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Old 02-26-2017, 09:02 PM   #51
Marlow
 
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Chapter 21

The next day they rerouted power from the construction site. The footprint of the ‘Palace of Plenty’ went dark, now little more than the skeleton of an abandoned ambition. Estelle stood patiently while the others mourned it.

They chose not to demolish the unfinished remains. It seemed fitting to have at least one monument to their existence on the planet and Estelle could sense that in the back corners of the crew’s heads they still entertained some faint, ridiculous hope they would one day return to it.

With the project closed, they moved the extra zapper from the island to the clearing outside their cheesecake habitat. Estelle liked the idea of a secondary layer of security should the perimeter fail again. To that end, she had Starling repurpose the cage that had once been dropped on her. It would enclose the command console, preventing any future accidents.

The engineering mechs were trudged back from the beach, as well. Though they weren’t built for combat, the crew briefly considered using them as emergency suits of armor. This was quickly abandoned when it became apparent that the armor couldn’t close over the drivers’ engorged bellies, but having the loaders stand stalwartly outside the habitat felt strangely comforting.

It was hard work—harder and more involved, at least, than any they’d done for some time—and took the better part of a week.

Estelle toyed with the idea of instituting some kind of diet plan, worried that Hoshi and Ayla wouldn’t fit through their escape vehicle’s airlock come spring. But she found herself so exhausted and famished after each day of labor that the idea vanished from her mind. She ate heartily with the others, filling her gut, feeling that at least this time she was justified in doing so.

“So, tomorrow,” she said between courses, stifling a belch, “I think we can take a day off. I’d say you’ve more than earned it.”

The girls nodded, chewing methodically.

“After that, we’ll need to get started on our travel plans. Spring’s still a couple months out, I understand, but the sooner we’re ready the readier we’ll be.”

Hoshi leaned back and rested her hands on her belly. “Actually, captain, I have some ideas on that.”

“Hit me.”

“You said you were thinking we should go back on foot, so as to keep the noise down and avoid attracting the squirmers’ attention.” She paused to finish chewing. “Captain, there’s no way. I’m 415 pounds. I get out of breath crossing the room…this fat ass isn’t waddling a hundred and twenty miles.”

“Mine neither,” Ayla agreed. “I’m not that far from four hundred myself. That’s a lot of cargo to carry.”

Estelle swallowed. “Well, ladies, that’s why we…” She glanced around, dreading what she had to say. “…we may have to…work on…well, we might have to think a little about lo—”

“Yeah, that’s not happening,” Hoshi interjected. “I had a better idea. Starling?”

The android emerged from the kitchen, tray in hand. A cake sat atop it, a wobbling mold in the shape of the expedition’s rover, with some added features. He set in in front of Estelle, who felt her mouth begin to water despite the throbbing fullness of her already distended stomach.

“We’ve got plenty of scrap material now,” the engineer explained, waving her bionic arm. “We can put it to better use: I can modify the rover a little, make it into a sort of mobile defense platform. Won’t be quite as roomy as before, but shouldn’t have trouble hauling four girls and…” She slapped Ayla’s gut. “…cargo.”

Estelle studied the cake. She tried to consider its defensive capabilities, but couldn’t stop wondering about its flavor. “Did you make this?” she asked Starling.

He nodded modestly, wiping his hands on his apron.

“I did the fondant,” Hester chimed.

“I might even be able to install a portable zapper,” Hoshi continued. She reached over and topped the cake off with a blueberry. “And then, when the time comes, we just roll home in style: safe, sound, and…sitting down.”

“Just how we like it,” Ayla laughed.

Hoshi nodded. “It’ll take some time, but we’ve got all winter. What do you say?”

Estelle’s stomach gurgled. “…alright. Nice work. I say…we dig in.”

She grabbed a knife to begin distributing pieces, but Starling stopped her. He visited the kitchen again and returned with more trays: there was a whole cake ready for each of them.

The next day, their day off, started much later. Late in the afternoon, Ayla wobbled over to Estelle and plopped down beside her.

“Speaking of digging,” she mused out of nowhere, “I’ve been doing some geology.”

“For once!” called Hoshi.

They were lounging around a chocolate fondue hot spring, sipping wine and watching the sun descend. Estelle had been half-dozing, nursing a belly that still felt full from a pair of lunches.

“What’s that, Ayla?” she asked, refilling her glass.

“I’ve been playing with the terrain. Trying to figure out its changes.” She stretched up and caught the chocolate-covered marshmallow Hester tossed into her mouth. “Mm. Anyway, as we’ve known, there isn’t much of a closed ecosystem here, at least as we would usually understand it. Things don’t really…interact.”

“I’m interacting with this fondue right now,” Hoshi chided.

“Ignore her. Look. The plants here don’t actually grow. The rocks aren’t formed from any recognizable geological processes. Stuff just…appears. So I’ve tried to isolate samples of some of this stuff.” She rolled over onto her side, paunch flopping out of her top. “I had a sample of Selena’s vegemite in my lab. And just like how the bog changed after she…after she passed, my sample changed, too.”

Estelle sipped at her wine. “What are you saying, Ayla?”

“The sample was in isolation. Just vegemite in a test tube. Now it’s grape jelly in a test-tube.”

“Mm, jelly,” said Hester.

“It changed on its own,” Estelle realized.

“Exactly. The molecules somehow rearranged themselves. It’s like…smart-matter, or something.”

“That is interesting.”

“Very. And I had an idea.”

Estelle gulped. Hoshi’s last big idea had led to her eating an entire cake. “Hit me.”

Ayla spread her hands. “We’re leaving in a cargo shuttle that can carry over 20,000 tonnes. I say we fill it to the brim with…well, stuff from the planet.”

“Snacks for the road?”

“More than that. If my theory is correct, if we fill that space with planetary matter, it could turn into a microcosm of the planet itself: a warehouse ready to satisfy the cravings of whoever walks into it. Think of the implications for our research!”

“Think of the implications for our waistlines!” Hoshi added.

“Think of the implications for colonial prosperity,” Estelle concluded, nodding.

“Exactly. It would be something to bring home, captain. Not just as proof that we were here, but proof of what we found and an opportunity to learn from it. It could be the key to unlocking synthesis…it could solve scarcity forever.”

The captain drained her wine and dipped her toes into the molten chocolate. “And you ladies could be heroes after all.”
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Old 03-06-2017, 07:45 PM   #52
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Chapter 22

Estelle sat staring at the empty plates before her. She tried to estimate the sheer quantity of hash browns she’d just eaten, so that she could feel appropriately ashamed, but all her foggy mind could guess was ‘all of them.’ A wet belch gurgled up from deep within her gut, which sat sheepishly atop her lap.

Hester pulled the dishes away, her breast brushing against Estelle’s head as she leaned past. “All done, eh?” the redhead lilted.

“I was done two or three plates ago. Not sure why I kept going.”

“We’re rubbing off on you,” Hester mused, rubbing her shoulders. “Welcome to the crew. Which reminds me…Hoshi says we’re all set for the initiation this morning.”

Estelle hiccupped. “Initiation? We…we’re doing that today? Stars, why did you let me eat so much breakfast?”

Hester gave her a hurt look. “Och, captain, I’d never stop a soul from eating and drinking her fill.” She snagged Estelle’s mostly untouched third mimosa and sucked it down in one go. “Any road, we do the thing clear on the other end of the valley. The walk should set your tummy right, eh?”

It didn’t.

As long as it took the corpulent crew to cross, Estelle still found herself massaging a pang in her abdomen and battling an incessant case of hiccups when the caravan halted beneath a narrow, jagged outcrop of the valley wall.

Ayla clapped her on the back. “Behold the Tower of Trials, captain.”

“Oh, nebulas. Hiccup!”

“We’ll go check on the setup. Meet us at that little waterfall when you’re ready.”

