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1 – He’s Dead, Jim, but there isn’t actually anyone named Jim

Our story begins at the far end of the Milky Way galaxy, on a medium-sized, backwater planet that was in no way special. It had a lot of swamps, which were just your everyday muddy swamps. It had plant and animal life such as vines and frogs, respectively. This planet was so unremarkable that it hardly seems worth starting a story with its mention, except for one thing: a ship of the space kind. A spaceship.

It wasn’t a beautiful spaceship, especially half buried in frogs and mud. It wasn’t a particularly large spaceship, either. Yet there was no other ship in its lonely existence that was just like it.

You might argue that any ship that had lived through ten wars, hundreds of battles, and the horror of children as passengers would be unique. Indeed, take any two ships off a production line, and within a work week, they will each have identifying accidental characteristics that make them unique from each other.

Well, while you’re indeed correct, you’re also missing the point completely.

The point being that this ship was a being. And being a being meant being alive, which, at this point in history, was a characteristic unique to just one ship in existence: this one.

And within it was something so valuable, the ship had been forced into hiding in a deeply humid swamp at the far edge of the galaxy.

Intlola crept out from xir hiding spot behind the neatly organized pallets of dirty Centralian laundry that filled the cargo hold of the spaceship Stargazer. 

The Centralians of Galameda 4 were infamous for the enormous quantity of laundry that they produced on a daily basis. So much laundry was generated by the Centralians of Galameda 4 that they had turned three of their moons into laundry facilities, only limited by the fact that they only had three moons. 

Having worked those facilities to capacity, they outsourced much of their laundry to Whities™, a corporation that didn’t do laundry but instead contracted out laundry gigs to economically struggling planets in need of some semi-regular income. The turnover was quite high, as is the case when the contracting company takes 75% of the earnings and there are planetary disruptions such as civil wars, riots, mass suicides, or the opening of a new Gigamart warehouse where individuals could earn pennies per hour and be part of a corporate “family”.

The Stargazer was one such transport and was delivering dirty laundry to the Hrzkelion moon of Varkovic 5. 

I know what you’re thinking. Why would anyone want to go to the Hrzkelion moon of Varkovic 5? The only thing of interest at all on the Hrzkelion moon of Varkovic 5 was the nudist beach on the western coast of South Przelmer, which is a good enough reason if you’re into that sort of thing, which Intlola was not.

Intlola was headed to the Hrzkelion moon of Varkovic 5 for one simple reason. Xe thought xe was headed to the Przkellion colony on Varkovic 4, where there was a massive space port, adventures to be had, and, hopefully, little to no laundry. Unfortunately for Intlola, the current itinerary, not to mention the cargo hold that xe was using to stowaway, was nothing but laundry as far as the eye could see.

“Attention,” a voice came over the intercom. “We have exited Centralian space and will soon be jumping to WhitiesSpace™. Please secure yourself to the nearest Whities SecureTether™ and prepare for undies flinging.”

Intlola rolled xir eyes. It had been ten Galactic Standard Years since Whities had become the majority shareholder of Hyperbole Industries, the major manufacturers of hyperspace transportation technology in the galaxy. Since then, they’d spent insane amounts of money trademarking the technology with the most ridiculous names anyone could have thought of. Xe could barely believe that the captain felt pressured to use those abominable phrases in official messages to the crew. It wasn’t as if any passengers were aboard.

“As we prepare to enter WhitiesSpace™,” the voice returned, “I’d like to take a moment to welcome our Platinum Plus Plus Mega passengers. Thank you for your patronage.”

“What?” Intlola said.

“Our flight today is scheduled for 12 umas, during which…”

“Twelve umas?! It only takes six umas to get to…”

“…voyage to the Hrzkelion moon of Varkovic 5.”

“Five…?” Intlola said, flinging xir arms up and waving them around. Xir voice bounced around the large cargo hold, the laundry absorbed its echoes. Having no echo to accentuate the point, xe screamed, “FIVE?!”

Dark purple in the face, the color of anger, Intlola grabbed at the nearest piece of clothing and began ripping. Xe ripped a shirt, then shorts, then a towel, then a few more shirts. Finally out of xir system, xe threw xirself onto the nearest pallet of clothes and sulked.

It was going to be a long flight.

Sandragon Beilwhefer pulled a lever, as it was her job to do. She pushed the lever, which was also part of her job.  She pulled the lever, then pushed it again.  With a hefty sigh, she pulled the lever, waited for a few moments before, just to change it up, she turned around so she could pull the lever the other way.

At the other end of the lever was a large barrel-shaped wall, behind which customers of all shapes, sizes, and species entered from a fancy hallway. She’d throw the lever a couple of times, each time releasing an aliquot of water onto the customer, and then they’d exit the tank.

It was a repetitive task, but one well worth it for Sandragon.

“Sandragon!” a voice called from nowhere, as in there was no one physically around who could be seen speaking to her. Luckily, she was used to this particular voice.

“Not while I’m at work,” Sandragon muttered, pulling the lever before pushing it again.

“It’s important,” the disembodied voice said. “Urgent.”

She pulled the lever and waited.

“Go on,” she said.

“I heard it.”

Push. Pull. Push. Pull. Wait.

“Uh huh,” she finally replied.

“No no no. You’re supposed to ask what I heard.”

“Do we have to play these games?” she asked. “Can’t you just tell me what’s going on?”

“There are RULES, SB,” the voice proclaimed, using the alphabetical equivalents of the letters from the Galactic Common Language.

“Don’t call me SB,” she replied with a push. “Fine. What did you hear?”

Pull. Push. Pull. Wait.

“Guess.”

“Good lords of the harvest and ladies of the hunt, if you weren’t already dead, I’d kill you.”

The voice laughed as if to say ‘Silly mortal, with your silly ideas on life and death.’

Sandragon continued to wait for a proper answer, both with the lever and for this conversation to go somewhere.

“Think on our history, of all the knowledge I’ve imparted to you,” the voice said.

“You mean those stories you tell me while I’m trying to sleep, eat, or poop?”

“Yes.”

Sandragon thought, but was distracted by the wait. She leaned down to look through the slit that the lever moved through. She pounded on the metal tank that the slit was cut into.

“Hey, in there. No marinating. Either you get blessed and get out, or you get out.”

“Oh,” the voice said. “Bad news about your patron.”

“Yeah?” Sandragon asked.

“He’s dead.”

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