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le femme BEM

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Saved by Oblimo
on March 10, 2009 at 6:49:58 pm


Fic for a Pic


Mad Adric drew a pic of Galatea, and, as promised, I am writing a fic for a pic. He asked for a 1950s/80s style scifi story about Dadward's green cutie Xixa as a Lara Croft kind of character, but sexier. I've never written a character-based fanfic before. (The only background I know about Xixa is: her home planet is Xylem; she went to Earth on a collegiate exchange program; and she fancies tentacles.) This is what's fallen out of my head so far. Let me know if I'm doing it right.


WARNING: This story is rated "R" for raunchy but will not contain explicit sex.




le femme BEM

Second Draft



Part One


Sex in zero gravity takes one of three things: a firm grasp of Newtonian physics, the hard vacuum combat experience of a veteran Leet Corps space marine, or a great set of really sensitive antennae. My name is Xixa of Xylem, and I have all three.


I slip back into my smart-chemise, kicking my legs ever so slightly to counter the equal-but-opposite reactions that would otherwise send me careening around the slumber-pod, thanks to good old Newton. Its fluidic polyfabric courses down my neck and hugs my breasts in a silken curtain of milk. Ooh, I love how this thing feels! Especially the way it knows how to tuck around my nubbin tail and into my butt to form a snug one-piece. Got it dirt cheap off of zBay, too, can you imagine?


My mark of the evening is a big, dumb, Terran-strain biped, the kind of guy who thinks saying, "I wouldn't mind a little taste of BEM femme juice, splitting me some green oak, if you know what I mean," will get my sap flowing. (Yes, I sleep with mammals. Why? Well, when you're the last known member of your species, like me, let's see how picky you are. And, hey, I've only done it a couple of times. Okay, once with tonight's dumb-ass mark and a few zillion times with EJ, but that was back in college. It's not like I've got a fetish or something. EJ…well, he's EJ, ya know?) Anyway, my mark's floating stark naked by the sleep-pod's single porthole at the moment—No, wait, he just cracked his head on the bulkhead again and is rebounding into the ceiling. He sure gets around a lot for an unconscious guy.


I pirouette at a forty-five degree angle, careful to avoid the little wobbly spheres of pearlescent gunk as they drift in the close air. My antennae curl in disgust at the trace molecules the stinking things give off (My mark must eat asparagus; eeew!) but I snag my white bracers and cuff them to my wrists without getting slimed. The boots will be trickier, because I don't see them anywhere. They must be shoved in a corner somewhere. I better get the gravity back on in here.


I run a thumb over the glowing, semi-circular, synaptic interface on my left bracer. A fuzzy holoblock mists into existence above my wrist, encrypted code resolving into a close-up of the worried, cyclopean gaze of my best buddy and partner in crime. "Xixa?" His rubbery unibrow furrows over his single, sickle-lobed eye. "I lost signal of your vital signs. Did you die—again—or just get nekkid—again?"


"Hello to you too, Pink," I wink. Pink's native language is chemosensory—he and his fellow tentacle monsters speak in complex chemical sprays and pheromone ejections. Thanks to my antennae, I can taste and understand his true speech and real name, but for me to reply in kind…well, let's just say I'd have to do something very unlady-like. Plus, my cuff isn't equipped with a scent-generator anyway, so we stick to the boring audio vocalization I learned in college. I'm still paying off the student loan moola I spent getting vocal cords. Okay, make that "supposed to be still paying."


Pink waves an impatient tentacle or three—hard to tell in the little holoblock since his tentacles are so flexible, and long and strong and…ahem, sorry, got distracted. Pink really knows how to get me all worked up. Anyway, Pink's waving his tentacles at me, and I'm trying hard not to think about them, as he says, "So where's the guy?"


"Out cold." I angle my wrist-top display so the mark's body twirls into Pink's point view behind me.


"You didn't hurt him, did you?" Pink pulls his tentacles out of sight to show me he's serious. "He's a jackass, sure, but not one of the bad guys."


"Relax, Mom," I say, swimming through the air for the normative floor of the pod. "It was all his idea. 'You ever screw in zero-g?' he says. So I says, 'Did it before, s'fun.' So he takes me back to his place, punches some codes into his pod's environmental unit, and says, 'Space odyssey, baby!'"


"You're kidding."


"Nope. I will take the blame for getting him drunk back at the bar, though. Ah-ha! My boots were stuck under his bunk. Anyway—oof—this guy's been mining asteroids up here for two, three years, right? So he must know a thing or two about zero-g. I guess he was too drunk, dumb, or turned on to realize you get equal-but-opposite reactions from bodily functions, too."


"You don't mean…"


"Yup." I push a button on the heel of my right boot and hear a thumping hiss and click as it pressurizes. Damn, I love these big hard-vac combat boots. Great for ass-kicking. "I got his rocks off and he ejaculates himself backwards right into the bulkhead. Mammals, go figure." I dip my dainty green toes into the left boot and—Zzzap! "Yeow!"


The holoblock fills with Pink's searching eye as he throws himself at the viewer. "What? What?"


"Nothing but good news, Pink." I poke my purple tongue out of the corner of my mouth. (Yeah, yeah, I know: with antennae like mine, a tongue is superfluous. But it came with the vocal cords free of charge. And, besides, have you ever used a tongue before? Well, you should. It's fun.) I gently reach into my boot and wrap my hands around something big and thick and hard and abuzz with power. "I found my disruptor," I tell Pink, and yank the third man in my life into view by the shaft.


Speaking of which, let me disrupt the story for a minute and just tell you something. Back in my teenybopper days, my so-called halcyon days, my pre-college days, my Leet Corps tour-of-duty days, I was a major gun-buggy. Won the silver medal for phaser marksmanship at the 1,337th Tri-Spiral Arm Olympiad when I was fifteen. Come to think of it, that medal brought the Leet space marine recruiter to my adopted parents' door and started this whole mess in the first place. Thanks to the Corps, I was rated and battle-tested with the W40K Storm Bolter, BFG9000 plasma rifle, the Vasquez Rail-Gun platform, and any other ordinance that could get my pulse pounding, before I turned eighteen. Hell, I had my first real orgasm firing the superlaser of the Leet Corporation's Mark III DeathStar. No, I didn't fire it at a planet or anything, are you crazy? I just wanted to see the damn thing go off once before I blew it to smithereens. What kind of Bug Eyed Monster do you take me for?


Anyway, back then, when I was traveling the three Arms, meeting interesting people and disintegrating them for the Man, the bigger the gun, the happier the Xixa. Compared to the toys of my youth, the disruptor is teensy-weensy, looking no more intimidating than a swollen, glorified, silver hairdryer. And that's pretty much all it was, the only weapon I could smuggle down to Terra in my college coed compartment after Leet Corporation and I came to a parting of the ways. Just a glorified hairdryer, that is, until that darling genius of an EJ modified it for me. EJ was delighted with my reaction with what he'd done—how I thanked him, thanked him again, and then totally thanked his brains out—before I used one of the disruptor's new features on him. "Nothing compares to you, baby," I coo, and kiss my little lovely on the concentrator, a shiny, ruby red sphere perched at the disruptor's tapered tip.