Estelle gaped up at the tower. It was a bizarre, twisting rock formation that reached upward along the wall. Platforms protruded out at oblique angles, sprawling with vegetation. Water trickled down one side in a nearly vertical stream, falling the last dozen feet into a small, bubbling pool.

Starling appeared behind her. “Captain, are you certain this is wise? The nature of this challenge seems contrary to your declared dietary principles.”

“I have to do it,” she gulped. “I need to gain their respect…build solid—hic!—arity. And, if nothing else, the girls need a morale boost if we’re going to make it through winter.”

“And you believe self-abasement is the most prudent course of action.”

“I’m gaining their trust the same way they earned each other’s.”

“Oh, it’s ‘trust’ you’re gaining, then. I see.”

She glared at him. “Why did the admiralty program you with so much snark? Look, I’m planning to go back to my declared dietary principles tomorrow. Just need to get this over with, first.” Swallowing one last hiccup, she trudged over to the others.

“Hope you’re hungry, captain,” Ayla giggled.

“Well then why was breakfast so…” She grimaced. “Erm…yes, very. Bring it on, ladies.”

Hoshi clapped her hands. Her massive rear quaked with glee. “So, we’ve all done this challenge at some point. Selena came up with it; said it would cement our unbreakable partnership as a crew.”

“I understand,” Estelle replied, with as much ceremony as she could muster. “I…accept the challenge?”

“Excellent. Doctor, please adorn the captain with the traditional sash.”

Hester bounced over and loosely wrapped a bright yellow ribbon around Estelle’s waist, fastening it in a knot right over her navel.

“You might want to tighten that,” Estelle remarked. “Feels like it’s about to fall off.”

“It’ll be tight soon enough.”

Hoshi cleared her throat. “Captain, to complete this trial, you must ascend to the zenith of this tower,” she announced, waving a pudgy hand. “Along your climb you shall encounter four molds of gelatin, each a different color and each more delicious than the last.”

“Mmm,” said Hester.

“You are to consume all four in their entirety.”

“Jealous,” said Ayla.

“Once you have reached the top and finished the final mold, you may return to us a full member of this crew.”

Estelle gulped. “Right. ‘Full’ being the operative word.” She looked around. “I’m surprised, ladies. This looks like a lot of physical activity.”

“Watching you wriggle your way up is half the fun, at least for us spectators. See, if you’re gonna get fat, you gotta learn how to use your fat.”

“But I’m not really planning to get…” She closed her eyes and turned to face the tower. “Whatever. Just show me where I start.”

Ayla pointed. “The first mold is on that platform near the waterfall. There’s a crack in the rock that will let you climb up.”

Estelle stepped forward, craning her neck up at the tower. Behind her, the other women sat down on a large danish; Hester handed out glasses and pulled the pitcher of mimosas from the rover.

The fissure in the rocks opened up wide enough to step into, though Estelle felt her lovehandles brush against either side. The moss-covered floor rose beneath her and formed a primitive set of stairs. She followed them up in a tight spiral, pushing vines from her face. The stairs brought her two dozen feet up and when she finally reached the first platform she found herself breathing heavily.

The platform stretched out next to the waterfall and overlooked the clearing she’d left below. She peered over the edge; the other girls waved up at her. Stepping back, she found a massive jello mold waiting patiently in the center of the platform.

It was orange gelatin, in the shape of a giant gumdrop. The cascade of the waterfall could be seen through its translucent form.

Estelle shook her head. “You’ve got to be kidding me, guys. This thing’s as big as I am.”

“I think you drastically underestimate how big you are,” came the reply.

She knelt down and poked it. It wobbled. “That’s like…two liters, at least.” She cupped up a handful, smelled it, and slid it into her mouth.

It was fruity; a very sweet citrus.

“Alright,” she sighed. “Gotta do it, Estelle. You need them to trust you or you’re never gonna get off this damn planet.”

She scooped up another handful and slurped it down. It was definitely tasty and smooth enough she could almost drink it; it jiggled all the way down to her stomach, which jiggled in reply.

Before she knew it, she was finished. Only a few pebbles of orange lay scattered on the platform and she was wiping her mouth. She closed her eyes and rocked with a long belch.

“Sounds like she finished the first one,” came a voice from below. Next one’s on the other side of the waterfall, captain, and up that rise.”

Estelle glanced over wearily. On the other side of the waterfall she could see another ledge, which wound up the side of the tower and out of sight.

Jumping the gap was out of the question, but a pile of treebranches reached from her platform across to the ledge. Estelle walked up and tentatively stepped a foot onto the makeshift bridge.

The branch she touched bowed sharply and she heard a series of snaps. She fell back in a panic, panting in the waterfall’s mist.

“Uh, no. That wouldn’t have supported you at your original weight,” she muttered, grabbing her gut, “much less with this on you.”

She glanced around. There were a few more branches lying around. She bundled them together, looked back at the gap, and grimaced. Then she ripped several of vines from the stairway and wound them around the bundle until she’d made a fairly rigid beam.

She leaned her construction across the gap, securing it with some rocks. Added to the existing branches, the new bridge was just supportive enough for her to lurch across and grab some foliage hanging over the other side. She tripped and plopped onto the new ledge as her bridge collapsed and splashed into the pool below.

“Nice work!” called Hoshi. “See, it took many branches being bound together to bridge the gap. Only by banding together can we support each other’s—”

Estelle stifled a burp. “Yep. Metaphors. Got it, thank you. Next one’s up this way?”

She followed the ledge around the side of the tower, out of sight of the others. It opened up into a small grotto. Sunlight filtered down through the cracks upon a block of red jello, just as large as the first.

“Hello, there,” she mused.

This one carried a warm spiciness, with a pleasant cinnamon kick. She had to eat it more slowly, letting her tongue cool and occasionally padding back for a drink from the falls. But soon it was gone and she could hear her stomach whine over the roar of the water.

She sat for a moment to let it settle. Her belly was so full of gelatin it may as well have been made of it, wobbling with much of the same consistency. She groaned, leaned her head back, and found herself staring up at the next platform.

It was another story above her, but there seemed to be no path leading up. Instead, further into the grotto, she spied the opening of a jagged tunnel that looked to head upward into the tower.

“Of course,” she sighed, getting to her feet. “Stars, it’s hard to imagine any of those girls fitting through this.” She hefted herself into the tunnel. “Or doing this much work, for that matter…uh oh.”

The tunnel had turned into a vertical climb. Two short ledges waited overheard, one a few feet above and rotated around from the other. Both narrowed the passage such that she couldn’t see her thickened waistline getting through both.

“It’s like a giant keyhole,” Estelle realized. “Alright…why couldn’t the initiation challenge just be a giant cake or something? Or maybe make out with your bunkmate and do a keg-stand, like back at the academy…”

She hoisted herself up, pushing herself along the tunnel walls with her back to the first ledge. When she’d advanced enough that the ledge pressed against the small of her back, her belly was too squished against the other side to go any further. She tried to reach her hands up to the next ledge, but without their support she found herself sliding back down.

“That academy dare’s looking more and more preferable,” she growled. “Hm. Can’t say I ever thought I’d say that. Ummpf. Ensign Caelius wasn’t too bad a kisser, either…”

Twisting around, she set her belly on the first ledge like a shelf. It gave her just enough support that she was able to shoot her hands up without falling and seize the next ledge. Over the next few minutes, by bracing her belly against the rocks, she managed to heave herself up and onto the next platform.

This proved to be a wider cavern, more sheltered and intimate than the grotto below. The cavern opened to the outside on one end, where a ladder led up and out of sight; on the other end waited a soft, inviting bed of leaves and a large green jello mold.

It was sour, but deliciously so. It pursed her lips and reached cold tendrils into her brain. She lay back on the leaf-bed and ate it slowly, appreciating every jiggling slurp. Before long she caught herself lazily rubbing her gut with her free hand.

