Blackwagon: Part 3
He was about to pass the kitchen when movement caught his eye. Dancing shadows in the flickering lights inside the room accompanied by the sudden clatter of metal pans.
Vaan awoke to the sting of fluorescent lighting and the metallic clang of cooking pans banging together.
He bolted up from his covers to see a large bipedal reptile that could only be their pyra team leader, Wan’za. The reptilian head of the being was gnarled and a scar ran down the side of its face. The pyra had a large stride and its tail swished between two guards that flanked her banging and clattering kitchenware together.
“Rise and shine team!” cried the Pyra. “We have a contract today. Should be shoving off in two hours so get yourselves prepped.” The pyra jabbed a clawed finger at Vaan.”New guy! You’re looking much better. Clean yourself up and meet me in my office at the end of the hall.” One of the guards tossed a uniform at Vaan.
Vaan blocked the uniform from hitting his head and looked it over. A plain grey/black jumpsuit with some sort of ornate alien lettering placed neatly above the left breast pocket. He got up and slipped it on finding it fit surprisingly well. Dog and Chit had pulled on their uniforms before Vaan had noticed and looked like they were preparing their gear. Chit had a number of exotic gadgets laid out on his cot and looked torn between which items he wanted to bring along. Dog, the massive bolmorrean, was mindlessly grasping and petting his stuffed animal in his right two hands while the left hands held long machete-like weapons. He held them level to his eye in order to check the edge. Abe did not appear to have a uniform. Instead, he took a cutout of the Blackwagon insignia, drooled on it a moment and then slapped it against the metal plate that covered the left portion of his thorax. It seemed to adhere well enough.
Chit noticed Vaan staring blankly around the room at everyone.
Chit called out to Vaan. “Don’t keep the boss waiting! That’s an easy way to get fired.”
“Can I go home if I’m fired?” asked Vaan.
“If you’re fired you can’t stay on the ship and they don’t wait until they’re at a station to escort you outside.”
Vaan sighed. “Yeah, it’s not like I’m a prisoner or anything.” He briskly turned to the door and made a left out into the hallway.
He heard Chit’s voice again. “It’s the other way!”
Vaan spun around the other way and walked to the end of the hall, letting himself into the office at the far end.
Wan’za was waiting for him. The big Pyra had a matching big desk and everything in the room seemed to dwarf Vaan.
“Take a seat…Vaan was it?”
“Yes sir” he spat meagerly.
“It’s Ma’am!” She bellowed “Wan’za is a female name!”
He apologized and obliged the open chair in the room while Wan’za stared daggers at him. Then with a blink her reptilian features slightly softened. She pressed her hands together.
“Welcome to my team Vaan. I wanted you to meet with me privately so we could ‘clear the air’. You know, answer any questions you might have and help you understand your place in all of this. It will be nice working with a human again, they always seem to surprise me.”
Vaan silently contemplated. “What is it about humans that surprise you?”
“The way they run into danger, the way their insides pop, sometimes they have clever ideas…”
“Oh…um Really? I wasn’t aware other humans made it out this far. My captain told us we were the first in this sector.” The chair, like everything else in the room, was made for a creature far larger than himself. He tried to sit comfortably but he swam in the spacious seat.
“I’m sure there are plenty of things your captain did not know. Humans are few and far between out here. Normally settlers or ambitious traders, but none of them last long on their own. The ship you were on was far more advanced and look what happened to that.”
” So why was The Ascendant attacked in the first place?”
“Your captain dropped your ship in the middle of a… disagreement between Blackwagon and one of our competitors. Our fleet commander thought you were with the enemy, the enemy thought you were with us, and well that’s how these things go sometimes. It stood up very well for a human made vessel. Looks like your race is starting to keep pace with the rest of the universe. You still have a long way to go, but you pass the threshold of intelligence that Blackwagon can’t be hired to exterminate you all.”
Vaan shifted in the huge seat.