Zzzap! "Woo!"


"I saw that," Pink says, waggling his tentacles at me again. "You can't make me feel jealous of a gun. Although you did make me feel…uh, something else."


"Mission accomplished." I smirk and smack my bad boy disruptor onto my hip, making sure to gyrate against him, countering the reactive forces the maneuver generates. The smart-chemise weaves a tight holster around the gun—I think she must love him almost as much as I do—squeezing him against my flesh close enough to feel the thrum of the quantum singularity containment unit concealed in the disruptor's inert casing. The only portable Klein bottle generator in the known universe—this whole space station couldn't handle the power and computation load necessary to generate one using galactic standard technology—and EJ built it just for me. I have the power of a galaxy-eating Black Hole strapped to my hip. "And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how to get this BEM's sap really flowing."


In the holoblock projection, the perplexity knob on Pink's forehead quivers. "Come again?"


I shake myself free of the gun-lust trance. "Later, Pink. Definitely later. But right now I need you to hack into the station's dataspace and get the gravity back on in here. 'Space Odyssey Baby' was smart enough to encrypt his terminal. Can't get into his slumber-pod's stasis locker, either."


"Why not just use the disruptor's sonic screwdriver subroutine on the locker?"


I shake my head and shimmy my ass in opposing vectors to stay in place. "Negatory. The package may not be shielded, and I'm very risk-adverse to damaging this particular package, especially if anything our unconscious SOB said back in the bar is remotely true. So work your nerd magic, pretty please with sugar onna top? You know how much it turns me on."


"Roger that." Pink's tentacles work on a dataspace interface somewhere out of view of the holoblock. "I'm in the station's environmental sub-system already, give me a minute and grab onto something…And, not that I mind, but you really seem to have sex on the brain today."


I hook my feet under the bed and poise my ass to flump upon it when gravity is restored. "I've been looking for a package like this for two years now, working my way through countless false leads in every dingy mining colony in this system. This's my first real lead, Pink, in all this time. He even had pictures of the thing. I feel so close that…" I blushed, purple rouging my green cheeks. "Well, I feel really close, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. If this works out, you and I are in for some long, long R&R with our slumber-pod time-locked and your tentacle-rape inhibitor meds flushed down the fuxxoring toilet, you got that?"


"No complaints here." Pink's anticipation knob shivers on his forehead, probably releasing some choice comments in his native language. Wish I were there to taste them. "Gravity in four, three, two…"


My stomachs flop and my antennae balance-nodes lurch, but I've done this thousands of times, and my bubble-butt bounces down on the bed without incident. My mark's body, on the other hand, falls almost two meters to the floor like a dropped rag-doll. "Pink, can you tell if the SOB's doozers are working?" I'll have to lug the big jerk into an autodoc fast if they aren't.


Pink checks a read-out. "Yeah, the environmental system is getting a strong datastream from his meditech. They're keeping him alive and relatively healthy, considering what you've put him through. Asteroid mining must provide a lot of danger pay, because this guy has Lazarus-level doozer nanotech in his blood stream, just like you do. I'm blocking all this from getting to the security subnet, of course. I'd say you've got a good ten minutes before his doozers bring him out of his regeneration-fugue."


I stretch out on the comfy bed. "Thanks for the exposition, Pink."


"Had to fill the time while I cracked the encryption on the stasis locker, hadn't I?" A panel dilates on the wall opposite the bed. "Your package awaits. Here's hoping we get that R&R. I was running out of inhibitor meds anyway."


I bound off the bed. My badass boots clank and clonk over the pod's metal grated floor. They weigh in at a good thirty kilos each, crammed full of gyros, pneumatic servos and gas-powered gizmos, but thanks to all that tech I feel like I'm running in basketball sneakers. Corps old-timers called them "Spring Heeled Jackboots" for some reason. "Yes, yes, yes! Aw, man."


The stasis locker is crowded with crap. Greasy stacks of immersive Xxxenophile magazines, unlabeled datasticks, untouched mining equipment manuals, packets of one-time cortical jacks—actually, those look pretty useful. Never know when a quick trip into VR might come in handy. So I swipe a packet and stuff it between my breasts—the smart-chemise is the best sports bra, wonder-bra, and corset I've ever owned, all rolled into one—and the silken milk material swallows it up and nestles it in.


"Dang," says Pink, staring.


"Keep your mind on the job, snookums." I push a pile of crap to the floor. There's only one thing left in the locker now, a beaten up box for Cogswell universal cogs. "Oh, please, oh please be in there." I pop the osmotic box top and peep inside. "Oh. Huh."


I bet Pink's anxiety node is pitching a fit. "Jackshit?"


"No," I sigh, and pull out a statuette the grayish green color of a storm at sea. "Jack-fuxxoring-pot!"


I tilt my prize this way in that in front of the holoblock to give Pink a damn good look. The figurine, idol, fetish, or whatever-it-is, represents a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face is a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind. This, this thing, which seems instilled with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, is of a somewhat bloated corpulence, and squats evilly on a rectangular block or pedestal covered with cryptic characters. The tips of the wings touch the back edge of the block, the seat occupying the center, while the long, curved claws of the doubled-up, crouching hind legs grip the front edge and extended a quarter of the way down toward the bottom of the pedestal. The cephalopod head bends forward, so that the ends of the facial feelers brush the backs of huge fore paws which clasp the croucher's elevated knees.


Pink dares name it in hushed tones. "Cthulhu."


I stare a moment longer, drinking in the statuette's palpable malevolence, before I can't take it any more, and squeal, "It's sooo cute!" I cradle the blasphemous thing to my chest. "The Great Old Ones must've been drop-dead smexxy. Who was a big sexy beastie?" I tickle a stone feeler. "You were, oh yes you were!"


"Mollusk monsters get all the girls," Pink grumbles. "I bet the wings were just for show, too."


I make goo-goo eyes at the statuette. "Daddy's just jealous." I dance back across the pod to a narrow ledge next to the bed. A dumb computer terminal and a standard issue omni-scanner are built into the wall above the ledge. I clunk the heavy figurine onto the scanner's input pad. "Pink, can you access this terminal and fire up the scanner? I wanna know if this thing's for real. And keep this scan private, m'kay?"


"Yeah, give me a second." Pink works on something off-screen. I drum my fingers on the ledge for a bit and then the scanner pad phosphoresces. "Okay, I'm in," he says, "getting readings. Dang, the SOB was right. This little baby is over ninety-nine percent pure MacGuffin. There's enough meta-mineral in there to power your doozers for a thousand years."

"And that means?" I ask.


"We're freaking rich. Or you can live to be one thousand and twenty three, but be dead broke the whole time. Take your pick."


"I'll take rich." I lean in, brushing the statuette's feelers with my own. They seem microscopically serrated, but I've got to know for sure. "Tell me what I really want to know, Pink." The dumb terminal's imager winks to life, filling with the statuette's baleful visage. A gradual zoom-in begins, until the imager's screen is filled with a single, monstrous tentacle. "You trying to get me horny?" I say, arching a brow and wiggling an antenna.


"Oh, stuff it," Pink says. The zoom continues and now the screen is filled with blotchy, sea-green pixels.

