Tag Archive: fantasy


Gorman Fowley approached the check-in counter with a wry, minor smile.  Too much time had gone by since he’d flown out of Evil International Airport.

The over-rouged, middle-aged brunette at the counter narrowed her eyes, accented with mint green eye shadow.  She gave a quirk of recognition with her mouth.  “Fowley.  Haven’t flown you out in a while.”  Her voice was a croaky instrument, like that of a toad from a sparse woodland.

Fowley plopped his luggage, a large rectangular item in dried-blood red, onto the scale.  “I’ve been missing it, Runa.  Sitting in my apartment thinking of all those destinations.”  Fowley had an unruly head of brown hair that poked out in varied directions and wore a crumpled, thrift store suit in a shade somewhere between light brown and salmon.  His face was leathery, with the over-tanned tone of a man who spent many idle days on corrupt beaches.

“The Lost Isle of the Decapitated Children,” Runa said wistfully.

“The Canyon of Sacrificial Goats.”

“Bloated Crone Mountain,” continued Runa, glancing toward the huge graphic poster on the wall.

“Archfiend Archipelago,” countered Fowley.

Runa put an abrupt end to the dreamy recitation.  “What your final destination?”  Her fingernails, bathed in dark pomegranate polish, were poised to strike the dusty keyboard.

“Imp Town,” said Fowley triumphantly.

Continued: http://bit.ly/15U8PAt

Here’s one of your favorite scenes from my novel ‘House of Prension’.  Follow the link for the complete novel:

Not Jabbs  (From ‘House of Prension’, Chapter 14)

Some bolder Jabbs showed themselves the next morning: they’d watched the foreigners with trepidation during the Fog Hour from the safety of rocky nooks.  As the Prensioners stirred, the Jabbs apprehensively continued a vigil.  Pinkface slyly noted their surveillance as he rose, quietly shifted into a sitting position and made traditional placating gestures.  Aulic pointed out the dried eggplant squares, making motions he hoped would be interpreted as an invitation to try a sample.

After long minutes of this face-off, a few Jabbs cautiously skittered forward, offering stock greeting phrases.  Despite their strange appearance, they were quite fluent in Mervan.  A broad-faced specimen, an apparent leader, skittered about at the group’s front staring at the newcomers with the same motionless gaze of the others.  Pinkface made a diplomatic overture.

“Jabbs, we come with peaceful intent, almost as if we are people who might want befriend you.”  He coughed uneasily.  “Although that is certainly not strictly necessary.”

            The lead Jabb moved his head from side to side, which involved moving his entire body since the parts were continuous, appraising the visitors.

“You are not Jabbs,” he said at last.  His voice had the characteristic Jabb squealing sound of rocks scraping against a metallic surface. 

            “No, of course we’re not Jabbs,” said the Elder impatiently.  “Do we look like Jabbs?”

            Aulic rested a calming hand on Pinkface’s arm.  “We’re from a different tribe.”

            “A different tribe of Jabbs?” asked the Jabb leader.

            “No, we’re from…”

            “A tribe of people across the desert,” inserted Pinkface.

            “Perhaps a long lost Jabb tribe that has changed in appearance and manner so much as to be an entirely strange looking group of beings . . .” the Jabb leader began.

            “No, we actually have nothing at all to do with Jabbs,” Pinkface insisted.

            “Then you should not be here,” the Jabb reasoned.

            “We’re visiting,” said Aulic, before Pinkface could make an insult.

            “I see.”  The leader folded two appendages.  “Do you plan to poke in Jabb tunnels, find a luscious one for your own?  Excavate grub worms, uninvited?”

            “Absolutely not,” Pinkface assured him.

            “Then we can relent in our vigilance.  We invite you for grubs.”

            “I should remind you we’re not Jabbs,” Pinkface repeated.  “I cannot make that point too strongly.  Your grubs may be an inappropriate nutrition form for us.”

            The Jabb kicked with his stubby legs, as though acknowledging the Elder.  “I have eyes in my head,” he said.

Arvin squinted.  “Is he being rude?” he whispered to Pinkface.

Pinkface spoke out of the side of his compressed mouth.  “Not at all.  It’s a Jabb trait to make remarks on utterly obvious subjects.  It’s a recurrent meditative practice, a way to maintain their attachment to reality.”

The Jabb went on, gesturing at the desert.  “The rocks are dry today.  Dry for everyone.” 

Pinkface winced.  The Jabb speech tones grated on his ears like the skull of a long-dead hum squirrel scraping repeatedly on a jagged granite escarpment. 

“We spread our appendages to welcome you.”  The Jabb wiggled his upper limbs and extended them, stepping closer to Pinkface.

            “That’s a wonderful gesture, but we must move on speedily . . .”

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Here’s the opening of my fantasy novel ‘House of Prension’.  You can read more at Scribd.com by following the link below.

A top review from Amazon.com wrote: 

“In this story a teenage boy of royalty is facing a maturity ritual and dealing with other royal protocol he is not really into while under the constant scrutiny of his older brother and throne heir. The author creates a whole new world with different classes of people and rituals. Yet with the style of writing the author makes everything so real, the reader has no problem imagining the world that has been created on the page. A lot of times in fantasy or Sci-Fi stories I tend to get lost at the beginning of the book, trying to figure out what’s what and who’s who in the author’s world. It usually takes me a few chapters to familiarize myself with the new world and its people. I didn’t have a problem at all following this author or keeping up with his imagination. Aulic is an interesting lead character and his life in Prension is intriguing. The author sets the stage for a wonderful novel sure to entertain and delight. In a few short pages I was deeply invested in the characters and story. The story flows smoothly and this is a book I would definitely buy.” — Amazon Top Reviewer

 

            Aulic Prension lay still on the courtyard bench against the backdrop of a peach-painted wall concentrating intently on thoughts of an obese waxen figure.  The figure was a pale white one, the unattractive white of sour milk, and around its base misshapen protuberances, small dried drippings and streams of wax, stood out in bumpy relief. 

