Tag Archive: sci-fi

Commander Gustafson made a gruff gesture toward the aquamarine iceberg that loomed over the relatively small, silver Space Command landing craft. “I hope you’re satisfied, Kendall. Now that we’ve landed on the Planet of the Frozen Spiders you’ll be able to study more enormous arachnids than any space arachnologist in history.”
Above them, the unearthly, alien planet sky was quickly turning a pinkish sunset color interrupted with occasional streaks of creepy beige clouds.
“It’s like a dream come true,” said Kendall, speaking through the microphone embedded in his Coated Aluminum Inter-environmental Space Heat Suit, the only patented space suit equipped to provide enough artificial warmth for humans to survive the sub-zero temperatures on the frosty Planet of the Frozen Spiders. “That dream that I had when I was at Space Academy, of stowing away on a bulbous, warp-speed, co-ed cargo ship and landing in just my overalls and cap with a bug-collecting kit on the Planet of the Frozen Spiders.”
“Ha, ha. The dreams of youth,” said Gustafson. He kicked a small chunk of jagged ice that lay by his boot. “Now you’ve got a serious business in front of you, Kendall. If you collect enough data we can solve once and for all the mystery of why these uncanny, intelligent space spiders colonized the remote, wintry environment of the Planet of the Frozen Spiders.”
Kendall was barely listening, running along the ice like a young prisoner just freed from a juvenile detention ward and permitted to jog through a freeway underpass spraying graffiti at will. “Look at this one! A Red-Bellied Emperor!” Kendall stared in wonderment at the elongated spider’s hairy red legs and the cleverly crafted spider space helmet that had permitted the oversized arachnid to survive the long, long, icy winter. Now it was trapped, petrified in the uncompromising ice, like a small gnat you would capture as a boy and put in a blue plastic ice cube tray and then pull out to look at later in the afternoon when the freezer had done its work of entrapping the helpless gnat in a clear frozen rectangle, and then perhaps later take out again to inconspicuously drop in your dad’s Scotch and soda sometime after dinner.
“Good thing it’s frozen, or we’d both be spider chow!” chortled Gustafson. He had made a detailed study of space leadership at Space Academy, where he’d majored in Boisterous Camaraderie, and it was no accident that he sprinkled his stern exhortations with good-humored ripostes. Nothing boosted morale like a Commander with a healthy sense of humor.
Kendall ran up to an icy spire that jutted out of the ground like an ambitious space stalagmite attempting to penetrate the pink atmosphere.
“Atop this spire!” he shouted. “A frozen Beetle-Nosed Sapphire Nugget Spider.” Kendall was as impetuous and enthusiastic as a young, easily swayed farm boy who’d been cajoled into a game of spin the squirrel by a misguided, unshaven woodsman.
Gustafson was affected in spite of himself. He usually had as much interest in spiders as he did in the anthracite production figures of Romulan 20. But he jogged gamely up to where Kendall stood, pointing at the barely visible figure of the especially blue nugget spider, where it perched in frozen seeming guardedness at the very tip of the knife-like stalagmite.
“Hot chowder,” said Gustafson, also in spite of himself. “That’s a crazy looking bug.”
Kendall knew immediately that he had to possess the nugget spider for his collection of far-flung spider specimens in the Lorvetta Gallery, named after his rail-thin, raven-haired ex-wife, who still wore her trademark purple lipstick and green raincoat. She was a she-surgeon of the heart, a vaguely French and entirely sensual space vixen who made Kendall’s ears prick up with erotic longing whenever she burst into her inimitable rendition of the Hattenbat Song. “Hand me the Thaw Gun,” he blurted out with scientific eagerness.
“I’m entranced by that crazy, spire-perching bug as much as you, Kendall. But I have to caution you…”
“Damn it, Gustafson!” Kendall turned a frowny face on him. All the little-boy glee was suddenly gone from his expression, vanished like the powdered laundry detergent that whisks down the little drainage holes at the bottom of a washing machine. “I didn’t travel at Moto-Photobotic speed across eight galaxies to listen to your mealy-mouthed precautions. Hand me the Thaw Gun.”
Gustafson shrugged and reached into the hard plastic, igloo-white equipment case slung over his shoulder on a battleship gray strap. The Thaw Gun had been especially engineered by a team of anti-arachnid weaponry specialists at the Space Command Weapon Designory. Its finely attuned laser would cleverly melt the water on the Planet of the Frozen Spiders while leaving the precious alien spider-flesh unharmed.
Kendall aimed the Thaw Gun in a nearly vertical position, straight at the crispy, ice-plated nugget spider. “Come home to Papa, Beetle-Nosed Sapphire Nugget.”
“Who’d ever thought bagging a dead spider could thrill a man so?” asked Gustafson rhetorically, rubbing his hands in apprehension.
In a matter of second-fractions, the bubbling, sizzling noise of ice that had lain untouched for countless man-generations came rushing down to Kendall’s and Gustafson’s ears.
Kendall gave a space-shout of triumph. “It’s working! The Thaw Gun! It’s working!” In his weapon-based glee, he let loose, darting the Thaw Gun back in forth in a geometric spasm of efficacy.
Gustafson clapped him on the back. “Way to go, Kendall! Wait til the babes at space camp see you marching into the commissary holding that one.”
Gustafson was in mid-chortle when the thawing Kendall had performed on the nugget spider came into full effect. The still-paralyzed arachnid slid off its formerly icy perch, plummeting down toward the explorers. Its hard, petrified spider-body slammed mercilessly through Kendall’s space suit with the air-traveling force of any large, frozen spider body hurtling down the equivalent of twenty stories in an uninterrupted freefall.
The statue-like arachnid ripped massive holes in Kendall’s protective suit, and sliced, with its eight frozen legs, through Kendall’s back, until blood spurted out of his arachnologist body like pulpy tomato juice forced through a water fountain, soaking the white ice in its crimson fruit hue.
Gustafson wailed and kneeled in a spasm of outrage at the injustice of the interplanetary spider gods. “You cruel beings of mischance and bad fate! How curtly you cut short this poor spider-lover at the height of his research glory!”
Gustafson lifted his fists to the heavens in protest as a giant chunk of stalagmite ice broke away from the pillar, loosened by Kendall’s wild thawing gyrations. As the hundred-pound ice chunk crashed onto Gustafson’s head, he fell beside Kendall’s body, the two gradually taking on their own eternal, petrified positions on the flat ice plain of the Planet of the Frozen Spiders.

Read more of the amazing adventures of Space Command: http://scr.bi/bQCNSC



“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.