Galleons of the Guardaxy and Other Cool Stuff
(Part One Axed by Editor)
As I write this dedication, today is June 20, 2021.
It’s Father’s Day.
Unintentionally, the theme of this story reflects fatherhood.
So, I dedicate this to the fathers in my life:
John Hanks-my father.
Dale Grantham-the father of my husband.
David Grantham-my husband and father of our five children.
The only thing you need to know about part one was all the fathers died. It was dramatic and heartbreaking, and you would have wept bitter tears if you’d know their backstories. Alas, the editor. Ah yes, Editor’s comments were stinging and scathing. “You are starting in the wrong place!” And so, we begin with part two.
The cockpit is on fire. We’ve lost our main nav system. The lights are blinking out. “Raise the stakes, raise the stakes!” Editor yells.
The entire ship is on fire. We’ve lost all nav systems. We’re on a collision course with the planet, and the lights are out. (Not enough. Raise the stakes more. Also, who are we reading about? We have no connection to your characters. Why do we care?)
My name is Thor Starlord (Not a good name. What is this, plagiarize from major motion pictures day? Come on! Be original.)
My name is Jeff Robertson. (Blah. So generic. This is sci-fi, right? Come on, give us a name we can appreciate. Show your creativity.)
My name is Jefferthor Starbertson. I’m the captain of the ship—the Razorstripe. My crew and I are on a mission to steal a subatomic hydrogen compression and compaction hyperspeed drive from planet Flurf. (You’ve gotta be kidding me. Can you explain? Please? My head is going to explode. My goodness, how should we know what this thing is?)
My crew and I are going to steal a vacuum cleaner.
(Boring. I’m snoring over here.)
We’re stealing a Dyson’s sphere vacuum. It harvests the energy of a sun. It’s ultra-valuable and cool, and no self-respecting space pirate would end his career without trying to steal it at least once. With that in mind, it’s never been stolen. My crew and I will be the first. Our names will live in infamy for all eternity, which is my main motivating drive—to be known for something.
(That’s it? Be known for something? Terrible. Dig deeper.)
I also want to get the girl.
(Not enough. And frankly, so generic.)
I also want to redeem my dead father who was previously murdered in Part One by Slape Underbeetle,
(Insert eyeroll. These names. Honestly. Also, how will he redeem his father? Why do we care about his father? We know nothing about him! We’re on page two and I have no connection to this character.)
You know, I’m keeping Slape Underbeetle, and you’d darn sure have a great idea of our hero’s father if I could have kept part one. Now, to the story…
My crew and I are on a doomed ship. We’ve lost every function, including life support. We’ll die in four minutes from loss of oxygen—and oh yes, we’re on fire. Fire everywhere, and we’re all inhaling smoke. We now have three and half minutes to live, and then the ship breaks in half. We barely hang on for dear life as the back end of our vessel is violently ripped into space.
And then we crash.
Somehow, we survive. We make it out of the ship and into the harsh reality of planet Flurf. I’m still reeling from the death of my father at the hands of that murderous Slape Underbeetle, galactic terrorist and destroyer of ten-thousand planets, and murderer of all our fathers. My heart is raw. Dad and I had our differences, but he was a good dad, all things considered. But he was more than a father. He was my best friend, and we have many cherished memories, the first one which started with my earliest recollection, when I was five…
(Cut it. Too much backstory. Get back to the crash landing.)
Okay. We crashed. My crew and I are injured. I’ve got a few cuts, a bloody nose, and a twisted ankle. Lumiara got the worst of it. She’s the purple-skinned, green haired alien who is also my love interest. She’s bleeding from a cut in her arm and leg, but we bandage her and make do.
Yawnii is also hurt. He’s a Zusorian—an eight-foot tall, white-furred, blue-eyed, wolf-faced alien. He’s my best friend, and he makes a great sounding board, precisely because he can’t talk, and I’m at liberty to tell him all my deep dark secrets. We suspect he’s broken some ribs, cracked both femurs, has internal bleeding from various organs, a nasty tear to the groin, and a black eye. His species is hearty, and he shakes it off.
Then there’s the monk, Egayne, who escapes with a few scrapes and bruises. He’s got a heart of gold and gives us overly optimistic but useless advice. Case in point: he tells us we’re “Doing a smashing good job,” and laughs at his own joke as he points to the smoking ruins of our ship.
We stumble into the sandy terrain of Flurf. It’s a harsh place with violent windstorms and giant insects. “What a lovely planet!” Egayne says before falling into a pit full of giant ants, and it takes all our ingenuity to pull him out.
(No. Kill the monk. He adds nothing to the story.)