The Grey Hour had settled in on Prension Town and the dwindling orange light was muted and meditative.  There was an anticipatory air before the lavish Autumn Girl dance set to begin in a few hours.  The moments before a dance were an odd time, perhaps, for a session of Dream Hand practice, but Corben Corsaire, the most respected Prension Dream Hand, was determined to squeeze in another session before Aulic’s Maturity Ritual.   

Even though he was intent on his teaching, Corben, an occasional painter with a remarkable eye for color, couldn’t help noticing that the tan-brown streaks in Aulic’s hair complemented the peach wall.  His concentrating face with its closed eyes was rendered especially striking by the distinct strip of scalp showing down the middle part of his hair.  It was an unusual but noble style, this scalp-strip, forbidden to all Prensioners except members of the royal family.  On Aulic, the strip worked unusually well, since his hair naturally had a center part.  On others, the strip was less felicitious.  His mother, Empress Landau, never looked quite right with it dividing her mounds of curling brown and blonde hair, and so she often favored an empresses’ headdress. 

“You must think of the Pudding Dinner Ghost legend.  That’s the kind of lumpishness and bumpy waxiness I’m imagining.”  Corben could keep the desired avatar firmly in mind even with his eyes open, a talent possessed in full only by the most masterful Dream Hands.  For Corben, it was as though the Pudding Dinner Ghost was vividly superimposed on the image of his pupil.

Under Corben’s tutelage, Aulic was attempting to envision this same waxwork.  If he summoned the Ghost to his mind in a full-fledged form, he’d be that much closer to mastering the creation of his own Dream Avatar. 

But Aulic found it difficult to focus on figure contemplation as dance tunes trickled from the windows of the ballroom where poko musicians were rehearsing.  The same dances were brought out each year to the Autumn Girl ball-goers’ predictable delight.  Though he tried to form the Ghost Corben had sculpted a few days before, Aulic’s attention was constantly drawn away by the interminable bolka rhythm.  Hearing the thudding of mallets on lizard skins, he could picture only the clicking of reveler’s shoes on the floor, the rhythmic signals of men’s extended arms, their festive finger clicks, and the circle of maidenly grins, moving in a blurry rotation. 

The annual ball extended back in time even before Dovan’s reign.  Girls would spend all summer anticipating the chance to demonstrate elegant heirloom gowns.  For centuries the ritual had endured, with the same bolkas and spanilles trotted out, the same baked mammals trussed up and smothered with sweetened fruit sauce, and the same spiced ciders and weed brews dispensed by poko attendants. 

            With such distractions rampant, Corben was not hopeful about the session’s outcome.  He knew Aulic possessed an agile mind and a memory attracted to facts and detail.  But his interest in dream arts was minimal and he was rarely engaged in creative tasks.  Corben felt his sensibility was analytical, one to cast an evaluating gaze over other’s creations.  It was not unusual for a Prension to be meditative, but few were so skeptical in their mindset.  Many courtiers found Aulic’s frequent acerbic comments unsettling, his spiked observations annoying, but Corben maintained an indulgent smile at his remarks.  Perhaps his mystical leanings, his devotion to the oft-disdained Dream Hand rites, encouraged him to empathize with the young rucklen.

Aulic perversely kept seeing an old emperor’s rigid face rather than Corben’s wax figure.  He was a Frissen Emperor Aulic had read of in the dense Brown Tomes that covered entire walls of the court library.  The emperor’s small, unattractive head came unbidden into his thoughts, its features pinched and squinted, his mouth ranting with ever increasing speed about insufficiently compliant neighbors on the Frissen borders.  Aulic recognized the head as that of Tor Molk, with his well-known nose appearing as small and squeezed as it was in the anecdotes, his eyes a drippy shade of moldy green and his hair plastered with sweat onto his short forehead.

Somehow this unpleasant head appeared of its own volition with a vividness Aulic never experienced with Corben’s inert figures.  With each effort he made to refocus, Molk’s visage grew denser and more insistent.   Just as the head’s jabbering reached a physically impossible rate, there was a clatter and intrusion of outside voices. 

A crowd had suddenly appeared in the courtyard.  A break had been called in the ball preparations and the toiling pokos and half-girls had quickly spilled outside, making dripping comments and laughing dull, half-girl laughs.  Concentration would be impossible with the crowd clustering in noisy batches.

“We should have gone to my wax hut!” Corben declaimed in frustration. 

 

Continue the chapter at the link below or buy on Kindle at Amazon!

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House of Prension on Kindle

“I’ve seen some small mummies in my day, but this Planet of the Miniature Mummies easily blows away all of my previous bandaged-corpse experiences,” intoned Anthropology Specialist Letitia Stone-Stone, looking over the sandy Ulgan Plain.

            Commander Hendricksen turned and narrowed his eyes, looking at Stone-Stone with the piercing, authoritative stare that had made him a favorite with the public speaking instructors at Space Academy.  “How small do you expect these mummies to be, Specialist?”

