As it turned out, tricking the newcomers into entering the wash bay was unnecessary; the group of them, led by Mplifsy, were on their way down to inspect it for possible use in their project. Yet Rico, Pamela, and Winter stood in the corridor, wearing nothing, holding only flashlights.
“Jesus Christ,” Pamela said, shivering. “Why’d we have to do this naked?”
“We had to show off the goods,” Winter said. She, too, felt the cold, but she didn’t want to show it, so she playfully tweaked a nipple.
Rico watched this with a smile. If they weren’t in so much danger, this would have been sexy.
Winter giggled and pointed. “Looks like Rico’s not effected by the chilly air.”
Pamela looked. “God, Rico. You’re getting a hard-on now?”
“I’m here with two hot, naked chicks. Wouldn’t you, in my place?”
“Sh!” Winter said. “Here they come.”
The group of five stepped around the corner. None of them wore their helmets, so each face stood out clearly. As soon as they saw the naked people, they paused, watching.
“Uh . . . ,” Pamela said. She picked the one in front. “Hey there, handsome.” She felt stupid as she grabbed her breasts and shook them in what she hoped was an enticing manner.
Rico looked at the ladies. “Wow, these chicks are lookers. You guys wanna’ ride this?” He pointed his dick at them.
Winter sighed. “You guys are lame.”
Mplifsy lifted his rifle. “Don’t move.”
“Shit!” Rico whipped around and started running.
Winter and Pamela quickly followed. “This was a shitty plan, Winter!”
“How was I to know? I’m really a blonde!”
“Shut up!” Rico said. “They’re following us!”
The three of them burst into the wash bay, and the women ran to cover behind Janna, who stood holding the pressure gun like a warrior. Rico dove to the side, covering his face with his hands.
When the five aliens entered, Janna didn’t give them an opportunity to realize they had stepped into a trap. She pulled the trigger and sent a powerful spray into their faces. To make sure she got all of them, she waved the gun back and forth, making it impossible to miss.
All five cried out in surprise, only to have their mouths filled with gallons of the cheapest whiskey earth had to offer. By the time they tried to cover their faces, it was too late. Booze was already coursing through their veins and saturating their hair and dripping from their noses. Their eyes burned with the stuff.
One of them retched, but nothing came out. By then, the gun was losing juice, so Janna turned it off and watched as the five bodies writhed and slipped in the puddle of alcohol.
Finally, one of them started sobbing. Another said, “Thank you! Thank you for saving us! Jesus, my eyes! But thanks!”
Rico stood from where he’d been crouching in the corner. His skin shone with liquor, but he’d kept the important parts covered; as a result, he felt no pain. “Holy shit, guys. It worked. Janna, you rock!”
Janna grinned, a little embarrassed that Rico—-the real Rico—-had just genuinely complimented her. She put the gun down so she could wipe droplets from her glasses. “It was your plan, Rico.”
The air throbbed, and Janna’s chest disappeared in a gory haze. She didn’t even scream as her fried insides plopped out and her blood ran for the drain. Her eyes offered a dazed, confused look before she collapsed, breaking her glasses beneath her body.
Pamela shrieked, and Winter rushed to Janna’s side, to no avail. Nobody could do anything for her now.
Ben stood in the doorway, waving his pulse rifle at everyone in the room. “Calm down. Do not move. We need your bodies, but I will not hesitate to shoot anyone who resists.”
Rico, who stood behind Ben, realized the alien hadn’t seen him. As quietly as he could, he stepped across the wet floor in his bare feet, approaching Ben’s back.
Deep down inside, the real Ben looked forlornly through the eyeholes above him. He never really cared much for Janna, but she was still one of his crewmates. One of three his body had recently killed, and it wasn’t getting easier on his heart.
In a flash, he saw two arms cross his field of vision, and when the world tilted, he knew someone had finally gotten the drop on Aladnadine.
Even though Rico now had Ben in a headlock, the alien refused to drop his weapon. He fired wildly, and a hunk of the wall was blasted to pieces.
“Winter!” Rico yelled. “The pressure gun! Get it!”
Aladnadine fired again, this time singeing the hair of a newcomer. He watched helplessly as Winter picked up the pressure gun, aimed it at his head, and pulled the trigger.