Egayne falls into a pit of ants. They tear him apart and we’re all stunned and saddened by his death.
We continue without him, though we’re all feeling peculiarly pessimistic.
Lumiara pulls out her nava-map. “Ten clicks to the west we’ll find the cave harboring the Dyson sphere. You ready for this, Jefferthor?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Gnnh,” Yawnii growls, looking over his shoulder at the ant pit housing the remains of our late friend.
“Yeah,” I agree. “I miss him, too, Buddy.”
“Gnnh,” Yawnii repeats, wiping an oversized paw over his nose.
“Yeah, guess you don’t know how much you appreciate a person until they’re gone. He would’ve done great things. Probably sacrificed himself to save us all at the end, finally said something profound and useful when when we needed it most, but we’ll never know, will we?”
“I hate this world already.” Lumiara pushes strands of long green hair from her face. “How long are we planning to be here?”
“Judging by the state of our ship? Possibly forever,” I answer.
I imagine what Egayne would have said at a time like this. Forever isn’t so long. It’s a blink in the scope of things.
Ah, Egayne. The world was a better place with you in it.
“Gnnh.” Yawnii points to a spot on the horizon. A dark cloud hangs like thick smoke in the air. No. Not a cloud. Hovering insects create a droning sound as they swarm toward us. I pull out my plasma blaster strapped to my side, eyeing its single cannon. Sure, it could take down an oversized space ogre no problem, but a swarm as big as fifty of my ships?
Maybe they’re friendly, I could imagine Egayne saying.
Lumiara removes her shield from her back, then presses the button to ignite the plasma surface.
“Get behind me,” she yells.
Yawnii and I duck behind her right before the swarm overtakes us. Black winged bodies batter my head and arms. Razor-sharp beaks tip their insectoid heads. Their overly long appendages tipped in claws scrape our skin. I huddle closer to my companions, shooting my blaster in a wide arc, catching an insect here and there.
Yellow guts explode with every hit. Lumiara screams as she holds her shield. The energy buzzes louder with every impact.
“The shield won’t hold!” she says. “I’m gonna lose it.”
“Hang on,” I yell over the deafening drone.
“I can’t!” she yells back.
The phase motor whirs from the shield. Lights dim. “Get on the ground!” she says.
We duck for cover, hitting the sand hard, but droning insects descend on us. One scratches my back, slicing me open. It feels like a sword tipped in poison, held over a fire, submerged in lava, and slathered in flesh-eating acid. The stinging sends a wave of blinding pain through my nerve endings.
Lumiara lays beside me. Blood streams from cuts in her cheeks and forehead. Her eyes are wide and riddled with pain, and her jaw is locked in fierce determination, as if she knows she’s dying soon, and she’s ready to meet whatever God is waiting for her.
I reach out and grab Lumiara’s hand—her bones thin and her skin shockingly cold. If this is how we’ll die, then we’ll do it together.
She pushes me away.
“Too soon?” I whisper.
Her thin-lipped smile is all the answer I need. Yep. Too soon.
Another insect opens a gash down my shoulder blade. Another hits Lumiara. Fresh blood spills from her neck. We won’t survive much longer.
Yawnii roars, then throws his humongous body on top of Lumiara and me. His furry mass shields us from the insects. All I can think of is how good it feels not be getting sliced in half, and how horrible it must feel for Yawnii.
After what seems like a millennium, the swarm scatters. Shiny black bodies disappear over the swells of sand. I’m left with ringing in my ears and stings and cuts that seep venom into my blood.
Yawnii, breathing heavily, crawls aside.
“Yowwul,” he moans, sitting up, and we move to sit beside him.
“Poor thing,” Lumiara says, her hand reached for his big shoulder. He wipes a paw across his nose.
“Where does it hurt most?” I ask, and he points behind him. I move to inspect his back, and I try my best not to overreact to the insectoids sticking out like arrows from a target. They’re still wriggling.
“Just brace yourself, all right, Buddy? I’m gonna pull these out.”
“I know it will hurt, but they’ve got to come out.”
I grasp the still wiggling bodies and yank until they come out with a sickening slurping sounds.
“Unn…” he groans.
“You did great.” Lumiara says, patting his head, and he nuzzles into her hand. I toss the insectoids aside, my wounded back protesting with the movement. One of the creatures buzzes once, twice, then lays still, its exoskeleton shiny under the piercing gaze of the too-hut sun.
“What next?” I ask. “Our spaceship crashed, we’ve been attacked by giant ants, lost a member of our crew, and nearly got annihilated by flying missiles with swords for beaks.”
“I wouldn’t ask that question….” Lumiara starts.
