(Or Prelude to The Cosmic Misadventures of Floyd Pinkerton, Space Crock)
John “Sloop” Biederman
Copyright 2015 John Biederman. All Rights Reserved.
Cover Art Copyright 2015 Luis Limardo. All Rights Reserved.
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Awaiting disaster is one of life’s most harrowing experiences. You know it’s coming, but it’s taking its time—and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the scenario. Remember when you were young and you did something bad—something innocent that only kids do? Maybe you shaved your sister’s head? You roared. She wailed. Your tittering amusement became a panicked whimper as you heard the jingle of dad’s belt buckle. He’d take his time climbing the stairs…
It’s a smidgeon more serious when you’re spiraling through a planet’s atmosphere, completely out of control. You don’t know planet. Or what star system. Or approximately how far you are from home.
When I was younger, I had a knack for obtaining permission to sit in ship’s cockpits during space flights. And I went on a lot of vacations. More than captaining duties, I was fascinated with astrogation. The astrogator is the guy who actually lets you travel space. Jumps you through the void, skipping off light years in the process.
I sat in awe as the crew pushed buttons, read gauges and generally tinkered with a very large gadget before my eyes. I took notes, mentally and on device. I remember it all so vividly…
The motions were familiar, so after reading many books on the subject, I knew how to astrogate. I wasn’t exactly a jumper-guru, but I could accomplish it. Okay, perhaps “pull it off” more than “accomplish” it.
I somehow overlooked the fact that I’d have to do it in a flash, seriously medicated, with the Sun System Sheriff’s Department nipping at my posterior.
I was flipping pages, on device and literally, like a speed-reading robot gone haywire. I typed commands willy-nilly. I saw lights pulsing that I knew nothing about. The Blue Maiden (my stolen craft) vibrated like a bowl of gelatin on a jackhammer.
The wall screen began to summarize my command sequence, then the warning flashed—HOSTILE SYSTEM SCAMBLER RAYS FIRED AT 7 O’CLOCK.
I requested more information. I didn’t understand half of what I was given.
I figured one thing out—they were close. It was amazing that the government craft had missed at such short range. Government ships were always on technology’s cutting edge, while the Maiden was on the edge that was cut. One hit from their scrambler rays and the archaic onboard computer would probably crash.
I grabbed my crotch—hell, it might’ve been my last cheap thrill—and executed my first jump.
Out of all the paradise planets in the Milky Way, my random entered coordinates (which I had already forgotten) happened to be well within the gravity pull of 61636-788949X.
I had tampered with the security program enough to steal the ship, which was also enough to screw-up the emergency pilot. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d need to know much about piloting…
I spiraled through the planet’s atmosphere at the perfect speed to piss me off—quick enough to dizzy, slow enough to give me plenty of time to reflect on my pickle. I had plenty of time to pray and work up a sweat as I pounded the keyboards like a crazed phantom on a pipe organ.
Tons of information scrolled over the screens—I still remember all I read about spacecraft lavatory design in those eternal minutes. I realized there was nothing I could do at this point but sit—slowly shaking my head and sipping my cheap, warm, Martian beer.
I had planned this getaway for years. I planned everything I did; that’s part of my sapient side. Yet I wasn’t a very good planner; that’s part of my dominant side.
It surprised me when things went awry. I had fine-tuned my plan daily—finding fewer loopholes each time—until it appeared flawless.
Out on the perimeter of the First Ganymede Development settlement, the Blue Maiden slept. I hadn’t seen anybody near her, save when I talked Sarah into giving me a complete tour of the base. It was small—requiring one operator, with living conditions for four uncomfortable people. It had all the hardware of a long distance craft, even jumper drives.
Designed to travel the galaxy, funds continually delayed the project. Halfway through its construction, new developments caused new duties to be set for the Maiden. Its jumpers were outdated, so it became a solar system rover.
Yet technology had also brought better system rovers and so the Blue Maiden sat—until it was bought by the First Development company. Then the Tri-World economy boomed as Mars and Luna’s settlers multiplied like Earthlings. Settlements boomed and new ones sprung up in nearby solar systems. FD thrived and it, too, bought better system rovers.
And the Maiden sat again at FD’s base in Ganymede (FGD—First Ganymede Development), awaiting another buyer.
She was finished on a low budget. Blue, hard, fuzzy seats. Tiny toilet. Beds made from an armor-like sponge. Quality engineering, shoddy living conditions. There was a lot of space for food. I suppose the cold cabinets were bought early on.
I should’ve waited another year. Read more than seemed necessary. I should’ve looked harder for someone else to go along with the plan, but there was nobody, besides Sarah, at FGD I really got along with—much less trusted revealing my daffy scheme to—and it was hard to get off Ganymede much. Life was a social holocaust.
FGD charged the forefront of technology, although its owners were fanatically dedicated to Seventeenth Century Christianity. They somehow bypassed the basic rules of the New Solar System Order and hired friends and family who followed their dogma. Sarah pretended to follow, but I don’t know how I ever got hired. Freedom of Speech (and Freedom From Common Sense) had me permanently snowmobiling on thin ice.
My position was supposedly prestigious. Two years at Luna U. earned me the position of Pioneer Settlement Investigator at FGD.
In other words, I drove around in a moon rover all day, throwing samples into an Enviro-Syllogist, and sat around all night in a shelter reading, using a little holovision to help me sleep.
The pay was good (if the bureaucratic economy was considered), but it still looked like a decade until my student loans would be paid off. I could’ve gotten better, but making love to Sarah (my department boss) for half my shift on a low-gravity moon was an excellent fringe benefit.
I almost included Sarah in my plans—in fact, I actually explained things to her in its prenatal stages. I had to go all the way to Ganymede to find legs like hers and it would’ve been nice to be lost in space with her. I even showed her the Maiden’s clearance card I’d duplicated.
