
“You look like hell.”
“Gee, thanks.” The engineer rolled his eyes. “Why don’t you put on some pants?”
“They’re in the wash.”
“All of them?”
“Aren’t you embarrassed to be wandering around the ship in your underwear?”
He sighed. They’d had this debate many times before.
“So why do you look like you got run over by a tank?” she asked.
“Is it really that bad? Maybe I should take a shower.”
“I used all the hot water. And you’re trying to change the subject.”
The engineer scowled. “I ran into that pirate again, okay?”
“The one who’s been tracking us over three sectors?” The pilot hopped onto a steel barrel, crossed her legs, and put her chin in her hand.
“Yes, that one,” he growled, “and please don’t remind me of it.”
“So what happened?”
“Do we really need to talk about this right now?”
“Yes. What if some doohickey broke on the ship and you were brooding over that pirate? I’d need to know how toâ€””
“I am not brooding over him!”
The pilot rolled her eyes. “I hate pirates,” she remarked to no one in particular. She was obviously refusing to move until he finished the story. Sighing, he gave in.
“Well, I was in a bar.”
“You? In a bar? I’m shocked.”
“Shove it. I was in the bar meeting a contact for a job. Do you want me to tell this story or not?”
The pilot absently cleaned her ear with a finger. She stayed quiet, though. Eventually, he continued.
“So there was some, uh, unrelated trouble, and the local cops closed off the street outside. Some explosion or something. I didn’t speak up to find out.”
“Aren’t you wanted on that planet?”
“That wasn’t my fault! And who’s telling the story here, you or me? Anyway, I was in the bar, and it looked like we were going to be there for a while. So I had a drink. Nothing else to do, right?”
“I sure would’ve if I’d been there.”
“Right. Yeah. So anyway, it turned out that Valentine was there, too.”
“I still can’t believe his name is Valentine. Fucking pirates shouldn’t be named after fucking holidays. It’s unethical.”
“He’s not named after the holiday. He’s named after the gun.”
“The Valentine .45 SXG? Are you serious?” There was a pause. “How do you know that?”
“He told me, okay?”
The pilot blinked, then blinked again. The engineer looked away and, not for the first time, was eternally grateful for his dark skin. It hid the flush. He hurried on.
“It’s not like I was talking to him on purpose. He was heckling me. You know how he does that.”
“Boy, do I ever. Fucking pirate.”
“Anyway, he was heckling me, and I got sick of it, so I slipped out the back. Of course the cops were all over me, chased me around, stuff like that. So that’s why I look like shit. Now let’s get out of orbit before they realize where I disappeared to. Oh, and add another “˜wanted’ label to the map for this sector.” He pushed himself upright and headed towards the cockpit. “I’ll get the engines fired up. And put on some pants first!”
The pilot watched him leave, then hopped off the cargo barrel. She rubbed the towel against her hair and casually tossed it into the corner of the hold. The engineer probably didn’t realize that the pirate wore lipstick. She smirked, making a mental note to be near the bathroom the next time her co-worker and employer went in. The look on his face would be priceless when he realized what the red stain was around the corners of his lips.
Seamus dipped the greasy piece of bread into the even greasier layer of oil in his plate. â€œMm. It seems so much easier when you know your own sin, doesnâ€™t it?â€
Carol hadnâ€™t touched her food; her lust for love blinded her, but only to a point. She watched the buffoon in front of her as he ate away his life. â€œI donâ€™t think it was meant to be taken literally, Seamus,â€ she said. â€œPeople have just becomeâ€¦ more goal-oriented.â€ The words were lost beneath the sound of her blind dateâ€™s incessant chewing. His blue eyes peered up ignorantly and a muffled confused phrase somehow made it out of the crevice.
