GALATIC COORDINATES: 98-50-01-01
SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: (See Spotify Playlist at End), Play That Funky Music, Wild Cherry. Mama Said, The Shirelles. Shame Shame Shame, Linda Fields. People Get Up And Drive Your Funky Soul, James Brown. The Cisco Kid, War. Superstitious, Stevie Wonder. Thank You, Sly and the Family Stone. Clean up Woman, Betty Wright. Mighty Mighty, Earth, Wind and Fire. Slippery When Wet, Commadores. Bootzilla, Booty Collins. Brick House, Commodores. The Lady Wants Your Money, Wild Cherry.
Close up on cigarette. Raise camera as I swig a whiskey. Right?
Ok. So I’m here again. Lord knows I always say it – that I won’t, but here I am. Picture the scene. A freakin’ dive at the rat end of the asteroid belt. We’re central in the galaxy but proper fringe central. I mean if this is the plughole of the capital sector we’re clinging on to those tiny bars where spinach gets caught. Hell, we’re clinging on to the spinach. It’s an absolute petri dish of races here at Salty Joe’s. I’m talking mean shit from the edges – sector 6 kinda shit. You know, those big things that evolved in those dark cold planets. Or those things from those low grav places that are all heavy but seem to spring – you know what I mean? There was a group of them on Ea1’s Got Talent last year? Now I know I’m a human but don’t get me wrong I’m not prejudice – far from it but you look at those things. Sometimes your own biology rejects it. Guess that’s my problem not theirs. Anyway. Ahem – I’m not sounding good here. What I’m trying to say is this place is dodgy as shit. They serve race-specific alcohol to anyone who asks for it – that shit can kill a human dead – one shot. I once saw a fight in here between an energy being and some liquid thing. I didn’t even know it was happening until I was drenched and blind for a week after. But I guess if there ever was a place in this goddamn shit-hole of a galaxy to call home it would be here. The kinda place you’ve hated, you’ve loved, you’ve cursed the day, you’re praised it lusciously, all in the same evening. Home.
Salty himself on duty tonight, he slides over and looks at me cocking his head. He’s a Walran is Joe and dresses like an old fashioned chef – even though he’s not been near a kitchen in years.
‘El Capitan,’ he says. ‘What’s the matter?
That’s me by the way. I’m El Capitan. Or more accurately Captain RainCha, formally of the Empire Defense Squadron Libra Division (Hons) – presumed dead.
‘Joe Joe Joe. What do you mean?’ I say dramatically. He raises his fleshy eyebrows.
‘Now don’t get me wrong Rainy – I’ve seen you come in here a few times with your tail between your legs but tonight you look… creepy man.’
‘Creepy?’ I say, knowing he’s right. There are ridges under my eyes I’ve not seen since the army.
‘Yeah man. Even the Despids over there said you were freaking them out,’ he says, nodding to a group of hooded, vultures with thick black goggles in the corner.
‘Yeeash how bad I look?’ I didn’t need to ask the question I looked fucking weird.
‘All I’m saying is you look strange. But not bad – I dunno man – where you been?’
We pause. I look at him. He looks at me. Okay this is the part where I tell old Salty Joe another story. So I may as well tell you too.
Hit the lights. Slap that bass.
So roll back three weeks ago. I’m on the storage planet W15. I was heading for the Capitol. Sort of. At least I was heading in the general direction of the galaxy centre. You know, I had to see a man about a dog. But I got waylaid. The throughways were closed, something to do with a huge space-station crash. Its cracked engines had flooded the space with interference meaning at least a couple of weeks before the Neutralizers had finished cleaning up and I could get through. Anyway, the guy I was travelling with, a huge Bonso named Ray, said he’d drop me at the nearest planet and see what I could do from there – his mate said he could offer me a lift to another sector, Ray was off home – I’d just have to sit tight for a bit. He was a good guy Ray, we had met years ago at a race-course in the 04. I noticed him because he was hanging down from the rafters of the concourse swinging like an acrobat from his leathery grey hands. I had never met a Bonso before – they tended to stay less central. I mean I’ve never had an issue with them – things evolve. Humans did why shouldn’t the apes too? All they did was get intelligent and move away. Cool. Fine by me. Fucking humans man. But yeah, me and Ray hit it off and I’ve been sketching lifts off him on and off as he hauled goods across the galaxy. If I asked him how he could be so nice to a human he always just smiled that huge grin and laughed.
