Escape from Murkship 8

I’ve started a new scifi project with the collaborative worldbuilding group I belong to; everything’s under the “t2g2d4” tag – including this totally adorable alien taking a selfie! Note that of all the aliens presented below, only the t2g2d4 (or “Bespoke”, as they have taken to being called) belong to me – as a parasite, my species relies on stealing the bodies (and creative work) of others >:)

Also note that scifi is not my jam; I need so much help D:

** ** **

Randgrid pushed his food away, sat up on a stack of tatty, crumpled furs in Marchioness b4g16’s – or Dot’s – own quarters. Her pets were only ever invited there for two reasons: the first was for breeding or sale and – ultimately – death, and the second was to keep their emerging polyps safe from other matrons who might try to steal them. Randgrid was one of the few fertile males who had seen b4g16’s chambers more than once; he produced healthy polyps regularly and rapidly, and was therefore more of an asset alive than dead. His compliant attitude had endeared him to Dot’s mother, and whether or not the matrons could tell it was entirely false, it had kept him alive in their service for decades, and through countless polyps.

Randgrid stood and stretched, hugging one of the purple furs around his shoulders. The crystalline, blue-green room was unbearably cold – exactly the way most t2g2d4 females liked it, but a recurring curse upon Randgrid’s slender, Dokkalfar host body. His eyes trailing over Dot’s familiar, neatly-shelved leisures – coin collections, musical instruments, art works and supplies – he crossed the room and sat down before her colossal mirror, surrounded by rows of makeup, jewelry and other bodily decorations. He picked up the lightgun that was meant to help adhere her body paint, but it worked just as well to warm him up. He pointed it directly at his chest and stared at his reflection.

Dark blue skin; long, pointed ears, sharp features – before the appearance of several large, pale blotches and the discoloration of his eye due to parasitic mutations, he’d been a typical Dokkalfar female. Randgrid Wolff had been a lowly labourer aboard a freight ship bound for Frjosom. Something had gone wrong with the ship – she’d never known much about space travel – and they’d gone off-course. And then the t2g2d4 ship had intercepted them, a crystal palace the size of a city hurtling through the black sky. Most of Randgrid’s shipmates had long since perished, and her memories – even the horror at the loss of her own body and mind – had faded.

Randgrid tilted his head to check the polyp, a curled, worm-shaped growth under the corner of his jaw. The flesh was bruised and tender, and the new male was nearly ready to erupt – the nearest one had ever got before Dot cut it out – and it wriggled feebly when he touched it. He felt the touch throughout his whole body; the polyp was still an extension of his physical self. A rapid series of clicks sounded outside the door, and Randgrid hurried to replace the makeup light.

Marchioness b4g16 – Dot – pushed through the resonant door like a fish through a layer of muck. Propelled by her tail, she slithered inside, her elongated hips resting on casters bejeweled with treasures from countless worlds. Her face bore a four-pointed smile and her single, telltale beauty mark – a blueish dot that gave her the impression of being ‘upright’ (or not) depending on her orientation. Randgrid laid his fur aside and approached his matron.

“Tetetetegegegegegegebebegegebebebebebebebebebebebebetetetetebebekekebebebebe–” she trilled at him like a running engine. Despite his decades of practice, Randgrid’s ears simply couldn’t process fast enough, so he – along with the other males – relied on translation to his host’s native tongue. Dot’s vambrace narrated as she spoke: “Poor thing. Are you cold?”

She trilled to the room at large and the computer understood innately, for the t2g2d4’s words were code unto themselves. The room began to warm.

“Thank-you, Marchioness.”

“Let me look at you,” Dot said, but she wasn’t really asking. She gripped his shaved head in her tentacle hands, tilted his chin back to inspect her property. She prodded the fresh male, and Randgrid pretended not to mind. Dot trilled again. “He’s growing well. We will have a new host ready tomorrow.”

The Murkship Bebedede Eight had adopted an entirely superficial system of timekeeping, perhaps based on the world of some long-dead male host. As far as Randgrid knew, none of the other males recognized it, though they were the ones most affected by and reliant upon the falsified night-and-day cycle. The same system was used aboard other t2g2d4 Murkships, though each had their own names for their unique eons.