Little by little I realized she didn’t really listen to me.
She just wanted my body. I haven’t the most nebulous idea why. She got off the rock quite often—her ex-husband had left her with a lot of money. And a lot of men with a whole lot more chased her. Sure, I was 20 years younger, but she’d spent most of her life on low gravity planets, so you really couldn’t tell.
I awaited the dump, hoping my observations paranoid.
It was probably beneficial—her using me. If she had actually paid attention, she would’ve turned me in.
Then again, might’ve been better.
It wasn’t a tempestuous crash. No fire, no rolling end over end. Just a sudden stop and a large “thud.”
The ship was built to withstand some pretty hairy mishaps, but the designer undoubtedly considered cargo more important than passengers. Thrown from the control seat (thus discovering that the safety belts were useless), I bounced off a good amount of the wall surface.
I was a human bruise. One might say I was lucky, having every part of my body sore for two months. Really sore. Like waking up with a lampshade on your head in the middle of someone’s stairway sore.
I took a few deep breaths and tried to launch.
Ha ha. Hee hee. Hardy har har. It is to laugh.
The Blue Maiden didn’t even tremble. I couldn’t have gotten stuck more efficiently on a bet.
I took root on the floor. Actually on the wall, considering the ship’s alignment. I didn’t feel like standing up, so I pretended to watch holovision on the cracked wall screen. Soon, my legs fell asleep.
My vodka bottle wobbled along the wall, stopping next to my head. Calling it an omen, I took another shot, although I had promised myself I’d put the hard stuff away for the day. I usually stuck with beer once I couldn’t feel where my ass ended and the driver’s seat began.
During a commercial, I decided I had to get my mind back on the horrors of reality.
I slithered along the floor, reached the wall, and pulled myself to my feet in about a half-hour. I did a Frankenstein walk to the keyboards, after a couple of tumbles and grabbing three beers from the cold cabinet. A good 12-pack or so had exploded after impact and the whole cabin’s fragrance took me back to my dorm at Luna U. I guzzled two in a minute, feeling I deserved it. The third one wet everything but my throat.
I didn’t care. I’d already soaked my lap on impact—and it was actually a bit refreshing.
I loaded a display of this “Place That Should Not Be” (my name for 61636-788949X): Gravity .85; 697-mile diameter. I happened to be near a pole. The temperature beyond the Blue Maiden’s six-foot aluminus-insulo walls was 103 degrees. Kelvin.
The outside periscopes afforded me a view of dun-colored ice and snow in all directions. I tampered with the wiring on a maintenance robot (which I knew nothing about), for kicks. It began to do a funny little jig.
I was dancing with it when it exploded.
The explosion knocked me smack on my rump. The shrapnel didn’t do any major harm, but I couldn’t wash the blackness off my face and some of my hair was fried off. I looked like one of those moronic “New Universe” genre musicians.
I turned on the distress beacon and decided to wait and see if any non-authority types would find me. That was taking a risk, but why employ caution so willy-nilly at this point? Wasn’t expecting anything, but I had five year’s worth of rations, liquor and cigars on board.
A week must’ve passed before I heard the roar—too loud to identify. Considering my recent streak of luck, it logically seemed that the planet was hit by some monstrous comet.
Yet when I opened my eyes, I was still alive.
I continued vegetating, figuring I might as well get supremely crocked if I were going to the clink.
I don’t know how long I slept. I awoke three or four times and, still feeling hungover, took a few shots, puffed a bit, then passed out again.
When I awoke with my head feeling cracked in only a couple spots, I decided to go investigate.
I didn’t fully trust my all-weather suit, so I wore my beer-stained clothing underneath. I looked at the suit in what remained of the mirror. Technology never seemed to catch-on to fashion—I looked just as silly as Neil Armstrong when he first walked Luna.
Crawling onto the frozen snow (after stashing some beers and stogies in my pockets—a thousand “yippies!” to the inventor of the personal consumption airlock helmet), I realized how sad my space beater really looked. Even if it repairable, I was perfectly stuck. Wedged into the surface. And I thought I was done with “ditches” after leaving Earth.
With my power lens I saw black smoke wafting about in the meager atmosphere. I stumbled along the trail of pollution for about an hour, finding a few soft spots along the way. My “techno snow boots” helped—once I got the hang of walking like an orangutan to prevent sinking. I had a feeling that archaic, tennis racket-shaped snowshoes would’ve been far more efficient.
The sun started to set on “The Place That Should Not Be.” I was about to bed down for the night in my comfy monkey-suit when the smoke began to thicken. I started jogging, reaching the top of a titanic crater’s edge, and there in the crater it smoldered…
What is it about running away? Every time my life starts to get boring, empty and ominously messed-up, I think that running off somewhere will make things better. I ran to the moon for college. I drained my money and ran to Mars to embark on a new life. Then to Ganymede. And now this.
Yet personal history also repeats itself. There seems to be so much hope in starting with a blank slate, yet we tend to use the same chalk each time. This time it seemed I’d destroyed my eraser as an encore.
It didn’t matter where I ran. I’d soon become an eccentric outcast again, acquire a small circle of demented friends and date women (always dangerous in one way or another) who’d eventually call me a kook and scram.
I’ll never really learn what I already know.
What was I thinking when this fiasco entered my mind? That there were oodles of other freaks like me cruising the galaxy aimlessly? That I would mysteriously find gorgeous women and party buddies wandering boondock planets?
Ican’t answer these questions. I don’t like thinking about the reality of my decisions. My own little world’s much more palatable.
The giant craft was gaudy yellow and banana-shaped. I’d never seen anything like it. It looked like it’d ricocheted off a few asteroids in its time. Its façade led me to believe it was alien in design.
The thrill of being the first man to encounter alien life! (Assuming the rural dwellers’ sightings on back-planet Neptune were the hoaxes typical of the tabloids they were reported in.) I, Floyd Pinkerton, ambassador of humanity. Lost and thoroughly inebriated.