            Stone-Stone made a size indication with one hand, as though holding a small pebble between her thumb and forefinger.

            “That’s pretty small,” Hendricksen agreed.  He was trying to hide his immense bitterness, the nearly palpable rage boiling underneath his stolid, bronzed exterior, at being assigned to this childish mini-mummy mission, when his fellow commanders were taking on major, regular-sized assignments, like exploring the vast mammoth-inhabited ice-tundra of Velcron 6 or tracking down the insidiously obscure hideout of the marauding, bloodthirsty space pirate known only as Deathbeard.  “Tell me something, Specialist Stone-Stone.  Don’t you ever feel the urge to investigate a life-size mummy?”  Hendricksen couldn’t keep the sneer out of his voice as he gazed at the lithe and well-complected Stone-Stone and her thematically-appropriate mummy earrings.

            “These mummies are life-size, to themselves,” she responded with anthropological rectitude.  “Look!  A mummy has fallen into my trap!”

            Stone-Stone knelt down and extracted a test tube she had buried earlier that afternoon in the dry earth of the planet’s surface to form a miniature glass pit.  She held the tube up triumphantly to the eerie lime-green light of the Planet of the Miniature Mummies.  There could be no mistaking her success: at the bottom of the tube, bumping in repeated frustration against the glass walls in slow-brained bewilderment, was a mummy the size of a medium-length salted peanut.  It was covered in tiny, multi-layered mummy-like wrappings of faded beige gauze, with bandage bits hanging off of it in raggedy unravelings.  Peering through a miniscule space between two stripes of tiny head bandaging, Hendricksen could barely make out a pinprick pair of eerie, kumquat-orange mummy eyes. 

            “Ouch!” cried Hendricksen.

            Stone-Stone looked down at the Commander’s masculine, hairy and uncovered legs.  “I advised you not to wear shorts on The Planet of the Miniature Mummies,” she chided.  Hanging on to a lower portion of Hendricksen’s calf were two angry, remarkably tiny mummies, sinking their centuries-old teeth into his unprotected leg flesh. 

            “I thought you were just concerned about being attracted to my abundant leg hair!” snapped the resolutely masculine Henricksen, who always wore shorts on his missions, as long as the atmospheric make-up of the planet allowed it.

Hendricksen shook his leg vigorously, but the mummies, who were nothing if not resilient after centuries of patient survival in the arid, miniature deserts of the Planet of the Miniature Mummies, maintained their dental grip, sending waves of curse-inflicting pain up Hendricksen’s leg.

            “Where’s your mummy repellent?” barked Hendricksen.

            Stone-Stone rummaged through her Space Command-issued Space Purse.  “Repellent will do you no good now.  Mummies are impervious to chemically induced nausea when they’re avenging a captured fellow mummy.  I will have to vanquish them with a recitation of the Ancient Curse of Tumkin Rah.”

            “They’re impervious to repellent but they’ll listen to a creaky old curse?”

            “Hold still, damn it!  We don’t have much time.”  Stone-Stone was not exaggerating.  She looked behind Hendricksen, who was hopping in a painful, hairy-legged fit.  On the supermarket-sized desert plain, an entire brigade of miniature mummies was approaching them, with the characteristic extended-arm, somnolent-stepping march of mummies on the move.

            Stone-Stone took from her Space Purse a life-sized sandstone replica of the tablet of Tumkin Rah, which was actually extremely small since Rah was himself a long-dead ruler of tiny mummies, who was tall for his ethnic group but still extremely short from a human perspective, and began to intone the curse.  “Saw saw zembo.   Zembo kin saw saw.”

            “It’s not working!” screamed Hendricksen, who was increasingly surprised at the amount of pain that could be caused by mummies no larger than the fingernail on one of his pinkies.  He lifted his hands to the green sky in a spasm of desperation, his mouth open in a panoramic scream, and then fell to the ground.

            “Silly me,” said Stone-Stone.  “They can’t hear the nuances of the curse because I’m reading it in my normal, large voice.  I have to miniaturize my pronunciation.  It’s one of the first things we learned in my Small-Scaled Civilizations seminar.”  Stone-Stone began to carefully reshape her lips to create a tiny, miniature-curse-appropriate opening, but failed to notice, with her mind intent on bringing her mouth down to size, that four inconspicuous mummies had climbed up her jumpsuit and were clambering over her lips to assault her throat.

            “Saw saw zembo,” Stone-Stone said again, this time in a mouse-like, carefully shaped whisper.  But she was barely able to enunciate the first part of the curse when she went into a harsh choking fit.  The small squadron of mummies, small both in size and number, were choking the anthropologist from inside, blocking her esophagus.

            Hendricksen looked up in exquisite pain at the mottled face of the asphyxiated Stone-Stone.  He gaped in horror as she tottered, his final moments filled with a realization of her horrible fate.     

             The last thing she tasted was the musty, rust-tinged flavor of decaying mummy bandages as she gagged fruitlessly, her body tumbling to the dry and ruthless ground where lay next to the similarly lifeless body of her shorts-garbed colleague on the Planet of the Miniature Mummies.

The Putrid Moon

“I hate living on the Putrid Moon,” said Commander O’Flaherty. 

He stared out at the deeply pockmarked surface of the unsightly moon over his cup of breakfast powder.