I’m always sad when I see someone fly away. It’s the space. Even with comm.-tech you just never know do you? You never know when you’ll see them again.
W15. Fuck me storage planets. Ray dropped me on one of the landing pads. And the sight was incredible. In every direction as far as the eye could conceive – plastic and metal. And then like crows on a corpse were spindly metal cranes silently heaving boxes. It was like seeing nanomedics in the body. Tiny little operations happening again and again. It was grim but fucking hell it was beautiful. And all I could think was – imagine. Just imagine the fucking riches in this place. I mean I had a bit of spare time? So I got my rope.
Now, the landing pads are high up but I’m nimble, I’m young (ish). And I thought well there must be something down there. Something I could…acquire. I think Ray knew this but was keeping his fur clean. So I grab my rope and tie it round my waist. There’s no one around apart from a few buzzing info-bots over head so I tie it to the railing. I know it was stupid, I really did – I mean I didn’t even have that much rope. But yes I jumped over the side.
The sight from the top was great but here, as the bots and the crates swung past you it was incredible. It was less of a body and more of a hive. Industrious was the word. I watched wide-eyed as the boxes slotted into place by a whizzing drone only to be scooped up and moved by another. I inched down on the rope, it would take me an hour or so but if inched carefully I should make it to the surface for what it was. And then? I mean there has to be a hatch or something – there’s always a hatch right?
But fuck. Just as I’m settling in to my lovely lofty descent with these delightful scenic views there it comes. Hurtling towards me like my own stupid realization. A drone with its blade spinning to holy hell. It cuts my rope in two.
Shock close up. Bundles rope in hand. Turns to camera for a second. Falls.
Okay, hold up. Keep that pause button firmly down child. Here’s a confession: I’m not a model citizen of the galaxy. Whoa I know, I would gasp too. Good reaction – full marks. I guess it’s that I was once – I totally was. I grew up on Ma1, finished my schooling. Joined the army and then. And then. Let’s just saw humans are dicks. And I know – I am one. Since then it’s been this – hitching rides, planet hopping, job hopping. Salty Joe’s. Until this story. Until what happened next.
So, sorry, we’re falling right. Wheeeeeee…yeah?
So this is me in the freakin’ shit. I thought I had been here before but fuck this was really it. Why hadn’t I waited? All I literally had to do was wait. But oh no. Not me – not Captain RainCha I had to go and prod the beast. I just had to dangle my legs over the edge. I started to think about all the things I could have changed in my life. All the things I could –
Ha. No I fucking didn’t. I was falling to me death – all you can think of is that. It’s a pressing matter. Trust me.
The surface of the planet was fast approaching. It came at me filling my eyes with grey. It didn’t look so beautiful now. But just as impact came I felt it. That slight tingle with a metal edge. It pricks your skin just a little and you can almost taste it. The grey was taking on a blue tinge. Teleport.
W15, to my distinct relief had a lifeform security system. I’ve looked into them since – nifty bits of kit. If any life form approaches a storage box in any fashion deemed either ‘irresponsible’ or ‘threatening’ the system just plucks them out of the air and deposits them inside. It’s like a video game – you die, you go back to the checkpoint. That’s what happened to me I died and I flashed up good as knew in the checkpoint. Turns out though the checkpoint was exactly where I didn’t want to be.
Fuzzy and a bit sore, I materialized inside a grey box. Not too thrilling I know. Even in the circumstances, in the planet of the grey boxes it wasn’t too much of a surprise. But there in the room outlined in silhouette were two Gorbegs. Two, big, ugly Gorbegs. Their grey-ridged eyebrows bristling with hair. They both had overbites with rough tusks erupting from brown gums. They were muscular and had long wide legs. Back when they were first registered humans called them Rhinos. Not quite okay…on Ea1 rhinos didn’t go Bonso, they’re still rhinos. Anyway, race relations aside, these guys looked mean and stupid. A combo that has not been great for me in my life. As the tinge of the teleport faded I found I recognized them.
‘Oh fuck,’ I say. ‘Not you guys.’
‘He he he,’ the left one, Teff wheezes like the stereotype goon he is. ‘Finally caught up with you haven’t we?’
‘He he he.’ The other one Beff mirrors.
