2001 Space Oddities, Chapter 2: Sucks to be You
Dirk ignored the general din around him as he read a book, the text displayed on a screen built into the table at which he sat, until the sound of clopping flip-flops stopped just behind him. A chill ran up his spine as if someone had walked across his grave, the odor accompanying it akin to that person having then taken a shit on it.
“Dirk Dingleberry,” a raspy voice grated behind him.
Dirk looked up but didn’t turn around. “It’s Dewberry, actually, but thanks for nostalgic trip back to third grade where the last kid called me Dingleberry. I hit him so fuckin’ hard with my lunchbox I put him special class. I don’t suppose you went to East Freemont reform school did you? You might have met him. He was the one drooling, you know, more than the others.”
“No, it’s definitely Dingleberry. You’re a little piece of shit clinging to the asses of greater men.”
Dirk swiveled around on the backless seat attached to the table and smiled up at the green and brown mottled face glaring down at him. “Rakash, are you lost? This area is for the people who will actually get out of this place someday.”
“There appears to be a problem with the showers in supermax again,” Rakash replied in a deep, phlegmy voice.
Dirk crinkled his nose and squinted one eye. “Speaking of clinging shit, I have a feeling this is not a recent development.”
Rakash glared at him a moment before growling, “I know you stole my cake.”
“You know damn well what cake. My birthday cake that was in the kitchen.”
Dirk shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t have access to the kitchens. I’m on mop and sop duty. Besides, they keep that place locked up tight on account of all the sharp and pointy things they have in there. You should talk to the kitchen workers.”
“Ah, that explains the plain protein bars instead of our usual breakfast gruel. Hard to make shit on a cinder block when all you’re given is the cinder block.”
Rakash bent down, an action that took a moment due to his substantial height, sniffed, and squinted at brown speck on Dirk’s prison shirt. “What is that?”
Dirk tucked his chin and rolled his eyes downward. “Probably just a rat turd.”
“How would a rat turd get on a space station?”
Rakash licked the tip of a long, gnarly finger, pressed it to the speck, and then brought it to his mouth.
“You’re just gonna roll the dice the on that not being a rat turd, huh? Man, remind me never to gamble with you.”
The troll rubbed the crumb around in his overly large mouth. “Chocolate.”
“Chocolate space rats?” Dirk said, his inflection rising.
A low rumbling reverberated from Rakash’s throat, usually a sure sign of impending violence, but he choked it off and stood up straight. “You’re lucky I have more important things to do at the moment, and I don’t want to waste the time to rip off your arms and legs and eat them in lieu of my cake.”
“Human is usually more of a Christmas meal anyway. Tell you what, now that I know it’s your birthday, I want to give you present.”
Rakash squinted at Dirk. “What?”
“An exfoliating loofah. If you scrub hard enough you might be able to get rid of that new dick smell you got clinging you.”
The rumbling returned, and Dirk was sure he had finally gone too far and pressed the button that would result in the loss of one or more limbs. The guards certainly appeared to show no interest in the future of his good health and watched on like sports spectators. A large shadow fell over them both, and Rakash ceased his growing.
Dirk craned his head up and saw Brick looming over them both with his massive arms crossed before his chest. He bore a look meant to intimidate, and few creatures wore such a look better than a Stone Biter ogre did.
Rakash looked up from his own imposing height of seven feet to meet Brick’s fierce gaze and smiled. “I hope you and your friends enjoyed the cake. I think it’s important for people to enjoy their last meal. Farewell to you all.”
Both men watched the troll stalk toward the showers, his rubber sandals slapping the hard floor.
Brick let out the breath he had been holding. “Wow, that was intense. I thought for sure he was going to kill you, and I didn’t want to be put in the position to avenge your death.”
“What are you worried about? You took him once. I’m sure you could do it again.”
Brick shrugged and rolled his head around on his thick neck. “Yeah, I know, but…I just don’t want to be that guy anymore.”
“The guy who’s always fighting and hurting people and biting off bits of their body. Being stuck in here has made me realize that I’ve been living my life wrong, and I want to take this time to better myself. Learn a new way to express my feelings.”
“You mean without biting off people’s penises?”
“Definitely without biting off penises. That…that was a low point for me. You know, my rock bottom.”
Dirk grinned up him. “Or cock bottom.”
“That’s not funny.”
“Sorry. What do you think he meant by the cake being our last meal? I can’t help thinking he meant that as a threat.”
