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t was amazing how closely Captain Shivers’ Earle K. Bergey design Lady Space Captain’s Uniform resembled the slave dresses worn by the other women. As she stepped out on the auction block, she caught the quickened, eager looks of the buyers who milled around the floor, heard the rattle of purses weighed against their estimates of what she could cost. She felt the grasp of the auctioneer’s tentacle around her upper arm, smelled its fetid breath as it spoke. “Okay baby, let’s get this show on the road!”
She jerked her arm free. “If you think you’re up to it, snail lips, then go ahead and try.”
The auctioneer favored her with a leer – or maybe, it being an alien and all, the expression was only a sneer, or possibly just a look of bland incomprehension. “Just keep your visual sensory organs poppin’, chickee-babe, because I am the greatest. I can smell a million spacebucks being bid here tonight. Just you stay awake and see.”
“I’ll stay awake, all right. You stay three paces to the rear.”
Out of the side of his beak, Nadir McGuirk, first officer of the starship Starsnipe said, “Did I mention I’ll get you for this, Captain, ma’am?”
“Several times,” Captain Shivers said. She sighed and added, “I’m sorry, McGuirk. But I’m at the end of my rope. There’s no other way to raise the cash to pay the docking charges on The
Starsnipe. It was a choice between you and my ship. You can understand that, can’t you? A choice between love or – well, you.”
McGuirk eyed her with a look of astonishment. “Sometimes you treat that spaceship like it was a good cigar or something. Aside from which, the other end of that rope is tied around my green-feathered condor-like neck.”
“Save it for the buyer,” she told him without emotion.
She dragged him by one wing to the front of the block and shoved him at the auctioneer who noted the somewhat shopworn condition of McGuirk’s greenish feathers, and got his first whiff of the perpetual stogie clamped so firmly in McGuirk’s mutant beak. “Well,” said the auctioneer. “Maybe it smells more like a couple spacebucks now I think about it.”
McGuirk snarled. “You get less than a million for my high class carcass and I’ll break every piece of cartilage in your body.”
“Why,” drawled a sultry female voice in the front row. “Salt my tail and call me grounded!”
“It’s her!” croaked McGuirk, simultaneously turning two shades of pale and toward where he had last seen Captain Shivers. “It’s your arch space-rival, Captain Cruiser, the slut. I –”
But Captain Shivers was no longer there.
The auctioneer was, however. “Okay, what am I bid for this loverly
Budgerigar Being from Cageliner VIII?”
“I am not no Budgie Being,” McGuirk snapped indignantly. “I am a pure-blooded mutant and I demand my rights.”
“Rights?” the auctioneer said. “You got ‘em, pal. LeRoy?” he called to the large pterodactyl being lounging toward the back of the auction block. “You want to treat this chap to a couple-three hours of electro-shock therapy before we start in here?”
LeRoy blinked as if a favorite dream were being interrupted, then said, “Oh yeah.” He reached for his budgie prod with considerable show of professional relish.
“Now just one little old minute here,” drawled Cruiser. “I was told this was an auction house where business came before pleasure. Can’t we dispense with the entertainment until the technicalities are over?”
Sounding (and possibly looking) disappointed, the auctioneer said, “I guess you’re right.” He squinted up and down at McGuirk a moment, then prodded his midsection with a tentacle. “I got a highly developed muscle here. Let’s start the bidding at a million spacebucks.”
“A spacebuck sixty-nine,” Cruiser said.
“Sold!” yelled the auctioneer and shoved McGuirk off the platform.
“Aren’t you even going to wrap this thing up?” Cruiser asked, deftly sidestepping the toppling mutant. McGuirk hit the sawdust strewn floor beak first.
He peered up at her with bloodshot eyes. They were eloquent eyes indeed, filled with questioning. Somehow Cruiser had ended up with his stogie. Handling it with her pinky outthrust and keeping it well away from her nose, she returned it to him. “Thanks,” he said, getting to his feet. “Let’s get out of this flea pit.” He threw a wing across her shapely shoulder and smiled. “What time do they serve chow on that pirate ship of yours anyhow?”
She said, “Don’t worry. My cook doesn’t have any recipes for mutant.”
“Of course,” she added thoughtfully. “It’s coming up his birthday. I guess I could get him one.”
As the pirate queen and her new possession left the auction house, they were watched by two figures dressed in black cloaks and hoods. The shorter of the two said, “Golly gee, Unca First Officer Nadir McGuirk earned a whole spacebuck sixty-nine!” It was spacekid Urgus, crewmember of Captain Shivers’ space sloop, Starsnipe.