Angry at herself for enjoying it, she slapped the last of the green jello into her mouth and hauled herself to her feet. She immediately stumbled and had to catch herself against the cavern wall—her head swam, her vision swirled, and her heavy belly threatened to pull her back to the floor.

“…the hell? That wasn’t just a giant jello mold,” she realized, finally recognizing the flavor, “that was a giant jello shot.” She pushed away from the wall, trying to find her footing. “Spiked. Maybe it’s like the academy…after all.”

She staggered to the ladder at the cavern’s mouth. “Come on, Estelle. One more. Just finish it out.” She glanced up the ladder to what looked to be the top of the tower. “So close…”

She mounted the ladder and eased herself onto the first rung. Nothing broke.

Staring forward and steadying her head, she proceeded up as carefully as possible. Her foot slipped a few times and once, halfway up, she nearly fell off to one side for no reason whatsoever, but caught herself and finished the climb.

The ladder brought her to a breezy plateau at the top of the tower. A clearing spread before her, surrounded by a ring of vine-wreathed trees.

Estelle stepped off the ladder and looked over the clearing. A huge purple jello mold, larger than the others she’d already finished, waited for her at the center.

Her swimming head betrayed her as she stood staring. She wavered on her feet, tried to catch herself, and fell backward through the trees. It was the edge of the plateau, but she was saved by an outcropping just a few feet down. She flopped face down onto the rock and sighed.

Her eyes widened. A sparkling blue jello mold sat in front of her face. “Oh,” she coughed. “Just think…if I’d kept my balance, I would have totally missed you.”

She dipped a finger in and tasted it. It was perfectly tangy.

“Wait…so don’t you make five? I thought Hoshi said four…” She screwed up her face, trying to remember. “That green stuff must have been stronger than I thought. Eh, better safe than sorry.”

As she worked her way through the blue jello, she realized that the pain at her waistline wasn’t just her overfull stomach, but the tightness of the yellow ribbon wrapped around it. She frowned down at it and resolved to force the wobbling mass down her gullet faster.

With the last swallow, the ribbon burst apart. Her gut swelled forward unchecked and the two halves of the ribbon flapped helplessly to the floor.

“Not sure if I should be proud of that,” she said with a burp, “but I do feel accomplished. Now, speaking of accomplishments…”

She seized a handful of vines and hoisted herself back onto the plateau. Her feet padded a little more steadily and her head had started to clear. The purple jello waited patiently, but Estelle froze.

Behind the mold, through a part in the ring of trees, she could see the rim of the valley. A crack in the rock wall formed one of the entrances into the valley, adorned with a pair of glowing zappers. A squirmer was pacing languidly beyond them, its membrane wobbling like the jello in Estelle’s belly.

The squirmer seemed to see her, too. It undulated closer to the valley entrance, but stopped as the zappers began to glow brighter.

“You just stay out there, now,” Estelle breathed, stepping forward. The squirmer backed away from the zappers, but continued to watch her.

She knelt down, keeping her eyes on it, and reached a hand toward the jello. The squirmer wriggled and shuddered and she heard, carried over on the breeze, its distant shriek.

“That’s right,” she hissed. “I’m gonna eat this whole thing right in front of you and there isn’t a damn thing you can do to stop me.” She scooped up a serving of jello with both hands, brought it to her face, and sucked it down.

She did so again and again, slowing as the throbbing pain in her stomach grew. Estelle had been full, if not outright stuffed, so many times since landing on the planet she’d lost count, but couldn’t remember a stewing, churning, swelling sensation like this. It was at once insufferably agonizing and irresistibly amazing.

The last lap of gelatin slid down her throat and she stood, stomach stretching grandly out. She asked the survival suit for a refit and pulled the top back down over her stretchmarked skin.

The squirmer fumed at her. Estelle raised a middle finger at it in salute, slapped her tautly-bloated belly, and loosed a belch that echoed throughout the valley. A chorus of cheers drifted up from below.

She tottered back to the cliffside, toward the sound of trickling water. She found the stream, gushing up from a nearby spring and beginning its course down the slope of the tower.

She spread her arms and dove forward, sliding down the stream’s course on her belly. It wound around the outside of the tower, twisting and curving a few times before dropping sharply. Estelle rolled over the edge of the waterfall and plunged into the pool below with a jaw-dropping splash.

Hoshi and Ayla pulled her ashore and set her against the side of the rover. She laid her hands across her gut and winced, eyes firmly shut.

Hester knelt down beside her. “Welcome back.”

“You all did that?” Estelle mumbled. “All of them?”

“Mm hmm. The green one was my favorite.”

“Shocking. Also, ow.”

The redhead petted Estelle’s hair. “You okay?”

Estelle managed to nod. “So I’m official now?”

Hoshi giggled. “Full member of the crew. With full privileges, full—”

“Oh, stop saying ‘full.’ Please…” Her head lolled back and she lurched with another long belch. “Tell the bio-pak to engage pregnancy protocols…’cause I’ve got a food baby.”
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Old 03-08-2017, 09:53 AM   #53
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Excellent addition, colourful and delicious. I fully approve!
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Old 03-20-2017, 11:09 AM   #54
Marlow
 
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Chapter 23

A deep belch echoed off the walls of the valley, followed by a duet of giggling.

It was well after midnight on one of the planet’s rare cloudless nights. The unfiltered starlight, joined by a couple of moons, lit the valley in a pale blue light. The breeze had faded to a lazy calm; the woods would have been perfectly silent if not for the uneven footfalls and uninhibited voices of two giddy, staggering women.

Estelle and Hester wove their way up the valley, giving the camp and their slumbering crewmates a respectful berth. The pair were heavily glutted and heavily inebriated, making the journey a slow and meandering affair.

They’d sneaked out after dessert, while Hoshi and Ayla had drifted into food comas and Starling had tackled the mountain of dishes. Estelle had wanted a relaxing bath in the northern pool, but Hester had talked her into a quick pit-stop at her favorite beer fountain.

The pit-stop had of course proven anything but quick and Estelle now worried they wouldn’t make it to the pool before collapsing.

“Holy nebulas,” she slurred, tripping over a creampuff. “Hester, you said we’d juss…have a couple.”

Hester helped her up and wrapped an arm around her pudgy waist. “We had a couple. Hiccup! And then a couple more. And then a couple couples more…” Her freckled beer belly sloshed audibly as they stumbled on. The redhead had sucked down an impressive amount, even by her thirsty standards. “Look, we did a lot of—hic!—hard work this week. Plenty of stress. Thought getting a little tipsy would—hulp!—would help you unwind.”

“I was tipsy enough after dinner. Now I’m…I don’ even know. What comes after drunk?”

“Me!” Hester cheered.

Estelle sighed. “I just wanted to relax in the pool and gut my stuff…hm…stuff my gut full of car…caramel.”

“Captain! First off, you know ‘enough’ is a bad word on this planet. Hic-urrp…though I am thrilled to hear you’re taking the init—hic!—initiative on stuffing your gut.” She leered over and patted Estelle’s belly, which had bounced free from her top.

“I can indulge a little…now an’ then. Maybe you’re wearing off on me…” She blew a raspberry. “Or maybe I’m just drunk enough to be inna mood for dumb decisions.”

Hester stroked her hair. “Those are my fav—hip!—favorite kind of decisions. And lookie, here we are!”

They’d staggered into the clearing around the pool. A mixed aroma of herbs and fragrances drifted down from the trees overhead.

“Thank the stars,” Estelle panted, steadying herself on a large chocolate-covered boulder. “I’m getting too heavy for those long walks.”

Hester wiggled up beside her. “Is that right? Let’s—hulp!—let’s check.” She grinned her impish grin and tapped Estelle’s bio-pak.

“199 pounds,” it reported.

Estelle belched. “Holy…nebulas. Almost…sixty pounds in six weeks.”

“You’re so close!” Hester gasped, hugging Estelle’s midsection. “I bet we can get you a couple more pounds tonight…right here. Hiccup!”