Wan’za leaned back in her chair and took a calmer tone, trying to put Vaan at ease. “I’m not going to lie to you Vaan. The job of a front line exterminator is not the safest thing out there, but there is room for advancement regardless of race or creed. Everyone on staff is an asset. I myself have been leading teams for close to a decade and my next advancement depends on the success of this next mission. I’ve managed to call in a few favors to requisition higher quality tools for this one. It should make things manageable for your first run, but don’t get used to them, they are on loan, so don’t break anything.”
Vaan stared blankly at her. “Okay.”
Wan’za leaned forward and interlaced her massive red hands on the desk. “I understand this is not the card you expected to be dealt, but here we are. You need to understand the opportunity you have here. A position in a large and generous business with the chance to work in whatever field you want, provided you can prove yourself.” She leaned even closer, close enough for Vaan to smell the sulfur on her breath.
“You’ve been given an opportunity you cannot refuse. A second chance. Now, run along to the armory and get fitted with your squad.”
Vaan took a breath, but held back from speaking before he nodded and got up from the chair to leave.
Wan’za called after him. “And don’t you dare screw this up for me or I swear to Roitaven you will wish you had died on that ship.”
Wan’za smiled, satisfied with her level of individual employee care.
Story by: Justin Miller
With Jason Pratley & Tim Chopourian
“Conscripted?” Vaan asked, sitting up in bed.
“That’s right!” said the small fubari. He crawled up to the foot of the bed and smiled again to show his teeth.
“For pest control…”
“Yeup. Blackwagon Pest Control. BPC if you prefer. The boss named it after a piece of ancient lore from his homeworld. Whenever a plague came through, the bodies would be loaded onto black wagons and carted off to be burned.” The Fubari waved his hand dismissively. “I’ve always thought it was a bit ominous but I’m not going to argue with him.”
Vaan pressed his temples. “So, you kill pests?”
“Yup. Pests, rats, bugs, emerging intelligence, other invasive species.” The Fubari counted on his brown furry fingers. “Basically anything someone wants destroyed.”
“Well that explains the battle fleet.” Vaan leaned back against his pillow.
“He’s starting to get it!” The fubari slapped his knee. “And now you are the proud new member of my team.”
“Your team?” Vaan cocked his head with a skeptical look.
“Well, not exactly MY team. Our team is run by a pyra named Wan’za. She’s probably off in the officer’s lounge.”
“Let me introduce you to the rest of the team.” The Fubari motioned to a skivri sitting at a table. Nearly half of its spider-like body seemed to be covered with cybernetics. Two of its clawed appendages held a large squirming grub to its maw. Its fangs draining it like a deflating balloon while bits of green goo dribbled down its chin onto the table below.
“There’s the skivri, a bionic pet project of mine designated ‘Arachnid Biomechanical Extermination Unit.’ We just call him Abe, if you prefer.”
Vaan shuddered at the sight. Abe noticed his name being mentioned and gave a slight wave with one of the two smaller pincers that stuck out a short ways from the front of his chest, still holding the deflated grub to its face with its free arms.
“I’d say you get used to Abe’s eating habits, but…it’s still super gross.” The fubari hopped off the bed and came closer, picking up a clipboard from the end table next to Vaan’s head.
“Moving on, we’ve also got the bolmorrean in the corner. We don’t actually know his real name so we just call him Dog on account of the stuffed dog he carries everywhere.”
“I thought so too. And of course there’s me. My name is Chidori.” He stuck out his hand. “You can call me Chit.”
Vaan shook his small pawlike hand chit reached out to him. “Well it’s…nice…to meet you Chit, my name’s Vaan and I don’t remember applying for this job so if you all could just drop me off back on Earth that would be lovely.”
Chit gave a toothy grin and tisked as she shook his head. “Oh, there’s no way Earth can afford our service so we steer clear of that dust heap. You’re far better off with us anyhow.”
Beads of sweat began to form on Vaan’s brow. “Really?”
“Well, even if we did leave you at the nearest planet you wouldn’t last a day. There aren’t any humans out this far and the locals don’t take kindly to newcomers. I’m honestly surprised they let you stay on with us. Must be part of the boss’ racial diversity policy.” Vaan raised his eyebrows as Chit continued. “Anyone who is willing to work has a place at Blackwagon, despite their species.”