I straightened my helmet, stashed my beers and cigar box in a snowdrift and listened to my heart trying to beat its way out of my chest.
A periscope peeked from the banana-shaped whatever-the-hell, reminding me of a frightening old story written by by a guy named Wells (I think)… Fear toyed with me. I had half a mind to gesture peace and half a mind to head for the hills.
Mostly, I had half a mind.
The periscope rose. A hatch opened ever so slowly, creaking eerily—as if I were lost in some silly sci-fi yarn.
I ran. I’m not sure in which direction, but I ran…head-on into an ice drift.
When I returned to drunken consciousness, a blurry form came into view. A human form, with a beer belly, wearing a spacesuit sillier than mine (with a cocked baseball cap under the helmet) and an even sillier grin. He was smoking one of my cigars and, when I recognized him, I started to cry.
Of all the beings I could’ve encountered lost in space, here I was face-to-face with Bob Tripeman. The biggest mooch I’d ever met. I went to high school with him back on Earth. He’d given me a ride once when I’d wrecked one of my many ground cars.
For a while, I paid him back with hundreds of credits worth of bummed booze, stogies and rides. I refused to associate with him after he showed up one morning wanting breakfast, a shower and 50 credits. (The shower, in itself, was just too weird a mooch to accommodate.)
He stood over me, sniggering in his unique manner and puffing like an active volcano. “Got any more beer?” he burped.
It took all my inner strength to resist standing up and landing a circle-kick on his freckled face. “Yeah. Yeah. I stocked up. Brought enough for a few years. I suppose I’ve got a few weeks worth, with you around.”
“So you’ve gotten yourself into another fine mess, I see.”
“I’ll take a wild guess and say you didn’t exactly plan your landing either.”
He frowned for a moment, then his eyes lit up. A grimace began to fester on his chin as his eyes scrunched. He leaned forward for a closer look at me before slapping his knee with laughter.
“No cracks about the hair,” I said.
There still wasn’t much reason to stand up. “Hand me one of my cigars.” He obliged. I awaited the inevitable reopening of his mouth.
“How’d you manage this one?” he said.
“Just shut up.”
“I could just fix my ship and take off…”
“You wouldn’t do that. I’ve got beer and smokes, remember?” That conquered his grimace.
“Aren’t you gonna ask me why here?”
I shook my head. I’d heard one too many Bob Tripeman tales already, and absence of them made the heart grow harder. Sure, I could hope, but I was expecting to hear every detail soon anyway.
“I don’t imagine have any idea where we are, Bob?”
“Well.” He cleared his throat. “Before entering this star system, I I passed a system I’d read about some Earth ships exploring, years back, although…”
“Just what I thought. Neither one of us has any idea where the hell we are.”
“These cigars’ll get to me after a while. Got any cigs?” he asked as he brought his hand to his thick head out of habit—thinking he could straighten his long, scraggly hair through the helmet.
“Spongers can’t be choosers.”
“As I see it, you don’t have a way off of here, so you’re gonna be bummin’ a ride…”
“I don’t have any damn cigarettes! And if I did, I’d gleefully cram one up each of your gaping nostrils! I was planning on fixing my craft anyway. I just heard the crash and thought I’d meet an alien.”
I stood, retrieving the aluminum cans he’d thrown into the snow.
“You don’t know shit about fixin’ a ship,” the boor bellowed.
He was right. Out of all his past “victims,” how did he remember me so well?
“Let’s take a look at both ships and see which is more fixable,” I suggested.
“Yours first. You rudely brought enough beer for just yourself…”
Half the reason I pulled this boner was to prove I had the guts to do it. Sarah never believed I would. I imagined what she was telling the authorities…
“Floyd was always a dreaming fool—since I’ve known him, anyway. He’s had so many wacky schemes… How was I supposed to know he really meant this one?
“No, I don’t think he’s fallen in with space pirates or anything. He’s really not competent at anything but daydreams. FGD’s management’s been telling me to fire him for a long time now. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, he’s so pitiful and all…”
I didn’t like thinking about that. She had just run off with some rich, plump white-collar anyway. A friend of the rustic owners. She’d recently taken on their Neanderthal ideals and become exactly what I’d liked her for being before.
I had no idea she was seeing him until I asked her out one day and she flashed .
I guess it was going on for a while. She most likely alternated between us (and the universal consciousness knows whom else) throughout the affair.
I didn’t take it very well. She wanted to remain “friends.” Peachy. “Can I go out with you this weekend? Well… I really should show you something… What’s the matter? Such is life… I’d like to stay in touch after I move half-way across the solar system into his palace. We can be such good friends now that we’re not lovers.”
I’m sure he’d be just as jolly as I with that arrangement.
I told her to marry quick and get out of my face. I made it no secret that I wasn’t going to take the news with her definition of “maturity” and that I’d rather place plutonium on my genitals than spend five minutes in a room alone with her anymore.
I got drunk and reckless on the moon rover just about daily after that. I didn’t mean to run over her husband-to-be a week before the wedding. It was an accident. Really.
But I couldn’t help the fit of laughter as I pictured him on their honeymoon in a body cast.
Tripeman was convinced that the Maiden was undeserving of the slightest sliver of hope. At least, if we wanted to leave within an Earth Year.
He took his time on the banana, which he called, “Cruizy Suzy.” He told me he’d acquired it from an alien race he’d run into.
I didn’t believe him until I’d taken a tour of the craft. The seats were oversized (even for Bob’s gluttonous form) and they had six footrests. Suzy was equipped with voice modules—no keyboard typing required. All of the doors were only four feet or so tall—yet almost six feet wide.
Bob did his best to give the craft his own lecherous flavor—bright pink trim (“chick friendly”) lined the control panel and a garter belt (certainly skulked from some poor young lady he’d bothered into misery) hung from the pilot’s microphone.
