- This story originally appeared in the Dark Expanse: Surviving the Collapse anthology.
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- For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our sortable Wikipedia page
about the author…
Robert Lowell Russell* is a writer and trophy husband (obviously). He is a SFWA member and a member of the Writeshop and Codex writers’ groups. He is a former librarian, a former history grad student, a former semi-professional poker player, and is now pursuing nursing degree (say “ah!”).
Rob has also just noticed how outdated and lame his website has become and will be modifying it in the near future here: robertlowellrussell.com
His stories have appeared (or will appear) in Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Penumbra, Digital Science Fiction, Daily Science Fiction (thrice!), Stupefying Stories (fice? what’s the word for five?), and a whole bunch of other places (see complete list on the right side).
*RLR finds it a bit silly to write about himself in the 3rd person.
about the narrator…
My name is Ethan Jones, I live in Melbourne, Australia. I have a passion for audio drama, and this passion led me to create my own. All on my lonesome, I have created ‘Caught Up’, an audio drama about three men who are unwillingly thrust into a world of crime after a shocking encounter with a hardened criminal. You can find this podcast on iTunes by searching my name or ‘Caught Up’, or find more info and subscribe via RSS on the website: http://caughtuppodcast.tk
Gorlack the Destroyer’s All You Can Eat Adventure
by Robert Lowell Russell
Seven hundred battered cases of “Unleash Your Inner Awesome!” mega-nutri-bars dotted the purple grass for kilometers in every direction. Pelle the Silicate rested his rocky body on one of the battered metal crates and sighed.
Noxious smoke from the wrecked “Do-It-Yourself and Save!” cargo lander wrinkled Pelle’s nose. He wondered if the “environmentally friendly materials” the lander was constructed from were in fact sarki beetle shells and dung.
Pelle had bet the Silicate colonists on this distant world would trade their exotic spices and rare materials for a little taste of home. Now, those little tastes were baking in their crates under an alien sun, a thousand kilometers from the nearest settlement.
“I’m ruined,” he muttered.
Gorlack the Destroyer fixed his gaze on the rough-skinned alien sitting on the metal box.
“Bah! Zarg, my friend, it is only another of the stone creatures.”
Zarg shook his head. “These are trying times.”
The troop of warriors and women gathered behind Gorlack murmured its discontent.
“A number three fusion blade will pierce the creature’s hide,” said Zarg, “but leave its soft, inner flesh intact. They taste like kana.”
Gorlack spat on the grass. “Everything tastes like kana. I long for a proper meal.” He turned to Zarg and rested a furred paw on the other’s shoulder. “The number three blade it will
be, but first, honor demands I offer the creature challenge.”
“The coward will refuse.”
Gorlack nodded. “Undoubtedly.” He strode boldly through the grass, approaching the alien. The murmurs turned to silence.
Gorlack addressed the alien telepathically. “I am Gorlack the Destroyer. You are my prey.” He waddled forward, flaring his hips. “Observe the size of my genitals. My many children will feast on your flesh.”
He opened his eyes wide and wiggled his rounded, furry ears. “If you flee, I will find you. If you hide, I will hear you.”
He flexed his fingers. “The Goddess did not give my people pointed claws, yet I will rend your flesh.” Gorlack opened his mouth, showing smooth, rounded teeth. “The Goddess did not give my people sharp teeth, yet I will consume you.”
Gorlack held his arms wide. “Look upon your doom and despair!” Then he filled his lungs, and he screamed aloud the ancient war cry. “Hagmay!”
Pelle didn’t notice the small animal approaching until it was just meters from him. More of the creatures were gathered behind it. The animal was only half a meter tall, and almost as wide. It waddled upright on short, stocky legs. Soft fur glistened on its plump belly. Rounded ears crowned a pleasant circular face with two of the widest eyes Pelle had ever seen. The animal
was wiggling its ears and fingers.
“Hey, little fella,” said Pelle. “Are you friendly?”
As if in response, the animal smiled.
“You are friendly!”
