“You dirty, cocksucking, ass-raping, piece of shit son of a butt-fucked whore!” Dirk panted, trying to catch his breath, and when he did, he spat another slew of invective at the engines. He’d rewired them back to the way they’d been before he tried fixing #6, but the bitches weren’t working. They didn’t even make a sound when he flipped the switch.
“I need a drink,” he muttered. The rest of the crew were probably laughing it up, getting wasted and having fun while he was stuck in the engine room with FNG.
Jason handed him a bottle of water. “You’re sweating up a storm, dude.”
Dirk drank. “This blows. We’ve got the shit detail, bro. I don’t even know how to start fixing this.”
“Have you tried linking the turbo feeds to the—-“
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve been on the ship for how long now? Longer than you, so, yeah. I thought of it.”
Jason shrugged. “I’m just trying to help.”
The auxiliary lights dimmed, and the air system gagged and ground its gears. The two men looked at each other, confused, as the walls shuddered around them.
Dirk lunged for the comm. “LT! What the hell’s going on?”
“This is Drake. I authorized Janna to fire a probe at an unidentified anomaly.”
“Jesus, Cap! It’s draining power like a motherfucker! Call it back!”
“It’s that bad?”
“Shit, the systems are failing! We might have just cut days off our back-up power!”
“It’s too late,” Everson said. “The probe’s halfway there. Recalling it would cost us too much energy.”
“Just keep working,” Drake said. “We’re counting on you. Bridge out.”
Dirk stared at the comm. “What the fuck? I gotta’ have something to work with.”
A click reverberated through the lab, and Janna knew the probe was home. She flicked a switch, and the wall inside the compartment opened up, pulling the probe inside the ship. When the aperture closed, she put her hands into the two circles on the Plexiglas, so they were enclosed by the radiation gloves, and she detached the probe, readying it for information download.
It took a second, but before long, she had the read-outs on her screen. Everything came from physical evidence, but there were no specimens from the ghostly haze. Which implied to her that it really was insubstantial.
Janna turned on the comm. “Lab to bridge. Captain Drake?”
“This is Drake. Go ahead.”
“I am ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine-nine percent certain that there was a planet here. Judging from the traces of nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon, I’d say the atmosphere was remarkably like earth’s.”
Everson broke in. “Are we dealing with some kind of phantom planet, here?”
Janna sighed. “I don’t know. I couldn’t get any readings on that. There is, however, a strong magnetic pull where the core used to be. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was drawing us in.”
Drake again: “Well, that’s just great. Anything else you can tell us?”
“Just be careful of debris. I don’t think there’s anything too big out there, but you never know. Lab out.”
She turned the comm off, then turned back to the probe. There was nothing more to be learned from its contents, but it would be best to have the information properly logged, just in case. Then, it would be a good time for a cold beer. And maybe a visit to Rico. He had a cute ass.
She put her hands through the circles again and got ready to finish up work before playtime.
Drake turned off the comm and looked at Everson, then Pamela. “I guess we just have to ride this one out.”
“What did she mean about debris?” Everson asked. “Could some of it pierce the hull?”
The captain shrugged. “Just be super-vigilant, okay?”
“So, we just wait?” Pamela asked.
She smiled. “Good. That means we have time to talk.”
“Oh, Jesus,” Everson said. “Don’t do it here. I might be tempted to drive us into an asteroid.”
Ben wiped his ass with the bargain-basement, rough-as-sandpaper TP the government insisted on buying for its employees. He thought about the amazing technological advances humanity had made in just the last twenty years, and he wondered why no one had come up with an alternative to such a disgusting duty as wiping one’s ass. Sure, there was the bidet method, but with such a heavy shit as this one, a stream of water would be useless. Deep space travel was a cinch these days, but new ass-wiping technology was still beyond science’s reach?
Ben tore off another wad of toilet paper and reached back, gritting his teeth against the coarse grain. When he checked, he saw that the brown was still too thick. “Is this ever going to be done?”