Most of the core technical build of the ship was just like a human variety—you can’t expect extraterrestrials to have different laws of physics. However, the materials used to build the craft were alien indeed. The…wood (I guessed) that composed much of Suzy’s interior was tinted blue and felt spongy.
I wandered the craft in a daze before returning to a greasy Tripeman, surrounded by rusty tool crates, unwrapping another cigar. He was opening a metallic container that looked a lot like a small coffin.
“You done foolin’ around in there?”
I nodded, peering into the case. It contained a dwarf-sized cylinder with a thick, flat head, made from some type of metal. Bob dumped it out of the holder.
It sounded like Bob was clearing his throat in a very bizarre manner, which apparently sent the device walking under the end of Suzy. He continued making noises and the thing inched back and forth until Bob was happy.
Bob crooned out a high buzzing sound and the machine jacked-up the end of the banana.
“Those’re some weird commands you’re giving that robot.”
“That’s because they’re in Zzurkwin.”
I rolled my eyes.
“What’s that wood-like stuff this baby has so much of?”
“Bilsssst,” he hissed as he held out his palm. I dropped my everflame into his hand. The utterance sounded a bit like a belch. I didn’t figure he knew much about Cruizy Suzy.
Later I learned that “Bilsssst” was the substance’s alleged name.
So where’d you skulk this thing—and how the hell did you figure out how to work it?”
“I didn’t ‘skulk’ it. I told you, it was a gift from the Zzurkwins. I must’ve spent years with them. What Earth Year is it, anyway?”
“Wow.” Tripeman’s always been profound.
I began shaking a beer I hoped he’d eventually open. It got me later. “Let me guess. It was a going-away present?” More like a bribe, I thought.
“How’d you know?”
“I’m Nostradamus’ great (to the ninth power) grandson.”
“Who?” I saw his brow wrinkle through a puff of smoke.
“A lucky guess.”
Bob fidgeted with all those mechanical parts I knew nothing about. I wondered how he learned to fix a Zzurkwin craft, but wasn’t in the mood for tall tales. I began to think it was one of those experimental Martian designs. Maybe the seats and doors were designed for robots.
Within three hours, I’d watched Bob loosen about a dozen screws and bolts, guzzle seven beers and smoke the same amount of cigars. His pace was slowing in all categories, save cigars.
The alien sun rose and fell—I lost count of how many times. Tripeman continued at his leisurely pace; he put in a few hours of actual work each day, going overtime on shenanigans. Although Bob had plenty of Zzurkwin food aboard, mostly edible to humans, if exotic, he naturally preferred my rations.
Given my lack of mechanical ability, it was tough to gauge how efficiently Bob was working. Yet I had the impression he was dilly-dallying—I do know dilly-dallying. But since he couldn’t know how much (or little) I did know about these things, I made extra effort to hang close, making pensive faces, asking questions and generally moving the process along as best I could.
He was giggling more and more frequently. Soon he was sprawled out under Cruizy Suzy, his leviathan belly jiggling between gulps of beer. I contemplated the suicide option.
“I remember when I picked you up on Earth—that time you put that old ’73 Iacocca into that wood pile,” more annoying chuckles, “there was a trail of cigars tracing your whole path!”
With that, he spilled his beer, rose and grabbed another.
“Help yourself,” I said.
He ignored my words—his regular habit—as if he were the only participant in the conversation. “Not that you were in any danger of freezing in those record cold temperatures—you had so much antifreeze in you!” He reminded me of his despicable habit of doubling over and holding his gut as he guffawed.
“You’re not in any danger of sobriety yourself right now.”
That brought a dirty look. “Listen, I haven’t drank, or at least gotten good and drunk, in…months—years, probably. never learn. Drivin’ drunk,” he shook his fat finger at me. “If I had my Sun System patrolman’s badge now, I’d…”
“You’ve been talking about joining the force for more than 10 years now. Admit it—you’ll never pass the athletic tests.”
“Hey—I’m joining a fitness club as soon as I get back to civilization. Wait’ll you see the women runnin’ at me!”
“I read somewhere that it’s a whole lot easier these days to become a planetary cop on Earth. Some nations might even be desperate enough to accidentally hire someone like .”
“Pfft! I ain’t goin’ anywhere on Earth but America,” Bob said, clenching a fist at me. “And, well… What the hell America called now?”
“It was that acronym, but… Hard enough to keep up on the latest when you’re in the loop. Which I haven’t exactly been, in case you haven’t noticed. I’ve been more…”
“Loopy?” He extended his hand to me, palm up. It was then I noticed that handing him mooched cigars had become a subconscious act, as it had way back when. “Do you miss Earth?”
“Yes. And no.”
I think I spent close to an Earth month on the Place That Should Not Be with Tripeman. Eventually he succeeded in fixing Suzy. It was tough deciding whether to leave with him or stay and starve to death on 61636-788949X.
I typed up a rudimentary will on my device as Tripeman warmed up the ion drives. He blabbed on and on about the six-legged Zzurkwins and their mysterious intoxicating beverages. He told me of the tobacco they smoked, which tasted fruity. The “going away bribe” theory was seeming more plausible all the time.
Bob strapped a vibrating device over his thorax and shouted a series of unintelligible buzzes, clicks and hisses into the microphone. Suzy obeyed. He’d never passed an English class in his life, yet somehow he’d learned adequate .
The interstellar banana sputtered, smoked and somehow rose into the air. The noise gave me a headache within minutes, though I was relieved that I couldn’t hear Bob’s relentless babbling.
The din lessened when we entered space, weaving our way through its expanse. I was pondering a nice way to terminate Bob if this space jalopy were to die. I didn’t imagine there were an interstellar service station nearby and I didn’t have credit for him to cadge, anyway.
“Where do you plan to get fuel for this baby?
