2100 DeepShip time
Man, I'm beat. They had a party in 8-Rear and guess who has to clean it up. You guessed it. You think it wouldn't be too much to ask people not to leave their tables looking like a Labion Terror Beast ate there.
Apparently, it is. Oh, and the astro-heads backed up again. And Kielbasa just HAS to use that litter box rather than a john like everyone else...
Oh, yeah. Screw what I think. Most folks on this jockstrap in the sky wouldn't credit me with that. I'm just the damn janitor. So, pardon me if I'm not going to bother to change out of my coveralls and just collapse in the rack here.
2300 DeepShip time
The smell of smoke and ozone filled the air with the clank of boots and the screams, drowned out by the alarm klaxons. Thinking it was just a weird dream brought on by one too many chilidogs, Roger opened the janitor's closet where he had been napping.
Holy hand grenades! It wasn't a dream. Research droids spun around in a tizzy, the ship lurched and shook and the too-cheery voice counted down to self-destruct. In the confusion, he only barely registered the copious blood on the walls, and the message "SARIENS" someone wrote with a combination of blood and their own intestines.
A data cartridge he'd been tipped off to by Professor Vohaul - the good professor Vohaul - was the only thing he could use against the guys shooting up the ship. He had been in too much shock to really comprehend until later that he was the only survivor.
He was down on the lower decks. Come on, only a few more feet to the shuttle and safety.
Clank, clank, clank...heavy boots coming nearer and nearer. Oh, shit! No place to hide this time.
The shot hit him right in the gut - slow, painful death while admiring the charred remains of what had once been vital organs. The Sarian stormtrooper grabbed the data cartridge and walked away casually.
...Sweating and shaking, I wake up. Oh, the "Arcada incident." Well, that happened years ago. Barely a footnote in the history logs now. "All hands were lost," it reads. Hey, I was there. I'm the only one who survived it, but I am here.
Wonder if anyone would notice if I wasn't?
Forget it. Need to sleep.
0100 DeepShip time
The remains of the Goliath's crew, hideously disfigured and driven crazy by the toxic sludge their ship had been illegally transporting, had their guns pointed at him.
He ducked and ran, faking left and darting right down the hall, heart pounding. The corridors seemed as warped as their crew, covered with the sludge and the rapidly melting remains of what might have been crewmembers at some point...
Roger grabbed his communicator. "Cliffy! Beam me aboard!"
"Cliffy, damn it!"
The best feeling in the world was when the transporter grabbed him. The slight buzz induced by the transport only added to his relief. He was back on the Eureka, safe for the moment.
"Man, Cliffy, cut it a little closer next time!"
Cliffy turned around. "Won't be a 'next time,' Captain."
Roger jumped back a few feet. Too late. Half of Cliffy's face looked ready to fall off. Oozing sores covered his face and arms. Worse, he seemed to enjoy this new fashion statement.
"Apprehend. Mission accomplished." WD-40, the killer she-bot, grabbed him from behind.
"Good to have you back, sir," Droole, the trigger-happy helmsman, now looked like something out of a Pollock Jackson paining, a shuffling blob of orange and green. He came in with Flo, who didn't look so hot herself. She was a shade of gold-green that wouldn't be found in a self-respecting paint kit, with angry dark yellow boils completing the ugly picture.
No...no bleeping way...
"Good to have you back." Her voice was the same, that clear alto honed by years of diplomatic service, now purring low and seductive...
"I thought you'd be happy to see me." She was up and awake, approaching him slowly. Her hands did not have the boils and blisters, and she cupped his cheek and pressed herself to him. Close as lovers...
"It's all right. Just accept it. Fate, remember?"
He shuddered as she tilted her head and moved to kiss him. Even under the horrible boils and the other evil-looking effects of the biohazardous slime, he could see the beauty that once had been.
He was screwed. Only thing he could do now was accept a literal kiss of death.
Heart's pounding, place is dark...Oh. Just my converted cargo-hold quarters. The toxic waste is cleaned up, StarCom survived and busted me back down to janitor. That sucked. I knew I was hosed the moment I walked in court. I know I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I'm not that stupid. I already knew that Xenon would rather not acknowledge a janitor saved their butts from the Sarians, so why give a zero a hero's credit a second time?
I fully expected Beatrice to dump me like a wet rag, but she hasn't yet. Go figure. I'm really glad though. She's the best thing to come out of all this.
Geez, Wilco. You're a mess. Maybe sticking to being a mop jockey is better for you. Hard to have nightmares about sticky floors or mildew.
I get up, wash my face, strip down to my shorts, and attempt sleep again.
No, I don't talk to anyone about these. As I said earlier, most people don't credit me with the capability to have survived these. Even if they do, they credit it to blind luck. This mop-toting slob COULDN'T be capable of those kind of feats. And they're sure I'm not aware enough to appreciate the horror. Fools never are.
And I let them think it. Won't do any good to correct them.
I take a datapad and slide in the latest issue of "Popular Tektronics." That ought to divert me enough to finally get some sleep.
That's when I get a look at the cover story.
XENON SUPERCOMPUTER PROJECT
I throw it aside as if it was about to blow. I'm scared out of my limited wits - worse than the Arcada, worse than the Goliath. Worse than anything. The hair is standing up at the back of my neck and I only have the vaguest idea why.
The most ambitious project in the history of the Earnon Galaxy, this project will centralize all of Xenon's primary functions. It is also thought to be immune to viruses and tampering - the perfect machine, according to Head Researcher Professor Kenneth Lloyd.
I kill the lights and try to calm down, but I get a fuzzy image playing in my head - a man that's a couple years younger than I was when I got sent to the Arcada. He's got a small projector.
He held a picture of Beatrice, wearing the winged crown and toga of traditional Xenonian wedding attire. "She...was beautiful..."
"We had to go back to find the only one who had defeated Vohaul..." he told Roger. "Look, I can't explain."
That dream's the worst. It was the first time I saw Bea. That guy said he was our son, even said I got married to her. Damned if I know why Bea would go for it. I can't even place what she sees in me, even if I can't complain.
That was the happiest dream...and the worst nightmare. All around us, Xenon was ashes, and I know I had something to do with it. Problem is I can't remember how or why, and that I won't be able to stop it until it's too late for most of everyone. And even then, the kid made it pretty clear that Bea and I weren't among those who made it.
I get a bad feeling about this. I'm not smart enough to put it into words, but something makes sense in a bad way. There's one nightmare that I won't wake up from.
And something tells me it just started.
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