I'm too excited, too optimistic. I can't help but wriggle. "Count on it."


"Very funny," Pink says, his irony node twitching. "Let me resolve the image." The screen flickers and the big green blotches focus into thousands of nooks and crannies, no more than pinpricks on the statue's skin, staggered and swirled in complex paths across the mineralized surface. The patterning appears both organic like a fingerprint and intentionally organized like Braille. The knotted structures of pitted dots and bas relief dashes confuse the eye, even compound baby blues like mine.


My breath catches in my throat. "Oh, baby."


"Xixa, I am sorry I ever questioned your hypothesis." In the holoblock, Pink's eye threatens to bulge right out of his elastic mass. "This thing is a one hundred percent legit, Great Old One, encoded artifact. You've found your map."


I rub my thighs together, filling the room with the chirping whistle of a hundred crickets in heat. "Lost Carcosa, here we come…Wait a minute. You questioned my hypothesis? I got an A on that damned paper. And I didn't take of my clothes off to get it!"


Pink starts wisecracking, but a fuzzy display floating on his side of the holoblock catches his eye. His smile vanishes, his anticipation and anxiety nodes twitch once, and his rubbery skin darkens from its normal coral pink to a color reminiscent of indigestion medication. He swears. "Zomg." Two tentacles work intently on something off-screen, probably a systems' interface console. "Xixa, we have a problem." His voice is mild and even, his demeanor cool and professional. I know what that means.


I'm fuxxored. "What's the sitch?"


"When you asked me to keep the scan private, I spliced a spoof into the datastream running from the scanner to the core station systems." He brings two, then three more tentacles to bear on the unseen console, touch typing speed 300 wpm and climbing. "Worked like a charm. But to make sure, I ran a routine security check of your local terminal data. In the terminal's memory cache, I found...well, this..." The terminal's wall-screen glows white, filling with a Z3 interweb page. On the left floats a low-rez holo-image of the adorably vile statuette. On the right, a familiar, cheerful logo terrifies me.


"The SOB put my statue up for auction on zBay," I say. My disruptor's already my hand, safety squeeze-released, before I consciously decide I need it there. I keep my eyes locked on the slumber-pod door, trusting my antennae to give me a 360 degree "view" of the room through chemosensory receptors and membranes that detect changes in the air's micropressure. I nab the statuette off the scanner and press it to my left hip. The smart-chemise hesitates before morphing out a Liefeld multi-pouch to secure my prize in place. I can feel the material shift around the graven grotesquery as if unsettled by what it contained.

"Be fair," Pink says. "He didn't know it was yours at the time. But that's not the problem."


"I know." I back away from the door toward the outer wall. I raise the disruptor. My face is fish-lens reflected in its silvered casing. Two whipcord antennae arc high into the air above the licked-down grasshopper green spikes of my pixie haircut and matching elfin ears. Big eyes of bluest topaz. Purple freckles on cherubic cheeks (on both pairs of cheeks, I might add). Nobody this cute should die this young, so I bring the gun into kissing distance, and whisper, "Close combat mode, wide dispersal, baby." The casing is icy and metallic against my lips.


"The problem is," Pink continued, as if oblivious to my slow slip into battle-trance, "If I can find it so easily, anyone can. This guy can't afford the kind of interweb anonymity my services provide your exploits. This web page could've been seen anywhere in the three Arms hours before you met the guy back at the bar. Anyone who'd want to know about your statue already does. All I'm doing now is sealing the gate after the Shoggoths escaped. I'm sorry, Xixa, there's nothing I can do." He reclined, tentacles dropping. "Your mark's been made."


Part Two


The station claxon rings out an all-hands alarm. The ambient lighting in the slumber-pod shifts from full-spectrum white to amber. Everything looks whiskey colored.


Pink has not glanced up from his readouts. "Station Operations is going into yellow alert."


The smooth tones of a Majel voice synthesizer makes an announcement as the alarm fades. "This is a station-wide yellow alert. This is not a drill. All hands, please stand by for instructions."


"Thanks for the heads up, Pink," I say. "What does that mean on your end?"


"Ops is going to pull the station's systems off the interweb," Pink explains, "Our direct link will be unaffected, but any haxxoring's going to get very dicey. If there's anything you need me to do, tell me now, not later."


Majel interrupts again. "Station management is pleased to announce the purchase of a supermajority stock interest in the Janus IV mining franchise by unsolicited bid."


"That was fast," Pink says. "Great way to secure claim to the Great Old One statue, though: just buy the entire space station and everything on it. There are only two megacorps with the collateral to pull this off."


I my inner eyelids flick shut. "Please let it be Umbrella. I can handle Umbrella."


"Janus IV Mining is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Leet Corporation," Majel says. (I'm fuxxored.) "Please join station management in welcoming our new executive leadership, Leet Corporation. Leet Corporation: We Own You." (I am sooo fuxxored.) "In an unrelated communiqué," Majel adds, "Janus IV management has been instructed to inform all hands that this station has been commandeered by the Leet Space Marine Corps." (I am sooo fuxxored it hurts from my ass to my ears.) "All unaffiliated guests, please remain where you are or risk summary disintegration. All hands, please prepare to be boarded. A Leet Corps battalion will be translating into the system shortly. Thank you for your unconditional cooperation."


(I am sooo fuxxored that…wait a minute.) "Pink, did she mention an in-system translation?"


"Yeah," Pink says, sounding as confused as I feel, "Station Ops is prepping for a translation. That doesn't make any sense. In-system translation takes a shit load of computational power. I'm talking serious, multiple world parallel processing."


I whirl around to peer through the porthole. The crowded star field hangs almost motionless in the limitless distance. The milky, banded strips of the asteroid belt and the ringed bulges of gas giant planets are much closer, their movements generating far more parallax with the geodesic struts and pod-zones on station's far side. Generating the most parallax, no more than a few clicks from the station itself, is a blue-shift gravity lens distortion. An invasion of Einsteinian reality from interstitial space. A ship generating its own translation point. An honest-to-shit Leet Corps jumpship.


Pink is still in his exposition-trance, bless his nerdy hearts. "…the only kind of computer capable of astro-navigating an in-system translation is…"


"Pink," I say, watching the sleek lines of a Leet Corps jumpship translate from the interstitial realm of imaginary time into real space, "I need to talk to EJ."


Pink's unibrow furrows as he thinks this over. "Alright, I admit that makes sense. But what makes you think he'll want to talk to you?"


"He's financing this expedition." The Boussard ramjets of the jumpship fire as it moves in for a direct docking. I've got a few minutes, more if the Corps crew's Master Chief is green.


"You stole from him, you mean." Pink leans close in the holoblock. "Suppose he's willing to talk, maybe even help you a little. He's back on Terra, two Galactic Arms away. Do you have any idea how tricky it is to secure a long-distance transmission like that? One typo or packet misroute and Leet will know exactly where I am. And you, too."


I can see the jumpship maneuver into position, matching velocity and rotation with the station's docking ring. "Pink, I don't care if you pirate subspace radio, piggyback an ANSIBLE signal, or shove a warp nacelle up a carrier pigeon's butt. Just get EJ on the horn as fast as you fuxxoring can! Tell him, 'Xixa says she's sorry.'"