‘Look. It’s not my fault, I had no idea those android sheep were actually real.’ I mean, I did, but time and place. I look back at them. ‘I thought the replication was just super realistic.’
Ok hold up. Scratch sound on the record. We’re going back a bit.
Sometimes to make ends meet you gotta think creatively. Now, when I said before I I’m not a model citizen of the galaxy – yeah I mean it. Look, it’s not my fault – this galaxy is big… I just end up falling through the cracks a few times. I got caught up with these guys by accident. The Owner, that’s what they call him, yeah with an actual capital letter, The Owner. Ridiculous right? But I overheard these guys in Salty Joe’s (Of course) – they were saying how the Owner (scoff) was obsessed with old Ea1 animals – and was filling his complex with them. They were saying that he wanted android ones though, not real ones. I mean I can sympathize – if they’re only for show you may as well have fake ones. But either way me and Ray, who happened to be sat next to me, had just swung by Ea1’s supply planet, you know the one they terraformed way back when? Well we had we just been to drop off a parcel but…
Cut to me and Ray in spaceship with a flock of sheep.
I think you can put the rest together. Let’s just say The Owner wasn’t too happy when he first tried to fix a fault in his ‘android’ sheep. Whoops. My bad.
‘Wait. Wait. Wait. Capitan. Android Sheep? You’re bullshitting me. That’s Phillip K. Dick.’
‘Shut up Salty Joe. Are you gonna let me tell this story or not?’
Anyway. Gorbegs. A grey room. teleport….
‘Too late now. You cross The Owner – you pay,’ Teff grunted.
‘God you two are so predictable. Did they actually cast you like actors? Cos you can’t be real. Casting call for two big hefty stupid goons? How did you get me here?’
‘Er… None of your business.’
‘Not Ray? Not my lovely Ray?’ I say heartbroken.
‘Not the Bonso.’
Ah fuck, I realize. My ride. It must have been these goons who told Ray they’d give me a ride. I’m an idiot.
‘He he he,’ he laughs as he sees my face break with realization.
‘And I guess I’m coming with you.’
They both laugh as they lumber towards me.
So when I wake up we’re taking off. I can see the grey mass below getting more obscure. Or at least that’s what I presume I would see if this place had any windows. I know we’re taking off because I can hear it. That wherrrrr-whoooossh of ascending metal. This ship is a big bastard. I’m tied up to a vent or pipe or something but I can feel the draught from behind. This must be a cargo ship. I’m bound tight in what appears to be shipping wrap, like bubble wrap but proper protective – the type they use to transport vases and shit on the ultra fast liners. This stuff would survive a dipping in a volcano. These guys think I’m going to try and escape – which obviously I would, of course I would. I feel around. My hands are handcuffed too I can metal nested amongst the wrapping. Fuck me I think. I’m going to have to double check all of Ray’s ‘lifts’ in future.
‘Where are we going?’ I say. The two goons are sat ahead throwing some corn-based concoction into each other’s mouths.
‘None of your business.’
‘To see The Owner right? On Seadon 2?’
‘Nah he lives on Ea1 now,’ The one on the left says, I don’t know which one’s Teff and which one’s Beff now.
‘Shit don’t tell him that Teff’ Ah so it was Beff. Ea1. I think – hmmm that’s interesting. Why is that interesting?
‘Wait so we’re heading to Ea1?’ I say. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I realize.
‘Yeah. But I’m not telling where he lives.’ Beff.
‘Yeah. Like obviously it’s Ea1 but we’re not telling you his address.’ Teff.
I remember what Ray had said. I mean it’s the reason I’m in the mess in the first place. The path to capitol past Ea1 is flooded from the space station crash. Fuck.
‘Right,’ I say. I’m trying to sound legitimate but panic is really sneaking into my tone. ‘I’m not making this up I promise. Although it will really, really sound like I am.’
‘Shut up Salty Joe.’
‘What are talking about?’ Teff says.
‘Well the reason I ended up on W15 was because the route from here to the Capitol was infected. There’s been a crash or something and it’s flooded. I’m telling you we can’t fly through it.
‘You’re making it up! You were just there to swipe things.’ Teff.
‘Yeah stop making it up!’ Beff.
‘Right boys we’re friends yeah? We’ve had some laughs but really, seriously, we need to turn back.’
‘You’d love that.’ Teff.
