It’s that time again, ladies and gents! A bit late (and off-schedule) due to the holiday, but that’s the way the champagne fizzes.
Every few weeks I share with you one of my “trunk stories”: a story that I wrote ages ago and has been rejected by major publishers. Seriously, they’re so bad. You couldn’t give these stories away. Why am I sharing ’em? So you can learn what not to do. Enjoy.
He’d been drinking for a solid three hours. There seemed to be little else to do. The ship’s engines were offline, and the useless hulk was drifting to God-knew-where. The air-recycling systems were holding firm, as were the water-cyclers and the compartment heaters. It was as comfortable as you might expect a tiny bundle of metal and avionics to be in the midst of a mind-crushing interstellar void.
The ship’s stock of alcohol was not large, but it was more than enough for one evening’s binge. There was only one person left to partake of it anyway. It was Lasseter, the ship’s navigator and sole surviving crewmember. The others were all gone, dead every one: devoured by the foul beast now crawling its filthy way through the ducts and ventilation shafts, straining its last muscle, pushing its every sense to the limit, determined to sniff Lasseter out and finish him.
The navigator was slumped on the floor, his back against the dining compartment wall. A rifle lay next to him. Spent cartridges littered the thin industrial carpeting. It had been a hard battle, one that was ultimately fruitless. Energy weapons, slugs, and even blades had rebounded impotently from the creature’s tough hide. No matter how bravely his shipmates had fought, they had been slaughtered. Harper had been the last to go–Harper, the slim blonde whose figure and face had delighted Lasseter’s imagination through many a dull bridge watch. He had even allowed himself to toy with the idea of marrying her someday. She had been everything he had prized in a woman: beautiful, free-spirited, kind, playful, but cool and competent when the time came. When the creature had hurled the last scrap of the barricade aside and come charging into the rec room, Harper had stood her ground. She had valiantly emptied the last of her ammunition into its impervious flesh. Then she’d turned to Lasseter, and uttered a single word: “Run.” She had not even screamed as the thing seized her in its claws and began to devour her alive.
Enough. These recollections were too recent, too vivid. Lasseter’s numb hand reached out and clumsily sought a bottle from the pile lying on his left side, opposite the useless rifle. His fingers found one that had some weight to it. He hefted it in his hand experimentally, and then held it to his face. Gin. Powerful stuff. Not as pleasant as rum or whiskey or brandy, but still tasty enough to swig down and strong enough to dull a man’s short-term memory.
“Just what the doctor ordered,” he mumbled aloud.
He unscrewed the cap and took a pull. The liquor burned his throat and made his eyes water, but his body accepted it greedily. He felt his limbs go softer, his brain hang looser. That’s more like it, he thought. He didn’t want to watch his friends and comrades being torn to shreds in his head anymore.
A bump and a growl brought his foggy senses to some semblance of alertness. There was enough of his cortex left to judge what was going on. The hermetic door seemed to vibrate as a wicked clawed limb struck it. The beast had sniffed him out. His final hiding spot was compromised. The jig was up. He’d be mincemeat in a few minutes.
“Oh well,” he said to himself, and burped.
Under the circumstances, it was crazy to get drunk. Any red-blooded spacefaring man would have taken a nip of rye and then gone out to face the monster. Not Lasseter. He had chosen to hole up, dull his wits, and wait for the end. He didn’t give a hang about it, either. He was a million miles from anywhere. Nobody would know how he had spent his last moments. The ship had been using one of the remoter space lanes. It’d be a few decades at least before another vessel passed this way. There’d be no video logs or recordings. The derelict and its savage conqueror would just drift off into the void, never to be seen again. The memory of the ship and her crew would vanish with her.
Lasseter hiccupped. The creature banged on the door again, and this time the navigator could see the metal beginning to warp inward. The thing was fiendishly strong. He knew this from brutal experience. He had watched the monster rend the flesh from his crewmates’ bones like wet toilet paper. He held out the bottle as if toasting the abomination, and took another gulp.
And then he discovered something strange: his fear had flown south for the winter. He had every reason to be afraid, but for some reason he was not. These were quite clearly the penultimate moments of his life. He occupied a pathetically tiny machine, a microscopic speck of grit in the greater fabric of the universe. He was about to be rendered into gobbets by one of that universe’s fiercer denizens. And yet Lasseter, at the end of his road, found himself heartened. Maybe it was that same misplaced bravado that had caused Captain Rollins to order his crew to take shelter while he faced the monster alone. Perhaps it was the same cool acceptance which had allowed Harper to remain calm as she was ripped in half and disemboweled. Maybe it was just the hooch. Whatever the reason, Lasseter’s brain abruptly rebelled against the notion of sitting around, waiting to be dismembered. With a spastic motion he levered himself to his feet and threw the gin bottle aside.
The hermetic door, under repeated blows, bowed inward. Great gashes appeared in the metal as the beast’s adamantine claws pierced it. The thing thrust its hideous, many-eyed head into the room, and Lasseter looked upon it without fear. He stood straight and tall. He looked for a weapon and spotted a kitchen knife hung from a magnetic clip. He grasped it and held it at the ready. He felt detached from his body. All this nonsense was just a movie he was watching in the rec room with the off-duty Harper. The boozy mist in his brain insulated him from fear and doubt. Yes, this was the way to do it. So what if no one would know how he met his fate? He would go out on his own terms, not sitting on his hams, but on his feet and ready for aught.
His heart pounded in his chest. His mind was a great, roaring, fiery meteoroid, rushing full-tilt through the blackness, ready to pulverize anything in its path. He grasped the knife with both hands, blade held forward. His muscles twitched in anticipation.
With an ear-splitting howl, the slavering monster freed itself from the twisted remnants of the door and pounced at Lasseter. The navigator bellowed in reply, and met its rush.