Monday, June 15, 2009

Daily Story 61: Cursed and Lucky Look a Lot Alike

Behind my back, they talk about why I won't be captain. Little Jimmy thinks it has something to do with my forbidden (and entirely fictional) romance with the princess of Mars, and Twelve-Toes says it's because I was captain once before and got the whole crew killed. The crew has expanded upon that and now insist that I'm surrounded by an invisible brigade of lost souls, determined to keep me from the cold embrace of the grave so that I must live with my sins. It's a pretty badass rumor, if you ask me. At any rate, the truth is that I've never gotten a crew killed but I've watched other captains do it and I don't feel like taking on that responsibility.

My first stint on a pirate vessel, fresh from the Endola disaster you've no doubt read about, we took over a ship that was transporting some sort of cattle. We took them onboard the Precipitous Decline even though the things stunk to high heaven, because the Captain figured they'd sell for enough that it would be worthwhile. Dragged a bunch of feed on board, too. I pulled the Captain aside and told him I had concerns - I did it proper and made sure not to question him in public. I told him that no good could come of hauling live animals and I told him the story of the Beta Worms from back when I was a smuggler - he didn't even believe me. They jump at the chance to think the princess of Mars and I are star-crossed lovers but I say flat out that something happened and aw, that's just Crazy Simon telling stories. Besides, he said, these were just blue cattle.

"They're just worms" was what the captain of that smuggling vessel had said to me all those years ago. It sounded like a good deal at the time, because they weren't illegal. See, at the time things become illegal by being put on the restricted list or the forbidden list. If you were set up with a good genetics rig it wasn't hard to make something that was just too new to be on those lists - problem solved! It works the opposite way now, of course, with a whitelist they put plants and animals on, because of situations just like ours. We hauled those crates on board and got our half of the payment up front, and then forgot all about them for a while. We just never thought about the possibility that they could get out - the crates were only wood, but the worms were too small to be an issue.

Beta worms are cannibals, as it turns out. Go figure. A week into the trip each crate had just one worm in it, and they were big. A foot and a half around and four feet long, they gnawed through the wooden planks like soda crackers and headed out into the ship. The crates had been segregated, males and females, but with them loose they found a dark corner and went to town. When I woke up the next morning I saw my bunkmate laying there with a huge hole in his chest, filled with little round eggs.

There's only one thing to do when you wake up like that, and the captain did it. Ordered everyone into their suits and opened the airlock, though it destroyed the kitchen and made us way low on oxygen. Still, it did kill all the worms. Not the eggs, as it turned out. I'll never forget that last hour before we reached port, the four of is standing in a corner trying to beat the worms away with pipes and boots. But no, don't listen to Crazy Simon. They're just blue cattle.

That smell turned out to be a gas they released during digestion. Our life support wasn't made to filter it, and the ship's air turned toxic. Four of us had been sleeping in our helmets to escape the smell, the rest were too green to have learned to catch some winks in those clunky things - in that way the Endola disaster really paid off, teaching me to sleep like that. Anyway, the four of us sold the ship and split the money, so I guess it was profitable after all.