‘Oh god! Are you guys actually actors? This stuff is pure gold. Of course I’d love that.’ I start to struggle; the shipping wrap is holding me tight. ‘Teff. Beff. Turn this ship around. Right now.’
‘We’re gonna go even faster.’ Teff.
‘Yeah put your foot down T.’ Beff.
Oh for fuck’s sake. No way out this time. The ship surges forward. I can just see in the distance through the windshield, a mass of purple waves lashing across the black sky. The ship lurches to the side. I see the goons look back at me. I mean I did tell them. It lurches to the other side. I can feel the wrap cut into my wrists with the movement. The ship swings upwards and then spins upside down. Whatever’s out there is fucking things up – no wonder Ray went back. I see Teff and Beff crash to the roof come floor. I hang tight like a set of fucking wind chimes. If my body’s ever found they’ll think I was being used as some macabre Christmas decoration. Then I feel it, like a wrenching whomp of energy. Shit, I think, the orbit stabilizers have gone. They’ve gone before but Ray knows his way around an engine. But here I am, no Ray, just two goons and me tied to a fucking pole. The ship has gone too near a planet, or at least something big. And its locked onto the gravity. There’s going be a moment and then – yep there it is. Drop.
Freeze frame on me shitting myself.
Salty Joe flicks his flipper at me as if to say ‘you’re winding me up’. I raise my hands. I know that’s what happened. He pours me another drink and leans on the filthy counter.
‘So you’re planet falling? Then how are you sitting in my bar smart ass?’ He smiles and then grimaces. ‘You’re not one of those space ghosts I’ve heard about are you?’
‘Yes Salty I’m a space ghost,’ I say. I’m looking down at my arms, thinking about what happened next. They are shining just a little. ‘Ok you’re not going to believe it…’
So we’re falling. And no before you say there is no teleport this time.
I can feel the buffers kicking back. We’re slowing down but we’re still going to crash. For sure. Up ahead is a smoking rock of a planet. All craters and smog. Eugh. And that purple is back. The waves from before are congregating around the planet. Sorry – we’re crashing aren’t we? Enough of the scenery. This time I really do think about my life. I think about why I left the army. All those humans lined up. Me one of them. Trudging across planets that weren’t theirs. You can’t discover a planet if there is already people there right? I think about hiding at the edge of the galaxy after my ‘death’ – about the beauty of the fringe planets. How I wished they would stay uncategorized forever. I think about how long I’ve been running since then, not even running, wandering, not even that – clinging on. Clinging on to a galaxy that doesn’t want me. Doing no one any good. If this is my death, I think, then I accept it. I can’t wander forever.
We crash. Blackout. End.
And I’m alive. By some miracle of this god damn universe I’m alive. I’m fucked up don’t get wrong but boy is this heart still beating. I can see around me the crash, flames and big jagged bits of metal rising up like monsters. The front where Teff and Beff were has completely disappeared – it must have crushed on impact. How am I alive? This is a legit space crash. That’s the standard no survivors. I feel like I’m lying on a bed. It’s not the craggy rock I saw from the ship but something soft and squashy. Fuck. I start to laugh. They wrapped me up. In case of accidents. I was precious cargo. Those goons saved my life. But even so I can feel I’m not going to last for much longer. I ease my head up and look down. My leg had broken. When I see it pain rushes through my body like my brain’s finally caught up to what’s going on. There’s a deep gash in my side where sluggish black-red blood is seeping out. Since my army days of course, I don’t have the nanomedics installed – I can be kept track of otherwise. I looked around. A stretch away was a cargo box spilled over. I couldn’t quite make out what was inside but there were white boxes. Not just white but green. Medical supplies for sure. It was my only hope. I started to crawl over. I couldn’t believe it. There was a lurch from above. A huge beam of metal broke free of its mooring above and smashed through the cargo crushing it completely. I lie back – this time in the dirt and the rock. All around was that purple from before. It was as if the planet was covered in it. In the air were the ribbony spools or purple energy and floating across the floor was smoke. I lay back to die. There’s nothing else to do. But this is the bit you won’t believe. The bit why I’m still here at Salty Joe’s telling this story. Out of the corner I see a weasel.
That took you by surprise didn’t it?
