This is a work of fiction. In fact it is story number two from my Saturday Stories Project Challenge, an effort to write a new, original [largely unedited and uncensored] short story once per week for… a while, hopefully. It is not deliberately rough, but due to time constraints it is merely what it is.
In “That Time When Larry Smashed the Shatterproof Pirates” we delve into the world of awkward space opera fiction, in a slightly-comedic, slightly-offbeat fish-out-of-water story of Larry, white-collar call-centre-agent turned reluctant space adventurer when it turns out his long-time-friend surprises him with the knowledge that they are not both from the same planet after all. It’s just too bad that his friend up and gets murdered and leaves Larry to face the perils of space roguery on his own.
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Episode 5… Or, That Time When Larry Smashed the Shatterproof Pirates
From the Further Adventures of Larry Stark: Reluctant Space Adventurer
It had been nearly three months since Larry had come into possession of the LagAbout, the surfboard-shaped intergalactic temporal star cruiser that had once belonged to his friend –is that the right word for someone who lies and deceives you for six years and then turns out to be a time-travelling alien super-being?– Gulfric. Three long months of strange and life-threatening encounters. Three stressful months of mopping up the mess (figurative AND literal) left behind when Gulfric –who had made more than his fair share of enemies in his (apparently) centuries of dawdling uselessly about the universe, oh and did Larry have stories to share on that measure– that Gulfric had died, horribly and messily splattered around the innards of the LagAbout‘s sole lavatory. Gulfric had died no less than fifteen minutes after revealing –as if it was some amazing and mind-boggling achievement, with great show and a kind of dramatic effect that had pretty much fallen flat on a confused Larry– that he was, in fact, not human.
“I’m going to show you something really cool… but I’ve gotta take a leak first.” Had been Gulfric’s last words, as he had queued some command into the navigation panel and unbuckled his harness to float off to meet his fate in a cramped toilet stall.
Gulfric had, by sheer luck, managed to flush his hiding assassin into space, but not before taking a plaster-mine to the face and losing his head in the deal. Larry discovered the mess when he went finally got over the shock and confusion of suddenly finding himself in space and on an alien star cruiser and worked up enough nerve to investigate the ship-shuddering explosion that had echoed through the cavernous vehicle. By then his own fate had been sealed, however, the LagAbout cruising at FasterThanTime speed away from Earth and everything else in its vicinity that Larry was a much bit more certain about than being a spaceship stowaway on a pilot-less ship.
That had been three months ago.
And by Larry’s count today would have been a Monday. Larry had fallen victim to classic Earthman cliché and found himself hating Mondays. Why? Because even in deep space, lost in time, and with no point of reference by which to compare, Mondays just felt much more bothersome than the rest of the week.
Though of course Larry wasn’t alone in deep space. He was certainly not desolately adrift nor hating Mondays in a solitary vacuum of nothingness, at least not without a measurable share of companionship. Though it was not a flavour of companionship he particularly welcomed. Gulfric had checked out early from their intergalactic adventure, sure, but that didn’t mean that the ship itself wasn’t stuffed-to-overflowing with his late-friend’s many tag-alongs. True, it was partly that none of those assorted pets and machines of varying size, amicability and intelligence were of much use in helping him pilot the ship, or in any way assist in getting Larry back to where he wanted to be, which was home. But it was also that many were openly hostile or just plain annoying.
Take the ship personality itself as an example. SOGI (which Larry learned stood for the Star-crusier On-board Genuine Interface) was the LagAbout‘s hyper-spacial quantum brain-core and built-in database of the hundreds of thousands of cultures, millions of alien languages, and directory of the billions of the best barbecue restaurants in the whole of the known galaxy. He also seemed very disinclined to help Larry go anywhere but in the direction of the Earth.
There was everyone else in the galaxy, too. Space, it turned out, was much more crowded than he’d been led to believe while still living back on Earth, blissfully unaware of oh-so-many confusing and frustrating space-type facts. Additionally, it turned out that many, if not all, of the universe’s less-than-savoury inhabitants had a less-than-favourable opinion of his late pal, Gulfric. With that opinion seemed coupled a deep inclination to hunt down, track, imprison, hurt, or otherwise dispose of both Gulfric and his ship. So, it was not in Larry’s favour, then, that word had yet to reach much of this intergalactic community that Gulfric was already very firmly dead and that Larry –alone in his ship– was starting to see the brilliance of the galaxy’s opinion of his friend.
“Excuse me, little human dude.” SOGI interrupted the otherwise-routine hum of the LagAbout‘s engines. “But we appear to have some kind of small ship attempting to hide in our neutrino wake. It is an interesting factoid that under normal conditions just such a ruse would very likely work. Sad, huh?” SOGI paused for effect. “Sad? Ahh… well, anyhow… You, little human dude, are in luck. It is most fortuitously in your favour that our late, mutual friend Gulfric happened to have rigged the sensor array to scope out just such an offensive action on our backside.”