â€œWhat I mean to say is, just because we have thirty-five years doesnâ€™t mean we should debase ourselves to such trivial concepts of living.â€
The glutton finished swallowing before bellowing an answer, â€œWell, youâ€™re looking for love, right? Thatâ€™s your purpose; love. I, as stated in the advertisement, am transfixed upon simple pleasures. Food is too good to let go to wasteâ€ Again, he stuffed his mouth full of various confections and salty doughy things.
Her words came after much thought and in-between the orificial cramming of her oh-so-temporary partner for the night. â€œIt has come to my attention that you, Seamus, are gluttonous because you think you do not have anything else to live for but your own pleasure. I, on the other hand, believe in a world meant for one person to stand beside me. For children, I feel that we need to have similar goals.â€
The manâ€™s eyes went into thought and he gulped his food down with his mind working in overdrive. They both had at least fifteen years left, and the rush to procreate had crossed his mind. He sat up straight, cleaned off his chin and stared directly into her eyes.
â€œI love youâ€, he said without wavering.
â€œGood. Now letâ€™s talk about a house and kids.â€ Her mood was changing from highly annoyed to mildly irritate.
A napkin he brought to his face rubbed away any remaining stains, and he looked up to the teenage waiter. He was sure that the kid couldnâ€™t imagine how disturbing it would be to hold such a job when he was halfway done his life. â€œWaiter, take this away,â€ Seamus said. â€œBring me a salad and filtered water.â€
“You really shouldn’t write so much,” the boy said. He perched on the edge of an orange subway chair and jumped off as the train screeched to a halt, catching himself on the handrail and spinning around.
“If I didn’t write so much, you wouldn’t be here,” the woman said coolly.
“Well, yeah, but maybe we’re not all we’re cracked up to be, you know?”
The woman sighed deeply and folded the page of her notebook before placing it on the bench beside her. “Would you stop that already?” she said.
“What, this?” The boy pushed forward and caught himself on his hands, pushing off and spinning into a precisely controlled flip. It was the type of control that could only come from good programming, and she knew from the price tag that the boy had been programmed well.
“Yes, that,” she said.
“It’s not like I can get hurt.”
“Human beings have protective instincts. We don’t like watching kids do that kind of stuff.”
The boy smiled and jumped into the seat beside her. She picked up the spiral-bound notebook and flipped to the designated page, then pressed the end of her pencil against her lips. He rolled into her like a cat, sprawling across her lap and giggling. “I told you to cut it out,” she said.
“I didn’t write myself, you know.”
“You’re supposed to be inspiring me.”
The boy crawled over her and flopped into the seat beside her, tracing his thin finger over the thin lead lines on the page. “What am I doing now?” he asked.
“Being a nuisance.”
“I hope you don’t let that guy kill me. I’d be very sad.”
“I wouldn’t have paid for you if I was going to kill you in three chapters,” she said. The boy took her pencil from her fingers and stuck it behind her ear.
“You look silly,” he said. “Silly writer! You bought a fake boy.”
The woman retrieved her pencil and returned to the notebook, but as soon as the lead touched the page he grabbed it again and ran down the length of the car, giggling hysterically. “Get back here,” she ordered.
“Maybe you don’t want to write, did that ever occur to you?”
“I think I know what I want better than a cybernetic nine year old.”
“I’m a child prodigy!” he squealed with noisy excitement.
“In an hour you’ll be a decommissioned pile of circuits,” she warned.
“Nah. You like me! You just don’t like this pencil.” The boy stuck it between his teeth and smiled. “Look at me! I’m a writer! I think deep thoughts and put them on paper!”
Frustrated, the woman turned back to her notebook.
“Pay attention to me!” the boy demanded around the object between his lips.
“I am paying attention to you,” she said as she dug through her purse for her spare pen.
“I’m not in there, silly. I’m right here!” He grabbed the handrail and spun and jumped, landing beside her. She took the pencil from his mouth.
“Sit down,” she ordered.
With much dramatic pouting, he obeyed. He folded his legs beneath him and sighed in the heavy way that only children can sigh. “It’s probably a lot less fun when you can’t control it,” he observed.