Now, just centimeters from Pelle, the creature extended its arms wide. “Hug me,” it said in a piping voice.
“You can talk!” said Pelle. “You know, I could use a hug. It’s been one of those days.” He picked up the furred animal and held it to his rocky chest.
The creature exploded into motion, blurring around Pelle’s body. The speed of the animal amazed him, and Pelle yelped as his clothing fell away and the creature’s fingers and teeth scraped against his skin. A pleasant tingling replaced his momentary fear.
“That feels amazing,” he said. A fine dust of old skin settled at his feet. “And look how shiny I am.” Pelle held out his arms, admiring the gleam of the system star reflecting on his skin.
Gorlack laughed and called over his shoulder. “Zarg, it is stunned by my battle prowess. I will show it mercy. Bring me my blade.”
Zarg snapped his fingers, and a female came forward with a satchel. “The blade, Fiksu,” he said. “Your brother commands it.”
Fiksu, a head smaller than Gorlack, rummaged through the satchel filled with assorted death rays and planet smashing bombs until she withdrew a device with a small, silver hilt.
Pelle turned away from the animal and cracked the seal on the shipping crate he’d been sitting on, then pulled out a box filled with brightly wrapped mega-nutri-bars.
“Hungry, little fella?” he asked, turning back. A second animal had joined the first, and Pelle thought he saw something shining in the other creature’s paw.
Pelle held out the bar. The two animals looked at the food, then to one another, then back to the bar.
Mr. Huggy-that’s what Pelle decided to call the first creature-snatched the bar from his hand and took a bite.
“How is it?” asked Zarg.
“It lacks the sweet, smoky flavor of Zyxlar flesh,” said Gorlack, thoughtfully. “But it is a far cry better than kana.”
Excited murmurs came from his troop, and Gorlack used the bar to motion toward the alien. “Kill this creature for me, Zarg. I will see how many more of these are in the box.”
“Zyxlar,” said the alien.
The troop gasped.
“What do you know of our old enemies?!” shouted Gorlack into the alien’s mind.
The creature didn’t respond at first, then it repeated, “Zyxlar,” as it moved its mouth, making a noise.
Gorlack rolled his eyes. “It cannot speak without moving its lips.” He motioned to Fiksu. “Sister! This creature seems as simple as you. Communicate with it.”
Zyxlar, thought Pelle to himself. Now what made me think of the Zyxlar overlords?
A third creature approached him. “Zyxlar,” it said.
“Hey! You can talk, too.”
“Zyxlar?” the creature repeated.
It sounded like a question, so Pelle shrugged. “The galactic overlords left. Went somewhere in their ships, I guess. No one knows for sure.”
“Fix you,” said the third creature, tapping its furry chest.
“Fix me?” Pelle shook his head. “You don’t need to fix me. Mr. Huggy fixed me, and it felt fantastic. Hey, wait a minute…”
Pelle stared at Mr. Huggy chewing the mega-bar, then looked to the group of gathered animals, and finally turned to gaze at the shipping crates scattered across the planet. “I have an idea.”
“The alien wants to take us away from this hellhole on a starship?” asked Gorlack, incredulously.
Fiksu nodded. “He calls himself Pelle, and he believes we are natives of this world.”
“And the creature wishes for us to engage others of its kind in hand to hand combat?”
“Yes. And for this, he offers us more of the food bars.”
“What say you, Zarg?” asked Gorlack. “Offer me your wisdom. Can our honor suffer the indignity of traveling the stars without our steeds?”
“How many centuries have passed since our star dragons left us on this world?” asked Zarg. “Surely they would have finished washing their wings by now. Some ill fate must have befallen them.” Zarg put his hand to his chin, then looked up. “Our honor will remain intact if we travel on this creature’s starship by riding on its hull. And once off this world, perhaps we will catch the scent of the Zyxlar.”
“Genius, my friend!” said Gorlack. “Our rage will keep us warm in the cold vacuum. Our unending hunger for our prey will be our air.”