Estelle gently extracted herself from the redhead’s arms. “I don’t really need to…oh, but caramel.” She shook her head and began tugging at her suit. “Nn. Wanna…wanna go for a dip first.”

She peeled off her suit top, letting her gut plop out. Glowing in the pale starlight, it seemed as though a third, much softer moon had appeared in the night. Estelle shoved her waistband down, tripped, and collapsed onto her plush backside.

“Ugh, help me with these?” she moaned, flopping onto her side.

Hester knelt down unsteadily, placing a pudgy hand on Estelle’s belly for support. “It would be my—hic!—my pleasure, captain.”

It required a long, grunting scuffle, but at length Estelle’s long, soft legs stretched naked under the stars. She sat up with her back against a boulder, catching her breath and waiting for her head to stop swirling. Her glazed eyes watched with fascination as Hester staggered to her feet and struggled to remove her own garments.

Freed from her constricting top, Hester’s breasts flopped nearly to her navel, broad and low but immensely round. Her beer belly—and it was certainly that tonight—pushed them forward such that they became the inescapable forefront of her person. They jiggled and banged against one another as she bent to pull off the bottom of her suit.

Once she had tossed her clothing aside, the weight of her huge bosom seemed to pull her forward further and further until she fell, giggling mischievously, onto Estelle’s lap.

Estelle winced and groaned. “Wasn’t ready for that, Hess.”

Hester gave her lap an apologetic pat. “Hey, ‘ssnot like you don’t have some—hulp!—plenty of padding.” She got to her knees and eyed Estelle.

“Yeah…” Estelle looked down with a frown. She ran a hand over her bulging stomach, lifted it up, and watched it bounce back down. “I’m getting fat. I tried so hard not to, but this belly keeps exp…ex…keeps getting bigger. Urrp.”

“Quit acting like it’s a bad thing. Hip! And quit acting like you don’t like it. Like you don’t like what this great place’s giving you.” The redhead smirked and grabbed her hand. “Dance with me.”

Estelle shook her head. “Dance? Way too drunk, Hess. Would just stumble around an’ fall over again…”

“Then stumble around and—hic!—and fall over with me.” She tugged again and provided enough counterweight to get Estelle back to her feet.

Estelle had expected the frenetic, drunken frolicking Hester usually called dancing, but instead Hester pulled her close and tucked her head into Estelle’s neck. Estelle flushed as the enormity of Hester’s breasts squished against her bloated abdomen. She felt herself begin to warm as they swayed together.

The weaving dance carried them to the edge of the pool. Estelle closed her eyes and allowed the dance to take her knee-deep into the cool, sparkling water. Her hazy thoughts drifted manifestly toward pleasure.

Her besotted sense of balance betrayed her, though, and they soon fell again. Estelle found herself on her backside, Hester straddling her, bosom filling her vision.

“I think you’re—hic!—think you’re right,” Hester lilted. “This planet hears our cravings. It knows what we want…what we—hulp!—long for…whatever’s most delicious to us.” She reached down and placed Estelle’s hand onto her massive breast.

Breath coming shakily, Estelle squeezed. She circled her thumb over Hester’s nipple and watched the redhead shudder. She brought up her other hand and pressed both breasts together, up and around, in a deep, massaging caress.

Hester bit her lip. She opened her mouth to reply, but only moaned and hiccupped.

Estelle arched her back, pressing her gut against Hester’s. “Then…maybe you’re right. I should stop fighting my cravings…” She leaned forward and kissed Hester’s chest. “This place is a gift.”

Hester kissed the top of her head, lifted Estelle’s chin, and locked her lips with hers. They pulled each other closer in the water.

“Last time we came here,” Hester murmured between kisses, “you asked me about back—hic!—back home. But I didn’t think to ask about you.”

“Ask me about…urrp…ask what ‘bout me?”

“Did you leave anything behind?” Her green eyes glimmered. “Anyone?”

Estelle ran a hand over her cheek. “I had…nothing. I was…I was in prison when they sent me here.”

Hester smiled at her, twirling a finger through her hair. Her bosom bounced with another hiccup. “Well…now you’re free.”


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Old 03-27-2017, 08:03 PM   #55
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Chapter 24

Back on the New Kansas colony, seasons had been artificially modulated by the Sunflower Dome’s climate systems. It gave a basic sense of liveliness to the swath of land humanity had carved out of the otherwise barren, atmosphereless exoplanet.

The dome’s temperature and moisture regulators allowed the warm summer months to give way to a few months of cold, snowy winter. Cycles were seen as imperative to the human psyche and the winters gave the colonists a time to cozy up by the domicile heating unit with their families and mugs of hot chocolate-substitute.

Something about the winters had always felt false, though. The temperature never got too dangerously low and the snow seemed too market-tested and pristine. When the scarcity hit and the hot chocolate disappeared, the winters lost even their artificial charm and ceased to be anything but bleak. The planet’s pale, scraggly little moon (the affectionately named ‘Chalk Rock’) would stare down on cold nights like a vulture.

Estelle’s winter on LV-237 featured very little of the things she’d been taught to associate with the season, but nonetheless proved far cozier and more genuine than any the colony had designed.

It never got to be particularly cold, at least down in their sheltered, fertile valley. Beyond the rim they could see the effects of the season—the frozen pass, grey skies, and leafless trees—but in the valley everything remained vibrant. Sometimes a chill might settle in at night, but never enough to leave frost. It was as though the ground itself carried a warmth that fought off whatever the air might bring. This was certainly welcomed by the expedition; particularly those members who had outgrown or cast off their survival suits.

Neither was there ever any snow to be seen, at least outside of an accidental powdered-sugar incident one morning (Ayla was banned from preparing breakfast for weeks after). But each morning gave the explorers something new about the planet to appreciate and each evening saw them finding new ways to entertain themselves.

And while there was no fireplace, there was never any shortage of cozying and always an overabundance of chocolate in all its forms.

It was undeniably an alien winter, but one Estelle found herself enjoying more than any prior. As someone who for so long had stopped feeling joy, whether because of circumstances or cynicism, she had trouble accepting it at first. But over time it refreshed her, revitalized her, and soon she regained her ability to appreciate, enjoy, and be thankful for things.

Each morning she could appreciate the bounty of breakfast. She enjoyed pancakes, waffles, eggs of all varieties, hash browns, doughnuts, bagels, croissants, danishes, strudel, and too many pastries to count. She enjoyed breakfasts so lavish they sent her straight back to sleep, face drizzled with jelly and butter and hazelnut spread.

She was thankful, after so many of those breakfasts, for her survival suit’s willingness to accommodate her increasingly less reluctant indulgence. “Suit,” she could sigh without shame, “refit.”

As she finished her work each day, settling in with the others, she could appreciate all the valley’s various gifts, seemingly new and different every time she looked to appease her appetite. She enjoyed platters of pasta, stacks of sandwiches, piles of pizza, streams of stew, mountains of macaroni…all swimming in a sea of sauces or drowning in cheeses, all overflowing with flavor. The valley’s offerings changed frequently: one afternoon they chanced upon a marsh full of mashed potatoes and returned the day after to a fen of fettucine al fredo. Estelle enjoyed each and every dinner she was served and enjoyed, too, the flattery of being served. She enjoyed leaning back in her chair, hands resting atop her distended abdomen, waiting for Starling to bring out the next unnecessary and excessive course.

She was thankful that, no matter how much she’d already had and no matter how much she half-heartedly protested, Starling would always have that next course ready.

“Urrp. Suit: refit.”

In the evenings and further on into the nights, she could appreciate the desserts. The whole world was sweetness: cracked-open rocks yielded caramel, ice cream awaited them in deep caverns, there were pools of pudding deep enough to swim in, a river of honey flowed through the center of their valley, the very walls of their shelter were cheese, and the very ground they trod was chocolate cake. Beer and wine issued forth from fountains, ready for any revel. Estelle forgot the concept of ‘too much’ and enjoyed the impossible experience of eyeing more than could ever be eaten and saying, ‘not enough.’