“I told you,” the woman said. “Behave.”
After a night of drinking, following the uncontrolled sleep of total blackness, there comes for humans a level of morning sobriety that is so clear it is painful. The white light of morning truth shines through to the black recesses of the human brain, and suddenly, the consequences of all those epic and sloppy actions of the night before pile like boulders, clear and terrible in the bitter morning.
In this cold, sharp daylight, Nima Atom was very aware of the two, no, three sets of alien legs that were entwined around him in the giant satin bed. Blue, green, and red bodies circled around his. Nima lay awake, listening to their soft breathing and piecing together his memories of the night before. As Nima gazed out the window in front of him, he became increasingly aware that the view he was seeing of the beautiful city, with its rounded golden domes, was a view that could have only been seen from the magnificent palace of the Shah-on-Shah, the ruler of the planet. Indeed, the lush fabrics and the little bubbling pools indicated wealth, and the slight and colorful figures that surrounded him wore jewels in their head skins that indicated them to be the royal wives of the palace.
Nima lay there, sober and aching, and imagined the night before. He had spent the night in a luxurious haze; beautiful alien women buying him drinks, escorting him from club to club, feeding him, encouraging him to sing, and kissing him with their long, leathery tongues. He blushed as he remembered being bathed in one of the pools by the giant window, where the curtain was now softly fluttering in the warm breeze.
His arms and legs pinned, he began to formulate an escape plan, a plan which first began with the artful extraction of his limbs from those of the women around him. His imagined plan stumbled in execution for when he flexed the muscle of his right arm the ruby woman resting her head there opened her purple eyes. She smiled at him, her sharpened teeth gleaming.
“Hungry?” she asked
“Listen,” whispered Nima “I don’t want to wake up the others, but I think I really need to go now, can you help me?”
“Why do you need to go?” asked a voice behind him. Nima looked up and into dark violet eyes and a green smile.
“Babe, I, uh, I’ve got a ship to catch.”
The blue woman stretched languidly, and snaked an arm over his stomach. “Stay. Eat with us.”
“Ladies.” Nima scrambled off the silk bed, wishing he could remember their names. “Ladies. The night was lovely, but I fear I have overstayed my welcome.”
“You really enjoyed the bath last night.” Said the green woman.
“”Oh, it was lovely, I’m sure.” Said Nima, trying to remember and forget at the same time. “It’s just that I’m sure that the Shah-on-Shah would not like me in here with his, er, wives.”
“We like you in here with us.” Said the nubile ruby beauty. “You lasted for two whole minutes with me last night. Our males only last for seconds.”
“Oh geez. Please don’t spread that around.” said Nima. “I usually last longer it’s just that I had a lot to drink and ““”
“You should show us how long you can go.” Said the green woman, her hands rubbing her naked legs.
“And I would love to stay.” Nima held out his hands defensively. “Really. I would. But I would also like to live. Living is an important value for humans.” He laughed nervously. “Um, yeah. So maybe, ladies, we could reschedule for another time, and you could tell me if there is anyway I could get out of here without the Shah-on-Shahs guards noticing.”
Ruby stood, her naked body glistening. “There is a way, if you follow me.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you!”
As they left through a door behind a pillar, Tiki leaned back and smiled at Ruma’sens green face.
“Poor human, he seemed so nervous. Perhaps we should have told him that the Shah-on-Shah encourages us to have relations outside of our own species.”
Ruma’sen patted Tikis blue shoulder. “No, third wife, trust me. It’s more fun for them this way.”
The two women smiled, bathed by morning light.
“New life!” came the call throughout “God’s Hammer,” from starboard to port, from aft to fore. It echoed through the corridors and ricocheted off the trophy skulls that decorated them. The men and women who crewed “God’s Hammer” sharpened their knives and painted their bodies in preparation.
“New life! Hoist the rag! Hoist the rag! New life!”