Back home, he’d been a well-known sportsman. Baseball, football, basketball, you name it. Maybe he hadn’t been famous, but he had fans. What would they think if they could see him now?
Then, in mid-wipe, the lights went off. The pumps were still grinding away, and they still had gravity control, but the world had gone dark.
“Guys?” Ben called out. He hoped Rico and FNG were still out there. “Is this a joke? It’s not funny! I’m trying to wipe my ass, here!”
“Shit.” He finished up by touch and pulled his shorts on. As he flushed, he looked at where he thought the showers were and wished he could take one. But if the power outage was genuine, the water pump might be next. Water had to be conserved.
Feeling his way through the darkness, he reached the door to the gym. Once again, he called out for his friends and got no answer. There was one thing left to do: find the comm and hope that it worked.
“What the fuck now?” Dirk yelled. “FNG! Where are you?!”
“I’m over by the comm,” Jason said. “I’m going to contact the bridge.”
“Screw that. We don’t have the time. Just find a flashlight and help me work. It should be ten feet to your right.”
Jason touched the wall, patting it lightly with his fingertips. When he found nothing, he realized Dirk was talking from his perspective, so he felt to the left until he found the flashlight. He disconnected it from its charger and aimed the beam at Dirk.
“I can still hear the oxygen pumps working,” the mechanic said. “That means we have maybe two hours before we lose water. Two more, and we lose gravity. An hour after that, we’ll be breathing stale air.”
“Okay,” Jason said.
“So find the other flashlight, give it to me, and get to work. Or we’ll be dead by the end of the day.”
Drake escorted Pamela back to his quarters, and he’d begun pouring them drinks when the lights went out. Instinct kicked in, and he grabbed for the emergency flashlight without needing to feel for it. He heard Pamela call his name, but he ignored her until he tested the comm. “Captain to bridge. Everson, are you there?”
Pamela touched his shoulder. “Drake, what’s going on?”
He sighed. “Why do I even bother having quarters? I might as well start living on the bridge. Come on.”
“But, our talk—-“
Drake downed both drinks. “No time. Let’s go.”
“At least I’m getting plenty of exercise on these walks.”
Armed with a flashlight, Everson removed the plasma screen to reveal the real window. The brightness was so intense that he no longer needed the flashlight. He flicked it off, but put it in his pocket. Just in case.
The door manually cranked open, and Drake made his reappearance with Pamela. “What’s with the power outage, Everson?”
“I guess Janna’s probe drained more energy than we thought.”
“How much longer do we have?”
“Good news or bad news?”
Everson bit his lip. “Sorry, I was lying about the good news. I was hoping you’d pick the bad and forget I offered the good. I needed something to feel better about.”
Drake pursed his lips. “Just tell me.”
“We’ll probably be dead in twenty-four hours. Unless Dirk fixes the engines.”
“Oh, is that all?”
Pamela stared out the window. “Guys, that thing is getting really close.”
“Oh, yeah,” Everson said. “There’s that, too. We should be hitting that thing in about—-“ He looked at his watch. “—-five minutes.”
Drake offered a humorless grin. “Remind me again why you’re my second-in-command?”
“My, uh, charming wit, good-looks, and ability to effortlessly curse?”
Rico was halfway through his lunch, eaten by flashlight, when he heard someone moving in the kitchen. A feminine “FUCK!” came to him, and he grinned. He’d managed to cook his freeze-dried steak and potatoes before the power went off. For all he knew, this food would be the last prepared meal on this ship, ever.
Winter emerged from the kitchen with a tube of cheeseburger-flavored paste in one hand and a beer in the other. A flashlight was tucked under her armpit as she ate. When she saw Rico, she smiled and approached. “Hey there, spaceman. What’s up?”
Rico didn’t make eye contact. “Not much.”
Winter sat down and popped the top off her beer. “You should get one of these. No telling how long they’ll stay cold.”