Brick bobbed his head. “It was definitely a threat.”
“It’s weird that the showers in supermax are broken again isn’t it? I mean, all of them? What are the odds of all of them being broken again?”
“Math isn’t really my strong suit.”
“I’m no master of probability either, but it’s gotta be astronomical. Maybe we should ask Red.”
“Ask Red what,” Red asked.
Red and the rest of his cell block strolled up, probably having seen the exchange between him and Rakash and had been waiting for its conclusion before approaching. Of the group, only Jorildyn and the half-elf Rafael had not been part of his crew, but they had shared the same prison wing with them for the past three years and he had pseudo adopted them even though he found the uptight elf and vacuous half-elf a bit tedious at times.
“Rakash said all the showers were broken in supermax again. That’s why he’s down here in genpop,” Dirk replied.
Red scratched beneath his ginger beard. “That don’t sound right. Whoever put this station together did a damn good job. It’s built to ensure there is minimal maintenance so there are as few unknowns coming in and out to cut down on contraband and the possibility of escape.”
“You think it’s part of an escape plan?”
Punx shook her head. “Not a chance. There’s a ten-light-minute transit inhibitor all around the station. That means a ship can only approach using their sub-light system drive, and this place has defenses equal to a military outpost. Any ships trying to get close without authorization would get shredded before they got within a thousand kilometers.”
“Well, he’s definitely up to something,” Dirk insisted.
“Whatever it is, it’s definitely not escape.”
Several explosions rocked the station and an automated voice rang out over the loudspeakers. “Attention, emergency lockdown procedures are now in place. Prisoners are required to return to their cells immediately. Armed response teams are required at the central hub corridors A-1, A-2, and A-3. Armed response teams are required at general population ring corridors A-2 and B-3.”
“Nice call, Punx,” Dirk shouted over the alarm klaxon. “With psychic powers like that you could be the next Nostradamus, if Nostradamus was a retarded space rat.”
“With this being prison and all I’d probably make an exception and take you up on that, but I don’t think there’s time.”
Jorildyn tugged on his arm. “We need to get out of here.”
“I agree, but where?”
“Back to our cells, obviously.”
“Are you out of your mind, lock ourselves in a tiny cubicle while the whole fuckin’ prison blows up around us?”
“At least we have additional force fields and an air supply there!”
“Air Supply, best freakin’ classic rock band ever, and definitely what I want played at my funeral, but I’m not ready to die yet.”
Another explosion rocked the station.
“Then where the hell do you suggest we go?” Jorildyn shouted as prisoners and guards rushed about, all eager to reach some sort of safety.
“Attention. Armed response teams needed at airlock B-2 in the general population ring,” the automated system blared.
Dirk grinned widely. “Airlock B-2.”
“Where the armed response team is now going? Are you mad?”
“I’m not exactly happy about having the station blowing up around me, but I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily mad.”
“I mean are you insane!”
“There’s been some discussions on the matter, but that’s neither here nor there. The response teams are spread thin, and if they need one at the airlock, then that means there’s a ship there that’s not supposed to be. That means that’s how Rakash plans on getting off this floating scrap heap, which means it’s the best chance we have at getting off this floating scrap heap.”
“And you think he’s just going to let us hitch a ride, assuming we can even reach it?”
“Fuck no, not a chance. That’s why we’re gonna steal it. You guys with me, or do you trust that the prison isn’t going to develop a core breach and explode in a tiny nova and spread our atoms across the cosmos?”
Jorildyn opened her mouth but snapped it shut when an another explosion shook the decking and the emergency lights came on to chase away the moment of pure darkness. “Let’s get out of here.”
Dirk and crew raced for one of several connecting corridors but not the one that led directly to the B-2 airlock since that would likely put armed response teams and whoever was orchestrating the prison break between them and what they all hoped was a waiting ship. The sound of gunfire, both low yield energy and slug throwers designed to be used inside ships and stations with the reduced chance of causing hull breaches, grew louder.
They slowed to a hurried shuffle as the firefight sounded as though it were just around the corner. Which it was. Dirk saw the backs of not armed security exchanging gunfire with armed prison guards around another corner. He motioned his people to stay quiet and hasten toward the airlock. Just beyond the open blast door which should have been closed during a lockdown, stood two more men who were clearly not guards, crouched around the airlock bulkhead.