“Umm, brother?” asked Fiksu. “Can we women ride inside the starship?”
Gorlack snorted. “As you wish.”
After haggling a rescue from another trader, a dozen salvaged crates of mega-bars had bought Pelle a tiny berth on the next vessel heading off the colony. His cabin would have been cramped had he been alone, but with the three dozen Lelutians-he’d named the furry creatures after the colony planet-it was stifling.
When Mr. Huggy disappeared with half the others, Pelle was puzzled but remained unconcerned-they’d turn up somewhere. He was just thankful for the extra space. And when Fix-You-Pelle realized Fix-You was what the smaller creature called itself-had led him to an enormous empty cabin, he briefly wondered where its occupants had gone. But then Pelle decided the honeymooning couple he’d met on the docks must have missed the ship’s departure. As long as the room had been paid for, there was no sense in letting it go to waste. Besides, the Lelutians had already made themselves at home.
Pelle relaxed on the room’s luxurious bed, then glanced out its view port and shrieked, bolting upright. Mr. Huggy and the other missing Lelutians were lashed to the vessel’s hull with carbon filament lines. Ice crystals glistened on the animals’ puffed cheeks.
Certain the creatures were dead, Pelle cursed his misfortune, then gaped as Mr. Huggy turned his head and offered Pelle a brief salute.
Durable little buggers, thought Pelle.
The remainder of the journey to Pelle’s homeworld had been uneventful. The commercial district of the capital city bustled with Silicate men and women dressed in the latest fashions. Tall, crystalline buildings loomed in the adjacent financial district, and people on their way to important meetings zoomed by in private vehicles.
The mall at the center of the commercial district beckoned shoppers with dazzling displays and banners, announcing to all the fabulous products and bargains to be found inside.Everyone Pelle had asked said the mall was the very best, and it was filled with more day spas and smoothie bars than any other place on the planet.
All day, Pelle had begged his way into meetings, and now Mr. Kulta, owner of the Timantti Spa, sneered at him. “No one’s going to pay to have your filthy little talking animals crawl all over them,” said Kulta. “Get out of my shop.”
Pelle’s face fell. “But I’m so shiny,” he protested. “And it feels great. Try it!”
Kulta handed him coupon for a half-priced smoothie before pointing to the exit. Pelle sighed.
The troop of Lelutians followed after him as the spa’s personnel escorted him from the shop. Mall security officers eyed Pelle and the creatures warily as he took a seat on a bench and unwrapped half a dozen mega-bars before handing them to the Lelutians.
“That place would have been perfect,” said Pelle. “All I want is a few rooms so people can see what you can do.”
The Lelutians glanced to one another. Something passed among the creatures. Mr. Huggy stared at the spa and nodded. The creatures drew an assortment of metallic objects from their satchels.
Fix-You said in her high voice. “Get rest, Pelle. Try tomorrow.”
Pelle yawned. Fix-You was right. After his fifth failed sales pitch of the day, he was beat.
Pelle woke the next morning to sunlight blazing through a crack in his motel’s cheap curtains. The first day back on his home world, he’d been forced to share the motel’s last available room with the Lelutians, but thanks to a string of sudden vacancies, the creatures had acquired their own rooms.
Pelle blinked in the light. Fix-You was standing in his room, staring at him. When she saw he’d noticed her, she held out his data-pad.
“Message came,” she said. “Kulta lost his heart.”
Pelle suffered a moment of confusion, then sat up, excited. “You mean he had a change of heart?”
Fix-You nodded. “Apologies. Trouble with idioms.”
Pelle took the pad from the Lelutian and scanned the message. Sure enough, a simple note read: Have my shop forever. Mr. Kulta, a Silicate male. The message came complete with Kulta’s retinal scan and a smeared thumb print to make it official.
Pelle took a cab back to the mall, charged through its corridors when he arrived, and flung open the door to Timantti Spa. Then he stood in its lobby, panting, looking around. Though the shop was due to open in minutes, none of its employees had arrived. Instead, a pair of Lelutians were mopping the floors, and Mr. Huggy and some of the others were stuffing gleaming objects back into their satchels.