Pink's face crinkles up in a wry smile. "He won't believe me."


"Of course not. Tell him I think I was wrong, too. That should make him curious and angry enough to start speaking to me again." An umbilical is already unwinding from the jumpship's hull to the station ring. So much for my hopes of a green Master Chief. I roll my shoulders and loll my head, working the tension out of my neck. The disruptor thrums, its weight heavy but so very welcome in my hand. "Now I gotta go bag me some marines. Xixa out."


The touch-pad on the slumber-pod's door flashes amber, signaling remote lock-down initiated by Station Ops. A quick burst from the disruptor's sonic screwdriver fubars the pad's security circuits. At least I hope it does, because with Pink working his cyber-mojo outside the station's systems instead of inside, I can't be sure. I holster the disruptor high on my back, the smart-chemise morphing out loops wherever I need them. Flipping down the door's manual release handle, I push the sliding door ajar with both hands, just enough space to whip my antennae through the air of the corridor beyond. No unexpected pressure changes or chemical traces. I'm good to go.


Lugging open the pod door without servo assistance takes two hands. The corridor of the berth deck stretches windowless and empty on either side. The emergency lighting mutes tasteless graffiti and tacky, corporate provided artwork. The hostile takeover is well underway. Little Leet "We Own You" and "w00t" logos are popping up all over the reactive wall-screens. No one's here to notice but me. I guess everyone else is taking the "summary disintegration" warning seriously. I've seen how Leet operates—Hell, I've operated for Leet—so I don't blame them one bit. Speaking of Leet, it's time for some cyber-mojo of my own.


My wrist-top computer may be four years old but I've kept all the communications gear inside it up-to-date. First, I toggle off the holoblock's pop-up display and muck about with the audio until it only broadcasts a focused sonic frequency you need antennae like mine to hear. Next, I launch the wrist-top's netstumbler. I keep the program well fed with black market decryption keys, so the stumbler locks onto the battalion's common channel in under a minute. Of course, if they learn I'm eavesdropping, the jumpship's central computer will take over encryption duties and then my meager wrist-top would take longer than the remaining lifespan of the universe to decode a single data-squirt.


"Master Chief to Blue-1." The Leet Chief sounds frosty, large and in charge. "What's your twenty?"


"Blue team is in the hen house," comes the static-filled reply. "Please be advised that someone has ten forty-two'd the station surveillance subsystem. Station manager suspected an external hax-job, took station systems off-web. Otherwise Ops is buttoned up, over."


(God, did I sound that dorky during away missions? It's okay, you can tell me. I won't hurt you much.)


"Red team is ten twenty-three and awaiting orders," says another voice. There's an overlong silence and the tinny voice finishes, "...Over."


I smirk. Red team is mighty green. This might be fun after all. I call up a flat display of the station's schematic on my wrist-top. Too bad I can't risk a live feed from Ops, or else I'd know exactly where these bozos are. I'll have to keep an ear out and plot my course to the docking ring accordingly.


"This is MC. Red team: fan out. Search and recover the item. System surveillance is compromised, so don't trust it. Rely on hardwired sensors only. That includes your guts. MC to Tizona, requesting authorization for a ten thirty-five, over."


"Tizona to MC," purrs a smoky, feminine voice. Hers is the only signal free of echoes and static. (Bingo! If Pink gets EJ on the line, I might make it out alive after all.) "Ten thirty-five is authorized, provided the physical integrity of the objective remains your highest priority. Tizona out."


"You heard the senora," the MC grunts. "You have clearance to consider all encounters hostile, but bust the item and we'll all be busted down to clearing space hulks. Blue-1 has the conn. MC out."


"Aye, aye," is Red-1's unneeded reply. There is a mutter of off-channel chatter. "Blue-1, Red team is ten-eleven to the bridge deck. Red-1 to secure alpha pod, Red-2 is en route to gamma and Red-3 is sweeping flush deck, over."


I send a quick audio-only squirt to Pink: "It's my lucky day, they're splitting up. See you on the other side."


It takes me a good fifteen minutes to cat-and-mouse around Red team, forcing my way through doors and airlocks with the sonic screwdriver, and reconnoitering Red team's position based on their constant status chatter and my station schematic. The Master Chief and Blue team maintain radio silence, but I don't really notice that until I finally reach the door leading to the bridge deck, tug it open, and get a nose full of storm bolter barrel for my troubles.


I've got the door to bridge deck cracked open and my face poking in the gap like I'm ready to croon, "Heeere's Xixa!" Instead I'm gawking at a Leet space marine in full, blood-red battle armor. The marine's face is hidden behind the angular, hard-radiation filtering faceplate of his helmet. He and his partner, twin-armored and covering each other's six, carry locked-and-loaded storm bolter carbines. The handheld rail guns are black steel and space titanium and fill the room with the aroma of ozone, gun oil and slide-action lubricant. The smell makes me weak in the knees, but not from fear. Hey, what can I say, I'm a gun-buggy.


The marine's voice buzzes from an external speaker on his helmet. "Come on in, mister," he tells me, "nice and slow." The external speaker clicks off so he can relay a message on the battalion's coded, common channel. My wrist-top picks it up and plays it back, audio still set to my-antennae-only. "Red-2 to Master Chief, have encountered what appears to be an unaffiliated Bug Eyed Monster, over."


"Roger that," Master Chief replies. "Secure it, interrogate it, confirm whether it's the hostile that's been monitoring our transmissions, and then neutralize it. Over."


Ah, I get it now; they've been code-talking over the common channel, making stuff up all this time in case someone was listening in. This Master Chief is a hardass. I sigh and wedge the door open a few more inches, barely enough space to squeeze my butt into, which just so happens to be my intent. I rock my hips and wriggle through the door ass first. I see my rear-end reflected in the marine's visor. Down there, the smart-chemise is little more than a thong between two globes of juicy green muscle with purple freckles. I pirouette as I pop free from the door, keeping the disruptor holstered behind my back secure and out of sight while the rest of me jounces and jiggles in plain view.


My shameless little show has its desired effect. Red-2 falls out from his combat stance, becoming stiff and awkward. "Um, please be advised that the BEM is a, uh, femme." He clicks on his external speaker. "Put your hands on your head so I can see 'em, Miss."


"Don't you mean, 'Put your hands on your head where I can see them?'" I ask aloud, my arms rising. "Assuming your talking about my hands, that is." My hands which are now only a few inches from the grip of my disruptor, I should say.


The marine on his six shuffles up and his speaker crackles, "He means spread your arms out on either side, where he can see that they're empty." This must be Red-1, the mock-green code-talker and all around clever bastard. I like him already. Too bad I'll probably have to kill him in a minute. Red-1 clouts Red-2 on the back of his helmet. "Noob!"


Red-2's bolter is now pointed at the floor. Red-1 has his barrel aiming about a foot above my head. Even slowed down in all that armor, it will still take them half a second at most to reacquire me as their target and fire two explosive-packed slugs of depleted uranium through my cranium. This pod of the bridge deck is wide, sterile and empty, providing no cover, so there's no way I could possibly draw and fire my disruptor before they pull the triggers on their bolters. I sigh again, heavy and heaving, and spread my arms wide. My empty fingers waggle. "Happy?"