She was thankful she could do so hand in pudgy hand with a crew of equal appetites.

“Suit: re…mm…refit.”

Above all else, she could appreciate Hester, Ayla, and Hoshi. The wider each of them grew, the closer they grew to one another. The girls enjoyed every little hint of their captain’s growth: the softening of her chin, the deepening of her navel, the frequency of her snack breaks, the tired grunts as she paused for breath along her walks, and the waddle that worked its way into her now unhurried stride. For her part, she enjoyed the nights spent with them, laughing and indulging and enjoying the sunset over the valley, a tall drink in one hand and a third or fourth dessert in the other.

She could appreciate, too, the mornings after, waking slowly and hazily with her head in Hester’s bosom; or, after a while, with her head on Ayla’s broad shoulder or Hoshi’s voluminous lap. One morning Starling returned home to find all four of them slumbering in a pile of plump, naked flesh, covered in butter and syrup.

Estelle was thankful that no matter how decadent each morning, day, and night proved, there was always a bigger breakfast, bigger dinner, and bigger party waiting the next time her appetites flared. Each morning she woke hungrier than ever and each evening she slept fuller than ever, stomach throbbing and head swimming. Each day offered more and each day she not only accepted more, but yearned for more.

“Suit…hic! Oof, oh, stars and nebulas. Hm? Yeah, I’ll have another—hurk—another plate. Suit…hic-urrp. R-re…fit…refit. Mm.”

There was a pause. Nothing happened. “Unable to comply,” the little voice confessed. “Insufficient material.”
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Old 03-30-2017, 07:48 AM   #56
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Great Chapter. And Cliffhanger. She must be catching up. Can't wait to hear what her weight is after gaining every day.
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Old 04-16-2017, 05:52 PM   #57
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Chapter 25


“Estelle,” Hester whispered. “Estelle, wake up. Come on.”


Estelle moaned indistinctly, keeping her eyes squeezed shut. “Not yet, Hester. So early. So stuffed. So hungover.”

“Estelle, the sun’s out. Spring’s here. Starling says the mountain pass is open.”

“Sun?” The captain’s eyes worked their way open, confused and bleary. She had passed out slumped against the cavern wall and apparently hadn’t moved since.

Her vision was filled with Hester. The little redhead had grown considerably less little in the weeks since they’d bunkered down for the winter. As Starling had assumed so many of the serving and housekeeping duties, Hester had found her days more full of free time and her gut subsequently more full of sweets. She was nearing three hundred pounds and proudly flaunted every ounce.

The top half of Hester’s survival suit had been discarded in favor of a makeshift camisole. It was unable to do much to contain her expansive, swaying bosom and served only to provide a modicum of decency. Unsupported, her swollen breasts hung to her navel, which punctuated a belly already hanging rather low itself.

Her round, freckled face grinned uncomfortably close to Estelle’s and her equally freckled beer gut pressed against Estelle’s blanketed lap.

“The pass is open,” she repeated. “We can go home, captain.”

Estelle blinked. “What? Holy nebulas. Home…”

“Yeah. The others are outside getting things packed. Come on, get up.” She grabbed Estelle for a hug, engulfing her in a face full of breast, then bounced up and resumed bustling about the cavern.

Estelle sat staring for a minute, settling her head. It still swam a little from the night before and her stomach gurgled fitfully. At length she blew out a long breath and threw off her blanket.

Her naked belly sat atop her lap in a smooth, gently rounded mound. It had continued to take the lion’s share of her new weight, swelling out unchecked from her midsection and seemingly unwilling to share with the rest of her body. Its sides were striated with stretchmarks and embedded with creases from where she’d laid on the blanket. As she struggled to her feet her flabby stomach didn’t merely jiggle or wobble, but sloshed.

She stood swaying for a moment, absently rubbing it, and tapped her bio-pak for the first time in what had to be weeks. She’d been so wrapped up in her new lifestyle she’d all but forgotten about it. “Status update,” she grunted.

“Subject in good health,” it chirped, polite as ever. “Two hundred eighty pounds—”

“Holy nebulas,” she hissed, muting it. “Double what I was when I got here. Might…might be time to slow down.”

As she waddled across the cavern, though, she picked something off a breakfast tray and chomped it down.

At length it occurred to her that she was still naked. She popped open a footlocker and dug through the layers of canvas until she found her survival suit. She’d packed it away twenty or so pounds ago when it had stopped refitting, having found more comfort in the silky makeshift garments the other women had made.

“Should probably put you back on for the trip,” she mused, holding the suit up. “Safety first, and all.”

She’d only continued to grow since reaching the poor fabric’s limits. The top rode up, showing off the entirety of her pot belly, and she couldn’t quite get the waistline up over her butt, leaving the upper swell of each cheek exposed.

Hester smirked. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but you’re way too big for that outfit.”

“Thank you, doctor, I am aware. Can we hold off on the snide remarks until I’m a little more awake?”

“Yes, ma’am, captain tightpants.” She tossed Estelle an éclair. “Get something in your stomach; you’ll feel better.”

Estelle sighed, but pushed the pastry into her mouth and headed for the exit.

She plodded slowly up the tunnel, dragging her hand along the wall for support. Hester waddled a few paces ahead—they had widened the tunnel a few times, but it was still uncomfortable to pass side by side. It also provided a nice view of the redhead’s flat, slab-like buttocks as they wobbled to and fro, a view that kept Estelle’s attention long enough to follow her outside.

They emerged eventually into the clearing and stood blinking for a moment. The world was flooded with unusually bright, warming sunlight. The clouds had finally parted.

“I was starting to think the sun would never come out again,” Estelle said softly.

“And we were starting to think you might never come out again,” laughed Ayla, shuffling over. “Spring finally gets here and you want to sleep through it.”

Estelle cast a sidelong glance at Hester. “I had a late night.”

“Good thing you’re all rested up, then, because there’s a lot of loading up to do. And I’m a little too fat and a lot too lazy to do all that work myself.”

‘Little’ was not a word that had been applied to Ayla in some time. The geologist had grown her fair share over the winter as well, snacking and lounging her way upwards of 415 pounds. Her body had made a noble attempt to maintain her hourglass proportions despite all the excess mass, resulting in broad, gelatinous thighs, supple hips, a deliciously hefty bosom, and arms as thick as Hester’s thighs. And though Ayla’s waist had managed to avoid spreading as much as the rest of her, a thrice folded belly still sagged down from her abdomen. She’d discarded what remained of her survival suit in favor of a billowy silken dress.

Somehow, she’d remained the most active of any of them. Perhaps there was still some muscle hidden under all her flab, or perhaps she was just better at using her weight, but much of the heavy lifting, when Starling was not on hand to do it, fell to her.

There wasn’t much heavy lifting left to do, though, thanks to Hoshi. In the process of refitting the rover, the engineer had put together not only a few small cranes and lifts, but had also retrofitted a few of the construction mechs to help around the compound. She could work on upgrading the rover without having to rise from her now resplendently fat backside.

Hoshi had recently blown past 470 pounds. When she’d reached and surpassed Selena’s milestone, they’d thrown a memorial party that had lasted three straight days. Estelle didn’t remember much of it, but had herself gained almost ten more pounds by the time they’d sobered up. Honored, Hoshi’s appetite had only increased since.

Her butt, each quaggy cheek larger than Estelle’s own belly, spread out from beneath her and spilled over the edges of her workbench. She kept it somewhat covered with an increasingly insufficient sarong. The top of her survival suit had survived, if barely, serving now as little more than a halter top. Her broad stomach weighed her down and forced her to lounge back as she sat.

Estelle stretched and scratched her belly, looking around at her obese crew. “Are you sure the shuttle’s thrusters can get our fat asses to escape velocity?”

Hoshi snickered. “We don’t weigh 20,000 tonnes, captain.”

“Not quite yet, anyway,” Hester chided in her ear.