“Oh, bummer,” said the taller of the two, who was as broad as he was tall, though rather thin fore to aft. He was spacehand Thurston, the Smileyfacian from Dounbeat XIII. “We’ll have to listen to his bragging for years. If we successfully rescue him, that is. We probably won’t, you know.”
“Oh, jeepers, what a terrible thing that would be!”
A third cloaked figure joined them. Even in her head to toe disguise she was a more intriguing figure than they were. “Let’s be alert now, boys,” said Captain Shivers. “Under no circumstances are we to lose McGuirk.”
“Oh, double bummer,” said Thurston.
Space Inspector Sharpe said, “It amazes me you have a man so resourceful you are willing to risk his life in a mission this suicidal.”
They were standing on the outskirts of the spaceport, watching Cruiser’s black-painted pirate ship with the feminine, pink skull-and-crossbones design on its nose. Captain Shivers said, “Well, I don’t know if resourceful is quite the word I’d use here.”
“But, wow, he sure does come out of things alive,” said Urgus. “Why, golly gee, Space Inspector Sharpe, sir, but Unca First Officer Nadir McGuirk is about the all round best space adventurer in the whole galaxy!”
“Almost certainly it’s a product of entropy,” Thurston added.
“If resourceful isn’t the right word, then what is?” Sharpe asked.
Captain Shivers thought there was a tinge of suspicion to his tone, but she told him.
His eyes widened just a bit with astonishment. “Luck?” he repeated.
“Fool luck,” she corrected. “McGuirk is blessed with the greatest
fool luck in the universe. If there’s a really stupid solution to a problem he’ll find it.” She sighed; she couldn’t help herself. “I keep fearing that one day he’s going to run into a completely sensible situation and won’t be able to weasel out of it.”
“But golly gee, Captain Shivers,” said Urgus. “Isn’t that just what you’re for? I just know that if Unca First Officer Nadir McGuirk, sir, ever runs into something that’s just too sensible for him to handle, you’ll be there to help him!”
Thurston heaved a sigh of disappointment. “Young Urgus is probably right. Think of all the really stupid dilemmas he’s gotten you out of over the years.”
“Bummer,” she said. “Oh, double and triple bummer!”
Space Inspector Sharpe cleared his throat and tried to look confident, but something about the way his eyebrow was raised spoiled the effect. “Well, whatever his talent or method, the fate of the entire Seven Galaxies hinges on him finding the lovely Princess Alura before Cruiser can deliver her to whoever it is who hired that space vixen to kidnap the poor princess. This whole mess could lead to the Third Intergalactic War, unless we nip it in the bud, so to speak. If only she hadn’t somehow acquired that Zapthonian diplomatic accreditation, then we could have searched her ship and found either the lovely princess or a clue as to her whereabouts.” He shook his head, soberly. “It’s all up to this tame mutant of yours, really.”
Thurston might have said “Bummer,” just then, but he knew his captain was prepared to punch him in the side if he did.
“I’m sure McGuirk will have something soon and will be getting in
touch with us,” Captain Shivers said. “Meanwhile, it seems to me the smart thing to do is check the paper work on Cruiser’s ship. Maybe her flight plan will tell us something.”
“That’s my department,” said Sharpe. “Though I don’t suppose it will be truthful. Still, it might give us a clue.”
“No, police interest might stir up suspicion that we’re on to her,” Captain Shivers said. “You go back to headquarters and brief your agents about backing us up. I’ll go check her flight plan. That won’t cause any suspicion because I always check her flight plans.” She sighed. “Which is also why I expect it to be false.”
Suddenly across the field engines roared to life and the ground shook beneath their feet. Flame blossomed beneath the tail of the pirate ship and Shivers watched it lift into the sky until it was hidden by the clouds. She said, “Boys, you’d better get back to the ship and check the space phone answering machine. McGuirk’s supposed to let us know as soon as he learns anything.”
“Bet there’s no message,” said Thurston. “Bet there never is.”
He didn’t wait to be punched in the side. Grabbing Urgus by the elbow he took off, dragging the space youngster behind him.
“They seem eager,” said Sharpe. “I suppose that’s encouraging, if not exactly inspiring.” It was his turn to sigh. “I’d better get onto my own part, shouldn’t I?”
He turned and headed off toward his waiting jetcar.
Shivers had no jetcar. She glanced around to see if there was a taxi handy, and saw one at the corner.
She walked over to it and got in, not the least bit suspicious until the driver took off her hat and long brunette hair cascaded to her shoulders.