“If it is to be our last night together, Marchioness, perhaps you would allow me the pleasure of–?”

“You may share my sleeping bath,” Dot interrupted, her four eyes contracting with glee. “You are incorrigibly needy, Nadir.”

Nadir. His assigned name, as though to obliterate any sense of self that was even possible when one lived in the wreckage of another’s mind. He bowed his head to feign humility.

“My progeny is a part of me but will soon be a part of another; I believe it would please both of us to spend a final moment in your presence.”

It was well known that polyp males were aware of events before their separation, and even of their progenitor’s thoughts. Randgrid had met very few of his own progeny, but all had been agreeable, and he trusted that this latest descendant was paying attention.

“Help me at the mirror,” Dot said, and released him from her grip. She slithered to the mirror, where she replaced her casters with a more comfortable, less bejeweled set, then waited on Randgrid, who ducked through her limbs to stand before her.

From hip to hip, Dot was about about a metre taller than his own 2.1 metres; from face to tail, about four meters longer. Randgrid took his usual tools from the shelf and set to work removing Dot’s makeup, paint and jewelry. It was work she could have done herself – perhaps even more easily – but she enjoyed watching him serve her. That, and it never feels quite as good to massage one’s own face. They listened to foreign music while Randgrid worked – Dot buzzing along on occasion – and it wasn’t until the last of her bracelets had been put away that either of them spoke.

“You’ll be happy to know the Lieutenant Princess found your proposal for male-to-male translators intriguing,” Dot said, and she released a high-pitched squeal at Randgrid’s shock.

“Marchioness – forgive me – I had no idea you were still pursuing that–”

She clicked loudly, and Randgrid shut up.

“Did you think I had forgotten?” she said. The translator failed to convey much tone, but it was obvious from her expression and posture that she was insulted. Randgrid shook his head.

“Of course not, Marchioness, I only thought… that… I hadn’t produced an heir in some time, and… I thought…”

“Sweet thing,” Dot said, suddenly saccharine. She stroked him like one strokes an animal. “Did you think I had forgotten you?”

“No…” Randgrid said, and added demurely, “But that does not stop one from worrying it’s true.”

Dot sat back on her tail and pulled him into a four-armed embrace, planting several kisses on him with her massive, cross-shaped lips. It was disgusting but he bore it, and eventually even started to laugh – that was all Dot ever wanted. She put him down, still giggling, and turned towards her sleep chamber. Randgrid made to follow, but stopped when Dot stopped.

“You didn’t finish eating?” she said, and swiveled back. Randgrid grimaced. The orange paste still sitting in the bowl next to his furs was filled with mood-altering drugs, and on a normal day he might have been happy to take them, but not today. Today he needed to be alert, even if he could already feel the threat of a burgeoning headache. “You know you must eat, Nadir, or I’ll be forced to send you to the physician.”

“Forgive me, Marchioness, but the polyp’s been giving me trouble swallowing.”

“Very well,” Dot said, and slithered to the upright bath. Randgrid followed her there, and turned on the faucet as Dot nestled into the invert. She curled her tail into the jelly-filled basin below, rested her four hips on the floor and turned her face up at the faucet, which showered her in misted bio-gel. Randgrid donned the breathing mask he used when helping Dot to wash, and nestled into the crook between her hip and ovipositor. It was cold, sticky and in every way repulsive, but Randgrid acted as though it were his favourite place.

“I’ve missed you,” he said. “It’s not the same in the harem. Hardly anyone talks to me, and not about anything interesting.”

“You’re not meant to be interested in things,” Dot reminded, massaging him with her tentacles. “But perhaps that is a by-product of your considerable age. It must be a burden to outlast each of your companions.”

“Sometimes,” Randgrid said. It had, admittedly, taken forever to fabricate and amass the right pieces for his plan – to grow the right polyp at the right time, while there were enough able males to help – and without giving the impression that any of them were friends. He snuggled against Dot’s slime-coated side and listened as her hearts slowed. After that, he waited longer, until Dot hadn’t moved in ages, until her tentacles twitched as she dreamed. Then, slowly and carefully, he picked with his nails at the flesh under his jaw.