“Though if we’re really gonna bring a full cargo hold of this planet’s goods with us, I’m sure I’ll be stuffing quite a bit of those goods into my own cargo hold on the way.”

“I don’t doubt that,” Estelle muttered.

“Captain,” Starling greeted her. “I have just returned from a survey of the peaks. I can confirm that the mountain pass is indeed open. Our route back to the cargo module should be fully accessible.”

She allowed herself to smile. “Thank the stars. Alright, everyone, we have plenty of work to do before we can leave. Let’s get the rover loaded and fitted out, pack up the research equipment, and engage the shut-down protocols…”

Her stomach rumbled. She rubbed it and glanced around with a sigh.

“…right after breakfast, I mean.”
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Old 04-19-2017, 06:15 AM   #58
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Thanks for the update Fantastic job again
Can't wait to read more of this masterpiece
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Old 04-19-2017, 06:55 AM   #59
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This story just grows in magnificence and attractiveness!
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Old 04-25-2017, 06:36 PM   #60
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Chapter 26

When she had first landed and hiked across LV-237’s alien terrain, everything had seemed so vast, monolithic, and impenetrable. As she now retraced much of that journey, she found that time and familiarity had compressed the landscape a great deal. The planet seemed much smaller; its features more welcoming and accessible.

“Eh, it probably just looks smaller,” Hester teased, “because you’re so much bigger now.”

Estelle rubbed her eyes. “Quit interrupting my poignant reflections.”

“Quit wasting time on poignant reflections instead of pigging out on confections.”

The doctor was lounging back in her seat, the valley of her cleavage piled high with small candies. She popped one in her mouth, then flicked another across to Estelle.

They rode in the top cabin of a double-decked trailer, a behemoth of scrap-metal towed by the expedition’s rover. Together the vehicles trundled heavily across a plain of pancakes. Hoshi had worked wonders to make the trailer comfortable and relatively secure, but it proved a massive, unwieldy burden that slowed the overtaxed rover to a crawl.

The interior was cozy, though, and offered enough space for its parcel of pudgy passengers. A mobile generator and a pair of squirmer-zappers had been jury-rigged to the roof, so far unneeded.

The women took turns driving, keeping in contact with the trailer through a crackling intercom. Starling had offered to drive the entire journey, but Estelle had instead decided to send him ahead on foot. Given the lumbering pace of the caravan, the nimble android would have time to reach the cargo shuttle and have it flight-ready by the time they hove into view. He’d taken some convincing, but eventually dashed off with a bag of tools. They hadn’t seen him in a few days.

It was slow going indeed, but steady. The shift system allowed them to drive through the nights and once Estelle convinced the others to take their meals in the trailer, they began to make good time. Three could happily spend the shift gorging on dumplings in the trailer while the fourth, in the driver’s seat, ignored the rumblings of her stomach and scanned the horizon for any unwelcome surprises.

Occasionally one or two undulating silhouettes would appear on a distant hill, or on the far side of a river. The squirmers wouldn’t follow, but certainly seemed to be keeping an eye on the motorcade.

Hester postulated that the creatures had learned to be wary of the blue lights and were hesitant to approach a pair of moving zappers. Hoshi wondered if they were unable to detect the passengers’ organic mass—however massive they may have grown—within the enclosed metal carriage. Ayla cautioned that perhaps the squirmers were merely biding their time. Estelle could only thank the stars that nothing had happened yet.

As the days wore on, however, they began to see more and more of the creatures. The squirmers always kept their distance, but appeared more frequently, and soon in greater numbers.

During Estelle’s shift at the wheel on the sixth day, it became clear that the squirmers were massing. She saw two peeking out from behind a breadstick, another looming atop a mound of cheese, and three or four more huddled together in the hollow of a collapsed soufflé.

She tried to distract herself from them by gazing wistfully at a giant ice cream cone, but soon noticed that the glob of vanilla was in fact translucent, membranous, and squirming.

Drumming her fingers on the steering wheel, she radioed up to those in the trailer. They offered little comfort: they’d recently stopped to pick up an early dinner and had eaten themselves into a stupor.

Her shift concluded without incident, though. Once the sun disappeared she eagerly traded spots with Hoshi in the trailer and proceeded to devour lasagna until she couldn’t see straight.

Breakfast was interrupted the next morning, during Hester’s shift, by the doctor’s voice pleading for a response over the radio.

Estelle rolled over, belly flowing out onto the cushions, and grabbed the receiver. “Hester? Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” came the timid reply. “I mean, for now.”

Hoshi pushed herself up. “Why have we stopped?”

“Hester, what’s going on?”

“You might want to look outside, captain, eh?”

“It’s probably a mountain of rumcake or something,” Hoshi grumbled, wiggling over to the front viewscreen. “I’m in no position to call anyone a pig, but that girl has seriously…holy nebulas.”

“What is it?” asked Ayla.

“That’s…a lot.”

“A lot of what? Hoshi, we can’t see anything around your rump. Get—oh.”

The rover had stopped along a narrow, winding mountainside pass, sheer drop-off to one side and craggy vertical wall on the other. A little ways ahead, the pass was blocked by a seething horde of squirmers.

Estelle could make out at least a dozen of them, with shadows beyond suggesting that more were on their way. They slid around and over each other, jostling to get to the front of the pack.

Estelle jabbed at the radio. “Hester, I’m gonna suggest we back up.”

“No good, captain,” said Ayla, opening the rear viewscreen. There were more squirmers gathering in the pass behind them.

“It’s a trap!” shouted Hoshi.

“What should I do?” whimpered Hester.

“We brought the zappers for a reason,” Ayla growled. “Light ‘em up.”

Hoshi shook her head. “We’d end up lighting ourselves up. We brought those zappers to repel one or two squirmers. There are dozens out there…we’d overload the generator in seconds.”

“So just plow right through them. We’re in a tank.”

“We’re in a trailer made of scrap metal that’s slowed our ‘tank’ to walking speed. They’re more likely to shove us off the cliff than we are to shove our way past them.”

“What’s your plan, then, Hoshi?”

Hoshi sputtered.

“Fuck,” Ayla cried. “We had months to get ready for this and we wasted all that time stuffing our fat faces.”

Estelle seized the geologist’s shoulders. “And we shouldn’t regret a single bite. We are ready for this. Everyone did an amazing job putting this thing together. We’re not going down that easy.” She grimaced out the side window. “Although we may have to, you know, go a little ways down.”

“What?”

“Hester, look out to your left. Down the cliffside. You see that outcrop about, what, a hundred yeards down?”

“Uh…yeah. Up ahead a little?”

“Exactly. I saw it from the side when we were coming around the last curve.” She turned to Hoshi and Ayla. “There’s a hole in the cliff. I think it might be the mouth of a cave.”

“Might?”

“Well, at least I hope it’s the mouth of a cave. Either way, it’s a hole that’s big enough for the trailer. I think.”

Hoshi cocked an eyebrow. “You could tell that from back there, on the turn?”

She shrugged. “I’m a smuggler. Getting things through tight spots is my job.”

“Well, lucky you,” Ayla chided, patting Estelle’s gut, “because your appetite has made a lot of the galaxy’s spots much tighter for you.”

“How are you planning to get us down there, captain?” asked Hester.

“Uh…we turn left, basically.”

“Och, you know, when we put you in charge, it was under the assumption you wouldn’t ask us to drive off a cliff.”

“Do you want to vote on it? I think I know how the squirmers would vote.”

“She’s right.” Ayla agreed. “Squirmers don’t seem to like climbing.”

Hoshi frowned, but nodded. “Or falling. I think we have to try it.”

“Fine,” Hester acquiesced. “But you’re driving, captain.”

Estelle threw up her hands. “Oh, come on—”

“You’re the smuggler. Get down here and…smuggle.”

“Nebulas…fine. Open the hatch. I’m coming down.”

“Hurry. And maybe bring a few scones.”