By then it was too late. A glassteel partition dropped between the driver and passenger’s compartments and a little spray of magnolia scented gas spewed from the ventilator. Captain Shivers just had time to think that this was a really stupid trap to fall into.
She didn’t find out how stupid until she came too.
She heard a voice. “Sweetie,” it was saying. “The sensible thing would be to just shoot you. But lord knows how many times I’ve tried some sensible way of wiping you out, and that never works. If I tried to shoot you, you’d just find some right-thinking way of taking my gun away and spoiling all my plans.” It was the voice of Captain Cruiser, which meant that Captain Shivers was regaining consciousness.
Her vision cleared and she was looking up at the black-haired pirate queen who had a very smug expression on her face. “Well, you would, wouldn’t you?” Cruiser asked.
It was a rhetorical question, Captain Shivers knew, because when she tried to snarl her reply, she discovered there was something stuffed in her mouth.
A little discreet squirming revealed that she was also tied hand and foot, sitting on the floor of an airlock next to McGuirk. McGuirk was wrapped in coils of thick rope that pinioned his wings to his body and secured his legs. Two or three strands of rope had been coiled around hisbeak to keep it shut. How he managed to hang onto his perpetual stogie in that fashion Captain Shivers couldn’t guess. She’d always imagined that if she were in trouble, it would be refreshing occasionally
not to have to listen to McGuirk’s constant stream of galactic epithets. It might even be an aid to concentration. She was finding out it wasn’t so. Worse, she found herself imagining what McGuirk would be saying if he could and phrases like “Stably carbuncles” and “Jubney hanglillies” danced around in her head like heavy metal visions of sugar plums.
“So far,” Cruiser went on, “All the luck seems to have been on my side. I’m just astonished, Ronnie, that you really expected me to think you’d actually sell one of your precious crewmembers just to raise money to pay some old docking fees. I just saw through that one right away. Really. We both know there’s not a one of them would bring you that much money. It was obvious you knew I’d stolen Princess Alura to give just a smidgen of a boost to my weapons smuggling business, and you thought you were putting McGuirk aboard my ship to spy on me.”
She glanced at the mutant, and then bent down beside him. “You know, I’ve wondered at times if I could turn one of your crewmembers against you, and if there was one I’d try to turn against you, it would be McGuirk.” Her tone suddenly became even more syrupy. “I can admit it now that the two of you are about to die. I’ve always been attracted to this big, green mutant lug.” She reached behind McGuirk, found a tail feather protruding between the coils of rope and pulled it out. McGuirk yelped a muffled yelp. “I think the truth is I have this kinky something for green feathers.”
She turned to Shivers and gave an evil smile, not that any of her smiles were ever anything but evil. “What about you, Veronica? You don’t happen to have a thing for green feathers, do you?” She ran the feather back and forth across her captive’s bare shoulders. Shivers refused to be tickled. “I went along with your trick, knowing your guard would be down and I’d have the opportunity to spring a trap on you. The tricky part was planning how to get rid of you. I know sensible ways don’t work. Lord knows, I must have tried a hundred sensible ways to destroy you and your little green mutant, too. But they don’t work.” She stood up and gazed down on her soon to be erstwhile opponents. Her smiled deepened. “So, you know what? I’ve come up with something really dumb. Not that I’d ever brag, but if I do say so, I think I’ve really outdone myself this time.”
Now an edge of smugness entered her voice and she was absolutely gloating. “Oh, I know the risk of having you two together, even as helpless as all this. I’ve heard what you say about these things. You think it’s luck that always gets you out of these situations, and in a way you’re right. McGuirk is lucky for you. In the dozens of times I’ve seen you squirm out of my best built death traps, I’ve observed that what happens is that McGuirk invariably opens his beak and whatever stupid thing comes out, it gives you an idea of how to escape. So this time I arranged it so nothing’s going to come out of his beak.” She crouched down and flicked the tip of the feather back and forth under Shiver’s nose. Shivers refused to sneeze. Cruiser laughed. “Any questions, Ronnie dear? No? Oh, maybe there’s just one, I’ll bet. You want to know what this little old death trap of mine is, don’t you? But I don’t want to spoil it by telling. Not when I can show you.”
Shivers gave in to her impulse and made a few choice remarks that were as unlady like as they were, fortunately, incomprehensible through the gag.
“Now you just hold that thought,” said Cruiser. She stood up. “It’ll make an interesting, if difficult to spell epitaph.”