“How inclusive” Vaan muttered.
“If you prefer” said Chit. “Even so, we always seem shorthanded.”
“I know you said I wasn’t a prisoner, but this sounds a lot like I’m a prisoner.”
“Naaaah, far from it! Prisoners don’t get to carry around big cool guns and kill weird space things.” Chit put the clipboard back down and smiled cheerily up at him.
“I guess there’s really no way I can argue with your logic-“
“We have a great time!” Chit fired back far too quickly. “And if you survive the first mission there’s a much better chance you’ll survive the second and third and so on. I don’t know if that’s exactly how the math works out but I’ve got a good feeling about you Vaan. Don’t you worry, by the time we’re done with you you’ll be eating moon dust and crapping meteors”
Vaan smiled uneasily. “Is that, like, a saying?”
Before Chit could answer, a translucent mass behind Vaan shimmered for a moment. The form of Abe crept into existence like a droplet of ink in a pool of still water. “YoU SAid THat abOUT the LAST t-t-t-tWO REcruiTS CH-ch-chitt”. Slimy chunks from Abe’s dinner dripped out of his mouth onto Vaan’s shoulder.
Vaan was frozen in fear. “What-the- HELL?!”
“Ehh, he does that sometimes. Do try to keep an eye out.”
Vaan began gently rocking back and forth.
“Yeah! I’m calm, I’m calm. I’m trapped in a ship with a big gross spider-man, an unhinged elephant person,, and a plush toy named Chit. This is all just a bad dream. I just need to wake up on the Ascendant and everything will be fine.”
Chit chuckled in amusement. “Hoo boy, Humans can be really funny sometimes.” He gave Vaan a friendly pat on the shoulder and began walking to the door. “Well, get some sleep! Our next job is tomorrow.”
Vaan rolled onto his side to try and get comfortable, only to see Abe’s spider face approach inches from his own.
“GooOOd niiiiighT huMAN” Abe said. The skivri calmly turned, his clawed appendages clicking against the wall as he scurried into the corner of the ceiling. He nested there and seemed to relax.
Vaan pulled the sheets of the bed over his face, curled up into a ball, and tried his best to wake up from his nightmare…
Story by: Justin Miller
Edits by: Jason F. Pratley & Tim Chopourian
By: Justin Miller
With Jason Pratley & Tim Chopourian
The finest exploration vessel developed by humanity drifted lifelessly through space. Barely a week into its maiden voyage, strange energy signatures led the crew of The Ascendant between two massive battle fleets of unknown origin. Both parties, surprised by the tiny, unknown vessel appearing in their midst, each assumed it belonged to the other and within moments The Ascendant was crippled in a hail of weapon salvos from all directions.
Petty Officer Vaan Dell choked as he regained consciousness on the ruined bridge. Taking in his surroundings he could see the captain pinned to his command chair with a spear of shattered hull sticking through his heart. The rest of the bridge crew were in similar states. Chief Engineer Jefferson got a live electrical conduit lodged in his throat and was convulsing. Communications Officer Clarke’s body was half charred, half frozen. Science Officer Daniels appeared to be sliced in half and then in half again and then in half again. Even the spunky new navigation officer was nothing more than a pile of quivering goo around his station. Vaan Dell was not entirely sure what had happened or how he managed to survive but, pushing conjecture from his mind, he staggered his way out of what used to be the door in a trance and into the long corridor that ran along the spine of the ship.
The ringing in his ears surrounded him as he staggered down the hall towards the escape pods, dragging one hand across the wall next to him to keep himself upright.
He was about to pass the kitchen when movement caught his eye. Shadows danced in the flickering lights inside the room accompanied by the sudden clatter of metal pans. Vaan entered the room and leaned near the entryway.
“Is anyone else alive in here?” he called out.