It spat out a weak spray, no stronger than a stream of piss.
“Shit!” Winter cried.
Aladnadine tried to shoot her, but his arm wavered too much, growing weak from resisting Rico’s hold. The blast went into a newcomer’s head—-one of the women—-sending chunks of her skull showering around her companions.
Rico now knew there was only one ending to this. “Sorry, bro. I’m really, really sorry.”
The real Ben sighed. “I know. It’s cool.”
Rico shifted his weight, grabbing both sides of Ben’s head. Then, putting all of his body into it, he twisted as hard as he could. Ben’s neck broke with a sound like celery snapping, and his head turned almost all the way around.
In that last moment, recognition came into Ben’s eyes, and Rico knew he was really looking at his best friend. His eyes burned, and he wanted to apologize again, but grief clogged his throat.
Ben’s eyes went blank, and his body slumped to the floor.
Drake couldn’t take it anymore. The pulse rifle sang out its presence to him, inviting him to pick it up and use it on Snichlo. And it wouldn’t be too difficult; the alien kept turning his back to look out into space, at the planet in the making. Outside, a ship from the project approached, full of reinforcements per a recent order from the alien, since the Duke turned out to be bigger than Snichlo had expected. Was this lack of attention to his prisoner a ruse to see if Drake would go for the gun? Or could his guard really be down?
And if the captain failed, so what? Snichlo had already said that Drake was doomed. What did the difference between sooner or later matter?
It had to be now. Drake felt too sober, and who knew how much longer he had before an alien possessed him? He watched Snichlo from his periphery, pretending to still be a bit sozzled. Then, as Snichlo touched the window, standing so close to it that his breath fogged the glass, Drake dove for the gun.
Just as Snichlo expected him to do. With the grace of a gymnast, he pushed Jason’s body forward in a leap, and when he came back down, he held the rifle, pointing it at Drake. “A fine attempt, Captain. But don’t worry. You’re almost out of time.”
“Just shoot me and get it over with, you prick,” Drake said.
Snichlo shouldered the rifle. “It’s not so bad, being trapped forever. You’ll get used to it.”
Drake grunted. “Sure. That’s why you’re chomping at the bit to get some bodies.”
Snichlo recoiled, as if hurt, but then an easy smile slipped across his face. “I’d like you to meet a friend of mine, Captain. His name is Holtov. You can’t see him, but he’s floating around your head like a halo.”
Drake cast his eyes upward, but all he saw was the ceiling.
“He’s waiting, Captain. Waiting to become you.”
A shudder gripped Drake’s nerves, and he felt kind of stupid, like a teenager who has been startled during a campfire ghost story.
Something cracked behind them, and the sound echoed through the bridge, causing them both to jerk. Drake whirled around to see the door being cranked open by Rico. Behind him, four people with pulse rifles stood, aiming around the guard’s body and at Snichlo.
The alien, anxious, gazed at the newcomers. At first, his eyes shone with recognition, but then, they narrowed and dimmed.
The door opened the rest of the way, and Rico took up his own weapon, kneeling in front of the others. He aimed at Snichlo. “Put it down, asshole.”
The alien laughed. The hollow racket bounced off the walls. “Desist, or I’ll shoot your captain.”
“You won’t,” Rico said. “You need his body.”
“And you won’t shoot me,” Snichlo said. “I wear your friend’s body.”
“Don’t be too sure. I just killed Ben, and he was one of my closest bros. I hardly knew FNG. What do you think? Because this shit’s gone far enough, yo.”
Uncertainty crept onto Snichlo’s face, and his rifle wavered. Not enough for Drake to make a go of it, but enough to be noticeable.
“Don’t try me, motherfucker,” Rico said. “Too many of my friends died today. Just give it up. Go back to your ghost planet and leave us alone.”
Drake saw the tears in Rico’s eyes, gathering at the lower lids, about to brim over. The light-brown skin of his face turned red, and though his jaw shivered, his rifle did not. The captain thought Snichlo’s prospects were nil. Maybe Jason’s, too.