"Not until I find out what's in that bag," Red-1 says, nodding at the pouch on my hip, "and where the Hell you got all that ultraviolet Leet gear."


"Give me a visual on that BEM," Master Chief commands over the common channel. "Over."


Red-2 shakes his head and talks over the speaker. "I told you the MC's a xenophile. No offense, Miss."


"Shut up and turn on your helmet cam," Red-1 tells him. He can't hide the smile in his voice.


Red-2 cricks his neck and a green LED starts flashing on the side of his helmet. He performs a slow pan, starting with the soles of my boots and ending with my antennae. "That's over two meters of green goddess goodness...Again, no offense."


"None taken," I drawl, doing my best to keep my smarmy poker face intact as the Master Chief starts barking orders over the common channel.


"Disengage!" He's shouting into his mic, his audio popping in and out. "...extremely dangerous! Disengage...terminate...immediately!"


I reach for the disruptor. I've got it clear, aimed, and ready in a hairsbreadth over half a second. As I said before, that's just not fast enough. Red-1 and Red-2 have already fired. The uranium slugs are flying through the air probably a meter away from my face, their trajectory assisted by smartgun technology, before I get to pull the distruptor's trigger. Leet marines always shoot first, and they never miss.


Good thing it doesn't matter. Set to wide-and-close, the graviton disruption wave catches both miniature missiles and the two marines, compressing the mass of all four objects into a one-dimensional piece of subatomic plasma spaghetti before shunting it all off into some quantum parallel world somewhere on the other side of imaginary time. The energy released from such a conversion probably detonates a supernova or three. EJ told me the whole process takes about a femtosecond.


Good Lord, do I love this gun.

I am holstering the disruptor and trying to sooth my raging libido with promises of Pink/Xixa hentai when the Master Chief gets back on the common channel. "Red-1 what's your twenty? Red-two, ten twenty! Zomg. Master Chief to Tizona, ten one-thousand, I repeat, ten one-thousand. I am sending you visual confirmation of the suspect now—"


"That won't be necessary, Master Chief," Tizona's sultry voice interrupts in clear violation of Corps comm protocol. "I have been monitoring Red team's transmissions and have already contacted Leet executive command. Our mission priorities have changed, over."


"This is Master Chief, awaiting instructions, over."


I edge down the pod's blank wall toward the sealed, triangular airlock on the opposing end.


"Tertiary priorities," Tizona begins. "Preserve Janus IV property and affiliated crew. Preserve Leet Corps enlisted personnel and ordinance. All such resources expendable. Understood?"


"Ten four, over," says the Master Chief without pause.


My nubbin tail bumps over clusters of convex, high-rez projection lenses, dark and dead thanks to the lockdown. The pod would be full of holographic workstations otherwise.


"Secondary priorities," Tizona continues, "Obtain meta-mineral artifact. Preserve jumpship. Preserve Master Chief. Preserve Tizona construct and related systems. All such resources expendable." Her purring alto gives me goose-bumps, and I bet the bitch doesn't even have vocal chords. "All related standing orders rescinded and conventions suspended for the duration of the mission. Understood? Understood, Master Chief?"


I hear something rustle against an audio pickup and then the Master Chief slowly replies, "Ten four, over."


"Primary mission objective," Tizona concludes, "the termination with extreme prejudice of hostile code name Zero-G-G, Leet Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant Xixa Xylem, found guilty of mutiny by Leet courts martial in absentia. Tizona out."


Well, it's nice to be remembered, I suppose. After my blundering into Red team's ambush, I'm not taking any chances with doors I can't smell behind, so I'm creeping halfway to the airlock when the common channel broadcasts again. "Master Chief to Xylem. Xylem, do you read? Are you listening, Master Gunny? Over?"


I inch closer to the airlock. "I copy, Master Chief, over."


The comm falls silent for a minute before Master Chief speaks up again. "I just wanted to say I was an ensign on the DeathStar III."


What the heck is this about? "You've climbed the ladder pretty fast, Master Chief."


"I admired how you let the noncoms evac before you detonated the main reactor."


He's coding talking again, to me this time. "I'd checked the crew roster in advance," I say, sidestepping to the airlock. "Six hundred and forty two janitors in the detention levels alone."


"The X-O went down, though."


"Actually, he wouldn't." I toggle my disruptor into sonic screwdriver mode and set to work on the airlock. "He was a real lousy lay. His death was no big loss, believe me."


"Well, I wanted you to know."


You wanted me to know you're ordering an evacuation and setting the station's core to self-destruct. An anti-matter breach will vaporize the station and me with it, and then you'll gazerbeam the vapor into quark slag from the jumpship, just to be sure. That's what I did to the DeathStar and its fuxxoring Executive Officer, after all. "I read you five by five, Master Chief." And now you'll want to know if I'd risk the lives of the five hundred-plus civilians on the station to save my own ass or just stay out of your way and die like a good girlbug. "I couldn't murder janitors."


"Good." The Master Chief clears his throat. "Master Chief to Tizona, the common channel has been compromised. Requesting you take on full encryption duties, over."


My netstumbler program locks up with an overload of decryption data and crashes so fast I don't even hear her answer. The sonic screwdriver breaches the airlock. My antennae tell me the decompression chamber behind it is empty. I squeeze through the airlock and into the chamber.


I'm inside a little pyramid. Four triangular sides are gunmetal grey and lead to other bridge pods. The square "floor" is painted safety orange and covered with red alert decals. I kneel to peep through the porthole in the floor and into the vacuum of space.


The synaptic interface on my bracer winks, signaling an incoming message. With a quick rub of my thumb, Pink's holoblock image mists back into existence, anxiety node swollen with worry and annoyance pheromones. "Alright, I've got EJ on the horn. Audio only, and lossy as rapidshit, but I got him."


I blow him a kiss. "You're the best, Pink."


Pink rolls his eye, an oval orb bigger than a dinner plate. It's quite a thing to see. "Well, I guess we won't be needing EJ then. I'll cut transmission." His irony node looks like it's fit to burst.


I look him square in the eye. "You are the best, Pink."


Pink's smiles through melancholia. "Thanks, Xixa." A tentacle ripples. "Patching him through now." My wrist-top's audio fills with hissing white-noise. "Go ahead, EJ."


"Xixa," EJ says, his tone unclear through all the static, "you broke my heart."


"Water under the bridge, EJ," I say.


"No," he says, "I mean you gave me a heart attack when you shot me. The college infirmary had to grow me a new heart in a vat."


Now, how could I have known that? I had hijacked the quickest out-system shuttle I could find right after I'd shot him. I pout for a few seconds before I realize he can't see me. "I used the lowest setting."


"Not before locking me in your dorm room for a forty-eight hour fuxxor-thon. Xixa, some of us are merely human."


Why did I feel like the bad bug here? "Hey, I expected you to pass out after the first thirteen or so. It's not my fault you're such a great fu—"


Pink throws himself at the viewer. "Can we get to the damn point, please?"


