A Bug's Death
"How much longer?" Rygel huffed. "I don't know how much more of this stench I can tolerate."
"Five microts less since the last time you asked! Cool your jets." John sighed with exasperation and settled back into the unyielding seat of the pod's overseer console. He checked the transport pod's sensors and was not particularly surprised to find the same thing as last time: nothing. This place was not exactly the garden spot of the Uncharteds. There were no cities glimpsed from their flight path, no comms traffic. The weather outside was not the most hospitable: dense, humid air that smelled of sulfur. The only sound to fill the frequencies was an unnerving high-pitched whine like the buzz of houseflies. He shut the comms again.
"Only! Easy for you to say. You don't have the same sensitivity to this offensive aroma."
The purr of the thronesled told him Rygel was on the move, once again headed to the canister of provisions for the day-long trip. In the interest of scientific curiosity, and also because he was developing a phenomenal case of boredom, John had begun counting the little glutton's meals. This would make number fifteen. He was beginning to understand why what they'd packed looked more like a week's worth.
"I can smell you if that's any compensation and you're plenty offensive." John muttered. The truth of the matter was inside the pod, despite the odd cargo, actually smelled better than outside the pod. He spoke louder. "'Sides… the Gangrene-dude said three arns. It's only been a little under that."
"Gaahngee…" He corrected. "No wonder the others did not trust you solely with this delicate negotiation however odd the Gaahngee emissary's request."
"Well, you know what they say, Sparky. One man's trill bat dren is another man's treasure." John shrugged.
He had to admit he had been in far crazier circumstances, that by comparison, made a field trip on a pod full of bat dren with the Amazing Stinko as his spokesman seem like a jaunt to Disney World. The barter had been strange, but hardly the opportunity to pass up. Moya was in dire need of mecurium filaments and the Gaahngee were offering a surplus of it in exchange for the one commodity of which Moya had plenty to spare: Hodian trill bat guano.
What they did with it was their business, John decided. The part that did not settle well with him was that no one on Moya could tell him just what a Gaahngee looked like. The alien race was well… alien. It was symptomatic of their flight into the Uncharted Territories thus far. The further away they traveled from the familiar, the greater the risks of the Unknown grew.
They had done their best to feel out a trap or trick. There was no sign of a Peacekeeper presence in this system. But for all this rationalization, John questioned this decision for what seemed to be the millionth time. Something just didn't feel right.
"Say, Rygel. Let's give this guy ten more microts and if he doesn't show, we bail. Whaddya say?" He winced inwardly at the cowardice beneath the nonchalance.
There was a clatter from Rygel's corner. But the Hynerian did not answer. John swiveled his head around. "Sparky?"
Rygel was stock-still in his thronesled. Had John not witnessed it he would have thought it impossible for the little slug to turn a more hideous shade of pale green. His ears were flattened in terror. His tiny frame shook. But the most remarkable thing was the huge … for better want of a word… bug sitting squarely on the space between Rygel's eyes, right on his pitiful excuse for a…
"What the hell is that on your nose?" John breathed.
Stepping cautiously, John left the bench and moved closer. His face was a war of amusement and disgust as he examined the creature. The bug was nearly as long as his thumb. The ambient lights of the chamber picked out its slender amber colored body, semi transparent and graced by baleful red spots that extended to the spider-like legs. Its abdomen narrowed in a sinister dark protrusion that could only be a deadly stinger. Two fang-like pinchers jutted out from its sightless head.
Rygel's voice in a strained petrified whisper, his lips barely moving. "How the Hezmana should I know… kill it… get it off me."
Seeming to sense their exchange, the interloper erupted in a series of clicks, fluttering its dark wings.
"Whoa!" John danced back, unnerved and secretly grateful it wasn't perched on him. "Now that's just nasty!"
"Get it off me… pleeeeease…"
"Ok. Ok. Ok." He suppressed a shudder and looked around the room for something… anything. What he'd give for a section of the Sunday paper right now…
"Ok. Just…. Don't move." He held up his hands a claming gesture and took a tentative step forward, but still without an idea just what it was he was supposed to do.
Another flutter. More adamant clicks. The pinchers minced. The stinger fenced the air in an insolent arc.
"Crichton." Rygel trembled.
"Ok." He licked his lips with apprehension. "On the count of three…"
John crouched, tensed. "One. Two-"
And dove at the unlikely hostage crisis. In one surprisingly swift motion, the bug was in hand and just as quickly dashed to the deck. Before the insect could gain flight, John crushed its loathsome body under his boot. He moved his foot away and grimaced at the pussy yellow mess that was once Rygel's captor.
"You ok?" He looked at Rygel.
"What happened to three?" Rygel blinked at him owlishly before regarding the sticky mess on the floor.
"Emissary! You killed Emissary! Why?"
John and Rygel whirled.
A trio of short stooped creatures stood in the doorway of the pod. Their malformed bodies were wrapped in dingy rags. A swarm of similar insects lingered about their oblong heads, lighting and fluttering away. Excited clicks filled the air. Sickly John realized that the insects were entering and exiting holes in their torsos. These creatures somehow existed in some sort of symbiotic relationship with these insects.
"Oh frell." Rygel moaned, speaking John's realization.
Stomach sinking, John looked down at the crushed-insect-carnage and back up at the newcomers… the Gaahngee.