“Hester.”

“I’m not dying on an empty stomach!”

Estelle squeezed herself through the trailer’s forward hatch. She was the only one who could fit through; the others could only get out through the main door at the back. Even so, she still nearly pulled her trousers off as she wriggled through and had to pull them back up over her butt after she plopped unceremoniously into the rover.

Hester shoved her into the driver’s seat and kissed her on the cheek. “Good luck, captain.”

“Thanks, Hester.”

“Did…did you bring the scones?”

Estelle revved the engine and accelerated. Next to her, the doctor fumbled with her seatbelt.

The squirmers hesitated, seeing the rover lurch forward, but after a moment resumed their advance and began to hurry.

Estelle clipped on her own seatbelt. She gave Hester an uncertain glance, squeezed the doctor’s freckled gut for good measure, and then wrenched the steering wheel over.

The rover veered to the left and vaulted off the edge of the pass. The trailer swung round behind it, skidding sideways, and slapped a pair of squirmers into the air as it, too, careened over the edge of the cliff.

The squirmers sailed off over the abyss. The much heavier trailer dropped straight down, wheels making improbable contact with the cliff face. It pulled the rover with it and soon they were both sliding desperately down the crags. For a fleeting moment, Estelle caught herself wondering what flavor the rocks were.

She slammed on the breaks the rover and trailer lurched, then barrel-rolled. They spun completely around twice, then crashed to a sudden, violent halt.

The caravan had landed, miraculously, on the outcrop. Its momentum carried it to the ledge and they found themselves teetering on the driver’s side wheels, moments away from tipping and falling the rest of the way to the gorge.

“Everyone to the right!” Estelle shrieked. “Lean right!”

Nearly 1500 pounds of fat human flesh shifted to the right. Estelle threw herself onto Hester while Hoshi and Ayla dove to the right side of the trailer. The passenger side hesitated, then fell. The vehicles settled flat with a crash.

Hydraulics hissed, metal creaked, and alarms rang, but the rover and trailer had stopped, upright. The rooftop zappers flickered and sparked, but still glowed. The two airborne squirmers plummeted past, screeching helplessly.

“Everybody okay?” panted Estelle.

“Think I’m alright,” Ayla mumbled over the radio. “Hoshi’s butt is fine, too.”

“Might be a little bruised,” said the engineer.

“With all that padding?”

“Hester?” asked Estelle. “Hes…oh.”

She looked down. Her belly was squashed against Hester’s face. She rolled off and the doctor gasped for air, trying to pull herself up.

“Sorry about that,” Estelle offered.

Hester coughed. “It’s okay. Kinda used to it. My boobs try to choke me every time I lie down.”

“I propose we never do that again,” said Ayla.

“I concur,” came Hoshi’s voice. “Captain, I hope the next step of your plan involves less tumbling.”

Estelle turned. Before them loomed the mouth of the cave. It wasn’t nearly as inviting as the subterranean cheesecake abode they’d left behind, but the depth of shadow within suggested that it had to lead somewhere.

“Whatever the next step is,” Hester grumbled, adjusting her immodest attempt at a shirt, “it’d better involve someone bringing me those scones.”
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Old 05-01-2017, 06:28 PM   #61
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Chapter 27

“Okay, so, maybe it doesn’t fit after all,” Estelle admitted.

“We’ve been hearing that a lot from you lately,” chuckled Ayla, yanking up on the brake lever.

The trailer had proven just a few feet too tall for the mouth of the cave. They’d gunned the rover’s engine and tried to brute-force their way through, but the rocky surface refused to yield. The trailer was now firmly wedged in place, unwilling to budge and effectively sealing them inside the tunnel.

“At least the rover made it in,” Hoshi offered, “and having two zappers stuck in the entrance should deter those squirmers from following us in…buy us time to find an exit.”

“Assuming there is one,” Hester chimed.

Ayla peered into the darkness. “Judging from how the planet’s terrain has behaved everywhere else, I think it’s safe to assume this tunnel goes somewhere.”

“And, failing that,” Estelle added, “I’m sure it won’t take you girls very long to eat us a way back to the surface.”

“You say that like you wouldn’t help, but your gut says otherwise.”

“Anyway, I propose we get moving and see where the tunnel goes. Unhitch the rover and get anything you need out of the trailer.”

The tunnel proved remarkably straight. The floor was perfectly flat and the walls smooth. The whole formation seemed unnaturally uniform.

It led them down a gradual decline, deep under the mountain. The rover trundled cautiously on for miles, headlights showing nothing but the same dark, featureless rock. The tunnel stretched on without deviation, without variation, and, most strikingly, without any food. Four eager stomachs began to grumble and whine as hours passed and multiple assumed mealtimes were skipped.

“I think I am legitimately starving,” Hoshi wheezed.

Estelle rolled her eyes. “It’s a little odd hearing that from someone with a BMI over eighty.”

“Don’t give me that. Your stomach just rumbled so hard I could see ripples.”

Ayla groaned. “This tunnel better lead to a bottomless pit of butter.”

“Och, yes,” Hester gasped. “Drive faster, captain. Floor it. Let’s…why are you slowing down?”

“Because I think we’ve found something.”

The tunnel widened, then opened abruptly into a cavern so massive the rover’s headlights couldn’t see the walls. Estelle let the rover roll to a gentle stop and sat a moment, listening.

After half a minute, she unbuckled her seatbelt.

Ayla started. “What are you doing?”

“Taking a look around. Bio-pak: light.”

The display on Estelle’s wrist flared to life with a blue glow. She eased herself out of the vehicle and scanned the shadows.

“She’s right,” Hoshi realized. “A chamber this size is bound to have something to eat.”

Estelle sighed. “That’s not why I—”

“Come on,” Ayla urged, flopping out of the rover. “Everyone spread out and follow your nose.”

“Girls…”

The rover lurched as Hoshi’s weight dropped off of it. An orange light appeared on her wrist as a red beam flashed from Ayla’s.

Hester activated her pak’s green light and reluctantly got to her feet. “I have a bad feeling about this.”

They fanned out, each taking a few tentative steps, then glancing back at the others before proceeding. Their lights swept faintly around, but showed nothing but more blackness.

A muted, bassy growl echoed through the chamber. Everyone froze.

“What was that?” Ayla hissed.

“My stomach,” mumbled Hoshi.

Estelle smiled and shook her head, but cast a nervous look back at the rover to make sure her rifle was still easily accessible. She toyed with the idea of going back for it, but as she turned the blue beam of her flashlight danced over a curious lumpy shape.

“Anybody finding anything?” she called, tiptoeing toward it.

“Nothing here,” reported the engineer.

“Same,” called the geologist.

“Hester?”

“She’s…she’s bent over, captain. I think she’s…oh, nebulas.”

“What?”

“Hester, stop licking the floor.”

“Sorry,” came the doctor’s voice, “just can’t figure it out. There’s no flavor. I don’t think it’s even edible.”

Hoshi scoffed. “Almost forgot that was possible.”

“I don’t think it’s organic at all,” Ayla remarked, tapping the ground. “It’s some kind of…polymer.”

“But that would mean…” Hoshi scrunched up her face. “That would mean this cave is…artificial.”

“And it means we still don’t have anything to eat,” Hester wailed.

Estelle stared at the lump she’d found: a pile of baked sweets. “Simmer down. There’s some dessert over here. Fried dough, looks like. Little twisty things.”

The others rushed over, pushing to dive into the pile first.

“Easy, girls, there’s enough for everybody.”

“Captain, you know that’s not true.”

“Yeah, yeah. And ‘enough’ is a bad wo—”

She froze. The others, reaching her, halted mid-waddle and gaped.

Just beyond the pile of dough-puffs, now visible in the combined light of their beams, stood a man’s figure. After a long, pregnant moment, he stepped forward.

“Holy nebulas,” Estelle panted. “You scared us half to death.”