“Great.” Larry sighed, and shook his head in exasperation and mumbling in whiny-voiced frustration to himself in that way to which he’d become all-to-accustomed as of late. “Here we go again. Who is it this time? The Yversi Mafia looking to take another shot at us? Or maybe another round with the Troum High Council looking to collect another obscure and unpaid gambling tax bill?”
“Nah, dude.” SOGI answered, the computer’s voice was relaxed and as evenly paced as usual, though perhaps a wee bit disappointed. “It’s just some pirates. Harsh, huh?”
“What?!” Larry exclaimed and flustered. He blinked, staring at the unchanged viewport in front of him, the blackness of space in his window giving no indication of their silent movement through space and time, nor of the shadowed threat lurking behind them. He finally regained a bit of his composure and muttered. “Shouldn’t we… do… something?”
“Ah… well, sure. I suppose we could do something about it.” SOGI quipped. “But I’m am not really an ideas kinda guy, y’know. So… uh, yeah? What would you like to try?”
“Can’t we speed up? Or change our course? Anything… what exactly is it that spaceships do to get away from pirates?”
“So, like, we’re already going our maximum velocity, little dude.” SOGI stated flatly. Larry couldn’t quite tell if the computer was be patronizing or apologetic. “And I will gladly change course, but… and I’m not trying to harsh on your opinions here, bud… I don’t think it will assist in resolving this whole pirate situation.”
Larry sighed again. It was a heavy, deep and frustrated sigh that had become his signature over the last three months. He brushed his unkempt hair away from his face with both hands before gripping the armrests of the LagAbout‘s command chair. Larry took one more deep sigh and with great effort attempted to draw into his voice something resembling authority over the situation. He nodded slowly and asked aloud. “Why are they following us? Do we have something they want, maybe?”
A pause. “Don’t know, dude.” SOGI said after a moment. “But they’re pirates. They probably want to pillage the ship.”
“But…” Larry shook his head again, nearly losing the little composure he’d managed to retain. “I mean… do you recognize them? Are they pirates you’ve encountered in the past? Are they random thugs… out to do pirate-type things? Or did Gulfric happen do something to make them want to attack us… specifically us?”
“Uh…. probably?” The computer hesitated and for a brief glimmer of a moment sounded almost uncertain. “Let’s go with a yes on that part about specifically us, little human dude, and assume that they are actively hostile towards Gulfric. Ah, not that it matters either way, I think.”
“Right. Okay then. Can we fire the guns?” Larry asked.
“That’s a great big neg-a-tive-ino, dude.” SOGI replied. “Not at this speed.”
“Useful.” Larry muttered under his breath as he scanned the LagAbout‘s cockpit for something… anything. The complicated control panel was surprisingly filled with buttons, or at least that had been Larry’s first impression of the space cruiser when he’d first entered into it and took a seat those three months ago. He boarded the ship, followed Gulfric aboard through the docking hatch, a grinning face on the bottom of the ship who’s mouth opened wide to swallow them up and admit them passage to the ship and into the galley. And upon climbing into the cockpit he’d expected gleaming touch-sensitive controls, with voice activated systems, and amazing science-fiction-like technologies. Instead, the dash was cluttered with knobs, levers and sturdy-looking banks of switches that made modern Earth airplanes look like futuristic technological marvels. And that was after he’d cleaned away the heaps of crumpled candy wrappers and empty take-out food containers that the deceased Gulfric had left behind.
Then for a while he said nothing. Larry, it so happened, was neither particularly creative nor strategically motivated. He sat in the cockpit for a long time then, listening to the nearly imperceptible hum of the engines.
“Dude?” SOGI queried after a time, breaking the silence.
“Uh… yeah, yeah.” His voice was deflated. “I don’t know what…”
“No, dude.” The computer interrupted. “Our pirate pals seem to be making a move to intercept the LagAbout. They’ve moved out of our illusion wake and are now lit up on my sensors like a Gidex Carnival.”
“Uh…. I don’t know what that is. But what does it mean?”
“Oh, it means that they are most definitely pirates. Shatter Pirates, in fact… if I may add that minor detail. And now that I consider things a bit more carefully it does, in a most mellow and elegant way little human dude, explain how they are able to be following us so closely. Y’know… because we have such awesome engines.” If SOGI could convey emotions in his voice, Larry would have supposed he’d be grinning from ear to ear at this moment, beaming with a kind of awkward pride at this revelation.
In fact, whenever the ship’s computer spoke about it’s engines –the mysterious Shadow Drive– pride seemed to bubble out of its programming in ridiculous abundance, and despite Larry’s complete indifference to the engineering properties of the star cruiser he’d occasionally feigned interest as SOGI bragged up the technology. After all, it passed the time in the long, quiet hours between the much more heart-stopping moments of space adventuring that usually included fleeing for his life. The engines were not unique, but the technology was –as Larry understood, at least– very expensive and not exactly legal. Not legal? Not legal in the sense that it was stolen. Stolen? Stolen in the sense that it belonged to someone else. And, if Larry recalled through the boredom-numbed memories of long-faded conversations on the topic, the ‘someone else’ in question had been either (a) a certain ruthless and vicious military flotilla under the command of an equally ruthless and vicious wandering monarch, The Displaced King… or (b) the kinds of pirates who would take on said king and steal for themselves the engines of just such a military flotilla. “Shatter Pirates?!” Larry stuttered as the memory found purchase in the active bits of his mind that had not been blurred by frustration.