She moved with a languid grace to the door of the airlock. She stopped there and looked back at Shivers and McGuirk. “Oh,” she said. “I almost forgot. The ship you saw take off was a decoy, painted to look like my own, which in turn has been painted to look like a common freighter. It took off a bit later, after I smuggled you on board unconscious. We’re in space now, headed to the rendezvous where I will sell Princess Alura to her planet’s enemies. And I promised to show you something, I believe. It’s right there, over your heads. Tootles, all.” She left, closing the door behind her.
Captain Shivers looked up at the ceiling. Not too far above where she and McGuirk sat, she could see the points of dozens of long spikes. The whole ceiling was covered with them. And it was already descending at a slow but steady rate.
Frowzly florgels, she thought.
Through McGuirk’s shut-clamped beak Shivers could hear a low rumble, somewhere between a snarl and a growl. Having his beak shut definitely cramped his style, but he was gamely trying.
The ceiling was halfway to the floor. She could hear its mechanism, a sound out of an old episode of “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe.” That had given her hope for a moment that she might be able to jam the works; but in the first place, how could she? In the second, though she could hear the motor, it was in another room where she couldn’t get to it. By this time she had given up trying to loosen her bonds. The Space Scouts had named their merit badge in rope tying after Captain Cruiser. None of the other plans she thought of were even that good; she was, by now, actually down to wondering if Thurston and Urgus would arrive in time.
She also noticed that the scheme was a little more complicated than Cruiser had let on. For one thing, this was no ordinary room with a descending spiked ceiling. It was a converted airlock. She supposed that made it easier to clean up after a session like this. It also gave Cruiser a way to hedge her bets, and the pirate queen always loved doing that. Shivers could feel the drop in air pressure already. Even if they stopped the spikes from descending they would still suffocate when all the air was pumped out.
McGuirk rumbled his inarticulate snarl. It would, she supposed, be the last sound she would ever hear, other than the sound of that motor. She knew what Thurston would say about that. She might say it, too, if she could.
As he squirmed around, trying to work free, McGuirk was getting angrier and angrier. She could tell by the faint purple splotches
around the edges of his beak. He looked at her and tried to make some remark as he bounced up and down. All he succeeded in doing was to lose his stogie, which fell on the floor between them.
The ceiling cranked lower. Shivers looked up and realized now that the points of the spikes were only a few feet above their heads. She looked back at McGuirk, then down at the floor.
At the stogie with its smoldering end …
She turned herself around so she could reach it. Since only her hands and feet were tied, she had more maneuverability than poor old McGuirk who was wrapped like a sausage. But that gave her another advantage. There was no reason, as she picked up the stogie and shoved its red-glowing end toward him, to bother with looking. Almost at once she could smell burning rope.
The air was thinner. She realized it might not provide enough oxygen to keep the cigar burning much longer. But then it was likely she and McGuirk would pass out before that so there didn’t seem to be much point in thinking about it. She glanced up at the ceiling. The spikes were still coming and were much closer than the last time she had looked.
Her first indication of success was the smell of burning feathers. McGuirk moved frantically to shake the ropes off. She hoped there was still time. Then she felt herself being pulled along the floor by McGuirk toward the spacesuit lockers.
She was looking straight up at the ceiling she pulled. It was descending steadily. Moreover, she could barely breathe now, a situation complicated by the heavy gag Captain Cruiser had provider her with.
Because spacesuit locker doors slide up, the ceiling wouldn’t jam them. McGuirk shoved one open and reached in. The air was so thin she was barely aware as he placed a fishbowl helmet over her head. As soon as it was sealed and operating, the air began to revive her. McGuirk shoved her into the locker. There was room enough to stand and close walls to support her. McGuirk had not bothered to close the door and she found that she could see above the false ceiling now, at the giant piston that was pushing it down. She hoped McGuirk had enough time to get himself into one of the other lockers and slap on a helmet.
In what seemed like seconds, the ceiling reached the floor. Not clear to the floor, of course. The spikes were well over a foot long and they prevented it from going the full distance. To her that seemed a moot consideration.
Then McGuirk was there, helping her out of the locker and untying her hands, which took a few minutes because of Cruiser’s skill with knots. He was wearing a fishbowl helmet also but because the stogie was clamped lovingly in his now untied beak, there seemed to be more smoke than air inside it.
She sat down and began working on the ropes on her ankles. The floor shuddered underneath her and for a moment she thought something had gone wrong with the ship’s gravity system. The she realized what it was.
The ceiling was rising. She looked up. Overhead she could see the actual ceiling of the airlock and knew they would be crushed between it and the rising false ceiling unless they acted quickly.