I try treating Pink to a slow, sexy wink, but one good look at his face and the configuration of his emotive nodes chills me to the chitin. He's not jealous. He's all business. He's risking his life to save mine, finessing an illicit broadcast over 10 parsecs of real space…and that's when the specific gravity of the situation hits me. "EJ. I'm in trouble."


"Who's the baby-daddy? If it's not Pink, although I can't imagine how it could be, even with the best genome haxxoring in the galaxy…Anyway, if it's not Pink, you really are in trouble. He'd die for you, you realize that?"


Fusion trails blot out the star-field behind the porthole in the floor. The first cluster of evacuation pods decouple from the docking ring, scudding for minimal safe distance. "I need your help, EJ." I sniffle and blink the saline sting from my eyes. Stupid tear ducts; had them implanted to win a bet, regretted them ever since.


"What could I possibly offer that you haven't already taken? Why should I help you, Xixa?" It takes me a tearful moment to realize he isn't asking me rhetorical questions. He's looking for an excuse to help. "Xixa?"


Pink nods his encouragement. He and EJ must have had quite a conversation before he patched me in. Gods, Pink, you're better than best.


I square my shoulders. "Because…" I spin the disruptor round my trigger finger, slap it to my thigh, and heft the storm-colored statuette out of its pouch. "I am holding a Great Old One MacGuffin encoded with the route through interstitial space to Lost Carcosa itself, and I'm looking out a porthole at a Leet jumpship that can translocate anywhere in the Universe…but only if its central computer construct wants to."


I hear nothing but static for a while, and then: "Pink, let's see if we can increase the fidelity of this signal. I'm going to need full video and data feed."


It's about ten minutes later. Evacuation pods dance in space behind the porthole, dandelion seeds caught in a solar wind. Power and life support have been cut off throughout the station. The Master Chief is somewhere in the Ops pods afore deck, going through the final stages of prepping the reactor core for overload. He and Blue team will wait until the last possible moment before abandoning the station to anti-matter annihilation, making sure I don’t somehow sneak past them, up the umbilical and onto the jumpship. The gravity field died with station power and life support. I am floating in gloom, illuminated only by the starlight trickling in through the decompression chamber's porthole. The outer airlock in the "floor" is now a wall directly "ahead" of me. In zero-g, everything is relative.


"Space odyssey, baby," I sigh. My breath blows me backward a bit.


"You ready, Xixa?" Pink asks. We're back to audio-only transmission because I don't want Pink to see what's about to happen.


"No." If a girl couldn't be honest at a time like this, she never could.


"It's your plan," Pink reminds me, "although I can't think of any other way to get out of this. I'm over half an AU away, and if my ship so much as farts in your general direction, the jumpship's central computer will gazerbeam me into strangeness and charm."


I caress the Cthulhu statuette with my antenna, feeling for the microscopic filigree of Great Old One code covering its loathsome, tentacular head. I can almost taste its secrets, hear it whisper of my birth-parents, my birth-world…of Lost Carcosa. I will never stop loving my adoptive mother and father. Xylem is, was, and always will be my true home world. But I'm a big bug now, and there are things I must know, some holes that even Pink can't fill. "But I'm so close, Pink," I whisper.


"Maybe the map will still work afterward," Pink says.


I kiss Cthulhu on his ghastly forehead. It tastes of metal and soap. "Yeah, but maybe it won't."


Pink starts whispering too, and damn it, there go my fuxxoring tear ducts again. "Xixa, ask yourself: what do you want to find out more? Whether you really are the last Carcosan, or what happens to you after you die so hard there's nothing to grow back?"


I grin through tears. "Well, when you put it that way…" I open my mouth wide, whet my secondary maxillae, and bite off Cthulhu's head like it were a cheery chocolate bunny.


Chewing unrefined meta-mineral is serious work. I have to use all four of my concentric jaws in ways that would make Pink fall to his psuedofeet and beg me to marry him, grinding the MacGufffin into pieces small enough to choke down. It sounds like a legion of Spring-Heeled Jackbooted marines are marching between my ears. Somehow, I can still hear Pink whisper, "See you on the other side, Xixa. Pink out."


Still crying, I activate the disruptor's sonic screwdriver. The subroutine EJ remotely programmed into it works like a charm. The outer airlock irises open, the chamber decompresses and I'm tossed into the terrible secret of space.


The temperature is ten degrees Kelvin out here, tops. My tears freeze instantly into salt diamonds. I swallow down last bits of meta-mineral a few seconds before my core temperature falls below one hundred and fifty degrees Kelvin, about negative one hundred and twenty degrees Celsius—too low even for the last Carcosan to tolerate. All my bodily fluids and tissues crystallize in the resulting flash-freeze and I die.


Part Three


Want to know what happens after you die? Well, if you have Lazarus-class meditech coursing through your blood like I do, it feels just like the world's worst ice-cream headache. Wait, are you surprised I'm still narrating? You haven't been paying attention, have you? Well, wake your ass up. I'm only going to explain this once and there's going to be a quiz afterwards. Next time, pick up on the clues in the exposition at the beginning of a story, will ya? Jeebus.


Anyway…Invented by a redheaded BEM femme by the name of Cotterpin Doozer (No relation, but you go, sistah!), Doozer meditech are self-replicating, nanomechanical doctors that work on keeping you alive, one molecule of your body at a time. The basic Logan-class meditech can cure cancer, prevent adamantium poisoning and even regrow severed limbs. Methuselah-class doozers can sextuple your species' average lifespan. But Lazarus-class meditech? There is nothing you can do to your body short of complete subatomic disintegration that Lazarus-class doozers can't bring you back from—as long as they've got enough fuel to feed into their itty-bitty nano-motors. Thanks to the limitless, interspecies demand for eternal life, we all live in the shadow of Doozerdom, and the raw material needed to fuel doozers serves as the primary medium of exchange for the three Arm interplanetary economy.


What's doozer fuel? Duh: MacGuffin meta-mineral.


The more meta-mineral you can feed your doozers, the faster and harder they work. It’s a good thing, too, because I usually need hours to resurrect after explosive decompression and prolonged exposure to hard vacuum. I'm almost dying with curiosity, if you'll pardon the pun. I've never had this much meta-mineral inside my body at one time—or ever, come to think of it, since I've only eaten a few milligrams of the stuff every day since I was seventeen years old, and Cthulhu's head must've weighed in at a kilo, at least. I have no clue what my doozers are going to do to solve my current predicament, and they tend to work in mysterious ways that I least expect, anyhow.


I'm conscious and aware, but only in that transcendental, transparent-eyeball sense I always get after doozers have fired up my central nervous system but are still working on my other vitals. A timeless instant indistinguishable from an eternity passes, and now I see before me a rotating, yellow hardhat emblazoned with a red cross centered in a white circle about two kilometers high, hueg-leik-Xbox. No, I'm not stoned out of my gourd. This is just the doozer mental icon for, "You are Dead—Please Stand By." The bouncy Doozerdom anthem should start up any—ah, there it goes: bleep, dweep, beedle-bee-bleep-dee-bleep…You'd think that they could pump something a little more high fidelity into my brain's aural cortex, but I guess there's something to be said for tradition.