The ceremony was an auspicious one, for it was a member of the Captain’s harem who had given birth, and so then did this child bear the blue paint of “Captain’s Heir.” The Captain cradled the baby girl throughout the ceremony, surrounded by his favorite male and female concubines. Only when his joy became too great did he leave his throne on the bridge, and dance around the glowing engine core with the rest of the crew.
And if any of the crew were concerned with the existence of a new mouth and a new belly, they found their minds changed by the obvious joy in the Captain, brought on by his new heir.
All save one.
The first mate, whose purchase on the Captain’s throne was now lost due to this new heir, brandished his knife with a heavy fist and a bloody eye. He screamed with rage as he charged the Captain and his daughter, with intent to end them both.
And he clean would have, but for the eyes of the crew, who saw this. And but for the hands of the crew, who caught his arms and held him fast. And but for the hearts of the crew, each one of which still kept beat in the Captain’s palm.
The slave who was to be sacrificed was led by its neck back to the bowels of the ship, for the first mate was now lain upon the table in his stead. The chaplain, girded with the remnant of sacrifices past, called out to the gods, offering this old life so that a new life may prosper.
The heir was bathed in the blood of the first mate, which mixed with the blue paint to turn a royal purple. His body was deftly segmented by the chaplain, and each of the crew came toward the still-warm meat and sliced off a piece with their recently sharpened knives. Each piece was swallowed, and so then did crew become stronger.
The heir was wiped down, and the gore-encrusted rag was displayed proudly on the hull of the ship, proclaiming to all of the new life upon “God’s Hammer.”
And other ships did look upon the banner with awe and with envy. “New life,” they whispered. “New life.”
TURN THE SCOPE. Earth-124. Subject: Davis, Conner. Occupation: Car Salesman.
It was an ordinary day of waking up, drinking coffee, and making his way to the lot again but Conner was glad that every day had its predictability. New Fords meant New Mustangs with all their pretty little colors and displays, and he never ceased to enjoy selling them.
Conner was happily married, and enjoyed life with his son, Parker. He was a quiet man who lived a quiet life; a mediocre life that would leave him dead from heart disease at the age of 55.
TURN THE SCOPE. Earth-273. Subject: Davis, Conner. Occupation: Assassin.
Gunshots were not his cup of tea, but ever since Conner had graduated from being an apprentice to actually doing the hits himself he hadnâ€™t had much time for tea at all. This particular day, while heâ€™s thinking about what it might be like to settle down with a wife while blood dripped from a gunshot wound to his side, he was on the brink of completing another mission.
Mr. Davis was an enigma in the eyes of all systems, and right now his one redeeming quality was shooting the fuck out of the newly-elected President of Unified Territories and the change that would ensue would be as important to him as the huge pay-off. Unfortunately, Conner would die of that wound before he could report his near-success.
TURN THE SCOPE. Earth-5890. Subject: Davis, Conner. Occupation: Chemist.
Early days were no stranger to Doctor Conner Davis, who labored heavily over limitless lines of formula and code to decipher what the cure would be. Humanity was fading fast from the plague spreading through each and every citizen and time was running short for the underground lab he kept in Bismarck.
Dr. Davis had lost everything in his study for a cure including any hope of a relationship. Heâ€™d lost care of personal gain and took sight of what really mattered. Life mattered. His eyes saw the necessary means to create a cure and he might be able to save more than just his sanity by finding one soon. Doctor Conner Davis died of an aneurysm at 98.
TURN THE SCOPE. Earth-1. Subject: Davis, Conner. Occupation: Unknown.
Conner Davis lived every day as if it were his last. He took everything as it came to him and never took any of it for granted. He never wrote a book, never saved a nation, never killed a villain or moved a mountain. Mr. Davis was going to Sydney and he was getting married to the love of his life.
Mr. Davis never knew happiness outside of how he felt for other people. Material possessions never occurred to Conner to mean anything. He lived, and he loved with the best of his ability and compromised nothing. Conner Davis dies tomorrow.
TURN THE SCOPE.