Pelle smiled. “Aw, you guys. The place looks great. You’re so amazing.”
The Lelutians mimicked his grin.
Pelle snapped his fingers. “This is a test! Mr. Kulta wants to see if I can handle his shop by myself.”
The promise of a half price rejuvenation treatment was too tempting an offer for Pelle’s first customer to resist. Pelle thought the middle-aged woman was fit and attractive, though there were small cracks lining her skin. He explained the treatment was best done in the nude, and he blushed when the woman, winking to her gathered friends, started to disrobe in the lobby. Acting quickly, he had the woman follow Mr. Huggy into a private room.
“Hug me!” came Huggy’s shrill voice from behind the door a minute later.
“Well, okay,” replied the woman, her voice partially muffled.
“Oh! Oh my!” came the woman’s voice. “By Jum, that feels incredible!”
The woman burst from the room, draped haphazardly in one of the spa’s robes. “Look how shiny and smooth my rinnats are!” she exclaimed to her friends. “The Commodore will love them!” The woman opened her robe, showing her companions, and once again Pelle blushed.
“How much to do me?” one of the woman’s friends demanded.
The others jostled around Pele. “Umm, ten…” he started to reply.
“One hundred credits,” said Fix-You. “But today is coupon. You tell friends.”
By the end of the day, the Timantti Spa’s appointments were booked solid for the rest of the month, and the price of the Lelutian rejuvenation treatment had tripled.
Pelle felt a bit baffled when he sat down to square the day’s receipts. Figures were not his strong suit. He was grateful when Fix-You offered to look after the shop’s scheduling and finances.
“No worry,” she said. “Six interviews tomorrow for new employees. And we expand soon. Find new shop.”
“Are there enough of your people to cover all the appointments?”
Fix-You smiled. “We make more.”
Pelle looked around and noticed many of the Lelutians hugging one another. “You’re sure an affectionate bunch.”
Returning to the motel that evening, Pelle collapsed in the bed, exhausted but exhilarated. He planned to spend some time apartment shopping the next day, and he decided he needed a new wardrobe. Now that he was a successful businessman, he needed to dress the part.
His data-pad chimed, alerting him to even more good news. A short note from another of the mall’s spa owners read: Have my shop forever. Mrs. Hieno, a Silicate female.
Gorlack the Destroyer came into Fiksu’s office with a red death ray in one paw and a blue one in the other. “Sister, which of these allows me to arrange the dead into amusing poses?”
“Neither, my brother,” replied Fiksu. “You want the green one.”
Gorlack nodded. “My thanks.” He turned to leave.
“May I humbly ask your plans, brother?”
He frowned. “We have been here many fortnights, and I grow bored of this world. I have decreed that we will leave it soon, but first, Zarg wishes to train the newborn warriors with the weapons.” Gorlack returned the death rays to his satchel and withdrew the hilt of a plasma sword, lighting its blade and swinging it to and fro. “Your plan to expand our ranks has gone well,” he continued. “The stony aliens have not noticed the swelling of our numbers?”
“Most Silicates are unable to distinguish one of our kind from the other,” said Fiksu. “And their young take years to mature, not hours, so they do not understand what they see.”
“That these pathetic fools have survived this long astonishes me. How goes your search for the Zyxlar?”
Fiksu sighed. “Nothing but rumors, brother.” She paused.
“What is it?”
“I wished this to remain a surprise, but perhaps today is a good one for early gifts.” Fiksu brought up a computer display. “I have yet to locate our prey, but I believe I have found a steed worthy of your magnificence.”
Gorlack gazed at the screen, and his eyes widened. Projected was the image of a brand-new dreadnaught, bristling with weapons, moored in an orbital shipyard.
“The Silicates call this vessel Dragon,” said Fiksu.
Gorlack’s eyes gleamed. “Surely it is a sign from the Goddess.” He pressed his paw to the monitor.