“Think about future generations.”  Second Officer Haifa Al-Rashid stored the packaging of her futuristic space meal for recycling.  As the first one-armed female Arab-American astronaut on the Putrid Moon, she was full of inspiring, optimistic ideas on the future of space exploration.  “One day, our children’s descendants will look back on us as moon pioneers.”

“I’m not having any children with you,” protested O’Flaherty.

“I was using the royal ‘our’,” explained Al-Rashid.

Just then, Ensign Bradley burst into the dining pod.

“Commander O’Flaherty, we’ve detected suspicious movement in the Crimble Zone!”

“You see what I mean!”  O’Flaherty seethed.  “Not a day goes by without some annoyance cropping up on the Putrid Moon.”

Second Officer Al-Rashid faced O’Flaherty with determination.  “You need to show grit, Commander!  The Crimbles could completely destroy our insulated, technologically advanced yet structurally fragile moon base with one well-organized attack!”

“Give me one reason I should care!” cried O’Flaherty.  “This moon is Putrid!  Why are we even here?  Have you taken a look around?  The Great Rundible Cleft is filled with half-solid gray slime that gives off the stench of burnt rubber.  The Wallinger Geyser shoots out burning plumes of orange-brown muck every hour that reeks of rotten potato. Last week, I fell into a gaping pit filled with decaying Crimble carcasses and I still haven’t been able to remove the stains from my uniform!”  O’Flaherty pointed to the seat of his silver moon-colonist radiation-deflecting pants.  “We can’t even invite any galactic dignitaries to visit our colony because the whole place is too goddamn smelly.  Face it people, this moon is putrid!”

Al-Rashid threw a saltshaker to the floor in fury.  “I can’t listen to this!  As the first one-armed female Arab-American astronaut on the Putrid Moon, I must set an example for all the space daughters who’ll follow my example.  This mission is not about nasal aesthetics!  This mission is about claiming a world for human habitation that on the surface is completely hostile and inappropriate for settlement and putting up with endless sacrifices, hardships and unpleasant odors to make that possible!”

Ensign Bradley pointed out the impressive picture window to a spot beyond the bubbling pits of devil-lava that lay around the compound.  “A Crimble scout!”

Bradley was undeniably correct.  In the distance, visible against an olive-ochre horizon spotted with tattered clouds, came the shambling, unappetizing shape of a three legged, large-eyed Crimble.  The Crimbles were yet another hazard of life on the Putrid Moon.  Using their sharp and pointed tusks and glinting titanium claws, a rampaging Crimble could do untold damage to the moon colony habitation with its fragile pink light funnels and architecturally renowned billowing canvas sails, reminiscent of the masts of a 19th century whaling ship.

“We’re doomed!” cried O’Flaherty.   “Doomed!  This ill-begotten mission is on a headlong collision course with a violent, smelly destruction.  All of us are going down to our putrescent unmarked graves on this godforsaken moon!”

“Perhaps the Crimble will stumble into one of the devil-lava pits,” said the inexperienced and recklessly hopeful Bradley.  He was a recent graduate of Space University and his grade point average had not been high enough to secure him a post on one of the less disgusting moon bases.

“Nonsense,” claimed Al-Rashid.  “We need simply to reach out to these misunderstood creatures.  I will go out and play the Crimble a tune of peace on my Earth-oud.  We must bridge the differences between our species if we ever hope to live in peace with the creatures of the Putrid Moon.”

O’Flaherty watched in seething frustration as Al-Rashid and Bradley set forth with the fragile oud to make peace with the Crimble.  As he could have predicted, Al-Rashid was quickly speared through the stomach by the Crimble’s tusk and Bradley fell headlong into a devil-lava pit.  O’Flaherty beat on the intercom in frustration as the Crimble lumbered ever closer to the compound.

Commander Danvers stared off stoically at the tangled forests of the Planet of the Green Monkeys, rubbing his beard stubble in satisfaction. 

            The Multi-Ethnic Galactic Intergenerational Mammalian Investigation Exploratory Squadron had spent two decades in their quest for the green monkey, usually making their space navigation decisions based on the hunches of Second Officer Luber, a bespectacled whiz kid whose instinctive understanding of galactic geography constantly amazed the crew.

            “Here it is,” piped up Luber, in his perpetually adolescent voice.  “Just like I said.  The Planet of the Green Monkeys.”

            Danvers raised his eyes to the sky, where two ugly purple moons hovered above them.  “You’re quite a kid, Luber.  I’ve been traveling with you for two decades and you still look like you’re twelve years old.”

            Luber blushed.  He hadn’t told anyone on the crew that he suffered from Janger’s Multiphasic Middle School Disease.  Every night he returned to his pod, thinking of stratagems to convince everyone on the ship he was not permanently stunted in his emotional and physical growth at the level of a pre-teen.

            Danvers lit a masculine cigar and made a surly curl with his lips.  “Now we just gotta find us some green monkeys, compadre.”

            Just then, Fourth Officer Layla Oliveros scurried up to them from a gully on their right.  Her space uniform was erotically tattered from her struggles with the promiscuous, luxuriating vines of the Planet of the Green Monkeys.  Her long flowing black hair cascaded toward her legs, making a statement of sensual Latina beauty even here on the far-flung world of the Planet of the Green Monkeys.

            “Commander Danvers,” cried Oliveros, “I’ve found a green monkey!”

            Danvers turned to her with the decisive pivot that had made him a favorite with the instructors at the Space Academy. 

            “Green monkey!  For crying out loud, woman, where?”