Snichlo’s eyes went blank, and for a moment, Drake thought he’d decided to listen to Rico. Yet, he still seemed aware, and the gun was still pointed at the captain. The room went quiet as everyone held their breath, waiting. Drake hazarded a glance out the window to see the other ship was still approaching. It would probably be here in a half-hour. Something had to happen. Now.
Snichlo blinked. “Fine. I know when I’m beaten. Not that it happens all that often. But I’ll be damned if I let you monkeys win anything more than a pyrrhic victory.”
He yanked the gun aside and fired into the hull.
Drake wondered what the fuck Snichlo was doing. Pulse guns couldn’t blast through anything made of steel, which was why they had them on board. What kind of moron was this?
Snichlo’s eyes went wide when he noticed that his attack had been futile. He pulled the trigger again, and the gun beeped. A red light flashed.
Drake knew he only had three seconds before the gun recharged; he lurched forward. The alien saw him coming, and he put the rifle up as a shield. Too late. The captain bowled him over, and they flopped to the floor, tangled in one another. Snichlo flailed about as Drake tried to nail him in the face.
Rico and the others approached, training their weapons on the fight, but mostly they watched, cheering the captain on.
Finally, Drake pushed Snichlo’s head away and managed to get a punch up under the alien’s chin. Something snapped in his skull, and a couple of teeth skittered away from his mouth, leaving a tiny, thin trail of blood.
Drake dragged himself to his feet, panting. Snichlo didn’t move.
“Way to go, Cap!” Rico said. They bumped fists.
Pamela and Winter, who had been hiding outside the room, rushed in and headed for Drake. Then, they noticed each other, and they came up short. Between them, the daggers from their eyes clashed silently; then, Pamela said, as sweetly as she could, “You were great, Philbin.”
“That was the shit,” Winter said, equally as sweet.
Drake glanced at them both, knowing better than to say anything. “Uh . . . can someone get Jason a drink? So we can get that fuck-nub out of him?”
“Sorry, skipper,” Rico said. “We’re out. We used it all on these guys.” He hooked a thumb to the four newcomers.
“Shit. I don’t suppose any of you are mechanics? Engineers?”
Two of them sheepishly raised their hands. But one added, “We’ve never worked on a vessel like this, though. I don’t know if we can get your engines going again.”
Drake looked out the window. The ship was larger. “You’re going to have to give it a try. Rico, there’s got to be a user’s manual around here somewhere. Help these guys find it.”
“Winter, Pamela, get some zip-ties before this guy wakes up.”
“Why?” Winter asked. “What’s he going to do? He’s your bitch now.”
“He’s got some, I don’t know, weird ability. He can shut down the engines just by touching the controls. I don’t want him to be able to touch shit.”
Pamela smirked at Winter. “Aye-aye, Philbin.”
As she walked away, ass twitching back and forth, Drake said, “Hey! When you’re on the bridge, you should call me Captain!”
The two remaining newcomers stared at him as if he were a savage beast. Then, he realized that he thought of them as newcomers because they really were newcomers; therefore, they didn’t know about the group dynamic.
“Sorry,” he said. “You gotta’ know us to get us.”
One of them coughed. “Thanks for rescuing us. And sorry about your friends.”
And then, Drake remembered Everson, and he had to sit down. Because he didn’t want these new people to see his tears, he turned away from them and pretended to be fixing his hair.
After about twenty minutes, Snichlo opened his eyes and saw Captain Philbin Drake sitting in the pilot’s chair, leisurely laying back and watching the space in front of him. Next, Snichlo noticed that he couldn’t move. Something bound his hands behind his back and his ankles together. Lastly, he saw that the lights were on, and the engines hummed beneath the floor.
“Smell that?” Drake asked. “That, you scumbag piece of shit, is the smell of clean, recycled air. I hope you enjoy it. It’s the last time you’ll experience it.”
Snichlo glared at him. Though his mouth was not gagged, he said nothing. All the curse words he knew jammed in the bottleneck of his throat.
Drake returned the look. “You killed some of my closest friends. Everson, Ben, Dirk, Janna. You mind-raped Winter and Rico. And you tried to kill the rest of us. If I could kill you, I would. But maybe this is for the best, that you return to the cosmic dust. I’m going to have this sector quarantined. As long as us humans exist, you will never get another body.”
Snichlo choked. “You monkeys are a drop in the bucket! We are forever.”