There was still no air in the chamber. McGuirk leaned forward to touch his helmet with hers so he could speak without resorting to the radio, which the pirates could overhear. “What do we do now, Captain?” he asked.
The language of her reply should have burned the gag out of her mouth but it didn’t. McGuirk said, “Oops! I seem to have overlooked a detail, didn’t I?” The false ceiling kept rising, with them on it. McGuirk said, “Does this mean I ought to give the orders?”
Her feet were free. As she stood up she stomped his right great talon with the heel of her boot. He grabbed the offended foot and began hopping, which stopped quickly when he banged his head on the room’s true ceiling.
The false ceiling was about halfway up the length of the outer hatch. She rushed to the control panel, jabbed the emergency open key. With the air evacuated from the lock there was no risk of being blown into empty space. Nor would the sudden decompression alarms go off. The lock simply opened and she was staring out at the stars. She put one high-heeled boot on the hull of the ship and pivoted herself outside.
The Earle K. Bergey design lady space captain’s uniform is, of course, the most efficient space armor ever designed and needs only the addition of the traditional fishbowl helmet and butane lighter sized air tanks to convert it into a spacesuit. So long as her air held out, she was at no risk.
Green mutant feathers were another matter. McGuirk had only his fishbowl helmet and air tanks to protect him, but it should be sufficient for the short time she expected they’d be outside. Besides, it was go outside or stay in and be crushed. McGuirk exited the ship in a lively fashion.
To Captain Shivers, the smell of canned oxygen in the confines of a space helmet was as invigorating as any lungful of pine-scented terrestrial forest air. She suspected the same was true of McGuirk. They were star beings. Space was in her blood. It might be located more cranially with McGuirk, but it was still space. She leaped from the hull of the ship.
She was one of the finest space swimmers in the galaxy and she moved with ethereal grace over and around the ship, aft along the ship’s hull, toward where she knew she would find an airlock that was not likely to be attended right now. McGuirk ran across the ship, following her. Most spacemen might be hampered by the lack of magnetic boots, but not McGuirk. His mutant’s talons grasped
and clung to extensions and irregularities of the hull and he moved along almost as fast as she did. It was easy because the hull was covered with space barnacles.
She knew that most and probably all of Cruiser’s pirates would want to be on hand when the door of the death-trap room was opened again. The farther away from it she and McGuirk were when they re-entered the ship, the better. Probably right now Princess Alura’s cell wasn’t being guarded.
She landed like a ballet dancer next to the airlock she had singled out. She bent to the touchpad and began keying in the entrance commands. Almost at once the indicators began showing the drop in air pressure necessary before the hatch could open. She stood there and waited. As McGuirk ran up, the door popped out of its pneumatic seals and slid aside on its tracks. She lowered herself into the ship, rolling to adjust to the direction of ship’s gravity.
Moments later the door was sealed again and air was filling the airlock. As soon as pressure was up she lifted off her helmet and reached for the knot tied below her right ear.
“Uh, let me help you with that,” McGuirk said, a tad anxiously. She elbowed him hard in his mutant solar plexus.
Shivers and McGuirk had mixed with Cruiser and her crew frequently enough in the past to be reasonably familiar with the layout of her ship, especially the location of the brig. They moved through the dim lit corridors where the black-painted walls were only occasionally
brightened by the addition of a large, pink skull and crossbones emblem. They both had an idea where it was likely Princess Alura would be held aboard this ship. McGuirk swaggered with anticipation. “Saving beautiful princesses is my specialty,” he said, proudly. Shivers elbowed him in the stomach again.
She regretted that almost at once. There wasn’t really enough time to waste any of it in frivolous amusement. It occurred to her that Cruiser would have the death-trap airlock almost filled with air by now. In a few moments she would open the airlock door and discover that once again Shivers and McGuirk had outwitted one of her simple-minded traps.
Then something else occurred to her and she stopped dead in her tracks. She couldn’t help it. She started laughing.
“What’s so funny?” McGuirk asked, not without a certain suspicion.
“I was just remembering what Cruiser said,” she said, fighting to control her laughter. “About how we always escape because something stupid comes out of your beak and I make use of it.”
“I found that insulting,” McGuirk said, waving his stogie for emphasis. “I guess we showed her this time.”
They found the brig. Sure enough, if any guards had been posted, they’d deserted their post for the more interesting spectacle of the death trap. “We can’t have any time left,” Shivers said. “Let’s get her out of here and find a way off the ship.”