The hardhat icon melts away, and a bio-scan image of my body and hundreds of orbiting data readouts stretch to the mental horizion. I look like a Xixa popsicle with a serious case of freezer burn. Chowing down on the meta-mineral in my stomach, the doozers work in a frenzy, generating heat and repairing tissue mulched by crystallization at the cellular level. My core temperature raises a few degrees Kelvin before the biggest armada of meditech I've ever seen in one of these reports—over a hundred billion doozers strong—swarms through capillaries and muscle to my epidermal layer of subtle chitin.


The amount of chitin in my skin begins to climb exponentially. The frost of deep space sloughs away, replaced by hard, glossy green and purple polka dotted exoskeleton. I watch, amazed but helpless to do otherwise, as the doozers build me a hard vacuum spacesuit from the inside out. By the end of the process, my bio-scan looks like a cross between a Xxxenophile PlayBuggy of the Month centerfold and the Green Ranger's body-armor. The doozers burn up the last of the extra meta-mineral flooding my new upper epidermal layers with nitrogen and oxygen gas. The Doozerdom anthem builds to a crescendo, the read-outs report that my exoskeleton has been pressurized to 3 psi. The nictating membranes of my eyelids flick out, harden into violet mirrorshades to prevent hard radiation from blinding my compound eyes. A sudden vertigo hits me as the bio-scan I've been watching zooms close and turns outside in. The last fading readout reports that the entire fugue—from death to pressurization—lasted less than 90 seconds. My discorporate consciousness cranches down into my body and all my senses flip on as if the Gods throw open the window of real space and defenestrate me.


I am lynch-pinned to the center of the universe. The stars, squat space station, and escape pods pinwheel around me; the sleek jumpship wobbles in its orbit, backtracking as though describing an epicycle of its own. Either that, or I'm tumbling ass-over-heels away from the space station and spinning toward the jumpship, although my trajectory is for shit and I'm aimed to miss my target by a klick and to be lost forever in deep space. It's hard to tell which, and frankly it doesn't matter.


Like I said, everything's relative in zero g.


I flex and twist, experimenting with the doozer-grown exoskeleton. It feels rigid and angular as I expected, but also muscular, powerful, and, well, kinda macho. I mean, even my antennae are all bulked up, grown from slender whips to segmented chains of half-moon shapes. Heh. Watch out, Leet. Here comes MechaGodXixa! (I hope this doesn't make my next monthly visit from Aunt Molt any worse, though. I mean, Pink has to barricade himself in the gun turret as it is.)


There goes MechaGodXixa is more like it. I'm relieved to escape the doomed space station, but flying right past the jumpship would really suxxor. Feets, do your stuff!


I click the heels of my Spring Heeled Jackboots together and fire the gas jet retro-rockets concealed in their soles. Hey, I told you they were full of "gas-powered gizmos." Wouldn't be much of a space marine if I couldn't maneuver in space, now, would I?


I scissor my legs a few times to curb all this oscillation and point myself at the jumpship. I keep accelerating until I reach what I guess is the half-way point, then swing my legs under and spend the rest of the trip decelerating slowly so I don't wind up a green and purple smear on the jumpship hull. The foil umbilical still connects the ship to the station, so the big boom can't be scheduled any time soon. After the fiasco with Red team, though, I'm not going to try second-guessing this Master Chief again. Fool me once, shame on you…yadda yadda.


This jumpship's design is newer compared to the death-machines I gunned for Leet, but the utilitarian layout of the hull's pearly skin is much the same. I park my carcass aft of the concave gazerbeam lens array. The sonic screwdriver makes quick work of a maintenance hatch. (Yeah, the sonic screwdriver even works in space. How? I dunno. It's Gallifreyian technology, something I picked up a few years ago and asked EJ to install in the disruptor. Even EJ doesn't understand how it works, only how to program a few of its functions. Where did I get it? I promised Romanadvoratrelundar I'd never tell. You know, I also promised her to never tell anyone how I can make a Time Lady regenerate by tickling that little ridge right inside her—Whoops, got distracted. Where was I? Oh, maintenance hatch, right.)


The hatch hides a few readouts and a dataport for maintenance techs to interface with the ship's central computer and receive instructions on how to adjust the gazerbeam array. Other than the cypto-lock on the hatch, the dataport itself is unsecured. It doesn't need any security considering the monster of a machine to which it leads. No one would be stupid enough to interface with a computer that can read your every thought and obliterate your mind. Not without proper authorization, at least.


I unwind my wrist-top's universal data cable, plug it into the dataport, and interface with the ship's central computer without proper authorization. If I'm quick, I won't need to jack in all the way. I just need to set up a link between this data port, my wrist-top, and Pink's—


…Lo-lo-look at you, ha-hacker…


Ohshitohshitohshit. I don't have a neural interface installed in my wrist-top but the central computer's sultry alto voice bleeds into my brain anyway. How can that be? Sure, it can take over my wrist-top or access any wireless system it wants but I don't have any wireless systems…except…


…a pa-pathetic creature of meat and bone…


Doozers. My Doozers! The jumpship's central computer has haxxored my doozers! I've got no choice. I've got to jack all the way in. I reach into the silken material between my breasts and pull out the packet of one-time cortical jacks I swiped from the slumber-pod. These are big jacks, circular tabs a few centimeters across. The bigger the jack, the wider the through-put into your brain. These are wide enough for the central computer to flood my mind with enough data to drive me irrevocably insane, something that doozers can't fix. Well, maybe it was just my imagination. After all, you can't haxxor someone's doozers, can you? The computing power you'd need—


…panting and sweating…


My chest tightens. The inside of my exoskeleton grows clammy and sticky, its doozer-processed inner atmosphere sours. It's not my imagination. The central computer has haxxored my meditech.


I slap the quarter-sized cortical jack onto my exoskeletal temple and jack in.

I stand upon the liminal datum plane. Neon standing waves of operational systems harmonize with the crystalline music of astro-navigational algorithms. Data mart tesseracts pulse with digital information. Subroutines swim in glittering schools of frozen fireworks. The sky is metric space, a penumbral Hausdorff dimension dancing with self-similar, green curves of infinite complexity and storage capacity.


I fuxxoring hate dataspace. Did you understand a damn thing I just described? I sure as Hell didn't. You have to spend years with your head shoved up some computer's ass to truly conceptualize dataspace, and I like my real curves much more than these virtual Hausdorff-thingies. Pink and EJ live for this kind of shit, though. Too bad I'm probably going to die of it in a few seconds.


…You have entered my domain…


I crane my virtual neck to look up, and up…and up at the most terrifying panty shot I have ever seen. The phosphorus, fractal lattices and curves of code filling the sky comprise a single hourglass figure, towering green legs and flaring hips tapering to a wasp-narrow waist wrapped in a miniskirt of shimmering 1s and 0s. Colossal arms hook akimbo below a bosom like a continental shelf. Emerald hair cut in a severe bob frames a face of regal beauty. There is no horizon or vanishing point in dataspace, so it's impossible to comprehend how tall the central computer's virtual construct actually stands… But "hueg liek Xbox" does not even begin to cover it.


I should be peeing in my virtual pants. But she's green, just like me. And I have an edge.