            Oliveros took a moment to collect herself and reapply her Passionate Pomegranate lipstick.  “Down there.  In the gully!  He was hanging from a tree branch, just like a monkey!”

            “Goddamn it, Oliveros!  If you’re right, I’m giving you a Space Star to stick on that sensually tattered uniform!  If we can capture and dissect a green monkey, we could gain clues to galactic mammal biology that will make us completely reevaluate our position in the universe.”

            Oliveros pointed again.  “Hurry.  He might escape.  He’s a monkey.”

            Danvers pulled his monkey gun from his holster and ran into the gully, followed by Luber and Oliveros.

            In moments, he was face to face with a primitive, smelly green monkey.  A large-nosed, wild-eyed green monkey who probably hadn’t evolved past his current form for millions of uneventful years. 

            Just as Danvers touched the monkey, Luber pulled out his own monkey gun.

            “Hands off, Danvers!  It’s time I proved my masculinity!  I’m taking possession of this monkey!”  Without further ceremony, Luber shot Danvers at point blank range.  In a slow motion cartwheel of death, Danvers turned end over end until he lay sprawled on the floor of the gully, his mouth open wide and his eyes staring mindlessly into the off-white sky above the Planet of the Green Monkeys.

            Oliveros planted a sensual Latin kiss on Luber’s mouth. 

            “You’re my hero, Luber!  No one but you can bring to life my dual fetishes for men with crippling diseases and unique navigational abilities.”

            “I know,” said Luber.  “That’s why it’s so distressing that I saw you last night fondling Captain Matthews in the storage pod.”

            Without another word, Luber turned his monkey gun on Oliveros and shot her, also at point blank range.

            Oliveros whimpered, then fell to the dirty ground.

            Luber looked at the green monkey, a monkey he had waited years to see.  “This is just the beginning, monkey.  The beginning of a new era on the Planet of the Green Monkeys.”  
            The monkey howled, but Luber just smiled an enigmatic smile.

They reached the planet of the orange oceans after three tedious Earth Years in the Silver Tubular.

Captain Malcolm stepped out onto the planet in his periwinkle blue space jumpsuit and surveyed the landscape.

“I see several orange oceans,” he transmitted back to the ship through his helmet transponder.

He had visited planets with orange oceans before, but none quite like this one.  Here, the orange oceans were incredibly large, bigger than the biggest Earth lakes, and they could be seen in profusion from the top of the bluff where Captain Malcolm stood.

Second Officer Bailey stood at his side.  Bailey looked prepared and stolid, ready to be unfazed by whatever oceans might face him.

“I’ve heard orange oceans harbor rich populations of black fish,” said Bailey.  “Black fish!  I’ve never tasted one.”  Bailey was a simple farm boy at heart, with lots of wheat experience.

Malcolm laughed heartily.  “You’ll taste many a black fish before we leave this planet, Officer Bailey.  We will feast in the Silver Tubular, on black fish pan-seared and drizzled with a delicate almond-lemon sauce.  Black fish filleted and accompanied with a spring salad of fresh greens and new potatoes.  Black fish baked in a rich cheese casserole dotted with green olives and peas.”

Bailey took a moment to ponder this fish dinner vision, but his reverie was interrupted by a shout from Third Officer Liston.  “Captain!  I’ve sighted air octopi!  Hovering over the orange ocean gulf!” 

Malcolm peered down toward where Liston stood, on a boulder shaped like the skull of a demented crone, the mega-magnifying super-scopes glued to his eyes.

“Air octopi!  How far off?”

Liston cried out, using his most alarming voice.  “They’re within seconds of us, flying like they’re mad as freakin’ wombats out of hell!”

Bailey was shaken completely out of his fish reverie.  “Jeez, Captain!  Air octopi!  They can strangle a man to death with their tentacles in seconds!  And these jumpsuits we’re wearing are no protection at all.”

Malcolm pursed his lips.  “You’re right, Bailey.  I can send a distress signal to the Silver Tubular, but by the time the ship can send reinforcements armed with enough laser targeting bombasts to destroy the air octopi, it will be far too late.”

“We should have come armed!” cried Bailey.

Malcolm turned to him, in a petulant fury.  “Who knew there would be air octopi on a planet of orange oceans?”

“Did you even ask the ship oceanographer?”

Malcolm scoffed.  “Patterson?  The one who predicted we’d find coral reefs on Laxxo 729?”

“You’ve put as all at risk with your egotistical foohardiness!  Your crazed determination to be the first galactic Captain to step foot on the Planet of Orange Oceans!”   Bailey turned to Malcolm in a fit of space rage and throttled the Captain’s neck with his gloved hands.   They rolled over the gray stones, locked in a battle of grim proportions.

Even as they rolled in conflict on the rocks, the slapping of air octopi tentacles could be heard from below, as the relentless white alien octopi attacked Liston, slapping at him mercilessly with their unfeeling octopi limbs.

Liston cried out, emitting an unsettling, shrill scream that ended only when his pain-drenched face was pulled below the orange waves by his unstoppable octopus assailant.

Malcolm gasped, even as Bailey’s hands closed around his throat.  “Don’t.  Don’t, Bailey.  You’re . . . becoming like . . . them.”  But Malcolm’s eyes closed in agony even as the white air octopi descended on Bailey, their furious tentacles waving in murderous patterns. 
             The flailing octopi limbs whirled in a frenzy of rubbery destruction until only bruised and mangled human body parts littered the forlorn rocks on the planet of the orange oceans.