(What’s next? Easy. Give us more internal conflicts, better characterizations, better everything! Give me some reason to love these cardboard characters. And cut to the chase, please. Let’s get to the cave already and find that sphere. Where’s the pacing in this story? It exists, right? Remind us of the stakes and why we care!)
“Let’s get to the cave.” Sighing, I struggle to get to my feet, then help Lumiara and Yawnii do the same. We’re all worse for wear, but somehow, we manage to keep moving forward. As we trudge through the sand, my thoughts turn to my final moments with my father. We were stranded on Galleon Dreadnaught with Slape Underbeetle. No one else survived the interstellar radiation but the three of us.
Slape had just driven his ancillary axe through Dad’s chest. I knelt on the floor by my father, holding his hand.
“Don’t remember me this way,” he pleaded, then his head fell to the side, and his hand slid from mine.
Those were his last words. Not I love you, or Goodbye, I’ll see you on the other side or Keep me in your heart. Just “Don’t remember me this way.”
But I’d failed. Because all I could remember were my last moments with him. The blood and the smirk of the man who had just murdered my father as he stood over us holding his axe, his face smug. Pride in his victory.
“You failed him,” Slape said. “You allowed me to kill your own father.”
And I could do nothing but agree.
Shaking my head, I continue through the endless desert expanse, gritty particles of sand sticking to the dried blood on my face. I wouldn’t waste the tears to wash it away.
The sun hangs over the horizon when we approach the cave. A gust of cold air blasts from the giant maw leading into the bowels of this cursed planet. Fighting the creatures on the topside was bad. Encountering whatever lay in its underbelly is enough to make me hide under a rock and die here. But I have a job to do, a sphere to steal, a girl to catch, an evil overlord to murder, and a father to avenge. Yeah, I have no time for hiding under rocks.
“We’re sure it’s in here?” I ask Lumiara.
She glances at her map. “Positive. That energy signature can’t be coming from anywhere else.”
“Good. Once we steal this thing, I’m retiring. Vacationing on Iiawah for the rest of my life. Living the high life.”
“Iiawah?” She eyes me. “Spending time on a beach and drinking fruity cocktails forever? No thanks.”
We enter the cave. “Well, what are your plans?” I ask her.
She shrugs. “Once we sell this thing, we can literally do anything we want. Go anywhere we want. Be whoever we wish.”
“Which is…?” I ask.
“I’m going home,” she says. “Underbeetle took my father. After we avenge him, I’m going home to be with my family—the ones who are left anyway.”
“Guunh,” Yawnii growls.
“I know,” I say. “He killed all our fathers. We all want him dead.”
Yawnii clenches his paws. “Gunnh,” he repeats more forcefully, and I couldn’t agree more.
“Why did he kill everyone’s fathers to begin with?” Lumiara asks.
“Simple,” I answer. “He hated his own dad, so he wanted everyone else’s father to die, too.”
(Really? That’s it? Talk about cookie cutter villain, here. Dig deeper. What made him hate his father? What emotional trauma did this result in? And how in the great galaxy did he go about destroying everyone’s daddies?)
“Okay…” I hedge. “Well, his own father was abusive. Mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, hermetically, apoplectically, and basically all the -ly’s you can think of. Really messed the kid up, you know? So bad that when he grew up, all Underbeetle wanted to do was kill his dad. But he figured if his own dad was bad, then everyone else’s must have been just as bad, too. That’s why he sought out the seven wishing stones of Wishful Thinking, and he used them to grant his one desire—kill all the dads.”
(Info dump alert! Info dump alert! Someone call the landfill because we’ve got a giant pile of crap to ditch from this dialogue. You’ve heard of show don’t tell, right? SHOW DON’T TELL?!) Are you an amateur? What’s going here? You are an author, aren’t you? Get us back to the story already!)
Our footsteps echo through the domed cavern, eerie in the stillness. The beams of our lights cut like razors through the inkiness. Water drips somewhere in the distance. We don’t talk. Something about this place sends a chill down my spine that I can’t shake.
Our lights flicker, then Lumiara’s blinks out.
“Ruination,” Lumiara mutters, tapping the device with her palm.
My light goes off as well, leaving us blind. “This isn’t good.”
“What made them die like that?” Lumiara asks.
“Don’t know.” My voice bounces around the empty cavern. “My bet is there’s something in this cave draining their energy.”
“The Dyson?” Lumiara suggests.
“Possibly.” I rub the sore muscles in my neck. Everything still hurts—my back, my head, my sprained ankle, but I won’t take time to nurse my wounds, not when we’d come so close.
“What do we do now?” Lumiara asks. “If there’s a cliff or drop-off somewhere, we’ll never see it coming. Plus, who knows what kind of creatures live down here. We could be ambushed and killed. Walking through here blind is a death sentence.”