“I don’t. This hummer runs on indigenous propellants.”
I was amazed he could pronounce such big words. “By the way, how did you end up with Zzurkwins? You might as well tell me—get it off your fat chest.” I realized I must be upon the outer limits of boredom. Why else would I ask Tripeman to spin an exaggerated tale?
“I’m a little sick of your attitude. I’ve saved your life twice now, so I’d appreciate a little respect
Sorry—really, truly sorry from the bottom of my balls. I’m not in the greatest mood. Being lost in space like this, never to have sex again and all. Just c’mon and tell me—I’ll tell you story. And I’ll admit you saved my life. But only this time.”
“Alright, but I saved your life on Earth, too—you would’ve frozen to death—whether you admit it or not.” He stretched, straightening his flannel shirt and taking a deep breath to prepare for the ejaculation of hot air. “I was a mechanic aboard a government vessel. One day, some jerk ejected me in a lifepod…”
“Was he a smoker?”
“Yeah. He was always complaining and… Why’d you ask that?”
I grinned. “Never mind.” I was once again becoming intoxicated and I directed my smoky exhalations toward his face.
“Where do you plan on taking us?” I asked. “I’ll take the risk of getting caught, if you’re ready to stop playing Buck Rogers and head to the Sun System again. They couldn’t send me up the river for long, could they?”
“I can’t do that. I saw Dubin sign the papers. Officially, I’ve gone A.W.O.L. My word won’t mean Pluto against a major’s.”
“So we’re lost in space.”
I had never felt so hopeless. I wished I could somehow buy a ticket into hell over a lifetime lost with Tripeman as my sole company.
“Anyway, my pod was picked up by the Zzurkwins. The Zzurkwins are good people…or good creatures, I guess you’d say. They said they could vivisect me and totally change my appearance. If we go back to their base in the asteroid belt—which is not too far from here—maybe they can fix you, too.”
“Face the truth, for once! You annoyed them with such perfection that they gave up a ship to get rid of you, so they could avoid offending another ‘intelligent’ race! They may lose patience and destroy us both if we go there—and I must admit, I can’t really blame them.
“Even if they possibly tolerate you any further, do you expect aliens to be experts in plastic surgery? You’re the only human example they’ve seen, I presume.” This was the first good reason for genocide I could imagine. “Maybe got nothing to lose, but I don’t like the idea. I’ll turn myself in. I’ll do public service. I’ll spy on the Martian Mafia. I’ll… Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!”
I snapped. I threw up my arms and ran full-kilter across Cruizy Suzy. My vision was double and I occasionally ran into a wall, but I was determined to find an escape pod.
When I came to my senses—or at least as close to them as I get—I decided that I was lost and exhausted. I took a thinking posture.
Face down on the floor.
Once again, I awoke to view that ugly face smoking cigars. I was wearing a six-armed straightjacket, with my legs stuck in two of the arms and the other two wrapped about my face and gagging my mouth. I could only watch Tripeman leading us to our doom.
“Listen here, wacko—I’m in control and I’m goin’ back to my Zzurkwin friends. They patrol this vector…or one close!”
He reviewed the woodpile incident repeatedly, each time exaggerating it more. The trail of cigars was now a mile long and the ground car was smashed like an accordion.
I made a hell of a lot of noise, but it only increased his amusement.
“You’ve flipped, guy. Maybe the Zzurkwins can give you a lobotomy or something. Hey…we should be in radio range.”
Super Mooch began blabbing into the mike. In a few minutes, Zzurkwin voices came over the speakers. I don’t know what they said, but the intonation didn’t sound chummy. Tripeman’s jaw dropped.
He screamed into the receiver. The craft became painstakingly noisy again and we were spinning in circles. Bob’s safety belt snapped. He fell to the floor and rolled down the hall as laser fire rocked Suzy.
I rolled down an opposite hall. As I spun around, I caught fleeting glimpses of a fire ahead. I received a few serious scorches, but was at least freed of the straightjacket.
It was an emergency, so I broke the glass and brandished the heaviest ax I’d ever seen.
My pacifistic self returned when I saw the miserable oaf at the controls. We were accelerating, most likely to jump speed, when we were hit again. The lights went out.
This time I managed to grab a door handle. Suzy slowed. I heard Bob cussing as the engines sputtered uselessly.
I heard an airlock open and saw laser lights held by human-sized preying mantises. .
Their carapaces had a greenish-blue tint. How else can I describe them? Giant grasshoppers. I did notice that their eyes were of different colors and their movements were human-like. Yet the insect-like quality proffered them a repulsive first impression. They clicked as they moved and hearing the amplified marching of six-footed creatures was certainly disconcerting.
Tripeman took off. I followed.
I had no idea where I was running in the darkness. I followed the glowing tip of Bob’s cigar. I was amazed at how fast he could move that gut in an emergency.
“Give up, you schmo! At least try reasoning with them…maybe they’ll take beer or stogs!” I pleaded.
“No way! It’s escape pod time! They’re armed!”
“Just how did you manage to piss them off this much?”
“They’re not very generous, just put it that way. Oh shit!”
We had reached a point on the ship where I was nearly flame-broiled earlier.
“Now what, maestro?”
“Here, take a laser. Don’t poke your head around the corner and maybe we can blast ’em all when they enter the hall.”
Soon the Zzurkwins’ lights revealed it for me. They filed into the hall like the fools Tripeman made them out to be.
I fired. Bob fired. The Zzurkwins fired back.
I saw two Zzurkwins go down, their legs collapsing. I cranked my laser setting up and aimed, as Bob brought another down.
I felt the heat of lasers passing close to my flash. Tripeman was thrown to the wall as a beam glanced his belly.
I cranked the laser to its limit and so did Bob. The Zzurkwins were about 10 yards away… We backtracked and pumped the triggers, shutting our eyes and hoping for the best.