“Bad news, am I right little dude?” SOGI cooed. “Most definitely Shatter Pirates. Likely the very narcs from whom we so awesomely swiped our Shadow Drive a few years ago.”
“So… we’re screwed then? Utterly and completely screwed.” Larry leaned back in his chair, flopping into the plush seat and relaxing in a way that only complete desperation and utter lack of hope makes possible. It’s not that he had enjoyed his time flitting through space and fighting –or fleeing– for his very life, but a part of him had hoped that he’d survive long enough to go home, back to Earth, sit down at his desk in his safe and completely mundane office, and with a coffee in hand look across the sea of his coworker’s cubicles and know –deep down, and with a kind of post-adventure satisfaction, know– that there was more to life than answering phones and mundane customer support work. But now? Now he was about to be –what?– captured, executed, blasted into oblivion, by a faceless band of angry space pirates.
Larry eyed the shiny bronze knobs and lever that controlled the Shadow Drive. He didn’t exactly understand what they did, how they worked, or in what ways they manipulated the… what was it again that enabled FasterThanTime speed travel anyhow? SOGI had said something about skimming along the illusion wake created by non-informational-state shadows… it was all gibberish to him. “I’m done.” He suddenly announced. “Forget it. I’m not running. I’m not going to do this for the rest of my life. Running away from jilted space gangsters and hiding forever-and-a-day from vengeful time-traveling pirates. I’m done. DONE!”
“Maybe they’ll let me off easy if I just play dumb.” And as he said that, Larry reached up to the control board and took hold of the lever, the one that he was fairly certain controlled velocity –or was it temporal acceleration?– and pulled down.
SOGI, in all his quantum-computing brain speed and power had only enough time to squeal an objecting half-shout of “Duuuuuu…” before everything blurred into a spectrum of light and colour, and a sharp, nearly-unbearable pain stabbed through Larry’s brain. He passed out without even a fraction of a second to consider the implications of what he’d just done.
* * * *
Larry dreamed of coffee. Hot, steaming coffee in a sleeved paper cup, sweetened with a hint of sugar swirled but not stirred at the bottom of the same, the cup clenched loosely between his completely oh-so-satisfied fingers. In his dream he was sitting in a street-level cafe, looking out over the bustling urban work-a-day movement of hundreds of commuting humans –he remembered humans– as they lugged their shoulder bags, and thumbed through their phones, absently ignoring the innocence of their existences as they hurried off to work. He dreamed of coffee, the smell of it as he raised the cup to his lips, and…
When his vision cleared and the memories of everything –ah-shit– came flooding back Larry found that he was collapsed into the plush command chair of the LagAbout, the surfboard-shaped intergalactic temporal star cruiser where he’d spent the past three terrible, awful, painful months. He was looking directly out of the viewport.
“Dude?” SOGI repeated.
Cluttering the otherwise complete and total emptiness of space float a constellation of what seemed to be countless shards of glass, spinning and orbiting in a confused chaos of light and energy, in some the reflection of a grinning surfboard shaped space cruiser reflecting back at just the right angle to meet the eyes of an increasingly confused Larry.
“What happened?” The words fumbled from Larry’s mouth before he was completely sure he could understand the reply supposing that a logical one actually existed.
“Ah, well, apart from you slamming on my brakes without asking first? Not cool, little human dude.” SOGI scolded, his voice pitched in a clearly-patronizing, parentally-toned hush. “Not cool.”
“Where are the pirates?” Larry asked, ignoring the chastising computer.
“Not cool… but epic play, dude.” SOGI’s suddenly congratulatory. “Epic. How did you think of such a gnarly play? I don’t know how…”
“What happened?” Larry repeated.
“Ka-plow-eee!” SOGI chortled. “The pirates rear-ended the LagAbout when you slammed us down to zero velocity. A few nicks and scratches on our tail, nothing the bots can’t fix up, but the pirates are in pieces.”
Larry looked out the viewport again. A million –maybe more– little pieces of pirate ship spun helplessly in space, the shattered remains of the pursuant pirates. “Can I go home yet?” Larry muttered, letting out a giant sigh and massaging his temple with the tips of his fingers.
“Home, dude?” SOGI said. “Nah. This is cause for celebration. I know this really great barbecue place. Really awesome wings. The size of your whole head they are. Gulfric loved ’em. What do you say, huh?”
Larry said nothing. He just waved his hands in a whatever-gesture, unbuckled his harness and floated away to be alone.