Battle Amongst the Stars!
Gribbl hid in his captain’s quarters. It seemed to be the wisest course of action.
He had never wanted to be a pirate. In fact, he was heading for a fairly stable career in planet-to-planet cybernetic replacement limb sales when his ship was intercepted by the (late) Captain Reikart the Red, who gave the crew and passengers a rather binary decision: join his crew or die. Although never much of a joiner, Gribbl opted to go this route anyway as he was young and death seemed like a decision he could make later on in life.
That had been twenty-two years ago. In that time Gribbl had become a respectable pirate. He was no great shakes with a blaster or a blade, but he was savvy enough to hew himself to the majority in every crucial decision that came along and smart enough to be at the rear of every boarding action. His reticence for conflict gave him longevity, and when the last captain had passed on the crew had unanimously elected Gribbl as their new captain before the prior one’s body had even passed beyond sight of the airlock. It wasn’t that he showed any hint of leadership potential or had the support of the crew, it was just that he was always there, for as long as anyone could remember, ubiquitous and inoffensive.
Gribbl opened his locker, wishing that he’d never left his swampy homeworld. Sure, there were predators there, but a smart frog could go a long way on Gulumph. Of course, Gribbl wasn’t feeling so smart right now. He’d let himself get talked into kidnapping a galactic princess who was slumming it in the vice pits of Zaladon IV. His first mate, Kell, who was all sharp teeth and wicked claws, thought it was a great idea and Gribbl had no intention of arguing about it. He had a real fondness for keeping his intestines right where they were, after all.
But then it turned out that the princess was a real handful. Annoyed that her vacation had been cut short, she took to drinking, snorting and smoking her way through the crew’s supply of pharmaceutical entertainment and starting drunken brawls with anyone who gave her a sideways glance. Gribbl, driven to the point of actually making a unilateral decision, ordered the ship back to Zaladon IV so that the princess could be returned to her cesspool of vice and the pirates could return to faring the spaceways in search of plunder. Of course, that plan went to hell when they warped into the system and were almost immediately attacked by an egg-shaped starship the size of a small planetoid.
Gribbl was putting on a pair of unassuming overalls when the door slid open. The sounds from beyond were chaotic and dreadful. The clash of metal blades, screams of the injured and dying, the occasional blaster burst. To some those sounds were the stuff of life. To Gribbl they were terrifying. The door slid shut again as Kell slipped inside, dragging the princess behind. She was manacled and had a gag in her mouth. One of Kell’s reptilian eyes was swelling shut. Gribbl zipped up the overalls and stuffed his single weapon, a short dagger that he rarely unsheathed, into the locker.
“What in the coldest pits of the frigid hells?” Kell exclaimed. “You’re hiding?”
“You’re damn right,” Gribbl replied. “People are getting killed out there.”
“Your people,” Kell said. “You’re the captain, you sniveling coward. You should be out there, leading them to victory!”
Gribbl croaked out a laugh. “Victory? It sounds like a slaughter out there! Trust me, I’d only get in the way. But if you’re so hot for a fight, why aren’t you out there?”
Kell growled deeply from his massive throat.
“Give me the key to the escape pod,” Kell said.
“Oh, so you want to escape,” Gribbl said. “Now you’re talking. It’s a two-person pod, so you and I can…”
“Not you and I,” Kell interrupted. “I’m taking the princess.”
Gribbl looked at the girl. He supposed she was beautiful, by humanoid standards. He himself found her light green skin attractive, although her darker green hair made him physically ill. As did hair in general, really. But Gribbl found her large pectoral orbs to be almost charming. They reminded him of the way his mother’s chest would expand when she was croaking him a lullaby. And he had to admit that when the princess burped, which was often, he felt very nostalgic for the music of Gulumph.
Still, this was a matter of survival, something Gribbl had become an expert on in his decades as a pirate.
“Be reasonable,” Gribbl said. “The two of us can use the escape pod, and once we land on Zaladon IV we can go our separate ways.”
“Not a chance,” Kell replied. “She’s still worth a ransom to me. You? You’re just dead weight.”
Kell advanced menacingly on Gribbl, dragging the princess behind him. Gribbl’s eyes darted to the escape pod key, which was hanging up inside his locker. Kell saw it, too, and dashed forward, but Gribbl was closer. He snatched the key up and backed away from Kell.
“Look, we can still get out of here,” Gribbl said. “That big-ass ship that attacked us won’t even notice a little escape pod.”
“That ship, Kell growled, “is the Gran Huevo de la Muerte.”
Gribbl gulped. Then he blinked. Then he gulped again.
“That’s Steel’s ship? Seriously? Then he must be after the princess! All the more reason to leave her.”
Kell drew his sword.
“Last chance,” he growled. “Give me that key.”
Gribbl backed away as the reptilian advanced on him. He knew that any fight with Kell ended only one of two ways: death by disembowelment, or death by decapitation. He wasn’t fond of either option. But he also knew that if he didn’t escape he was as good as dead anyway.
Gribbl sprung towards the door, but Kell was almost as fast. Letting go of the princess, he caught the frogman’s foot and they both went crashing to the floor. Gribbl kicked at the larger pirate with his free leg, then rolled to the side to avoid a strike from the sword. Kell grabbed for the key but Gribbl kept squirming and thrashing about. Frustrated, Kell dropped his blade and wrapped both hands around Gribbl’s neck, and began throttling him. Gribbl beat at the large reptile man ineffectually with one hand. Then he felt the key being grabbed out of the other. Gribbl’s eyes rolled back and he saw a lithe green figure go out the cabin’s door and escape into the hallway beyond.
“Grrbk! Blpp gbb,” he cried out. He meant to say, Stop! She’s escaping! but with Kell’s hands crushing his windpipe, gibberish was the best he could do.
Gribbl felt light-headed and things were starting to go dark. Then he saw a glowing purple globe roll into the cabin. Inside the globe was a human brain. Gribbl blinked and weakly pointed at the globe, trying to get Kell’s attention, but the reptilian pirate ignored him.
Then the brain spoke.
“Hey, guys,” it said. “Umm… I hate to interrupt a good choking, but I’m looking for someone.”
Kell stopped strangling Gribbl and stared at the globe in wonder.
“What sort of creature are you?” he asked, reaching for his blade.
“That’s Otto,” came a new voice. Both Gribbl and Kell looked up to see a man standing in the doorway. He was human, with spiky black hair. His left eye glowed a bright red and his right arm was a cybernetic replacement. Gribbl recognized the model, as he had stayed on the corporate mailing lists over the years. The human wasn’t wearing a shirt, so Gribbl could see that he also had shiny chrome nipples.
Well that’s just weird, he thought, as he caught his breath.
Kell, evidently unimpressed by the man, the globe or even the shiny nipples, grabbed his blade and leapt to his feet.
“Steel! The Great Egg-Layer smiles upon me! At least I can kill you before I die,” he snarled, raising the sword up.
For his part, Steel winked at the reptilian and shot him a finger gun. A bluish-white jet of fire erupted from the tip of the metal index finger. Kell was engulfed in super-heated flame and, within mere seconds, fell to the cabin floor, a smoldering mass of former pirate. Steel pulled a joint out of his pants pocket, used the finger to light it, and looked down at Gribbl.
“I’m Balls O. Steel,” he said as he exhaled a plume of smoke. “I’m here to rescue a princess.”