It was painful work, and bloody, and he could feel the new male writhing as he threatened to expose it. Clotted gel from the mist rolled in cold clumps over his skin; it plip-plopped onto the floor of the chamber, then through the drain and into the pool containing Dot’s tail. Had he not been trying to commit a crime that would cost his life, the setting might almost have been peaceful.

Finally, like a loosed thorn, the polyp male was ejected from his flesh, twitching and wriggling in his palm. He carefully separated the turquoise worm from its nutrient filaments, wiped it clean of blood and muck, then dared to glance up towards Dot’s face. The matron was silent and unmoving, but that didn’t mean she was asleep. Carefully, Randgrid lifted the worm up to one of the sensory pits in Dot’s side. He inhaled. She didn’t move. He dropped the worm inside.

Dot jerked, buzzed, but didn’t awaken. Randgrid waited, one hand pressed to the bloody hole under his chin. It took ages for the new worm to get inside, and one could hardly blame him – freshly born, he was still figuring out how to move. Meanwhile, Randgrid hardly breathed; he developed a tremor from cold and terror, and eventually had to crawl away.

“Nadir…” Dot said via the translator. He pulled his breathing mask away, but didn’t turn around.

“Sorry – it’s cold – I’ll–”

He heard her move; she growled.

“Turn over,” chirped the translator. Randgrid turned back, bloody, to find Dot looming over him, dripping bio-gel, toothless mouth scowling, eyes contracted in fury. He scrambled back, but the gel made him slip, and one stroke of Dot’s tail saw her wheeled over top of him. She pinned him with her arms and drew back her ovipositors. “How dare you take my–!”

She punched out with an ovipositor; Randgrid jerked and barely managed to avoid the barbed point, which smashed into the floor. Dot let out an enraged screech.

“–proper—property!” the translator stammered.

“Dot – wait–” Randgrid panted, his ankle and wrist nigh crushed under the weight of Dot’s arms. He realised too late his mistake. “Marchioness – please–”

“DEDEDEDETETETETEBEBEBEBE?!?!” she trilled, and Randgrid didn’t need the translation: “DOT?!?! Tell me what you did – did – with the polyp, and at the very least I will kill – kill you quick–ly!”

“I…” Randgrid hesitated. It was clear the polyp was working, but not quickly enough. A strike from even one of Dot’s four ovipositors would kill him. And there were worse fates. “He’s in the pool.”

Dot’s eyes contracted to pinpricks, but she was smarter than he’d given her credit for, and she didn’t even glance at the pool.

“Liar,” Dot clicked, and then her eyes widened in realisation of what he’d actually done. She screamed and flung Randgrid across the room, where he crashed into the mirror; he fell to the floor, winded, and the mirror shards rained down on him. Dot went berserk, checking her various orifices for the parasite. “No – no you can’t have – you wouldn’t – Nadir – we were friends! Where is it? WHERE IS IT?!”

Panting, Randgrid slowly picked himself up, watching as Dot flailed and trilled. She no longer had enough control to speak or move properly; the translator was spewing nonsense, and even if she found the worm’s point of entry, she’d never get it out, now.

“Eggs horsing that I wrongly euphemism you elegant flavour hat!” Dot burbled. “Muffins!”

Randgrid hurried around the room, putting as many of Dot’s possessions to use as possible, though there wasn’t much that would suit his body or that would be useful to them. When he’d finished packing – mostly food and tools – he returned to stand before Dot, who was quiet and drooling, her arms limp at her sides.

“…Dot?”

“Bebedede,” said the confused t2g2d4 – the name of their abandoned star, and an oft-used curse. The translator said, “Bebedede.”

“Are you alright..?”

“Bebedede,” Dot repeated, and then, “Is it strange that I want to… uh… …y’know… right now..?”

“Sweet Gottfreyr, it worked,” Randgrid breathed, and dropped to his knees before the newly-controlled Dot. The t2g2d4 wiggled his new tentacles, flexed his arms, tried his heavy tail. “Do you understand… the plan?”