“Gugg,” Yawnii gurgles.
“That’s right,” I say, snapping my finger. “He can see in the dark.”
I feel around for him when my fingers bump into his paw. He takes my hand, his fur swallowing my fist, then I reach out and fumble for Lumiara.
“Give me your hand,” I tell her.
“Just give me your hand. I’m holding onto Yawnii. You’ll hold onto me. It’s the only way to make it through here.”
“Ha ha,” she says drily. “This is an awful come-on, by the way.”
“It’s not a come-on.” Okay, maybe it was, just a little.
Her fingers brush mine, and the softness of her skin encircles my hand. In that moment, my thoughts turn to every secretive smile she’s given me, to the way she looks with concern at me when we’re in danger, to the sound of her voice when I know she’s let her guard down. In that same moment, with the soft touch of her hand in mine, I know I want to marry her.
Maybe it seems irrational to think a thing like that at a time like this. But I know what I want from my life now. I don’t want to go live Iiawah and sip on fruity drinks watching the sunset. Honestly, a man can only take so many syrupy liquids, and sunsets on the beach give me a headache after a while. Nope. I wanted to go back home with Lumiara—wherever she’ from—marry her and settle down. Have a family of my own. Kids of my own.
Sure, Underbeetle killed all the dads, but he wouldn’t kill me, and I’d be the best dad the guardaxy has ever seen. Also, probably the only dad.
But maybe I was getting a little ahead of myself. After all, Lumiara had a say in the matter—a pretty big one—and who knew if she’d ever accept me as her soulmate. I was some trash pirate from a no-name homeworld. Hardly the kind of guy a woman like her would want.
Oh well, I’d have time to ponder it later, when we weren’t in a cave full of dangers ready to kill us at a moment’s notice.
As we walk, my eyes start to adjust to the dimness. That—or there must be light coming from somewhere. Shapes of rocks look lighter against a black backdrop. The trickling water gets louder. I don’t know how much time has passed. Could be hours by the time I realize there’s something blue glowing ahead.
We walk into a chamber where thousands of aquamarine-colored crystals shimmer from the walls and floors. Floating lights bob around the formations. I inspect one up close and see it’s a tiny glowing insect with long antennae and lacy wings that shimmer in a myriad of prismatic colors.
Lumiara holds out her hand, and one lands on her finger. “They’re beautiful.” The tiny insect lights up her face, highlighting her cheekbones and full lips, as its wings flutter.
Yawnii lets out a longsuffering sigh. I turn to him and find him covered in hundreds of the things. He looks like a giant lightbulb.
Lumiara giggles. “They must have a thing for fur.”
“I doubt they’re ever seen fur before. Not on this planet.”
He shakes his arms, and they take off, flitting through the cavern to land on the crystals.
We continue down a path winding through towering formations. Some are twice the height of Yawnii. Others are as small as mushrooms. Crushed crystals lay like sand covering the ground, creating a glowing path.
We enter another chamber where a stream cuts a crevice into the ground. Following the stream, we take a path down to set of roughly hewn steps.
Damp mist cools the air and tiny droplets stick to my skin. The crystals are less evenly spaced here, and it’s getting harder to see. I slip on a wet rock but catch myself before falling, and we continue down until we reach a massive chamber.
Cascading water tumbles from a cliff hundreds of feet overhead to spill into a deep turquoise lake. An island juts from the water’s surface just beyond the falls. Through the curtain of water, I spy a glowing sphere with a handle protruding from its top.
“The Dyson’s sphere vacuum,” Lumiara mutters with awe.
“Yeah,” I say. “Can’t believe we made it.”
“Urunngh…” Yawnii says.
“I agree. And we’re alive. Well… most of us, anyway. Poor Egayne.”
“Gurrn,” Yawnii says, sniffling. I pull out my blaster, not sure what kind of snares lie in wait. No one has ever successfully stolen the sphere, so getting that thing out of here won’t be easy, if it’s even possible. But I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. I may be a low-down dirty pirate, but I’m not stupid. I always come prepared.
“Stay close,” I mouth to the others as I step toward the pool. A path lined in crystal sand leads around the water’s edge and winds behind the falls, where a narrow stone bridge connects the island to the shore. I step lightly, keeping an eye on my footing, wary of traps.
We make it to the bridge, and I go first. The roar of the waterfall drowns out the sound of my footsteps. Lumiara follows behind me, and Yawnii shuffles his big frame behind her. The closer we get to the sphere, the more I get a better look at it.