He thought she was trying to trick him into going so she could steal the rest of his food. Paranoid? Perhaps. But he knew what kind of woman she was. He speared another piece of meat and stuck it into his mouth. “Maybe later.”
She shrugged. “Whatevs.”
Rico shoveled some mashed potatoes into his mouth, and Winter watched him, sucking at the tube. Finally, she said, “Why don’t we talk with each other more often?”
o grunted. “Don’t wanna’ make the captain jealous.”
“He doesn’t own me, you know.”
“And I don’t do sloppy seconds, hon.”
Her eyes widened, but not too much. Recovering, she blew out air. “That’s not what I was talking about. Perv.”
Rico grinned. “Whatevs.”
Everson looked up from his controls, bathing his face in ghostly light. “Here we go. Contact in three . . . two . . . one.”
Drake braced himself against the wall, but when the ship touched the swirling light outside, nothing happened. They passed through the luminous halo as if it wasn’t there. “Like a door through a ghost,” he muttered.
“Ain’t it the other way around, Cap?”
“No,” Pamela said. “It’s perfect.”
Everson looked back at his console. “Uh, Cap? We’re moving.”
“The engines?” Drake asked.
“No. The center is dragging us in.”
Drake sighed. “Janna said this might happen.”
“Still. It’s creepy.”
“At least nothing bad happened,” Pamela said.
Winter ignored Rico as she finished up the tube of cheeseburger. Then, as she put the cap back on, she looked up to see he was staring at her with a familiar gleam in his eyes. She saw it on every guy’s face whenever she walked into a room: pure, unadulterated lust.
She meant to say, “Fuck you, Rico. Not after you just put me down, you piece of shit.” For a moment, she thought she’d actually said it. But then, her fingers unzipped the front of her jumpsuit.
Rico stood and tore his jumpsuit away, leaving the tattered remains on the floor. All he wore beneath were black boxer briefs, and he nearly ripped those in the process of getting them off. He stood on the opposite side of the table from Winter, both hands stroking the biggest hard-on she had ever seen.
She stepped out of her own jumpsuit, showing that she’d been going commando. Playfully, she tweaked her nipples and pulled at her breasts.
Rico couldn’t take it anymore; he flung the table aside and pressed Winter against the wall. She threw her feet around him, digging her heels into his back. He pushed into her, and she dripped down his thighs as he began to thrust like a piston.
Dirk knew it was a bad idea, especially in the heat of the engine room, where dehydration was a real possibility, but stress kept gut-punching him. He had to do something.
He reached into his hidey-hole and removed a pint of whiskey. After a couple of hits, he offered it to Jason.
“No thanks. I’d rather keep a straight head.”
“Pussy. This’ll screw the ol’ noggin back in place. This situation’s too FUBAR to take without a slug. Go on.” He shook the bottle.
“No, thank you.”
“Fine.” Dirk screwed on the top and put the pint back. “Let’s get back to work.”
Jason paused suddenly, his eyes wide, as if he had to fart, but he didn’t want to do it too loudly. Then, he said, “Whhhhhhrrrrrruuuuu.”
Dirk laughed. “Shit. Sounds like you already had a few.”
Jason shook his head. “Sorry. Your language confused me for a moment. I’ve got the hang of it, though. I’d appreciate it if you would cease working on the engine. There’s no escape.”
Dirk punched Jason’s shoulder. “Quit clowning around, grab a wrench, and go to work.”
Jason waited until Dirk turned his attention back to the engines, and then he brought his flashlight down on the back of the mechanic’s head. Wordlessly, Dirk dropped in a heap, his tools rolling off into the darkness.
“Sorry, friend,” Jason said. “I did ask politely.”
Janna hummed the most recent, chart-topping Assblasters tune as she strolled down the hall to the commissary. A trip to the gym, she decided, would be too trying for her. How many times had she all but thrown herself at Rico? How many times had he subtly rejected her? She knew she didn’t look like much, but even she had some pride.