“Yeah, and something tells me you’re starting to curse that fact, fucko. Take a look outside.” He pointed to the window, which had returned to the digital view.
Snichlo continued to stare at Drake.
The captain shrugged. “Your crew is falling behind. And there . . . that’s the boundary of your ghost planet. Pretty soon, you’ll be hanging out with your boys again. Just floating around, doing nothing. Shit, you won’t even be able to waste time jerking off.”
Snichlo finally looked and saw that the phantom glow of his home had faded. He felt his entire body give in, and his eyes slumped to the floor.
Drake leaned over the chair’s arm so his face was mere inches from Snichlo’s. “Eat a dick, shiteyes.”
Snichlo felt something tugging at his insides like a hand rooting around in his guts. He wished he could say one final scathing thing to Drake—-if only to savor the ability to use a mouth one last time—-but he was too tired. Why fight oblivion?
Drake heard a moan escape from Snichlo’s throat, and he watched the body shudder, then spasm. The eyes went wide, and when they narrowed again, the alien was gone.
Jason looked about the bridge-room, and when he saw Drake, he closed his eyes and wept.
The door hissed open, and Pamela stepped onto the bridge. Drake sat at Everson’s old chair, keeping an eye on the controls that covered his lap. She stepped forward until she was in front of him, obscuring his view of the window.
“What’s up, babe?” Drake asked.
“FNG’s finally talking.”
Drake nodded. It had been a month since they escaped from the ghost planet.
“Remember how Snichlo shot the wall, trying to blast through the hull and kill us?” she asked.
“FNG says he put that idea into Snichlo’s head. Lucky for us, right?”
“He’s a good kid. I’m glad he’s aboard. And he’s not the new guy anymore, so let’s start calling him Jason.”
Pamela paused. “Doesn’t it bother you that we left those other people behind? The ones who chased us in their ship?”
“Nope. Why? Are the new folks asking questions?”
“No. But shouldn’t we have done something?”
“Do I look like a hero to you?” Drake asked. “I’m an asshole. I drink too much. I can’t keep my dick in my pants. Hell, I couldn’t even keep my dick in your pants.”
“No. We barely made it out of there alive. We’ve got corpses in our freezer. Bodies that used to be people who are near and dear to us. The first thing I did was send a message home. The military is going to deal with that quagmire. Let them do their job.”
Once again, she hesitated. Her teeth worked at her lower lip, and one finger twirled a loose strand of hair. “About us.”
“I’m sorry. Maybe there was too much miscommunication. I should have been more open-minded. Do you, you know . . . want to try again?”
Drake’s breath caught in his throat. “Um . . . .”
“Maybe tonight?” she asked.
“Well, I . . . sure.”
Pamela leaned over the controls and gently touched her lips to his. Her tongue slipped quietly into his mouth.
“I’ll see you in my quarters,” he whispered against her kiss. “Nine tonight?”
Pamela pulled back, grinning. “See you then.”
She walked away, and Drake stared at her ripe peach of an ass. As she exited and the door closed behind her, he shuddered for a few seconds. When he was done, he pulled back and Winter crawled out from under the control board. She wiped her mouth, and he closed his pants.
“You’re a bastard, you know that?” she said.
“What was I supposed to say? ‘Sorry, honey, but I can’t fuck you because my dick’s too busy in Winter’s mouth?’ That would have gone over real well.”
She giggled. “I kinda’ like what just happened. It was hot.”
“I thought I saw some rose in your cheeks.”
“I also like the idea of you fucking Pammie with my juices still on you. What do you think of that?”
“I think one of you is going to kill me long before we get back to earth.”
“Maybe we both will.”
Drake grunted. “Probably.”
Winter blew him a kiss. “Later, Philly.” And she followed Pamela out.
Drake put up his feet on the control panel and his hands behind his head. Then, he thought that the lack of alcohol would probably kill him long before the women did. He still had his private stock—-two bottles of whiskey remained—-but there was still a month to go before they made it home. The whiskey would be gone by the end of the week. How was he going to last the rest of the time?
Then he laughed, remembering that they still had plenty of beer in the commissary. He preferred the hard stuff, but he was certain that a few brews would get the job done . . . .