“Do you?” Dot said, and even in the questionable tone of the translator vambrace, it was clear he was teasing. Randgrid frowned.

“You’re… funny?”

“I learned from the best, probably?” Dot said, “Maybe you just need to — die!”

The delay in translation was nearly his undoing, and Randgrid only barely managed to leap aside as Dot lunged at him. The matron quickly righted himself.

“Sorry – sorry!”

“It’s fine, just take a moment to–”

There was a clatter at the door, and it resonated open to allow another matron – Marchioness b2t4b2 – inside. Dot looked at her; Randgrid froze utterly.

The two matrons conversed – too rapidly for the translator – and though it seemed Dot was doing a reasonable job of fitting in, b2t4b2 shortly noticed the bleeding hole in Randgrid’s jaw. She chirped at the ship’s computer, and the room’s dim lighting changed to a blinding white. An alarm sounded, and Dot threw himself at the intruding matron.

They clashed, and tumbled into the hall outside. Randgrid followed – but there wasn’t much he could add to a match between titans. As more matrons emerged from their quarters along the hall, Randgrid clutched his jaw, fell to his knees and dramatized.

“Help! She attacked us! She stole our polyp!!”

Dot trilled away, and their interloper, too, filling the hall with a horrible din. Unable to tell who was winning favour, Randgrid backed into Dot’s quarters. Dot continued to fight, and apparently their plight was believable, for the others soon helped to beat b2t4b2 unconscious, if not dead.

“Thank-you,” the translator said following Dot’s tired rattle.

“Get your pet to his harem – what was he doing in your quarters anyway? Why is he wearing clothes?” said a subtly bluer t2g2d4 – Azure, Randgrid thought. Dot backed into the room, keeping himself between Randgrid and the others.

“I can do what I like with him,” Dot said, doing an excellent impression of his former self. “And I was trying to avoid exactly this. His polyp is gone! I already had a buyer and now–”

“The loss will not cripple you, Marchioness.”

“I had promised the polyp to Countess Tetetetegegededebebetete,” Dot said. It wasn’t true – probably? – but it made several of the surrounding t2g2d4 draw back on their wheels. The Countess had been more than ready to deposit eggs for some time, and despite the fact that she ranked lower than Dot, her recent hormone-induced demeanour had bordered on psychopathy, which made her a danger to everyone. Azure contracted her eyes.

“We will find a replacement male for her,” she said. “But your pet is no longer in danger – take him back to his kennel.”

“At once, Lieutenant.”

Azure clicked at her subordinates and they took to the fallen t2g2d4’s body; Dot, meanwhile, seized Randgrid by the shirt, lifted the Dokkalfar into his arms and slithered down the hall, bedtime casters rolling in silence. Randgrid stayed quiet, too, and it was only once they’d reached the harem that Dot set him down.

Dot trilled at the ship’s computer, and the door dematerialized. Randgrid followed him inside. The harem was utterly quiet – as was the safest option when a t2g2d4 entered in the middle of the night. Dot ordered the lights on, and a dozen pets – former pets – looked alertly through the bars of their sleep kennels. An Aquilan and a purplish human spoke first, in different language, but to ask the same question.

“Did it work?”

In response, Dot clicked at the computer, and their doors unlocked. Fifty-four t2g2d4 males in a wide array of host bodies climbed free of their cages; a few were clearly confused about the midnight awakening – their internal translation efforts still faced some barriers – but most moved immediately to collect any personal possessions from the shelves over their beds. They met in the cushioned common area, where they normally spent their time idly. Not tonight. Once everyone was ready to leave, Dot led them to the door.

The trip to the hangar was a short one, but their sprints were interrupted by door after door, each of which responded only to Dot’s call. If anyone noticed them on surveillance, they’d be locked in for sure. They rounded the last corner before the hangar and came face-to-face with a pair of t2g2d4, both trilling animatedly before they caught sight of Dot and his entourage.

“What’s going on?”

“Exercise,” Dot said instantly, translated through his vambrace. Randgrid couldn’t help but be impressed – he fought a smile even as Dot added, “Physician said it increases fertility.”