It’s bigger than I thought—about the height of Lumiara. It’s also hovering over the ground and casting the whole island in a bluish glow. When I finally step on the island, a bolt of lightning shoots from the sphere and zaps the ground near my fight. A warning shot.
“Don’t get too close to it,” I yell to the others as they also step onto the island. Bands of lightning wrap the sphere. The air smells of ozone. Mist from the waterfall creates a damp coating on the rocky ground.
“How are we supposed to do this?” Lumiara yells over the noise.
“Urrug,” Yawnii growls.
I eye him. “I don’t think brute force should be our first choice, Buddy. Even you have your limits. Let’s put that at a solid Plan D.”
“Then what’s our Plan A?” Lumiara asks.
I shrug, then pull out my blaster. “Shoot it?”
She rolls her eyes. “Why is shooting always the solution to everything?”
“Because it works.”
“Most of the time,” I add.
“Fine. Shoot it.” She motions to it. “See what happens.”
I eye my blaster’s settings. A regular phase bolt would do nothing, but what about a freeze blast? If I froze the thing, maybe it wouldn’t shoot lighting at us. Worth a shot, anyway. (Ha. I’m dying with laughter over here.)
I aim the barrel at the sphere. Dead center. If I miss this shot, then I die in shameful disgrace, because no self-respecting pirate would miss a shot like that and live to tell about it.
Lining up my sight, I squeeze the trigger.
And I miss.
The bolt neared the sphere, then bounced off before it hit the surface. It hits the ceiling instead.
That could have gone better.
I clear my throat. “Let’s agree not to talk about this to anyone, shall we?”
Lumiara frowns. “How are we supposed to get to it?”
I rub my neck. “Good question. It must be surrounded in some kind of energy shield.”
“Urrung,” Yawnii growls.
“Still a solid plan D, Buddy,” I answer, then I eye my pistol’s settings. Ice did no good, but what about an electrical charge? Something so strong, it would overpower its systems?
“I’m gonna try something here, but you two will need to stand back.”
“What are you doing?” Lumiara asks.
“Testing a theory.” I spin the dial to the electrical icon, then crank it up to ten. I’ve never used this setting before, probably because I didn’t want to get myself killed. But now is no time for being timid. I came here for that sphere, and I won’t leave until I get it.
My weapon buzzes as the energy charges. I wait for the lights to turn blue, then I aim for the sphere and pull the trigger.
A deafening boom fills the cavern. Sparks fly everywhere. I hit the floor and crouch beside my friends. We hold our hands over our heads as bolts of lightning shoot from the sphere and hit the room in every direction. Energy buzzes around us. The light is so blinding, I close my eyes, but even then, the afterglow burns my retinas. Searing heat blasts from the sphere. Shattering booms through the air. Glass shards rain down around us.
When the storm finally dies down, I sit up and inspect the damage. Nothing remains but a pile of broken glass.
“You destroyed it,” Lumiara says.
I shake the glass off my arms, then brush the pieces out of my hair. “Yeah…about that…”
“Urguun,” Yawnii growls.
I sigh. “Fine. Maybe you’re right. I’ll listen to you next time. Assuming there is a next time, which doesn’t seem likely.”
Rubbing at the tension knot in my neck, I do my best to think through our situation. Something nags me. Why did the sphere explode so easily? Sure, my weapon can produce a powerful blast, but something as formidable as the sphere shouldn’t have been taken down so easily. It doesn’t add up.
Unless that wasn’t the real sphere to begin with.
“Wait.” Lumiara stands up. “What’s that?”
I climb to my feet, then follow her to the debris pile. Amongst the glass shards, I spot a glowing blue ball, a quarter the size of the original. I kneel beside it and carefully pick it up.
“The Dyson sphere,” I say with awe in my voice. “The real one.”
She kneels beside me. “We found it. Finally.”
“Not so fast.” An eerily familiar voice comes from behind us. We spin around to face none other than my nemesis himself. Destroyer of ten thousand planets, and murderer of all our dads.
He’s got Yawnii by the arm, and he’s pointing a phaser rifle at my friend’s head.
“Underbeetle,” I growl under my breath. “Should’ve expected you.”
(This dialogue has a word for it. Let me think of it… Ah, yes. Cliché! Can we get any more stereotypical? If I had a nickel for every bad guy who says not so fast…)
“Not so fast,” Underbeetle repeats. “That sphere belongs to me.” Something about this guy is so completely unnatural, a shiver runs down my spine. His fibrous skin, beetle-black eyes, and lack of lips reminds me of a corpse. He wears a dark green robe with a cowl. Despite his corpselike face, his frame is beefed up and molded with leather armor. Claws tip his fingers, and madness lights his eyes. I have no doubt he’ll pull the trigger on that gun if I don’t cooperate.