Dirk motioned for Brick to come forward where he hid behind the blast door bulkhead. “I know you’re going through some emotional and spiritual metamorphosis, but behind those two assholes is our only chance at freedom. Can I get you to go full out Hulk on ‘em?”
Brick took only a second to think about it before nodding. He began taking in deep breaths, each one coming faster than the previous one until the jaundiced whites of his eyes turned red and his body trembled. With an ear-shattering roar, he grabbed the one-piece prison jumpsuit in his massive hands, ripped it off his body, and charged the two men guarding the airlock.
“Why did he have to get naked to do that?” Jorildyn asked, her face blanching at the sight but unable to look away.
“The only thing more terrifying and morale-destroying than a charging, enraged rock biter ogre is a charging, naked, enraged rock biter ogre,” Dirk replied.
The two men guarding the airlock screamed in panic and fired wildly. One had a slug slower and the other a laser rifle, but the reduced power they used for shipboard combat did little more than gouge furrows and singe Brick’s thick epidermis. Brick grabbed the one who stood and turned to run by one arm and the back of his neck and proceeded to beat the other man with him until they both stopped moving and screaming.
With another roar, he disappeared into the vessel. After a minute or two, bodies started flying out of the ship and piling up near the airlock. Dirk turned when the gunfire behind him changed tempo. His eyes widened and turned to his crew when a familiar form rounded the corner.
“Oh shit, it’s Rakash! You guys get inside and help Brick secure the ship. I’ll try to slow him down.”
Jorildyn and the others didn’t need any more encouragement when Rakash bellowed in rage as his eyes settled on Dirk. Dirk could tell he had taken several wounds, but only the laser weapons remained blistered and angry. He could heal the wounds caused by the slug throwers with his insane regeneration ability nearly as fast as they inflicted damage.
Dirk stepped inside the airlock and closed the door with a push of the button. Rakash slammed into the steel portal, rebounded, and pushed the button to open it back up. Dirk pushed the button on his side, and the door slid back shut.
“You miserable piece of shit!” Rakash screamed through the small window in the airlock door. “Open this goddam door or I will hunt you down no matter where you hide! I will hang you in my larder and cut off pieces of your flesh for my dinner. I will pump you full of regens so you’ll never die!”
“Whoa, calm down there. I’m trying to open the door. I think it’s broken,” Dirk said, his voice sent over the speakers built into both sides of the door.
“Bullshit! You’re trying to steal my ship!”
“What? No, you got it all wrong. An armed response team stormed it and we’re trying to get it back so you can drop us off on the nearest planet or station out of system. We’re on the same side here. It’s us versus them.”
Rakash pushed the button and the door slid up an inch before Dirk closed it again. The troll’s outraged screams were incoherent, the spittle flying from his mouth obscuring the window.
“Hold on,” Dirk said, pretending to listen to someone inside. “Red says your goons must of damaged the servos. We have to push the buttons at the same time.”
Rakash’s pointed teeth gnashed together and he gave Dirk a curt nod.
“OK, we push on three. Ready? One…two…three.”
Rakash pushed his button and the door slid up an inch before slamming back down.
“You mother fucker!” Rakash screamed.
“Me? You’re the one who pushed it too early!”
“You said on three!”
“Yeah, one, two, three, push.”
“So after three, not on three!”
“It’s the same thing.”
“It’s not the same fucking thing!” Rakash bellowed. “One is pushing on the word three, the other is after, the same as if pushing on four.”
“Four?” Dirk asked, cocking his head. “Who fuckin’ said anything about four? There’s no four.” An explosion shook the station and a fireball erupted into the men holding off the security team. Dirk thought it might have been from a missile launched outside the prison. “Let’s try again. On three. Remember, one, two, three, push.”
“Fine, just do it already!”
“Here goes. One…two…Dirk pushed the button and door started to slide open. Rakash pushed his button a second later before his brain could register that the door was already moving and it slid shut again.
He pounded on the barrier with his fist. “Goddam you, Dingleberry! You better hope to whatever god you pray to that I die out here or—”
Another explosion, this one definitely a missile, ripped into the corridor behind Rakash, opening a large rent out into space. The sudden vacuum ripped him away and hurled him into the vast expanse. The last thing he saw being Dirk’s grinning face and a hoisted middle finger through the airlock window.
Dirk watched pressed his hand against the glass as Rakash jetted away and began to sing.