“Behold the palpitating near-orbs of those magnificent jellies!”

Commander Mayfield stared out at the Sea of Impatience with the ecstatic gaze of a young boy in possession of his first yo-yo.  Swimming toward the shore in disciplined ranks, he could clearly make out the pulsating domes of the famed telepathic jellyfish that gave their name to the small, gray and reasonably mysterious Planet of the Telepathic Jellyfish.

“What’s our reading on the Telepathometer, Dr. Finbone?” Mayfield brusquely asked the bewhiskered scientist.  Finbone was diligently bent over his multi-leveled, large knobbed orange instrument with the intensity borne of years of study under the great Telepathometer specialist, Cravore the Brain.  Cravore’s research into detecting telepathic activity among aquatic species had brought him nothing but ridicule, catcalls and detention during his life, but posthumously he was now the favorite scientist of several paranormal fan boys and was featured on at least one neon, mid-galactic floating billboard.

“I’ve never seen results like this.”  Finbone couldn’t take his eyes off the pulsating dots on the Mentoscreen as he replied in his clipped voice, pickled in the brine of thousands of dry and vinegary facts.  “We’re picking up over fifty telepath transmissions.  According to my best calculations, the transmissions are all coming from that direction.”  Finbone pointed with a quavering finger out to the Sea of Impatience where the rows of fifty glowing jellyfish made their eerie, inexorable way ever closer to shore.

“Then the legends are true!” Mayfield cried.  “These creatures are among the only saltwater life forms in the universe who can truly communicate with one another via mental signal.”

“Don’t be too sure,” Finbone abruptly cautioned.  He tore himself away from the busy Mentoscreen, and faced Mayfield, all of his science seriousness focused on the goggle-eyed officer from Space Command.  “The creatures could be cleverly producing a screen of telepath-transmission-like signals, deceiving our primitive human equipment and deluding us into following a false lead, while they fiendishly conduct their real operations unbeknownst to us in front of, or behind, our very eyes!”

“A shrewd insight, Finbone.  But then, wouldn’t this planet be known as The Planet of the Jellyfish Who Produce Deceptively Telepathic-Like Signals?”

“Ha, ha, ha.”  Finbone laughed a hearty space laugh and shook his head, bemused by the eternal innocence of Space Commanders in their Space Commander suits.  “That is where you’re wrong, Mayfield.  Clearly, those who came before us were too literal-minded to penetrate the ruses perpetrated by these canny sea-jellies.”

Mayfield clenched his jaw.  Salty sweat poured profusely from his forehead.  Finbone’s rigorous analysis of jellyfish strategy had turned all of his preconceptions upside down.  If the jellyfish were not truly telepathic, the entire purpose of the mission was put into question.  What would be the point of capturing a jellyfish so that it could communicate with the unique telepathic giant squid bagged on the Planet of the Gargantuan Ocean Species if the shrewd invertebrates were not truly clairvoyant?  Yet how could he question the expert opinion of Finbone, the man who had written the definitive textbook on water-dwelling creatures who possessed thin, stinging tentacles: “Jellorama”?

“Those jellies are coming every closer,” cried Mayfield, the glowing translucent bubble-domes just yards away from the anxious commander.  Mayfield’s self-restraint was evaporating, like a spilled puddle of vodka being sucked up by a relentless desert sun.  He shouted out to his sea-borne antagonists.  “If you’re so telepathic why don’t you transmit to me, jellies?  Don’t you hear me, with your invisible ears?  Or do you ignore me to frustrate me in my land-based limitations!”  Mayfield fell to his knees on the pebbly beach, raising his fists skyward in supplication.  “Why do you torment me, ambiguous creatures of the Planet of the Telepathic Jellyfish?  Why do you mock my limited, non-telepathic human mind with your unfathomable contradictions?”

It was then that Finbone attempted to cry out, but instead could only stick his fingers anxiously in his mouth in a dry heave of fright.  Behind Mayfield a mammoth black Borfa Bear had unexpectedly appeared on the beach with all the stealth of a silent vampire creeping up to a night-blooming camellia.  With four relentless swings of his huge and effectively-clawing left paw, the Borfa pummeled Mayfield until the confused commander lay on the cold pebbles, his suit and dead flesh a messy set of intermingled, stringy ribbons.  Finbone, still silently shrieking, ran heedlessly into the ocean, fleeing the ravenous Borfa.  The scientist did not even consider that as he swam out into the chilly Sea of Impatience, he was heading straight for the deadly, stinging, pale-gray tentacles of the silent jellies, jellies that still ruled, in nearly unquestioned aquatic dominance over the waters of the Planet of the Telepathic Jellfyish.

The Planet of the Unstoppable Vines

Commander Bertrand had grown suspicious of Dr. Straylace long before they’d landed on the Planet of the Unstoppable Vines.  Not only was she the first female botanist Bertrand had worked with, but as a Marelkin she came from a storied, mysterious realm where the women were better known for their erotic waistdancing than for the study of deciduous trees and bracket fungi.  But now it was too late for suspicion.  He was on the plant surface, the strange ruby-red unstoppable vines, growing relentlessly toward them at an uncomfortably visible rate and threatening to suffocate all of the cuddly underground mammal life on the planet, such as mini-dogs and prairie mutts, with its vigorous, chunky tendrils.

“The vines are fast,” said Slogan, the data-rich mission android in his cold robotic voice.  After this contribution to the team’s efforts he jerkily turned to watch the spectacle of Dr. Straylace perform her obscure experiements.