“Really?” said one of their watchers, but Dot waved her away.

“Ask her yourself,” he said, and slithered into the hangar. His harem – his new friends – sprinted in his wake, and he tore across the demarcated floor towards the nearest battlecruiser. They were almost out. Dot called to the ship and it lit up in response, lowering its loading ramp. Trills sounded from several t2g2d4 watching from a wheelway overhead, but Dot ignored them. Randgrid glanced back.

“Moul, Amda,” he called, and motioned to the deck-level control panel. Two hosts peeled away from the main group, a green, six-legged Nunne whom Randgrid still couldn’t understand well, and a four-armed, tawny Kidal. Their talents combined resulted in more alarms and flashing lights as the bay doors prepared to open into space.

The males poured into the ship; even their lone Yeventi, who rarely showed signs of stress, moved with haste. A deafening rattle filled the hangar, and Randgrid heard Dot’s vambrace translating away as they staggered into the cruiser’s control deck.

“STOP. YOU ARE NOT CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF. REPORT TO THE CONTROL ROOM AND YOU WILL NOT BE PUNISHED. REPEAT: YOU ARE NOT CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF. DEADLY FORCE HAS BEEN AUTHORIZED.”

“This is going to work, right?” Dot said, positioning himself into the pilot’s terminal. The cushioned seat – if one could call it that – had clearly been built for a five-pointed t2g2d4, so it was with some difficulty that Dot forced his hips into place. “Bebedede – we couldn’t have picked a different ship?!”

“You know we couldn’t exactly get a tour,” Randgrid snapped. “Where’s Suer?”

“Here!” called a female Nunne with countless cybernetic implants, and he squeezed his way past the others and onto the bridge.

“BATTLESHIP BEBEDEDE TWO: DISENGAGE YOUR ENGINES AND LOCK IN. YOU ARE NOT CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF. REPORT TO CONTROL.”

“And… Vesh?” Randgrid called. No response aside from some murmuring. Randgrid swore, “Bebedede. I mean Captain Vesh Battle-Born!”

A sleek, black-haired Milodacki slunk to the front of the group.

“Here,” he said, fighting a thick accent. He took up a place at Dot’s other side. “You’ll have to work the computer, Dot, but I can help you fly.”

“REPEAT: DEADLY FORCE HAS BEEN AUTHORIZED. IF YOU DO NOT DISENGAGE YOUR ENGINES, YOUR CRAFT WILL BE DISABLED BY FORCE.”

Dot trilled at the computer, and the ship’s various panels lit up, all vaguely turquoise. Vesh watched, listened and instructed Dot, who controlled many of the ship’s functions with his voice. They unlocked and lifted off the deck, and Randgrid braced himself. The other males rushed to find somewhere secure to await takeoff. Vesh poked at the controls, instructed Dot, and the ship growled to life.

“FIRING IN THREE… TWO… ONE… FIRE AT WILL!”

“Go – go go gogogogogogo!!” Randgrid half-shouted, half-begged, and under a barrage of laser-fire, they swept out of the hangar. Their comms lit up and the ship filled with rapid clicking.

“MARCHIONESS, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? RETURN TO THE HANGAR IMMEDIATELY!” Dot’s vambrace translated, but they were already out of range of the hangar guns. To stop them, the Eight would have to power up her main weapons, and that would take at least precious seconds – if they dared to fire on precious cargo. Suer worked an interactive, holographic map with deft hands, calculating the best route. “MARCHIONESS, REMEMBER YOURSELF. YOU ARE NOT A THRALL TO THESE PATHETIC WORMS.”

Dot jerked, let out a long, angry trill and thrashed his tail. He seized Vesh’s arm, drew back his ovipositors… but then let go and trilled an apology.

“Bebedede – sorry! I’m still getting comfortable in here and she’s pissed.”

Randgrid had half a mind to ask where Dot had learned that kind of language, but he knew very well where. He turned to the Nunne instead.

“Suer – mapping?”

“Got it!” the navigator confirmed. “There’s a hyperlane entrance not far, but we’ll have to avoid their fire.”