A dark mass stirred beneath one of the fallen tables, far larger than a human. The rummaging stopped and Vaan Dell realized he should have stayed quiet. As he turned to continue to the escape pod a spasm ran up his leg, it gave out from under his weight and he clutched to the edge of the steel table near the doorway. The figure among the rubbish crashed its way towards Vaan, pushing aside the fallen benches and tables around it. All Vaan could do was try to limp, but then the figure appeared, illuminated by the emergency lighting in the corridor. An eight foot tall being with four arms like tree trunks, each arm ending with a maul-like fist, and a head like an elephant. A Bolmorrean in the red light. The alien’s brow was deep set and it had a wild vicious look in its small eyes. Veins popped from its bulging muscles.
Vaan blindly reached for whatever was on the table next to him to defend himself. What he grabbed crinkled in his fingers. He looked down to find a bag of peanuts in his hand.
Vaan timidly offered the bag to the bolmorrean.
He forced a smile. The Bolmorrean gave a vicious smile back.
When Vaan finally awoke, the last thing he remembered was Bolmorrean fists flying at him. He lay there wondering how much time had passed. There was a dull throbbing all over his body, but no pain. Numbing agents?
Opening his eyes he looked sidelong at his surroundings. Bunks and cots of various sizes surrounded him, suggesting he was in someone’s crew quarters. The layout and tech was definitely not human. Beds of various shapes and sizes with bubbling apparatus and breathing tubes were laid out in hexagonal clusters about the space. The walls were a dark grey and shimmered beneath bright blue lighting tubes. He quickly realized that despite these unfamiliar surroundings, he was not restrained in any way. If he was rescued or if he was captured, they may not think he was capable of escaping on his own. Yet when he tried to rise from his bed, he found his muscles struck with a deep fatigue and gave into it.
Milling about the room were various species of aliens that Vaan had never expected to see in the same room without trying to kill each other. A feral looking Ventoshi was exchanging notes with a well groomed Mirrani holding a clipboard. A slick Muntir with shiny blue speckled skin high-fived a massive obsidian Dormant as they passed each other. On the strange beds were other shapes and masses he did not recognize. Vaan lay there beginning to contemplate his situation until a small furry being noticed he was awake and trotted over to the side of his cot. Without pausing, it jumped up to the edge of the bed.
“So, what’s your thing?” it asked.
“What are you? Some overgrown weasel?” Vaan replied.
The fubari looked annoyed. “I’m a fubari of course. You humans should remember what we look like.”
Vaan Dell closed his eyes. “Ohh crap.”
The small creature laughed and flicked his ear. “Don’t fret any, I’m fluent in Human Dialects, and I’m not here to subjugate you.- So what’s your thing?”
Vaan sighed. “Just please leave me alone. I’m sure I’m hallucinating.”
But the Fubari raised his brow a moment and kept talking “What I mean is, what’s your power? Most of the guys bet it was strength but I went with vivekenisis.” The Fubari motioned to the bag of peanuts sitting on the table next to Vaan’s bed. “We found you clutching that bag like your life depended on it. I’m guessing it’s your artifact. We’ve seen some weird ones out there.” The Fubari stuck his clawed thumb towards a troubled looking blue Bolmorrean in the corner with no tusks. It was rocking back and forth clutching a toy. The Fubari lowered his voice to a whisper “That one gets his strength from an adorable stuffed poodle that he carries around everywhere. At least that’s what we guess. He doesn’t talk much.”
Vaan furrowed his brow. “I don’t have any special ‘power’ that I know of.”
“So you’re telling me you took a punch from a Bolmorrean and you’re somehow not splattered against some bulkhead in that wreckage we dragged you out of?…I’m disappointed.”
“You and me both.” Vaan felt the numbing sensation leaving him and he lifted his arm and clenched his fist a few times, he was realizing a new sensation that his chest had been stoved-in. his breath caught in his lungs with the sudden pain. “I’m-…I was stationed as an engineer on an exploration vessel. We weren’t even a week into our mission before we were attacked…now… everyone’s dead… except for me.” Vaan looked at the fubari. “Is everyone dead except me?”
The Fubari nodded slowly. “Afraid so.”
“So now I’m your prisoner?”
The Fubari grinned. “You’re not my prisoner, you were conscripted! Think of surviving an exploding ship and that punch was your job interview.” His sharp weasel teeth glinted in the fluorescent lights. “Congratulations! You’re now a proud employee of Blackwagon Pest Control.”
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