“Have you been following us?” Lumiara demands.
Underbeetle shrugs. “Seemed like a good idea. No self-respecting evil overlord would pass on the chance to steal the sphere. Yes, I followed you here. Let you do the work for me. You have to admit, it’s a brilliant plan.”
“Brilliant,” I laugh. “I wouldn’t use those words. More like moronic.”
He frowns. “Why would you say that? Stealing from a pirate? It seems nearly poetic—especially as I’m thieving from a person who’s so weak, he cries over the death of his father. Pathetic.”
“Showing emotion isn’t weakness, Underbeetle. Have you ever considered not repressing yours? It could lead to a world of freedom.”
“Freedom,” he spats. “It’s overrated.”
“Because once I get this sphere, I plan to use its energy to enslave everyone. All people in the guardaxy will bow to me.”
I scratch my chin. “Sounds about right for a stereotypical villain like you.”
“I’m not stereotypical!” he yells.
“Yeah? Prove it,” I challenge.
“Taking away a person’s freedom isn’t what you think.” Underbeetle’s eyes narrow to slits. “I’m helping people. All the injustices in the guardaxy will disappear once I enslave everyone.”
“Slavery is an injustice, Slape. And a pretty big one, too.”
He locks his jaw. His eyes simmer with hatred. I get the feeling he can’t stand anyone who disagrees with him. Maybe I should do it more often.
“Give me the sphere,” he demands, then rams the pistol’s barrel into Yawnii’s neck. My friend winces. “Give it to me now.”
I hold the sphere. It seems to weigh heavier in my hands, and it pulses with an intensity that warms my skin. Weighing my options, I realize Slape is already making good on promises. He’s taking my choices away from me. If I don’t give him the sphere, he kills Yawnii. How could I ever live with myself knowing he killed my best friend and my father?
With a sigh, I take a step toward him.
Yawnii’s wide blue eyes bore into mine. I give a single nod at our unspoken communication. It’s a risky plan, but we have no other choice.
I hold the sphere out for Slape. He reaches for it, hesitates for second, as if he thinks I might trick him, then he grabs it from me. Its blue light glows around his hands and illuminates his face. His wicked smile reveals his pointed teeth. Sparks buzz from the sphere. As he looks at us, pure power radiates from him. His eyes glow the same hue of blue as the sphere.
“Now,” he says, his voice unnaturally hollow and rasping. “I take everyone as my own.”
Wind creates a tunnel around him. The howling drowns out all other sounds.
He holds up the sphere. And lowers his pistol.
“Plan D,” I mouth to Yawnii.
He smiles. It’s an evil grin full of violence. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s never piss off a Zusorian.
He grabs the overlord and swings him around his head. If this moment had a soundtrack, we would definitely be jamming to Thunderstruck by AC/DC.
(Whoa, whoa, whoa! Back up there, Einstein. You’ve just used an anachronism. Let me guess? Don’t know what an anachronism is? You’d better look it up because you clearly need some education.)
Still jamming, because only one song works in this moment, and one song only, and no nagging by a certain Editor will stop us from rocking out.
Anyway, as we’re rocking, Yawnii gets a little excited, grabs the overlord’s arms, and he rips them off.
Like I said. Never piss off a… well, you get the point.
Yawnii looks with confusion at the arms for a moment, as if he isn’t sure what just happened. But then he shakes his head and smiles. He holds up the arm gripping the sphere—and he plucks the blue orb out of the frozen hand.
Armless Underbeetle writhes and screams on the floor. Blood squirts from his stumps.
Yawnii looks at me with a grin full of pride. “Yurrungunnnhh!” he boasts, holding up the arm like a trophy.
“Yes. You did a great job,” I answer.
Lumiara approaches us, careful to step around the man bleeding out on the floor. “Why didn’t we do that years ago?” she asked.
“Good question,” I answer. “Should’ve let the Zusonian loose on Underbeetle a long time ago.”
“Guu,” Yawnii agrees.
“Let’s get out of here,” Lumiara says, her eyes darting around the cavern.
“No!” Underbeetle screams from the floor. “You can’t leave me here!”
I’m about to tell him how he deserves it—how he killed all those dads and wanted to enslave everyone, and how no one who does crap like that should have any mercy shown on them, when something weird happens.
His body goes still, and his eyes roll to the back of his head. Then he starts twitching.
“What’s wrong with him?” Lumiara asks.
“Don’t know,” I answer.
A shiny, brown-colored spike pokes from his arm stump. Then another spike peeks from the other.
Lumiara and I trade glances. The spikes grow longer, and two more protrude from each of his arm stumps.