“Excuse me,” said McGuirk, pushing past her when she picked the
lock on the door. He struck his head inside and said, “Begging your pardon, Princess Alura, but –”
He was rewarded by a good left cross that bent his beak at a right angle to itself.
McGuirk found the floor with such skill that for a fleeting moment Captain Shivers considered reassigning him to duty as Ship’s
Navigator. From the shadows within the darkened room something reached out to gently prod him: a trunk. The lovely Princess Alura prodded him with her trunk.
“Fragnarley pirates,” she said.
McGuirk, his eyes more bloodshot than usual, said, “This is not the way I pictured rescuing you would be.”
“Rescue!” she cried, clapping together three of her hands. “Rescue! You mean you aren’t pirates?” She dropped to what Shivers supposed were her knees – she was just guessing, of course – and two of her lips rained kisses on the mutant while the third set elevated itself on its stalk and cooed the words, “My hero!”
“This is just as touching as all get out,” Shivers said. “But we do have a time problem here and we’d best get going. You don’t happen to know a way off this ship, do you, Princess?”
“Do you mind unlipping me for quargley sakes?” growled McGuirk, struggling to his feet. “Sheesh! Why do women always want to show their gratitude like this when I rescue them?”
In answer, the princess rubbed up against him and her seven eyes all focused on his stogie. “Oh, your eye! It glows so romantically,” she said.
When he took it out of his beak and blew smoke at her she almost had a heart attack.
“Cut it out, you two,” Shivers snapped. “Let’s get going. We can’t afford to let them find us until we locate some weapons.”
“I suggest we threaten them with her left cross,” McGuirk said, trying to arrange his beak back into something resembling its original shape.
Shivers stepped cautiously back into the hallway. Instinctive her hands brushed her hips where, ordinarily, her twin Delameters should be holstered. They had been taken away from her, of course, as had her Swiss Army ballpeen hammer. All she had were her fists, her feet and her wits. And McGuirk. In a pinch, she supposed, she could throw McGuirk at the pirates.
No, dammit, no. She didn’t really mean that. McGuirk had been a pain in the neck from the moment she met him and over the years the pain had steadily descended. But he was crew and she loved him as she loved Urgus and Thurston and even Grumlit the cook. Almost as much as she loved the Starsnipe itself. But that only complicated the problem of escaping.
“So,” said McGuirk. “You come up with a plan yet?”
“Just shut up,” she told him.
Clinging to his arm the Princess Alura adjusted her
eyestalks to gaze soulfully at his stogie. “My hero,” she said.
He blew smoke in her face. She inhaled it and sighed, lovingly.
Captain Shivers led them down the corridor toward where she hoped the pirates kept their lifeboats. The ship was silent. No alarms, no voices, no noise of running feet. There was no indication they were in any trouble until one of Cruiser’s crewthings stepped out of a cross corridor ahead of them and leveled a blaster.
Disarmed though she was, Shivers still had the instincts to fight. Before the pirate could pull the trigger on his weapon she snatched the stogie from McGuirk’s beak and threw it.
There are those who follow the fortunes of the Fighting Grulzaks of Miss Amelia Tidwell’s Space Academy for Genteel Young Ladies who still insist that the greatest quarterback in that team’s history was Cadet Shivers. She herself had been disappointed with the position, desiring to play linebacker. But she had made the most of it and she could throw. A stogie, perhaps, is too slender to pass accurately but Shivers drilled it right into the snout of the astonished pirate.
Miss Amelia Tidwell’s Space Academy for Genteel Young Ladies was a small school and Shivers had doubled on the cheerleading squad. As the pirate tried unsuccessfully to avoid the stogie, she performed six perfect back flips, ending her performance with the heels of both boots coming sharply against the poor miscreant’s chin. He dropped like Christmas tree prices on December 26 and she grabbed the blaster off the deck.
The Princess ran up and dropped to several knees. Her chins and other less identifiable portions of her anatomy were quivering with
emotion as she picked up the stogie and looked at its unlit end. “Ahh! Galaxies of doom!” she shrieked. “You’ve blinded my hero.”
McGuirk yanked the stogie from her grasp and showed the glowing other end of it to her. “This is a glabjabbin perpetual stogie,” he yelled, shoving it back between his teeth. “It isn’t gonna go out!” He blew a cloud of smoke toward what he thought was the Princess’s head,
She sniffed the fragrance lovingly. Shivers said, “Remind me never to visit her home planet. Now follow me.”