Standing a short distance away on the cappuccino-brown surface of the Planet of the Unstoppable Vines in front of an array of arcane and inexplicable botanical devices, Dr. Straylace was a paragon of rational scientific femininity.  With her flowing, walnut-colored hair and exotic, orange Marelkin eye make-up, she held a provocative allure that even the hyper-rational, inhuman Slogan could not deny.

“Slogan, what is the exact growth rate of the vines?” barked Bertrand.

There was no answer as the bronze-garbed Slogan, his inner space-android gears whirring, stared in robot-eyed fascination at Dr. Straylace.   Bertrand whipped around, his impatient nature tiring of Slogan’s glacial response pace. 

“By the eyes of the god-fish, Slogan!  Stop gawking and give me a growth estimate on these vines.”

“Your tone of voice is inappropriate,” Slogan responded, in the same emotionless tone he’d used for all five hundred years of his well-lubricated existence.  “I object to it.  As a veteran Crew Unit Ultima Mind TX Module, I request a formal apology.”  Slogan turned away from Straylace, his uncanny doughnut-shaped eyes boring into Bertrand with android annoyance. 

Straylace casually brushed a few strands of walnut hair from her face, as she looked up from her glowing diagrams of vine innards.  “Yes, Bertrand,” she said in the carefully enunciated tones of a trained botanist.  “You’ve been irascible towards Slogan since we left Space Command.  You should apologize.”

“Apologize!” Bertrand spit out the word like it was a sour green papaya he’d fished out of the crisper in the refrigerator during a moment of desperate hunger in the midst of a three-day bender.  For emphasis, he fished three stubby cigars out of his jumpsuit pocket and abruptly tossed them on the rubble-strewn surface of the Planet of the Unstoppable Vines.  “Apologize to this bucket of nuts and bolts?  This clanking tin man made from recycled space capsule parts?  This emotionless device, devoid of feeling, of poetry, of love for riding under the burning Gorban sun on a wild untamed black stallion with the blood pumping through your veins in a feverish cascade of life, of untrammeled, fierce-breathing life!  Never!”

Slogan slowly blinked his artificial, but surprisingly convincing, doughnut eyes.  “You should be cautious, Commander.  I am engineered for surprising feats of agility.”  As though to prove his point, Slogan reached up with the speed of a maniacal trout and grabbed an indigenous hummingbird that had been whirring through the air in a confused blur.  Within seconds, the hummingbird was displayed on Slogan’s toaster plate, which he’d ejected with soundless efficiency from his waist, dissected into its component parts and labeled with the proper scientific terms in a clean, easily readable font.

“Very impressive!” cried Straylace.  “Can you do the same with a zinnia?”

Betrand came two steps closer to the android, his feet moving over the beige ground with the determination of an elephant mother coming to guard her young from the rampage of a starved, psychotic python.  “I’m in charge of this mission, Slogan.  And I demand that you calculate the rate of that vine growth.”

“Very well,” said Slogan.  In a blinding spurt of robotic motion, the top of Slogan’s head popped open and a gleaming black revolver appeared above it at the end of a flexible steel rod.  With a clearly audible click, the rod pulled the trigger of the weapon, sending a bullet straight into Commander Bertrand’s forehead.  Bertrand gurgled, his mouth filling up with the wild and restless blood of a third-generation space commander, and he fell forward onto a dark-chocolate-colored stone, making the unmistakable sound of the dead.  “The rate of the vine growth,” said Slogan, “is ten centimeters per minute.”

Dr. Straylace put her fingers to her mouth in distress, her exotic green Marelkin fingernail polish contrasting nicely with the crimson tones of her generously applied lipstick.  “Slogan, what have you done?  You’ve killed the Commander!  And he was the only one with the combination to the Space Capsule door.”

“Then we are trapped on the Planet of the Unstoppable Vines for all eternity,” said Slogan, a new tone of near-homo-sapien-like triumph creeping into his voice.  “Giving me plenty of time to explore the new sensations you evoke in my android parts.”

“What are you saying, Slogan?  You are an unfeeling android.  You’re not even a true life form.  As a qualified botanist, I can state with expert assurance that you are unnatural, imperfect and a blot in the harmonious circle of life.”

“May the god-fish blast you to damnation for your impertinence,” said Slogan, his android voice now bearing unmistakable hints of emotion.  Once again, the robot’s dependable revolver popped out of the top of his head and his newfound android hatred erupted in a series of shots that left Dr. Straylace splayed on the ground, her botanist’s mouth twisted in a gape of stunned and irrevocable death moans.

“A pity,” said Slogan.  “She would have grown to admire me in time.”  The android amused himself by reviewing his video diary of the mission as he waited for the fast-growing vines to surround and destroy him, relentlessly turning him into a useless vine-permeated hunk of abandoned metallic rubble on the Planet of the Unstoppable Vines.

Ensign Farragut stepped on a chunky, beige tube-worm and emitted a slight groan of disgust as the oozy brown worm-guts seeped out onto the sandy, gray ground of The Planet of the Ravenous Snails.

Commander Fitz-Nelson barked out a harsh, dog-like laugh, the laugh of a grizzled Space Commander who’d witnessed far more grotesque and savage sights than the accidental halving of a tube-worm. “Distressed by worm innards, Farragut? Didn’t you take Dismemberment Training at the Space Academy? Evisceration Class? A Space Ensign must be ready for any degree of gore.”