Our volley brought at least six of them down, but three of the despicable bugs remained. One blasted Tripeman in the leg and Bob went down as his shot broasted another. I kicked one in the head, knocking him down before landing the full power of my leg upon its face—smashing it open on the blue floor.
I took potshots at the remaining assaulter as it ambled, heavily wounded, down the hall.
Bob ran to finish off any stragglers, not noticing that I wasn’t following. I saw something resembling a radio on a Zzurkwin belt and that was all I cared about.
I grabbed a laser light from the fallen foe and sealed myself into a generator room with the radio. I tuned the thing until I heard German voices.
“No sprechensie Deutch! English! English!
¶More babbling occurred for a while, then, “German-Martian frigate number 73226; name your craft and location.”
“I have no idea as to either. Listen, you can’t be far…the transmission’s not taking too long. I’m near an asteroid belt, in a system with a Venus-sized ice planet and we’re in a banana-shaped craft, which is probably still smoldering. My name’s Floyd Pinkerton. I’m wanted by the Sun System Sheriff—but it was all a misunderstanding. I was, er…threatened into doing some things by pirates and… Hello?”
I thought I lost them until, after nearly 10 minutes, the radio spoke again.
“Sergeant Schutt, Pinkerton. We’ve found your location. Where’s the Blue Maiden?”
“I have no coordinates, but I do know where it is. Listen, please be quick. This is an alien craft we’re in now…”
“Yeah, right.” I heard raucous laughter in the background. “Whaddaya mean by ?”
“Me and this Tripeman guy…”
Then, minutes later—“Listen, Pinkerton. You’re in deep, but you can get off a lot easier if you make sure Tripeman doesn’t get to an escape pod.”
It was then I noticed an ungainly form skulking in the corner of the room.
“This is what I get for saving you? First I saved your life on Earth and now I give you the only chance to get back to society.”
“You’ve been more than paid back in cigars and booze.”
“Pinkerton? Pinkerton, are you still there?” the radio buzzed.
“I’m working on sabotaging the pods. Over.”
I almost felt sorry for Bob. I waited for his tears—which never came. He just walked past the dying fire to the front of the ship. He stopped to mumble into the ship-controller mike, tipping me off to the fact that we had floated into an asteroid belt. (Thus we had cover, if we wanted it, since we couldn’t outrun anyone—Suzy could only chug a couple of hundred miles an hour and we certainly didn’t have time and space to work up a jump.) He raided my supplies and sat in his captain’s chair. Three cigars hung from his lips and an open beer was in each hand.
“Bob… How much did you hear? I didn’t to turn you in. I lied about the pods, sure, but that could get me a shorter sentence. You’d do the same thing in my position. Sorry, but there’s nothing else I can do.”
“You didn’t even negotiate with them? Geez, Floyd, how could you be so cruel?”
I almost hugged him and sobbed along. I couldn’t stand to see anyone so glum. Even a sponge like him. His eyes glistened hopelessly in the laser twilight.
“Damnit, Bob. I feel bad doing this to you. I know I shouldn’t feel bad, but I do.”¶¶“A lot of good that does me.”
“Bob!” I said, pointing at the control screen. “Get the Zzurkwin craft on!”
He only hung his head.
“Bob! Neither one of us has to go to jail! Now listen to me and put the craft on the screen!”
The color came back to Bob’s face. He spoke tongues into the mike again.¶¶A greenish banana filled the screen. It was nearing Suzy.
“Phallic buggers, ain’t they?” I observed.
“If you were that well hung, you’d advertise, too.”
“Well, aren’t you gonna blast ’em?”
Bob’s head whipped around. “Whadareya, nuts?”
“Blast or be blasted. They’re not expecting it now. If they don’t hear from their French-fried friends soon, they’ll make a minor nebula out of Cruzy Suzy.”
Tripeman cracked his knuckles and croaked some terrible sounding syllables into the computer. Suzy kicked backward as a beam blackened the Zzurkwin craft.
He repeated the commands. Another hit to the Zzurkwins. Smoke was coming from their craft. Bob opened his mouth again, but before the sounds came Suzy was grazed with another shot.
I fell against the wall, but Bob clung to his seat. He screamed into the mike again and again as I watched the Zzurkwin craft fall, bit by bit, into confetti.
“I didn’t think so, but we weren’t overcome with options.”
“Neither did I—but it worked, so now it’s a good idea,” Bob said. It might’ve been the wisest thing he’d ever said. He delved into our supplies and fed his vices. “Now what?”
“Are you there, Pinkerton?” a German accent boomed from the panel. “Pinkerton? Tripeman? We’ve got your ship in sight.”
“Well Bob. Now that you’re warmed up…”
Shoot them, too?” he whined. A few commands brought the German craft onto the screen. It made Suzy look like a shuttle with squirt guns. “It’s over.”
He had a point there.
I did one…two…three shots of vodka.
“Man oh man oh man oh man,” I said. “We were just beginning to have some fun.”
“Pinkerton? Tripeman? Please respond.”
“Bob? Can you launch escape pods from here?”
He spouted more Zzurkwin.
He obliged. The German craft veered its course toward the pods.
We both cheered, then stared at each other, silently asking, “Now what?”
“We’ve gotta do something!” Bob said
“Let’s hit the escape pods. There’s a chance we’ll lose ’em and be able to park on an asteroid.”
We landed on the biggest asteroid in the belt. Figuring, correctly, it would have some gravity of its own. Happenstance was on our side in a number of other ways, too—we felt we had a little coming to us, after all—including that the ’roid’s orbit appeared to keep one side continually facing the system’s star, ensuring some warmth. That side was also conveniently the most level and thus landing-friendly.