It’s running along the purple energy ribbons. I dart my eyes the other way. There’s another one. It rises up on its hind legs for a moment and sniffs. They’re purple too. They’re completely coloured that soft pinky-purple of the rest of the planet. Suddenly in my face is another one. Sniffing around. I shout out and try to bat it away but I can’t, all I can feel is waves of pain from my leg and side. I’m stuck. Oh god, I think, they’re going to eat me. A space crash I could deal with but not being eaten alive by purple space weasels. I curse the day I even crashed on that planet. Strange in the circumstances I know but its what I thought. And then I thought not planet but moon. It was a moon. But how did I know? I hadn’t seen it’s adjacent planet I’d been too busy crashing and being tied up. The weasel on my chest sort of smiled. As much as a weasel can do any way. Behind I could see there were more. They were congregating around me. I’ve claimed it a few times but this is really where I thought it was the end.
But it was the beginning. Is the beginning.
The weasel dived into me. Literally. It jumped up and my chest absorbed it. One after another, eight weasels jumped into my chest and disappeared. Now they didn’t sort of claw their way into me. It was like absorbing light or radiation – I didn’t feel it but I knew it had happened. Hell I saw it happen. And then the pain stopped. I looked at my leg – purple light was growing over the break. The same on my side. Whatever these things were they weren’t here to hurt me. I sat up feeling my fresh body stretching into place. I flexed my hand just to check if it was real. And then out of it a weasel appeared. It nuzzled my finger and curled into a ball. In my mind the words ‘we’ll help you Captain’ appeared like the switching on a light. I stared in disbelief. I stumbled upon an uncategorized moon and boy was it good one. These little critters were symbionts. And they had chosen me as their life partner. I didn’t just feel healthy man I felt fucking fantastic. I felt powerful.
‘So. Wait. So are they inside you… like right now.’ He slides back slightly from me.
‘Salty please let me finish.’
So I stand up and survey the crash sight. I try my other hand. Another weasel appears. They look exactly the same but I can tell it’s a different one. It has a different look on it’s face – it’s a bit surly this one. I stretch out my fingers it shoots out like a laser.
Oh yeah baby. The old captain’s got dem superpowers now.
It smokes and fizzes into a rock and then appears good as new on my hand. It looks a bit smug now. So yeah quite unexpectedly everything’s coming up RainCha. But alas there over the crest of a jagged hull clawing their way up are Teff and Beff.
‘How did you survive?’ Teff growls.
‘Yeah you weren’t in the impact pod,’ growls Beff.
‘Well you did wrap me in hyperspace protection padding.’ I say. The weasels have made themselves scarce.
‘Well where’s the damage on you?’ Teff.
‘Yeah you should be at lease a bit cut up?’ Beff.
‘Nah I’m good. Just landed well,’ I say.
‘Well we’ve still got a job to do.’ Teff says menacingly.
‘Yeah we’ll finish you off now instead.’ Beff menaces.
I see it first in their faces first. It goes from that tusked grimace to a sheer open mouthed shock. Then the shock ripples through their bodies as they start to run the other way. All I did was raise my hands.
I stand up. Salty smiles at me and laughs full-bellied.
‘So go on,’ he says. ‘Show me.’
I look each way and then quietly produce my hand outwards. A weasel appears and flexes out, the little flicks of purple energy spark over the bar. Salty goes out to touch it. It nips him on the flipper.
‘Ouch you little bastard.’
‘Oh yeah they’re hella naughty. Sorry should have told you that.’
‘El Capitan. And his naughty boys. Nah not cool enough for you. Captian RainCha and his bad boys.’
I think for a moment. ‘Captain RainCha and the Bad Boys of the Purple Moon. One day they’ll write a comic book about me. And that’s what it’ll be called.’ I say and laugh.
‘Ha! You wish Rainy! So what’ll you do now?’
‘I said didn’t I just as the ship was crashing I needed something. Something to change. And where there are humans – there is trouble. But with these boys in tow…’
I turn and see the vulturous Despids from the corner have shuffled over. They are about a foot taller than me their cloaks billow with grime.
‘Alright gang. How’s it hanging,’ I say. Their leader, I presume, steps forward.
‘Did you say that you are wanted by The Owner?’ It says threateningly.
‘Uh oh. My big mouth.’
I wink at Salty and spin round on one foot. I spread my hands wide. In the reflection of their goggles I see eight purple weasels spring out of the tops of my arms.
Credits roll. ‘til we meet again.