“What in the…” I start when the Overlord’s chest bursts open. A giant cockroach wiggles free from the ribcage.
When I say cockroach, I’m only half accurate. It’s twice the height of Yawnii, and it stands on two legs. Its carapace is covered in spikes, and a set of wicked sharp pincers protrudes from the roach’s mouth.
No way. No friggin’ way. The overlord is a cockroach? Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. He could have also turned into a giant donkey, and I would have been unequally unsurprised.
The cockroach wriggles its antennae. Beady black eyes focus on us. It lunges for Yawnii. The giant wolf slams his fists on the oversized bug’s chest plates, but his paws bounce off. The roach snaps at Yawnii, and my friend jumps back, narrowly escaping getting cut in half.
“Time for Plan F,” I say. “No… E?”
“Time to run,” Lumiara yells.
We start across the bridge, Yawnii holding the sphere, when the cavern starts violently shaking. Seams open in the stone above us. Pieces of broken rock rain down around us. A crack runs through the bridge, then it collapses. We plunge into the churning water.
Icy wetness engulfs me. Yawnii gurgles beside me, his eyes wide with fear.
“He can’t swim,” I yell to Lumiara, who’s doing her best to keep her head above the surface.
The roach scrambles on the rocky ground, snapping his pincers at us. A massive seam opens above, and the entire ceiling collapses. Darkness engulfs us as we plunge under the water.
My lungs scream for air, and I claw for the surface. But I have no idea which direction to go. I could be swimming toward the bottom for all I know, and with the cavern collapsing, who even knows where the top and bottom are at?
This is it, I think. This is the end. I’m dead.
A tidal wave engulfs me and spits me out onto the sand. Coughing and sputtering, I shield my eyes against the sunlight. Somehow, we’ve made it outside the cave, and the warm sand feels heavenly under my shivering body. Gasping for air, I sit up onto my hands and knees.
Yawnii and Lumiara lay beside me. They’re both coughing, which is a good sign. They’re alive.
After a few deep breaths, I take stock of our situation.
“Yawnii, Lumiara,” I gasp. “You two okay?”
“Unk.” My friend’s fur is so soaked, it’s matted to his face, and I can’t even see his eyes.
“I’m okay,” Lumiara answers. “Where’s the sphere?”
After pushing his fur away from his face, Yawnii sits up, then holds up the glowing blue orb.
“Hey!” I laugh. “I knew you’d pull through. Nice work back there, by the way. Pulling off the overlord’s arms? That was amazing. Really inspiring. Totally worth stealing the sphere to see that.”
“Not sure I would agree with those words exactly,” Lumaira says. “But you did good, Yawnii.”
“Oorungugh.” He smiles.
We climb to our feet. The sun is just above the horizon, meaning we must have spent all night in that cave. Everything aches, and making any movement sends needles shooting through my nerve endings.
I’m alive, I remind myself. “Let’s go,” I say.
“Go where?” Lumiara asks, standing beside me. “Our ship is wrecked beyond repair. Jefferthor, if you haven’t noticed, we’re stranded here.”
“Yes, but we’ve got that.” I point to the sphere. “We’ll use the Dyson to repair our ship, then get the heck off this planet.”
“Oomala,” Yawnii says with a shake of his head. “Olunguh.”
“What?” I demand. “No one told me anything about charging it for thirty-six hours.”
“Well, what do you expect?” Lumiara says. “Underbeetle used up all its power.”
“Ugh.” I rub my forehead. “Fine. I guess we’ll have to make camp somewhere and wait for the thing to recharge.” I look out over swells of sand stretching to the horizon. It looks barren, but I know we’re not alone out here. We’ll be lucky to survive three hours, let alone thirty-six.
Just as we start across the desert, the sand shifts in front of us. A sinkhole forms, and sand rushes to the bottom. We start to slip into the hole. I grab for Yawnii’s paw, and we attempt to climb free when a giant cockroach emerges from the pit.
The creature lands inches from where we stand.
“I thought he was dead!” Lumiara shouts.
“Guess not,” I answer.
I pull out my blaster as the creature charges, but I’m not fast enough, and the roach knocks me to the ground. I lose my blaster in the sand somewhere, and I shield my head as the pinchers snap at my face. A furry white mass knocks the roach aside, and I barely scramble free.
Yawnii slams his fist into the roach, but the oversized insect punches my friend in the head and knocks him backward. Buzzing comes from Lumiara’s shield as she stands beside me.
“Watch out,” she yells as the once Overlord charges us. His body smashes into Lumiara’s shield. We fall back onto the sand. Knifelike pinchers bite at us. Nothing but Lumiara’s shield keeps him from severing us in half.