“And brother,” Fiksu continued, “if I could beg your patience for just a little longer, I have a plan to make this vessel yours.”
“Hey, Fix-You.” Pelle took a seat in the Lelutian’s office, his attention focused on an article on his data-pad. “Why did we buy a controlling interest in the Globo-Foods Conglomerate?”
“They make mega-nutri-bars,” she replied. “My people wish to continue unleashing our inner awesome.”
“Okay, that makes sense,” said Pelle. “But can you tell me why we bought a building near the naval academy?”
“We need to talk, Pelle.”
He looked up and screamed.
Mr. Kulta’s head was sitting on Fix-You’s desk, and she reached into a drawer and placed Mrs. Hieno’s head next to Kulta’s, then added three more heads. “Handiwork of my brother. There are many more.”
Pelle tried to scramble from his chair, but furred hands pressed him back down with astonishing strength. A group of Lelutians had gathered in Fix-You’s office, and now one locked the door with a loud click.
Pelle thrashed in his seat, but he was helpless. He sat, panting, his eyes fixed on the heads. “Mr. Huggy did that?”
“Indeed,” said Fix-You. “And Gorlack and his friends carry with them enough weaponry to destroy this planet, many times over. Have you ever tasted Zyxlar flesh, Pelle?”
“What?! Zyxlar? Of course not. Wait… you’ve eaten them?”
“No, but I have had the displeasure of eating koira scrotum, and my brother swears the flavor is the same.”
Pelle gaped at Fix-You. “What are you people?”
“What we are, Pelle, are herbivores, but millennia ago, one of our ancestors decided becoming carnivores would be more exciting. Gorlack insists we follow the old ways. And because my brother was the biggest and strongest of us, naturally he thought we should eat the Zyxlar, since they too were big and powerful.”
Another of the Lelutians spoke up. “Our ancestors have wasted hundreds of years flying around on the backs of space dragons in the cold of space, hunting the Zyxlar with the men, and we are sick of it.”
A third Lelutian added, “They are not even men. Our species is asexual. Gorlack just likes to pretend he has enormous genitals.”
“We like it here, Pelle,” said Fix-You, “And we want to stay. But the only way we can do that is to get Gorlack and his friends to leave, preferably without them slaughtering everyone on your planet first. I have a plan, but I need your help.”
“No way!” Pelle shook his head. “I have to tell someone.”
“You want to tell the authorities that the animals you brought to this planet consumed many of your people while helping you build a successful business empire?”
“Umm…” said Pelle, thinking carefully, “No?”
Pelle tried to keep his knees from shaking as he greeted naval personnel in his newly opened spa near the academy. Fix-You and Mr. Huggy followed him wherever he went, the pair waddling at his side. Business had been slow at first. Now, anyone who wanted to appear their best, even ships’ captains and flag officers, had become spa regulars.
Entering a hallway lined with private rooms, Pelle flashed a grin at a fleet captain. The woman was trying desperately to avoid appearing awkward as she held a commodore’s medal adorned uniform and undergarments. She was chatting with a group of captains and commanders gathered in a small waiting area. Pelle’s heart pounded in his chest as one of the commanders broke from the group and approached him.
The commander said quietly, “The commodore has generously doubled his offer for one of your creatures. He’s really quite insistent that he have one.”
From inside a private room came a man’s deep voice. “Oh yes! Yes! Work it, you little fur ball.”
The commander looked away, and Mr. Huggy produced a weapon, flicking a short, glowing blade to life.
Pelle stepped in front of the Lelutian, and smiled wider, his mouth aching from the effort. “I’m sorry, my Lelutians aren’t for sale.”
The officer turned back to Pelle, and seemed about to protest when a robed man opened the door and stepped from a room. The gathering of officers stiffened to attention.
“How was the treatment, Commodore?” asked Pelle.
“Fantastic, as always.” The commodore glanced to the commander, then asked Pelle, “Have you reconsidered my offer?”