“This is one of the nicer pods I’ve seen,” Spongey said, assessing the pod’s capabilities while I sought to catch any kind of transmission via its radio. “Plenty of fuel left…air-regeneration capability, so we could have, oh, months? So we got time, especially since we were able to stuff all of our rations in its storage…”
“Hey! I thought we agreed that…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah… Hey. Did you walk around out there when I was sleeping?”
“Oh, sure. Top priority, goofing around,” Bob said, cracking another brew. “Had to plant an American flag on this sucker! Carry around those conquering bastards’ militant flags for just such occasions! Whatever they call themselves.”
“Crescent Jihad’s what they call themselves. But it’s hard to call them ‘conquering’ when all they had to do was parade in, with everyone on their smart devices.”
“It was the SBCs that did us in.”
“You’re one of the lucky ones. You didn’t need a Smart Brain Chip to be a zombie!”
“ a zombie? You’re the one who couldn’t follow a simple road without hitting a ditch! Lighter?”
I passed him the everflame. “Instead of brains, you’re victimizing others for their smokes and beer!”
“Victimizing? I saved your life now and…”
“! And I saved you from the Zzurkwins, so we’re even.”
“! Remember the trail of cigars?” He pushed my chest, hard, with one of his stubby, sausage-like fingers. “And I held my own against the bugs!”
“Yeah, you’re a real Buck Rogers, winded after opening a beer!” I punched him in the arm. “And it was maybe, what, three, four cigars and…”
“A big long, winding trail…” He began shaking the hell out of an unopened beer.
“Aw, c’mon! It was… Shut up. You’re digressing. In fact, you’re one big digression. Very big, I might add, because…”
“Oh yeah!” He was pointing the shaken beer at my head.
“You really wanna waste a beer that way?”
That sent him into a rare moment of deep thought. Not enough to lower the can, though.
“Bob! I asked if you’d been out there because… Look. There are boot prints.”
We followed to prints to a door in the ground. It took both of our efforts to open the damned thing—gravity made it light, but we had to be painstakingly careful not to go sailing off and testing the limits of the ’roid’s gravitational pull.
We then peered into a tunnel going straight down, far enough that we couldn’t see its end.
“You go first,” Bob said.
“Why me? Does it really matter? We’re tethered together, anyway. Reeks like hell in this suit. Just had to start a beer fight, didn’t you?”
“I’m mostly dry already. You must have a defective suit.”
“I’m dry. Just stinks. You wouldn’t know. Your nose is used to smelling yourself.”
He pushed me into the tunnel.
I floated downward, or what you’d call “downward” on a low-gravity asteroid, soon pulling Bob with me. I yanked the tether, then he shot “below” me…then he yanked and I shot below him… We crashed landed, tangled-up together, into some sort of…control panel?
We grabbed onto the panel, straightened up, got our bearings and began untangling the tether when…
“Holy shit!” we said, in unison.
We’d reached another side of the asteroid, largely built of some undoubtedly super thick glass. It was as if we were looking through the picture window of a large spacecraft. The system’s sun illuminated a breathtaking view of the asteroid belt and a gas planet neighbor.
“You know what this is?” Tripeman said. “This is an observatory! These controls work telescopes!”
He putzed around a bit, soon evidently turning on something. A monitor screen emerged in the center of the wall of glass, showing our other planetary neighbor.
“Hey! That one looks Earth-like,” I said. “Oceans and all. Can you get any readings through that control panel?”
“How the hell do I know? I’ve been at this a whole 30 seconds! But look! There are satellites circling that fucker! And… Damn. Some of the writing on the panel here looks…Zzurkwin?”
“Zoom in! Zoom in!”
As he did just that, we could make out a craft near one of the larger satellites. A banana-shaped craft.
“Oh balls,” said Mr. Erudite. “The Zzurkwin home planet?”
“Probably wouldn’t get a hero’s welcome there, Tubby. But that thing’s gotta be a lot bigger than Earth because that moon…no, the other one! looks Earth-like, too, and it has oceans and it has…”
“A satellite itself!”
“So, the bugs have their own planet and a moon?”
“I’m guessing some other race lives on the moon.” I pointed to a diagram I found amid the control panels, identifying each planet and moon, complete with photographic identifiers by each. The large planet was indeed represented with a Zzurkwin pic. Its Earth-like moon’s by…a human freaking being.
“Wait a minute,” Bob said, taking a gulp of beer through his PCAH (Personal Consumption Airlock Helmet). “How the hell are there people ? We’re missing a few pieces of the puzzle.”
“Gee, ya’ think so?”
“So what is it, a prison planet or something?”
“Whatever the hell it is, it seems habitable and the better of our two choices.”
“Oh no. That’s awfully close to a whole lotta Zzurkins… Wait! These controls work some other telescopes… Look! Here’s another planet that looks habitable!” Bob chugged what was almost a whole beer to begin with, opened another, and downed the better of that one, too.
The PCAH really is a wonder. Hold down a button, and the plastiglass face shield opens just enough to allow access for your can, bottle, what have you—as well as your fingers, hand and/or wrist—maintaining a perfect seal throughout your imbibing, smoking, what have you.
“Obviously a remote feed, doofus. We’re not gonna reach a sun system in a freakin’ escape pod!”
“Well, maybe this is one of those areas with star systems bunched closer together. C’mon! That thing looks really -like!”
“That system can’t be close.”
“It’s a long shot, sure. But how the hell do know?”
“Well, Bob. For some reason, somebody, or something, left that remote telescope viewing Earth itself!”
“That jussst be Earth,” Bob said, now slurring his words. “It just looks a lot like it. (Hic.) Sho does that other planet, and itssh moon.”
“Look at the shape of those continents, dude. We’ve been over this… Not to mention it makes perfect sense. This must be a Zzurkin observatory ’roid, right? They obviously know about us humans—good Elvis, they have a moon full of us… Why they train a remote telescope on the human home planet?”