A noise caused her to look around. She saw Cruiser and two crewthings running toward them. Without hesitation she fired. Cruiser threw herself to the deck, barely avoiding the shot. One of the crewthings aimed its weapon.
As McGuirk hustled the princess to safety, Shivers eliminated the crewthing and its partner before they could fire. Cruiser made it into the cover of a doorway. Shivers turned and caught up McGuirk and the princess as the rounded a corner. “That way,” she said, pointing. “It’s our only chance.”
She herded them into a small equipment storage room. McGuirk said, “Looks like a dead end.” Princess Alura batted several sets of eyelashes at him and cooed. He glowered at her and said, “I wouldn’t kiss you with borrowed lips!”
“Ooooohhh, kinky!” she said. “And on our first date, too.”
“Knock it off, love budgies,” Shivers said, firing a warning shot into the corridor. She slammed the door and welded it shut with a low-powered zap from her blaster. “I’m trying to come up with a plan.”
“You mean you don’t already have one?” McGuirk said. “You mean you led us into this little closet sized room and you don’t have any inkling of what to do next? Glarkin nobwallies, Captain! What do you expect? That I’ll just kick the rear wall down and we’ll scamper to safety?”
“Damn,” Shivers said in amazement. “Cruiser’s right. You just open your mouth, something stupid comes out and I get an idea. Do you know what part of the ship we’re in?”
“I wasn’t paying real close attention,” McGuirk said. “But I suspect we need a paddle we don’t have.”
Captain Shivers was occupied with adjusting the power control on her weapon. That done, she aimed it at the back wall and pulled the trigger.
It took only seconds to cut a hole through the wall. They could see a narrow service passage. “That’s the utility crawl way,” she said. “We
can get to any part of the ship through that – without detection, unless Cruiser’s really updated the alarm system since the last time I was on board this pile of junk.” She stepped through the opening into the passageway. “The lifeboat bay ought to be this way.”
“Do you realize,” said crewbeing Thurston, “that the odds against a meteor hitting a spaceship are astronomical? And here we are among the stars.”
“Jeepers,” said Urgus. “It sure is eerie in space without Unca First Officer Nadir McGuirk sir and Captain Shivers, isn’t it?”
“Eerie?” said Thurston. “If you’re suggesting the supernatural, I don’t believe in ghosts. Of course the Starsnipe could be haunted by vampires.”
They were back about a quarter of a light year behind Captain Cruiser’s ship. Their instruments weren’t picking up the ship itself but the ship’s ion trail which, like that of all pirate ships, was distinctive. Urgus said, “Do you think there’s been enough time for them to rescue the lovely Princess Alura by now? Maybe we ought to close up the gap between us and them.”
“Oh, bummer. Now we’re going to crash.”
“We are not,” said Urgus firmly, as he took the controls. “Golly gee, Thurston. I can fly this ship as good as you can, can’t I?”
“In that case,” said the Smileyfacian, “I stand by what I said."
“I knew Cruiser wasn’t one to take chances,” said Shivers. “But this is ridiculous. Cruiser’s equipped this lifeboat with another, smaller lifeboat. Just in case, I suppose.” She stepped through the rear hatch into the larger boat.
McGuirk pushed the princess in and followed her. Shivers shut the rear hatch. Slapped the seal trigger on the bulkhead next to it and then went forward. She dropped down into the control chair and started thumbing toggles on the flight console. The boat’s life support systems started humming and control lights began flashing on the drive board. The ship’s engines were revving up.
“Don’t you think you should maybe get them to open the outer hatch?” McGuirk queried. “Otherwise we might crash into it going out of here.”
“Oh, if you insist,” she said. She leaned forward and pulled down the forward disruptor armature. It clicked into place next to the chair arm and she jabbed the red button with her index finger. Through the forward port they saw the muted glare of the disruptor and a hole appeared in the outer wall of the pirate ship. “That do it for you, McGuirk?”
“It has that certain feel of satisfaction,” he admitted.
He barely had time to fall into the co-pilot’s chair before Shivers throttled the boat. It leaped like a terpentined zitadar through the tear in the pirate ship’s hull. It was into free space in nanoseconds. Before the pirates had time to even react, they were out of range of their
“Way to go, Cap’n,” McGuirk said. “Now we’re zooming.”
Princess Alura snuggled up to him and said, “My hero!”
McGuirk snarled at her and said, “Get away from me. I am not your jabnabbin hero.”
“And I think in the next couple of minutes I can prove just that,” drawled Cruiser, leveling one Delamater at McGuirk and the other at Shivers.