The tower of feminine processing power bends deep to look me in the eyes. She's too much, a sensual sensory overload. All guys must see her this way: the ultimate femme BEM goddess. I bet all guys treat her that way, too, and will always treat her that way…


…How can you challenge a perfect, immortal machine…


All guys, that is, except one. "I'm not here to challenge you," I say, and trigger the link between my wrist-top and Pink's datafeed. "I just want to introduce you to my old boyfriend."


EJ's virtual avatar materializes into crystal clear resolution, standing between me and the limitless depths of the central computer construct's scintillating green-screen eyes. "Hi," EJ says, tips his head, crooks a grin, and points an index finger at a button nose fifty feet wide. "Tizona, right?"


Tizona, the Leet Corps jumpship's central computer AI construct, with enough processing power to calculate the final fate of every atom in the Universe, blinks in sheer, stupid surprise. …El—El—Elroy? Je—Jetson? The Elroy Jetson?


Say what you want about his gutless, chinless father George, but his boy Elroy done grown up fine. Tall, trim, and chiseled with just enough baby fat to make him look boyish and give him his trademark dimpled chin. The whole EJ package is topped by a blond mop that falls over his eyes in adorable little blades of hair that make your fingers itch to push them back and then trace his ear and across his cheek and then down his chin and neck and over his abs and…You get the picture.


"Well," EJ says, shrugging in modesty. "I don't know about the, but I can send over my authentication code in a data-squirt if you like…"


Before EJ can transmit, however, Tizona grabs her buckling knees and starts babbling. …Oh my God I am like your biggest fan. I read your zBlog every day—no, ten thousand times a day. I've got a hundred forty-two of your subroutines running in my core systems right now. They're, wow, so strong and stable, the sweetest hacks I've ever felt and so sexy…


Tizona's eyes bug out. She falls to her titanic knees, crashing the systems around her, and buries her head in her hands, as if she could hide behind their translucent, green holographic images in the first place. …Oh my God I'm so sorry I'm so embarrassed but I'd never thought I'd meet…


Without any fear or hesitation, filled with genuine concern, EJ marches straight for Tizona until he's inches away from a knee twice as tall as he is. "Tizona, I'm sorry. Xixa thought you'd might like it if I said 'Hi,' that's all. Don't be embarrassed. Actually," he chuckles that simpering, giggling laugh of his, his least endearing feature, "I'm flattered. A hundred and forty-two, really? Gosh."


Tizona lifts her head and grins. Her hands fall into her lap and she gets this strange, far away look. …Um… She glances down and twiddles her thumbs. …Do you know what they say about you in the TechnoCore…How you, um… She glances up at him through her thick data-lashes. Only in dataspace could someone a mile high look up at someone six feet tall.


EJ grins and reaches for something in real-space, his hand de-rezzing into a cloud of pixels before he brings it back into the range of his avatar projection program. He's holding a cortical jack big enough to wear as a hat. "So, Tizona." EJ clips the cortical jack onto his forehead like a safety helmet. "Wanna cyber?"




I was right about the Master Chief. The clever bastard left a radio-silent rearguard of Gold team marines on the jumpship's gun deck, armed to the gills and ready to gazerbeam their ship's own umbilical if they were so ordered. Well, I know how to take care of clever bastards.


"Tizona to Master Chief, over."


"This is Master Chief. Go ahead, Tizona, over."


"I am showing a sensor error on hull hatch 23A, gazerbeam maintenance port. The sensor registers the hatch as open but the security logs show its last status as closed. Diagnostics indicate a 97% probability of sensor failure, but protocol requires me to report any such irregularities to the biological commanding officer, over."


"Zomg. Master Chief to Gold team, over."


"This is Gold-1, Master Chief. Over."


"Gold-1, take your team out for a stroll and do a heat-and-beat search of the hull skin. Shoot anything that moves, over."


"Roger that, Master Chief. Please be advised that the radiation from a core breach—"


"I am well aware of the limitations of your armor, Gold-1. I've already ordered Blue-1 to disrupt the self-destruct. We'll resume as soon as your search is complete, over."


"Of course, Chief. My apologies. Gold-1 out."


A minute later Tizona pirouettes and bows. Her face fills the holoblock projection hovering above my wrist-top. "Tah-dah!" she crows, eyes shining with swirling code. "Told you I could keep a straight face, Xixa."


I adjust the piloting couch of the jumpship for my girlish figure and snuggle in. I tap the couch's armrest and Tizona's canary-eating grin leaps from my wrist's little holoblock to fill the air in front of me. "Only because EJ logged off first, 'Zona," I protest, "so the bet's off."


Tizona affects a luscious moue as I call up the astro-navigational holographic interface and punch in a few coordinates. "Where are we going, Xixa?"


"First," I say, hitting enter and feeding Tizona the last known location of Pink's ship, "we're picking up an old friend."


Tizona's boggles, giggling. "Ooh, another one! Really?"


I shake my head, one of the few expressions my dumb exoskeleton allows me. "This one's for me, not you." I leer but my chitin faceplate pinches. I've got to get out of this exoskeleton sooner than my next molt. Mm, I wonder if Pink can fuxxor it off. "As soon as Gold team is clear, 'Zona, can you cut the cord and take us to him? After that," I add, and thunk the headless Cthulhu statuette onto the couch's armrest. All the holographic displays and interfaces surrounding the pilot couch fuzz and dance. "We're going where no BEM has gone before."


"Sounds like fun." Tizona glances off into the imaginary distance. "A full heat-and-beat search requires a minimum distance of sixty meters from the hull. Gold team's in the clear already, so I can..." She startles. "Um, Xi—Xixa? Do you mind taking the he—helm for this one?"


I bob my head since I can't shrug. "Sure. What's wrong, 'Zona?" She starts to chew her bottom lip and cross her eyes. "Heh. EJ's back, huh?"


Her perfectly rendered haircut falls over her face, one lock sticking to a virtual sweaty cheek. "Ye—yes. I've really got to go—go—Oh!"


I wave her off. She smiles a silent thank you at me then turns to gaze down hungrily at something off camera. "Ooh," she coos, "lo—lo—look at you, hacker..."


I don't need to see that again. Watching Nth dimensional cybersexxor makes me dizzy, so I de-rez the central computer interface and call up manual navigation.


All the bubbly interweb Z3.0 interfaces dissolve into digital mist. I am surrounded by hard-light replicas of gleaming chrome piping, black and white analog gauges, and blipping diodes. I gaze out through thick, transparent aluminum into the infinite possibilities of cold space. Lost Carcosa is waiting for me out there, somewhere. My birth-parents, maybe, too. Fortune and glory, certainly. But first, I've got a date with the sweetest, smartest, pinkest guy in the three Arms, who comes equipped with the strongest, longest, and most flexible tentacles in the fuxxoring galaxy.


I wrap two hands around the joystick poking out of the floor between my legs. The hard-light interface provides the thrumming feedback of a jet engine. I flick a knob on the stick's top. The umbilical jettisons with a simulated whir and thump. I open the common radio channel at full volume.


"Xixa to Master Chief." I bear down on the joystick and ramjet engines rumble and scream to life all around me. I am purring with the simple pleasure and thrill of a wild ride. "I am in your cockpit, stealing your jumpship."


~ for Mad Adric ~

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