“I can’t believe Earth became so hell-ish… Mass shtarv…(hic) mass starvation, a body on practically any open patch of land… The U.S. had the right idea, walling off and forsh…force-fielding itself off from the rest…”
“Well, Bob, that’s what happens when you stuff 30-plus billion people on a finite body. And the Crescent Jihad took down those walls, just like they did the Great Wall of China—again, we’ve been over this, Stinko Boy. That’s how we figured out that the Earth feed is real-time, or close to it… Now stand-up! Let’s get to the pod. We don’t wanna be found here.”
“Ohhh, man,” Tripeman said, rising to his feet. “We gotta go to that stupid moon, don’t we?”
“Yeah, again, again…no way around it. Sure you don’t want a shot?”
“No, no. I stick to beer. Hard stuff made a crock.”
“Now, shut everything off. Let’s leave all this as we found it, or as best as we can remember.”
Everything was soon back in its previous order. We just had to bound back up to the surface and the pod. The only screen still on showed the Earth feed. Bob lingered, staring at it. “Seems we should… Say or prayer for Earth, or something, before we go?”
“Oh, now you’ve found religion? Let’s just go…”
I found myself zone out for a bit, staring at Earth. I was about to turn the damn feed off and corral Tripeman to the tunnel when…
“I’ll take a shot now,” Bob said.
…Mother Earth exploded, before our very eyes, into a gajillion pieces.
Thank you for reading my book. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to give it a review at your favorite retailer. And tell your friends, family, lovers and even strangers! It’s bad enough being cursed to be a writer—being stuck doing most of the publicity and marketing in this Tech Age is far worse! Every bit helps!
John “Sloop” Biederman
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John “Sloop” Biederman, from Ringwood, Ill., began writing in grade school (1970s), becoming award-winning humor columnist/editor of his high school/college newspapers. He moved to Chicago in 1991, sold his first work to Gauntlet in 1993 and wrote his first novel after a negative experience with alcohol rehab. (.) Sloop graduated (journalism) from Columbia College Chicago in 1997, interning at MAD Magazine and performing paid poetry gigs, spurring his DailyLimerick.net (1999-present). He became editor of Chicago Artists’ News, married (since divorced) and moved to Los Angeles for a year, working for the L.A. Daily News and performing (Laugh Factory, etc.).
As the Internet cut into his freelance (Chicago Tribune, MAD, etc.), Sloop translated stage experience into performing/acting work (TV, ads, films), now regularly playing an Untouchable Tours gangster. After his parents’ deaths (2012 and 2014), he returned novels with his Floyd Pinkerton character.
DISCOVER OTHER TITLES BY JOHN SLOOP BIEDERMAN
The Complete Daily Limerick (1999-2000)
Hab: The Other Side of Rehab
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The story opens in the year 2091 with hard drinking, cigar smoking Floyd Pinkerton spiraling out of control in an unknown planetâ€™s atmosphere. Through flashbacks, readers learn that Floyd stole the craft (the Blue Maiden) from his employer on Jupiterâ€™s moon, Ganymede--running away from a broken relationship and unsatisfying life. Tailed by the Sun System Sheriff, he hurriedly executes a â€œjumpâ€ through space (using astrogation to travel large distances) and lands smack into the Place That Should Not Beâ€™s (his name for the planet) atmosphere. The Maiden crashes to the surface. Heâ€™s unable to budge the craft and, not mechanically inclined, thus stuck. Fully loaded for weeks with rations, booze and stogies, for a while he drinks, engages in shenanigans and wallows in his fate before turning on a distress beacon (praying to not attract â€œauthority typesâ€) and, via ship computers, assessing the planet outside--a low-gravity ice world. He finally ventures out to explore after hearing a large â€œcrash,â€ his suit outfitted with a PCAH (Personal Consumption Airlock Helmet, allowing one to drink, smoke, etc.). He finds that another craft has crashed to the surface, an alien-looking, banana-shaped model. Could he be the first human to encounter alien life?... Turns out the craft was piloted by an old Earth nemesis of his, Bob Tripeman, who claims he obtained it from an insect-like alien race, the Zzurkwins, which Floyd highly doubts. Deciding that â€œCruizy Suzyâ€ (Bobâ€™s name for the banana-shaped ship) is the only one fixable, Bob gets to work, mooching booze and smokes while taking his sweet time and continually rehashing/exaggerating an Earth-based event back in high school where Bob â€œsavedâ€ Floydâ€™s life. (Floyd crashed a ground car into a snowy ditch and was stuck. Walking to find help, Bob picked him up and proceeded, for weeks, to milk his â€œsavingâ€ Floyd by mooching booze, smokes and more.) They also share general memories of their childhoods on Earth, now an overpopulated world wherein America has been overtaken by the Crescent Jihad, a militant Islamic group that simply walked in and conquered, with most U.S. citizen zombified by smart devices and even Smart Brain Chips (SBCs). Eventually, they launch Suzy back into space, where they are soon attacked by Zzurkwins, who actually board, wanting their craft back (Bobâ€™s explanation of the turn of events is suspect and short on details). Whatâ€™s more, Tri-World authorities (Earth, Luna and Mars, the Sun System bodies with appreciable human colonization) make radio contact, wanting them both to turn themselves in! Floyd and Bob attempt to lose their pursuers by piloting an escape pod (large enough to hold most of their supplies) into a nearby asteroid belt, landing upon a large â€™roid that happens to house an observatory. Via computers controlling multiple telescopes, they discern the Zzurkwin home planet nearby within the system along with, having little choice, their next destination, a habitable moon of the Zzurkwinsâ€™ world curiously populated byâ€¦human beings? Just before embarking upon this next leg of their on-the-lam vacation, they stumble upon a remote, real-time feed of a familiar planet--and witness a rather dire fate for their beloved Mother Earth! This book serves as a prelude to a novel series, The Cosmic Misadventures of Floyd Pinkerton, Space Crock.