“I would rather hurt myself
Than to ever make you cry
There’s nothing left to try
Though it’s gonna hurt us both
There’s no other way than to say good-bye”
A new alarm began to sound when another explosion ripped into the prison and the system overrode whatever Rakash’s people had done to the blast door keep it open and it slammed shut.
“OK, that’s about enough of that!” Dirk said as he hastened into the ship.
He hurried to the bridge and found Jorildyn, Punx, Laz, and Rafael already strapped into their seats.
“What happened to Rakash?” Jorildyn asked as Dirk strapped in.
“We had problem with the door so he found another way off the station. Where’s Brick and Red?”
“Brick’s double-checking security and Red headed straight to engineering,” Laz said.
“Sounds like we’re good to go them. Punx, see if there’s any Air Supply in the databanks for some awesome escape music and let’s fire this thing up and get the hell outta here.”
“There’s one problem,” Jorildyn said. “I don’t recognize the control configuration.”
“Are you saying you don’t know how fly this thing?”
The elf’s eyes danced across the control panel before forcing herself to admit, “I can figure out the system drive, but I have no idea how to activate the warp drive.”
Punx broke in and interrupted whatever vicious invective Dirk was about to utter. “Whatever we’re going to do we need to do it fast. The transit dampening field is down and I’m picking up four warp signatures less than half a light second away. I’m guessing heavy cruisers by their size and frequency.”
“Fuck!” Dirk shouted and pounded a fist against the console in front of him. “Punx, give me internal comms.”
“Open,” she replied.
“Red, you hear me?”
Red’s voice came from an unseen speaker. “Yep. We got a problem.”
“Yeah, we’re aware. Is there anything you can do to get us far enough away from the station to warp us out of here?”
“This thing doesn’t have a warp drive.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Dirk railed. “What kind of moron plans a jail break with a ship without a freakin’ warp drive?”
“The kind that plans an escape with a ship equipped with a chaos drive,” Red answered.
Dirk let out a low whistle. “Holy fuckin’ Christ on a unicycle. A freakin’ chaos drive. That explains how they were able to get past the transit dampening field and station defense.”
“What is a chaos drive?” Jorildyn asked.
“Just a drive that can take you anywhere in time and space and costs more than freakin’ planet, If you can find one of the three known to exist in the entire universe.”
“I thought they were just a myth,” Laz said.
“Apparently not. Congratulations. We will go down in history as the people with the most expensive coffin ever built.”
“Someone must know how to fly it or they couldn’t have gotten here,” Jorildyn said.
“Oh, for sure,” Dirk replied. “Why don’t you go back outside and ask the guy with the broken neck, or maybe the one with a crushed skull, if they can warp us out of here. Only a wild mage can harness a chaos field, so unless you got one polishing that stick you keep up your ass, we’re ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
“I do not have a stick up my ass!”
“Are fuckin’ kidding me? I could stand you on your head and use you as a mop.”
Rafael cleared his throat and raised his hand like he was a student wanting to use the bathroom. “Uh, I’m a wild mage.”
Dirk locked his eyes on the half-elf. “Are you yanking my freakin’ chain here?”
“No way, man. It’s why I’m here. You see, I had an accident, and a lot of people died. Now I use drugs to dull my eternal pain and heartache.”
“Yeah, that’s freakin’ great. Can you fly this thing?”
“Oh yeah, totally!” The two stared at each other for several seconds. “You mean now?”
“Well, I hear Artemis Three is beautiful in the spring, and I thought we might plan our escape around that time—yes right fuckin’ now, you moron! Jerry, move your narrow ass and change places with the moron.”
“My name is Jorildyn, not Jerry,” she said coldly as she made her way to the seat Rafael vacated.
“My father told me to never to trust anyone with more than two syllables in their name, so now you’re Jerry. Get used to it.”
“I will not—!”
“Yeah, whatever. Raf, you got this thing?”
“Yeah, piece of cake. Oh man, I could go for another piece of cake right now.”
Punx shouted, “Four heavy cruisers just transited in and one is locking onto us with weapons!”
“Get us out of here, Raf!”
“Where should we go?” Rafael asked.
“Anywhere! Just don’t warp us into the sun or, like, the heart of the Human Federation Navy.”
“OK, hold on!”
Rafael channeled his magic through the console and into the heart of the chaos drive, commanding its incomprehensible power. Dirk’s stomach felt like it was turning inside out for a split second, but beyond that, nothing seemed to happen.
“What happened?” Dirk asked. “Did we go anywhere?”
Punx studied the screen in front of her. “Yeah, like almost twenty light years.”