“I didn’t sign up for this mission to wantonly slaughter helpless creatures,” protested Farragut. He was a slight, bespectacled Space Ensign on his first mission, an invertebrate-loving would-be zoologist who hadn’t been able to afford the tuition to pursue advanced mollusk studies. When Farragut had learned about the journey to the Planet of the Ravenous Snails, he’d immediately quit his greasy job making artisanal onion rings to put himself forward for the crew.

Fitz-Nelson confronted him with the hardened, granite-hewn face of a Commander who’d seen crew after crew succumb to wholesale space-slaughter: men chewed up in the maw of the Living Cave on the Planet of the Living Cave, diced and reorganized on the Planet of the Puzzle-Loving Iguanas and suffocated under a swollen tongue on the Planet of the Diseased Giant Sloths. “Listen to me, Farragut, and listen good. Space is a ferocious killing machine, each creature in it made to gobble, chomp or absorb through osmosis some other living organism. There’s no such thing as a helpless creature in space, you slack-willed, moist-eyed Academy-bred Fawn. If I have to put a goddamn Kill Ray in your hands…”

Farragut held up a silver-gloved hand to signal for silence.

“What was that?” the ensign asked.

“What was what?”

“I heard a rumble. Like the rumble of a Ravenous Snail slowly making its way through a field of giant rocks.”

Fitz-Nelson laughed again, the laugh a large, black, medieval, beef-loving dog might laugh if it had the uncanny power of man-like laughter. “Scared of a Ravenous Snail? Is that what you are, Farragut?” Fitz-Nelson pivoted with bravado toward the large boulders blocking their view and whipped out his streamlined Snail Detector.

“There’s nothing wrong with a healthy sense of fright,” said Farragut. “A man without fear is practically the definition of a man with a serious psychosis.”

Fitz-Nelson jerked his head back and stared wild-eyed at Farragut with the glare of a predatory bird spotting a taunting, but plump, rodent. “What did you say, Farragut?”

“I said a man without fear…”

“After that.”

“Serious psychosis.”

Fitz-Nelson’s eyes narrowed, growing as narrow as a thin strip of licorice dangling limply from the mouth of a mentally challenged boy. “Who told you about my serious psychosis?”

Farragut raised his eyebrows. “You have a serious psychosis?”

Just then, the Snail Detector buzzed with a decisive, penetrating buzz.

Fitz-Nelson glared at the detector, gave another wild-eyed look at Farragut, then, with a burst of energy possible only in a Space Commander in the grip of a serious psychosis, leapt atop the giant boulder and laughed a jagged, vigorous laugh.

“Behind this boulder, Farragut. Behind this boulder lurks the Ravenous Snail of my destiny!”

Farragut watched in horror as Fitz-Nelson bounded from the boulder down to the hidden rock field beyond. Straining his ears, he could barely make out the sizzling sound of Ravenous Snail juices dripping from a snail maw. Farragut looked back at the cylindrical Space Capsule, planted on a flat rock some hundred yards away. If he returned to the Capsule without Fitz-Nelson he would be shunned as a cowardly Space Mutineer, a rookie ensign who’d derelicted his duty. Gritting his teeth, Farragut thought back on his dreams of seeing the snails of space in person. Scanning the boulder, he detected a shadowy area, wide enough for a man with his build and thin-layered space suit to squeak through.

Farragut plunged in and was soon surrounded by ominous walls of unfriendly boulder, foreign space rock that flaunted a crass, uncaring attitude toward human intruders. He could sense the stony hostility, the intransigent, geological self-regard that would crush him like the visiting vertebrate that he was, and so it was almost with relief that he finally squeezed through to the expansive, uneven rock field.

“Snail ho!” came the booming voice of Fitz-Nelson.

Adjusting to the light, Farragut blinked and looked up. He beheld the largest Ravenous Snail he’d ever seen, stretching upward to the height of two normal men, its shell a rough and unattractive mosaic of dirty pink and midnight black. Sitting atop the shell, riding it like a long-haired, barbarian conqueror at the head of innumerable ranks of snail troops, was Fitz-Nelson, spurring the monstrous mollusk on with kicks of his black Space Boots and shouts of implacable orders.

“Drool, snail, drool! Drool on those who would question their Commander!”

The snail’s surprisingly fast and agile neck, glistening with ample slime, writhed about above the cowering Farragut and from its primitive mollusk mouth it let fall a foaming glob of alien snail drool. Farragut screamed as the acidic drool penetrated his space suit, sizzling through the thin layer to his scrawny shoulder. He collapsed, writhing in a lethal bath of snail acid.

Fizt-Nelson laughed a triumphal, scornful laugh. Surveying his new rocky kingdom from the snail’s back, he exulted in the spectacle of his sparsely populated, yet atmospherically sound, domain. He pounded the snail shell in exultation, but grew overly exuberant in his wallops. The last time he’d ridden atop a Ravenous Snail had been decades before and the Commander was unused to the moist and clammy shell. His smooth, frictionless suit wasn’t designed for snail riding and as he whooped a final victorious whoop, Fitz-Nelson leaned too far to the left and lost his balance, sliding from the snail’s back and falling to the field of sharply pointed rocks below, where he split his skull on a knife-like, serrated ledge. As the Commander lay bleeding onto the ground, the snail dipped its head to take advantage of the rare, ample meal of two bipeds as a flock of miniscule black birds flew above in a lonesome formation across the sky of the Planet of the Ravenous Snails.