Suer swiped the route over to Vesh, who tapped at the controls with his every finger, as deftly as a musician. The fact that he had fewer arms than Dot didn’t seem a hindrance – though he sometimes needed Dot’s help to reach. The bridge filled with warning lights as the battleship sensed the growing power of the Eight.

“Can’t they just follow us into the lane?” Randgrid said. Vesh answered without even looking up.

“Technically, yes,” he said. The Eight fired its first shot; their display was blotted out by near-blinding light and the ship staggered violently as she was struck. Randgrid was thrown from his feet; their overhead apparatus swung and the bridge filled with sirens. “Glancing blow to one arm; we can shut out the damage and repair later. Everybody calm down.”

“Calm down?!” Dot’s translator chirped. “I didn’t think they’d fire on us! Why are they firing on us?!”

“You, especially, need to be calm,” Vesh said. “I’ll need you once we enter the hyperlane. This isn’t my first time transporting illicit cargo, but the ship needs your instructions. No need to panic; we’re more manoeuvrable than the Eight; we can lose them on exit, pick another lane and another direction. No problem.”

“Trust the rat to know the maze,” Suer teased as a familiar, dappled Ari – Halen – attained the bridge. The ship tilted, and they narrowly avoided a series of shots from the Eight. Halen helped Randgrid up, and it was only then that the Dokkalfar realised he even needed the assistance: his neck was still bloody, the altercation with the mirror had left him with several bloody lacerations, and his head was pounding. Come to think of it, that was probably why Halen was there.

“You should come with me to the sick bay,” he said in his haunting dual-voice. “I’ve already had to sedate Seb’kau – his host is still giving him trouble.”

“Not yet,” Randgrid said.

“Go ahead, Commander, we’ve got this under control,” Vesh said. “I’ll not let us die a million miles from Milodack.”

“Commander?”

“Well you can’t be Captain,” the Milodacki said, glancing back as the ship angled again, and the long, empty chasm of the hyperlane became visible. He donned a pointy grin. “There’s only one Captain.”

“Come on, Rand,” Halen said, taking his arm. “You’re doing nothing but getting blood everywhere.”

Randgrid hesitated.

“Dot – you’re okay?”

“I’ll be fine, Dad,” Dot said. Vesh, Suer and Halen all snickered, and as they merged into the hyperlane, Randgrid finally allowed himself to be steered off the bridge. Halen was still smirking.

“How come he’s funny? I’m not funny.”

“A young mind in a powerful host – born into freedom,” Halen’s two voices said, and he led the way down the battleship’s central corridor. Unable to control the doors with their words, they were forced to use the manual overrides, but the switches weren’t exhaustive, and they soon reached the med-bay. “Besides, you’re funny, too, when you actually relax, and when you’re not suffering withdrawal.”

“Right,” Randgrid realised. That explained the nausea, anyway. He sat down, sighed, and allowed Halen to tend to him. On a nearby bed, the Nunne called Seb’kau was comatose, tethered with special straps that kept him safe even as the ship rolled. On another bed was a much smaller form – some kind of canine? “Who’s that?”

“Wilson,” Halen said without moving his head; with his four eyes, Rand imagined the Ari could see most of the room. “Not one of Dot’s, but he was sharing our harem after fighting one of Trigger’s pets.”

The little canine kicked his feet, clearly lost in some dream. Then the lights stopped blinking, and Randgrid glanced upwards.

“I suppose that’s… a good sign..?”

“Relax,” Halen reminded, and handed him a pair of capsules. “Eat these, lie down and get some sleep. When you wake up you’re going to feel awful – everyone is – and we have a lot of work to do if we’re going to survive. You should cherish your rest.”

Randgrid swallowed the pills, lay down and watched as Halen strapped him in.

“…do you really think I’ll wake up?”

“We’re free, Rand,” Halen said. “Vesh knows what he’s doing – or, at least, his host knows something. We’re free. Now we just have to figure out what that means.”

It was said that if you stared long enough into the eyes of an Ari, you might see the universe reflected back. In that moment before Randgrid closed his eyes – as they hurtled through space into uncertainty, all addicts, only halfway able to understand one another, and pursued by their enraged former captors – he believed it was true.

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