Brick wedged himself into the bridge’s doorway. “What heck just happened?”
“We warped,” Dirk answered. “Punx, do you know where we are?”
Punx looked at the readout. “Oh, shit.”
“Attention unidentified vessel. You have illegally transited into Human Federation space. You will power down all systems except life support and surrender or you will be destroyed.”
No less than two dozen different targeting systems locked onto them.
Dirk jammed a finger onto the control panel and brought up the large projection screen. A massive station brimming with weaponry and surrounded by dozens of navy vessels filled his view.
“You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me!” He turned on Rafael. “I specifically told you NOT to warp us unto the heart of the federation!”
“Sorry, dude,” the half-elf replied sheepishly. “Once you said it I couldn’t get it out of my head.”
“Well thank God I didn’t say the other way around or we’d be in the heart of a sun.”
Rafael chuckled. “That’s called positive thinking, man. Way to look on the bright side.”
“Red, can we make another jump?”
“Not a chance,” the dwarf replied over the systems comm. “That chaos drive takes a lot of juice and the mana bottle is down to a quarter tank. It takes nearly half to by my best estimate to make a transition.”
Most things that required energy ran on mana. Most magic had died out over the centuries as technology gained increasing supremacy, but mana was still vital to power machines from something as simple as a vid player to objects as massive and sophisticated as spaceship drives. Mages, like Rafael, still existed, but their ability was almost exclusively geared toward making machines run than conjuring lightning and fireballs out of thin air like their ancestors once had.
Dirk sighed. “Punx, any luck with finding some Air Supply?”
“Congratulations, people, our escape is now officially a complete fuckin’ disaster.”
“We were on the lamb for like three seconds. That’s gotta be some kind of record,” Brick said.
Rakash heard the explosion an instant before invisible hands ripped him from the bulkhead and hurled him out into space. The last thing he saw before his eyes froze into ice cubes was Dirk’s hand pressed against the glass, his mouth moving in what he assumed was something insulting. He didn’t believe the mournful look on his face was anything other than mocking.
The next thing he knew he was in an airlock. Every muscle and fiber in his body felt as though it were on fire before being dunked in ice water. He shivered uncontrollably, forced himself to his feet, and pressed the comm button.
“W-where am I?” Rakash spit into to the comm unit.
A face he knew well appeared in the graphene window. “Hey, boss, how you doing?”
“Dino? Where am I?”
“You’re on the Harpy,” Dino said.
Rakash always had a plan B, and the Harpy was the plan B ship he had sent in the moment the insertion team disabled warp inhibitor field. It’s primary purpose was to create more havoc for the guard force by pummeling the station with low-yield missiles and to act as his backup getaway ship. This wasn’t the first time his redundancies had saved his life. It was one reason why he’d been able to avoid prison for more than a century.
“Why do you have me locked in here?”
Dino swallowed hard and looked nervous. “We weren’t sure how you’d react once you thawed out, so I figured we’d keep you in the airlock as a precaution. Plus we could crank up the heat in there.”
“Let. Me. Out.”
“Yeah, sure thing boss.” Dino stabbed the button and the door slid open. “Sorry about that, boss. We didn’t have a lot of time to do much except snatch you up and clear out,” he said as he worked to match Rakash’s long, agitated stride.
“You did well, Dino. You all did. I assume we lost the Pandora?”
Dino bobbed his head. “Yeah, it took off just before we did. We lost all comms with it, and you weren’t on it, so I assumed someone else got it. They must have taken at least the navigator hostage since they jumped.”
“No. They had their own wild mage, although I never thought him capable of navigating a chaos drive.”
“So you know who took it?”
The pair reached the bridge, the crew jumping to attention with only slightly less than military precision.
“I do, but he won’t have it for long. What is our status?”
Contessa Ogata, a dark elf and captain of the Harpy, stood at something resembling attention and said, “We took a couple of hits from the cruisers that warped in just as we were retrieving you. We managed to jump away before they could cripple or destroy us. I’ve put us on course to the nearest free station that doesn’t ask questions or answer to any governments for repairs.”
Dino saw Rakash’s face writhe in barely suppressed fury. “We can change course though, boss. Just tell us what you want us to do.”
“Maintain your course,” Rakash said, his expression relaxing and turning not quite into a smile. Once we’re on station, I want a ten million credit bounty put on the head of Dirk Dewberry. Twenty if they can bring him to me alive.”