“Sir, I can’t-” started Pelle.
The commodore held up a hand, silencing him. “I don’t generally accept refusals, my good man, but I’ve just now had an idea pop into my head that may present a solution to our disagreement.”
A Lelutian stepped from the Commodore’s private room and saluted Fix-You and Mr. Huggy before disappearing back into the room.
“What would you say,” continued the commodore, “to stationing a group of your creatures onboard one of my ships? As a morale booster, you understand?”
Pelle pretended to mull the question.
“I serve on a number of procurement committees,” added the commodore. “And if the arrangement works, it could lead to a number of lucrative contracts.”
Pelle made it seem as if he’d come to a decision, then held out his hand. “I think we have a deal, Commodore. Anything I can do for the military. Did you have a specific vessel in mind?”
“Indeed I do.”
Gorlack the Destroyer stood with Zarg and the other warriors on the bridge of the Dragon. The rocky aliens scurried about, engrossed in their tasks, ignoring him and his troop. The dreadnaught’s bridge was filled with machines and displays, and dominating the view was a massive screen showing a star field.
“Now?” asked Golack.
Zarg shook his head. “A moment longer, my friend. We wait only for your sister to disable the docking clamps.”
Gorlack tapped his foot impatiently and glared around at the rock creatures. One of them wore a large hat, and Gorlack decided he liked the hat very much. The hat made the rock creature the center of the other aliens’ attention, Gorlack was certain of it.
Gorlack tried to amuse himself by plucking thoughts from the rock creatures’ minds, but their inane thoughts quickly bored him. He turned instead to thoughts of the hunt. His mouth watered at the thought of Zyxlar flesh.
When Gorlack felt an almost imperceptible shift run through Dragon’s hull, he looked up.
Zarg nodded. “Now, my friend.”
Gorlack and Zarg pulled green death rays from their satchels. Another warrior produced a communications device. A rock creature had just sprinted onto the bridge, and with the communications device active, Gorlack heard the creature’s panicked voice in his mind.
“Commodore,” said the creature to the one wearing the hat, “the crew, they’ve vanished! The only thing I found onboard was boxes and boxes of these.” The rock creature held up a mega-nutri-bar.
Gorlack fired an emerald beam at the hatted creature, and chuckled at the alien’s expression of surprise, now frozen on its face for eternity. At the same moment, Zarg fired on the alien holding the mega-bar. The rest of Gorlack’s warriors trained their weapons on the remaining rock creatures, but did not fire.
“I am Gorlack the Destroyer,” said Gorlack, and he could hear his words projected into the air for the rock creature to hear. “You are my prisoners, and if you displease me, you will become my furniture.”
Gorlack motioned with his paw, and his warriors sprang into action, bending the two frozen corpses into chairs upon which he and Zarg could sit. Climbing onto the hatted alien’s lap, Gorlack took the hat and placed it on his own head, but the hat was too big, so he tossed it aside.
Fiksu’s image appeared on the forward screen. The alien, Pelle, was hunched beside her, and the creature was muttering something about being so very, very sorry.
“My brother,” said Fiksu. “Dragon is yours.”
“My thanks, sister.”
A star system, far on the tip of the galactic arm appeared on the screen, and Fiksu said, “A report came today of a possible Zyxlar sighting in this system.”
“Then that is where we shall go.” Gorlack waved a paw, and a warrior punched coordinates into a panel. Gorlack felt the vessel surge into motion. “And Fiksu…”
“Your offer to stay behind with the women and children while we men focus on the hunt will not be forgotten. It is days like this that I give thanks I never strangled you.”
“My thanks as well, brother,” said Fiksu. “Good hunting.”
Fisksu’s image disappeared from the screen, and was replaced by the field of stars, their light starting to blur as Dragon accelerated away from the planet.
Then, humming a jaunty song, Gorlack the Destroyer pulled a length of carbon filament line from his satchel.
“The bridge is yours, Zarg,” said Gorlack. “I will be outside.”