The pinchers tear through Lumiara’s shield. The giant bug grabs the shield and tosses it aside like a piece of garbage.
Frantically, my heart pounding, I search for my blaster, but I see only my friend lying still in the sand, and my girl peering up at the cockroach with fear in her eyes.
Not that I’m a dramatic kind of guy, but I don’t see how we’re getting out of this one. I can’t think of a more humiliating way to die—at the hands of a cockroach who murdered my dad—but at least I’ll die alongside my friends.
The roach lunges for us, so close I can see the tiny hairs on its antennae.
This is really it, I think for the second time today. There’s no surviving this. I’m going to die.
At least I’ll get to see Dad again.
Just as the pinchers near me, a laser blast comes out of nowhere.
The beam severs the roach in half. Yellow guts splatter everywhere. The two pieces of the body fall to the ground with a wet thud.
A spaceship flies low overhead. No—not a spaceship. My spaceship. The Razorstripe.
“How in the ever-loving guardaxy…” I begin when the ship hovers over us, and the rear hatch opens.
Egayne walks onto the open hatchway, and a giant ant crawls beside him.
“Hullooo,” he calls, waving vigorously. “I thought you might be in need of my assistance.”
“Egayne,” Lumiara calls. “How?” is her only question.
“The ants didn’t kill me,” he explains. “I negotiated for my life, and they were so charmed by my good humor, they decided to let me live. Then—can you believe it? They helped me repair the ship!” The vessel flies lower, circles us once, then lands gracefully on the desert ground beside us.
The ant clicks at Egayne, and the monk nods.
“Come inside quickly,” he says. “The ants tell me the wasps are about to start swarming.”
Wasps? Lovely. This world sinks to the bottom three of places I’ll never visit again. It’s right there along with the snake-infested planet and llama world. (They spit. Don’t judge me.)
My head is spinning. I’m supposed to be dead! But I’m alive, and I can’t make sense of how it all happened. I’m also too exhausted to argue.
Yawnii climbs to his feet, although he’s rubbing an enormous lump on his head. I go to him and wrap my arm around him, then help him to the ship. Lumiara, Yawnii, and I trudge onto the open hatchway.
Behind us, we leave behind the corpse of the once great Overlord Slape Underbeetle, destroyer of ten thousand worlds, murderer of all our fathers, and worthless insect.
Egayne gives us all a big hug, and starts telling us about his adventure, which takes the better part of thirty minutes. I can barely pay him much attention. All I know is we’ve stolen the Dyson’s sphere, we’ve killed Underbeetle, and we’ve survived.
A week later, I’m sitting on my captain’s chair on the bridge. A purple and blue planet takes up most of the view screen. I fidget with the Dyson’s sphere, tossing it from hand to hand. I’m not sure what I was hoping for when I decided to steal the thing. Fame and fortune? Maybe. To be known around the guardaxy as the best space pirate alive? Probably. But now…those things don’t seem so important. I guess watching my friends almost die put things into perspective.
Plus, with Underbeetle dead, it’s time to rebuild. I’m ready to move on. Time to stop re-experiencing the death of my father and start living the way he would have wanted.
I’m going to settle down for once. Stop stealing and become a reputable… something. I’ll have a family, and I’ll watch my kids grow up in a world without Slape Underbeetle in it.
Of course, this all hinges on one thing. Lumiara. Will she have me? No clue. But I do know where to start.
Lumiara’s home world lies just beyond the view screen.
A new life.
A new beginning.
(Good idea. While you’re at it, go ahead and tear up this draft and start fresh. Nothing like new beginnings!)
Thank you for reading GALLEONS OF THE GUARDAXY AND OTHER COOL STUFF. This story was a blast to write, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
If you’re a writer, would you like to learn more about the editing and writing process? (I don’t know why you would after enduring Editor’s comments but keep reading anyway!)
My friend and fellow author Sabrina A. Fish and I host a yearly one-day writing conference, as well as run a Facebook group where you can ask us all questions about writing and editing. We promise we’re much nicer than the snarky Editor!
You can click the link HERE to learn more!
Or if you’re a reader, here’s some more fun books for you to enjoy!
Like the humor of GALLEONS? Check out Fairy World MD and The Not-So-Chosen One.
Like adventure? Why not try Twisted Ever After, Harleigh Sinclair, or Never Call Me Vampire?
Or if you’re into Sci-Fi, check out The 7th Lie.
My books have received numerous first place awards and praise from Kirkus, calling them a “sparkling fantasy.” You can connect with me on my website at www.tamaragrantham.com, where you can also sign up for my newsletter to get all the news on new releases, giveaways, and other cool stuff!
Live long and dream on!