No, a beer would be more conducive to her happy-go-lucky nature. And since the lights were out, who knew how much longer the beer would be cold?
As she approached the door to the caf, a scream echoed through the corridor. The sudden sound made her pause, and when she heard the growl, she rushed forward, cranking the door open by hand.
They were like animals; their wild movements and the frantic sounds confused Janna, so much so that she thought Rico was raping Winter. The two of them flailed against each other with such a force that they slapped and squished together.
Janna wanted to rush into the room, to pull Rico away from his victim, but when she saw Winter claw his back—-in a good way—-she felt her stomach revolt. How many times had Janna fantasized about Rico naked? Only to finally see him nude in reality . . . like this? His back shone with sweat, and she could see his balls between his legs. When Rico dragged Winter to the floor, Janna could see the rest of his equipment, enough to realize that she had not been generous in her dreams, after all.
What am I thinking? She tried to look away, surprised to find that she couldn’t. Her breath raggedly came in and out her mouth, and heat smoldered all over her body. She wanted to masturbate while watching them, but when she realized this, she pushed the thought away.
Disgust burned at the sides of Janna’s neck and in her forehead. She forced herself to look away from Rico’s pumping buttocks, and she dragged herself from the room. Once outside, she leaned back against the wall and sighed. The perverse desire to watch slowly baked its way from her body, and she felt anger take its place. She’d known Rico was kind of a slut, but he also never slept with anyone an associate had been with. Everyone knew Winter was fucking the captain. Why was Rico with her now? Janna was the only available woman on board. He was supposed to be with her.
Janna wiped at the wetness under her eyes, satisfied that she was finally showing the proper response. Fuck the beer, she thought, and she headed back to her quarters, where she had a bottle of vodka stashed away.
Rico and Winter did not keep track of how often they came; they just kept hurling orgasms against one another. They had no need to stop in between to regroup. Like wild beasts, they continued to hammer away as if they feared that stopping would be the death of them both.
But as with all good things, their passionate bout of sex came to an end, and they peeled away from each other, lying on a floor puddled with their juices.
“You have no idea how long I’ve wanted that,” Winter said.
“Five hundred years?” Rico asked. “Six hundred?”
“That sounds right. I’ve lost count, but yeah. Probably.”
Rico looked down at his bruised, chapped penis. “I think I broke it.”
Winter touched her vagina and showed off her bloody fingers. “Me, too. But it was worth it.”
“Hundreds of years, just floating in the cosmos. I thought about a thousand things in that time.”
“Food. Entertainment. What I’d do if I ever got a body again.”
Rico put his hands behind his head and sighed. “The top of the list was getting laid.”
“Shit. If I didn’t hurt so much, I’d go again.”
Jason didn’t need the flashlight to find the comm. He pressed the button on the comm, yet as soon as he did so, he knew that it didn’t work.
He grunted. “Alien technology.”
Then, he closed his eyes and concentrated, willing the device to come back on line. It took a minute, but he felt the click of energy being restored, and he pressed the button again.
A voice came through on the comm, and Everson had to cross his legs to avoid pissing himself.
“I thought that thing didn’t work,” Pamela said.
“It doesn’t.” Drake rushed to the lieutenant’s side and pushed the button. “Drake here. Go ahead.”
“Are you the captain of this vessel?”
Drake sighed. “Jason, quit fucking with me. What’s up?”
“Jason? You mean, Jason Middleton, the so-called FNG? Yes. This is his body, but my name is Snichlo. I am . . . was a citizen of the planet Ravlet, which once resided here centuries ago.”
Everson covered the speaker. “We’re practically locked into place, Captain. We’re still approaching the core, but for all intents and purposes, we’re a part of this Ravlet place, if that’s what it really is called.”
“Is that bad news?” Drake asked.
“I don’t know. All I know is that we’re now orbiting this sun, and that scares me.”
“Captain Drake?” Snichlo said. “Are you still there? I was hoping you and I could meet and have a chat . . . ?”