She was standing next to the hatchway that led to the small lifeboat in the rear. Shivers cursed herself for not having the foresight to look inside it. She should have known this was all too easy. But even so –
“I give up,” she said. “How’d you know we’d take this particular lifeboat?”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Cruiser. “Don’t tell me you have more than one lifeboat bay on the Starsnipe.”
Speaking of the Starsnipe, Shivers saw a familiar blip nearing them in the astrogation tank. Oh, great. Cruiser would not only have her and McGuirk, but be able to lure Urgus and Thurston into a trap as well.
She glanced back to gauge her chances of jumping and disarming Cruiser. The boat was small but not that small; if she tried she could only get herself killed. She wondered if Cruiser would put them back in that converted airlock with the ceiling spikes or if she had a second death trap available.
As if Cruiser had read her mind, she said, “I think this time we’ll
simply keelhaul you. Have you ever seen anyone keelhauled in space before, darling? Not even an Earle K. Bergey design lady space captain’s uniform can protect you from the edge of a good space barnacle.”
Princess Alura cleared something – possibly it was one of her throats – and said to McGuirk, “My hero, you can go ahead and save me now.”
Cruiser laughed. “Dear, I just don’t think that fine feathered hero of yours will be saving anybody any time real soon.”
To which the lovely princess replied, “Don’t count on it, dog meat,” picked up McGuirk and threw him at Cruiser.
It surprised Cruiser as much as McGuirk, which was a lot of surprise. They struck the back wall together and slid down. Both of Cruiser’s D-guns clattered to the floor. Shivers was out of the pilot’s chair and dragging the stunned Cruiser out from under McGuirk almost at once.
Alura was beside McGuirk, on as many of her knees as there was room for in the cramped cabin. McGuirk looked up at her with a dazed expression. Shivers shoved the groggy Cruiser up against the wall and yanked the Swiss Army ballpeen hammer from her belt.
“This and those pistols will replace the ones you took from me,” she said.
Cruiser blinked and stared at her for a long moment without comprehension. Then it sunk in. “Damn!” she said. “Not even keelhauling you works.”
“Golly gee,” said Urgus, “You’re a real princess, aren’t you!”
The Princess Alura acknowledged the compliment with a twitch of her trunk and said, “We are most pleased.”
McGuirk nudged her with his elbow and hooked a thumb toward where Thurston was standing. “That’s him, that’s him.”
The lovely Princess Alura turned toward the Smileyfacian and simpered fetchingly. Thurston took a step back and said, “Oh, bummer.”
The captain pushed Cruiser toward Urgus and said, “Get her to the brig. And make sure she doesn’t escape.”
“Yes’m,” said the young space kid, eagerly.
As Urgus and Captain Cruiser left the room, Shivers glared at McGuirk. “All right, feather face. Spill it.”
McGuirk made an effort to look innocent, but the way Shivers put her hands on her hips made him think better of it. “Now, captain. All I did was tell her what a nice guy Thurston is.”
“Oh? And I’m guessing you embellished the story in your inimitable way.”
“Inimitable?” said McGuirk. “You really think I’m inimitable?
“Cut to the chase, McGuirk.”
McGuirk looked indignant. “I didn’t embellish any part of it, Captain. Well, not much of it –”
“McGuirk. . .”
“Well, yeah, okay, so maybe that part about him being a count was a bit of an exaggeration.”
By this time the princess had Thurston cornered and was asking him all about himself. Thurston had only one expression – a perpetual smile – which was proving unfortunate for him just now because she was interpreting it as friendliness.
McGuirk glanced over at them and in spite of Shivers’ fury at him, he couldn’t help himself. He smiled. He knew Thurston’s look was one of panic.
“Tell me,” she said, “about the revolution.”
“Where you and the royal family barely escaped with your lives, Count Thurston.”
“With our lives?” He looked at McGuirk and tried to glare but failed.
“Oh, our lives. Yes, them. I stood faithfully beside my liege, my king. King Nadir the first. I stand faithfully beside King –”
“King?” said the alluring princess. “King?”
It is a difficult thing to bolt for a door in a discreet manner, and McGuirk failed. Before he could do more than start his escape she was in front of him, a half dozen or so doe eyes on stalks gazing raptly at the glowing end of his stogie. “King Nadir,” she said with one mouth while another sighed. “I should have guessed. My hero!”
She threw three sets of arms around him.
McGuirk glared at the Smileyfacian. “I’ll get you for this, Thurston,” he said with a snarl.
Thurston smiled and somehow refrained from saying, “Bummer!”
Illustrations by Paul McCall