‘How long has she been gone?’
‘A few days now.’
‘Jorja, we are leaving as soon as the Jimble comes back. We won’t wait.’
She knew it was useless to ask, ‘What about leaving people behind’. She’d been left once in the hands of an alien race called the Marquis de Sadi, the human term given to them, and she would be damned if she did it to her…friend. The problem was the Jimbles. They were bloody unreliable, but they had to hitch a ride whenever one came. After a major cataclysmic event in space, the same one that ruined humans, massive creatures evolved that resembled jellies on Earth. They had the ability to travel through space in a blink of an eye. After some experimentation engineers had come up with a way to hitch a ride under a jelly and do a little ‘reprogramming’ using cybernetic fibres. Once plugged in to the jelly’s nerve net a vessel could direct the jelly to a new location.
She’d just returned from a meeting where they’d discussed Mary’s going AWOL. A general had stayed opposite her on the oval table in the briefing room while others drifted away. Other generals had gone reluctantly, many displeased with the decision to leave one of their own, despite the circumstances. Some simply wanted Mary back to be disciplined.
When the room had emptied he had put both his arms on the table and rubbed at his head. ‘Jorja, if you disobey them I can’t protect you. It’ll be the brig and then some other punishment, they’ll clear your accounts, down-grade your position or move you…’
‘I know’, she had replied dully.
Jorja now hummed to herself thinking. She was sitting in the mess playing with her shiny fork. The jellies were attracted to shiny objects and that was the reason why the space craft lit up with special arrays when they wanted a lift somewhere. She prodded her fork into her pie and ate a piece barely tasting it. The fork was now covered in a layer of meat and crust. The problem was sometimes the jelly didn’t want to cooperate and several ships had been stranded until they could hitch another ride. The Espians, a newly evolved race who Jorja despised, said just as humans could think across their consciousness the jellies did the same and the bodies took just a second or two to catch up. Humans had managed space travel within their own galaxy but needed the Jimbles to go anywhere else.
She poked at her pie again and more meat and pastry stuck to it. It didn’t look as attractive now. She grinned and left the room. A familiar presence joined her.
Pretty Max winked when he saw her smile. ‘What do you want me to do? I heard the Jimble is being directed back here?’
‘Dump some crap of course.’
Hours later, the Jimble hovered nearby in space, its translucent body fighting the strange urge to move toward the unattractive, dull vessel. Its thousand kilometre long tentacles swayed with uncertainty. Every time the vessel moved forward the Jimble shifted back.
The Captain swore at the monitors showing the problem, ‘Get a cleaning crew out there. And get Jorja in here.’
An orux came up to Scalice and Krud interrupting their game. ‘We wanna go to the breeding grounds. Some of us haven’t had a bit in a while.’
‘Alright, but don’t be gone long and make sure you’re not followed. Don’t tell ‘em where you’re from either, otherwise your reception is likely to be a bit frosty.’
‘Good point.’ Whoops could be heard outside as the group set off.
Krud grunted, ‘We won’t see them for a few days. Why can’t we go home again?’
Scalice ignored him and concentrated on not winning too quickly. Krud hated losing. It wasn’t because Scalice was avoiding a fight, he would have won, but rather it was that part of him that made him so different from the others.
Krud chewed a nut, shell and all, ‘You haven’t been to the breeding grounds since we came here.’ There was a long silence. ‘I said….’
‘I heard you the first time.’ Scalice growled and looked at his friend tilting his head wondering where the conversation was going to lead.
‘You want one of those women don’t you, the ones at the farm.’
A knife went swiftly to Krud’s throat, silence filled the room. ‘No, I don’t want one of those prissy women. I just haven’t felt like it.’
Krud stared down at the knife and snatched it from Scalice, ‘That’s my blade you stinking rose garden.’
The fight was on.
Soon the blade was safely back in Scalice’s pouch and Krud sat back down nursing his wounds scowling at the knife. It was his turn and when he lost he smashed the table and the game board and went to get drunk.
After picking up the scattered Battle Rats and placing them carefully within their box, Scalice followed suit to get drunk but for different reasons. There was always a price to pay when you rebelled against authority.
Early evening Scalice, slightly inebriated, swayed with the wind under cover of shrubs and small trees. He’d taken a little stroll, a few hours from his base, to the nearest human settlement. From his spying of the farmlands in the moonlight he could make out there were quite a few good looking farm women who seemed all unattached and Scalice wondered about that. There was some farm festival on. Zeft, one of the deadliest soldiers he had, had said he found most of them unappetizing. He said they were too talkative. But then again he had just arrived back from the breeding grounds and had been bragging about his prowess which led to Scalice taking this little stroll. He strolled back to the caves taking a swig now and again on his canteen.
It was a chilly evening and Scalice was now standing watch over a newly built battlement. Zeft joined him in the bright moonlight. The intrepid leader tried to connect with his fearsome warrior.
‘Sounds like you had a good time at the breeding grounds.’
Zeft grunted and leaned on the battlement rail. ‘It was ok. Some of those orux females leave a lot to be desired.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘All they want is to get it over with so they can laugh behind our backs and have babies.’
Scalice was surprised; this was the first time Zeft opened up to him. He glanced around to make sure none of his men were in hearing distance.
Zeft said without looking around, ‘There’s no one to hear so you can relax. Orux like you and me ‘ave got reputations to consider. I want a relationship like them humans do. But I don’t want a skinny one or one that talks too much. The true bonding, the Unir, between an orux female and male is too rare.’
There was a moment’s stillness before Zeft asked, ‘What are you writing about?’
There was an awkward silence.
Scalice glanced down at his suddenly twitching hands, ‘Do you want a diary?’
Zeft nodded at his leader and left. It might help but then again, Scalice could get away with being…different. Zeft had the respect of the men to maintain. At times he taught hard lessons but it was the way of the orux.
Scalice gazed out and turned when a yell echoed across the valley. An object in the sky was moving at incredible speeds. The object was bright in the moonlight and smashed to the ground leaving in its wake a trench-like depression. It stopped and flames burnt high then went out as quickly as they started.
Orux ran out from their caves thinking it was a quake. A team was quickly assembled and Scalice included himself shaking off the effects of alcohol. The group carefully approached the massive oval object. The moonlight reflected on its structure and Scalice could not help but run his broad fingered hand over the surface. His tough sharp nails made no noise as he tried to dig into the outer shell.
They all jumped back when an opening appeared and a skinny woman dressed in skin-tight pants and top staggered out. She yelled something but collapsed before she had finished. Smoke billowed out from the entrance that glowed with a strange light. Scalice signalled one of the skellums to pick her up because the orux or gragnors might break her. Once the woman was off the ramp, the light disappeared.
Scalice spoke to Zeft who appeared at his side as a gragnor was moving back and forward activating and deactivating the light. ‘Take a look inside and collect anything that looks useful.’ He watched the light go on and off, ‘And tell Ruska to get of the ramp.’