“My sincerest apologies,” Starling replied. “I had assumed you would still be above ground, in the trailer.”

“Some squirmers talked us into a little detour. What about you? I mean …why are you skulking around down here in the dark?”

The android scooped up an armful of the dough-puffs from the pile and politely began handing them out. “I do not require light for navigation. However, I would appreciate if you would lend your bio-pak lamps to illuminate something I have found.”

Estelle opened her mouth to ask a follow-up question, but found herself putting the pastry in it instead. To be fair, it was delicious.

“If you would all shine your lamps this way,” Starling continued, “I think you will see something of interest.”

They did so. The various arcs of light settled on the face of a wall. It was made of the same black polymer and they could see, as they approached, that it had been intricately carved up and down with an elaborate mural.

“Holy nebulas,” Estelle breathed.

“By the stars,” Ayla agreed.

“Out of this world,” Hoshi gasped.

“Mm…mmf,” chewed Hester.

Hoshi traced the carvings with her finger. “So this chamber really is man-made.”

“Or alien-made, rather,” Ayla observed, pointing up. A series of portraits and pictograms showed a variety of very inhuman life-forms.

“Like the bas-relief back at camp,” Hester remarked, “the one that lead us to this planet in the first place.”

Estelle grimaced. “These aliens are different, though. The ones on that relief had four arms each. These guys have…what, two arms and a tentacle, I guess?”

“And wings.”

“Moreover,” Starling noted, “the style and method of the carving is entirely different. These murals also feature some kind of writing along the base of the image, which was absent in the artifact.”

“Murals, plural?” Ayla asked.

“Yes. This is the first; they continue from here along the length of the wall.”

“You’re right, it does look like writing,” Estelle nodded. “Nothing I’ve seen anywhere, though.”

“It doesn’t appear to be any of the languages represented in the Federation of Species.” He cocked his head at Estelle’s confused expression. “Your ship’s computer was kind enough to update my linguistics data, captain, in addition to everything on the political changes back home.” He gazed back at the mural. “These epigrams don’t resemble anything in the existing corpus…rather they seem older than any in use. Perhaps a precursor or ancient relative to one of those in use today.”

“So we can’t decipher it.”

“Unlikely, but we may be able to hypothesize the intent of the pictograms. I believe we are looking at a narrative, or chronicle. If we look up here to the top left, which is suggested by apparent force dynamics to be the starting point, we see a small assortment of beings. Their ordering may depict that they are exiting some kind of vessel.”

“Colonists landing.”

“Like us,” Hester suggested.

“Very like, yes…if we ignore the number of limbs. Moving along the mural, we notice a pair of trends: an increase in the number of the beings…”

“A successful colony, then,” guessed Ayla.

“…along with a gradual, but significant increase in the size of the individual beings.”

“I think we can identify with that trend,” sighed Estelle.

Hoshi grinned. “So aliens like cheesecake, too. I feel better about the universe.”

Hester nodded. “Judging from the planet’s ability to adapt to all our desires, it stands to reason it could take the form of whatever treats the aliens would have liked, eh?”

“Xeno-cheesecake.” Ayla squinted at the carvings. “Look at this…their wings get smaller and their bodies get bigger. Flying must have gotten pretty hard.”

“Indeed, the wings seem to become mostly vestigial,” Starling confirmed, “while what I presume is the stomach becomes an object of reverence and adoration here in the second mural. By this time, many individuals of the ruling class appear to be entirely immobilized…which becomes a problem, apparently, as things take a turn in the third mural.”

They shuffled along the wall to the next panel.

The android pointed up. “A new pictogram is introduced…and I don’t think it’s too great a leap to identify these oblong characters as our membranous macrophage friends.”

“The squirmers.”

“As soon as their pictograms appear, the colony’s population begins to decrease. They continue growing as individuals…” He traced his way down the mural. “…but their numbers steadily diminish until…”

“Until there are only squirmers left.”

Ayla ran her hands through her hair. “That fits with what little we gleaned from the artifact back in camp. This must have happened countless times: explorers show up, make themselves at home, get too fat to run away, and get killed by squirmers.”

“It’s all bait,” Hester murmured. “It lures you in with what it knows you want most…the whole planet is a giant honeypot. We were just the latest round of suckers.”

Estelle turned away from the mural. “Then we should get away before we get stuck, too.”

“Agreed.”

“Speaking of which, Starling…you wanna tell us why you’re poking around down here in a cave instead of getting the shuttle ready to fly, like we agreed?”

The android held up a hand. “Yes. I can report, happily, that the shuttle is only a day’s walk from the exit of this tunnel system. I can also report that the shuttle’s reserve engines are in good condition and ready for flight.”

“I’m sensing a but,” Ayla muttered, “and not just Hoshi’s.”

Starling hesitated. “I must also report, unhappily, that the shuttle’s flight control core is missing.”

“What?” shrieked Estelle.

“Wait, what’s that?” asked Hester.

“The control core is a little virtual intelligence cylinder,” Hoshi explained. “It’s basically the security key for all automated functions. Contains all the failsafes…supposed to stay with the ship. Without it, we’re locked out of the controls.”

“A serious concern, obviously,” Starling continued. “I was inputting our departure trajectory and found the navigation system unresponsive…subsequent troubleshooting revealed the core’s absence. Fortunately, the equipment it contains gives off a unique energy signature. I tracked this signature to this cave system, but have since lost the signal.”

Estelle rubbed her eyes. “Starling, look, I appreciate you showing us the mural and all, but maybe lead with the mission-critical emergency next time.”

“Of course. My sincerest apologies, captain. But now that your lights are available, perhaps we might have better luck in the search.”

“Yeah. Fine. Spread, out, girls.” She stormed back toward the rover. “You said you lost track of the radiation signature? Why would it just disappear off your readings?”

“If it were buried somewhere in here, possibly, or if…”

“Stars. And why would it be missing in the first place?” She threw out her arms, then paused. Her light settled on the driver’s seat of the rover: her rifle was gone.

“Perhaps someone removed it,” said a deep voice.

Estelle dropped her pastry. Behind her, she heard the others freeze in their tracks.

The sound of the rifle being cocked echoed through the chamber. Deep within the shadows, the light of a yellow bio-pak display flickered to life.

Last edited by Marlow; 05-01-2017 at 06:33 PM. Reason: Proofreading
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Old 05-01-2017, 07:31 PM   #62
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Really enjoying this.
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Old 05-04-2017, 09:37 PM   #63
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This has been absolutely amazing. Compelling story along with the baser pleasures. Can't wait for the next bit!
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Old 05-08-2017, 06:01 AM   #64
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Glad you're enjoying! Thanks for reading and thanks for the feedback.




Chapter 28

Hyllus was a tall, well-bred man with a lanky build and excellent bone structure. The latter was all too apparent, for his gaunt frame betrayed serious malnutrition. He was a grey husk of the beaming gentleman who had landed with the expedition; thinning blonde hair and bulging blue eyes now held the only remaining color on his sallow face. If he weren’t striding toward them, brandishing the rifle, the women of the expedition might have presumed him a corpse.

“So you’re not dead,” Estelle said slowly, motioning for the others to get behind her.

“And you’re not Commander Jolan,” he replied. “What’s happened to our beloved Selena, I wonder? Squirmers?”

They remained silent.

“Ah. It seems she finally became what she loved most: dinner.”

“And it seems you’re every bit the heel she said you were,” Estelle retorted. “Selena gave her life fighting them off and we buried her a hero.” She stepped toward him. “And I was under the impression it was you who’s supposed to be dissolving in some squirmer’s membrane.”

He trained the rifle on her, checking her advance. “Well, when it comes to heroism, miss…”

“Captain,” she corrected, “Estelle Gorlois.”

“Mm. You see, I, too, made a heroic sacrifice. I led a squirmer attack away from our habitat’s valley and made it possible for my fellow pioneers—and their appalling appetites—to survive.” He gestured for her to back up. “But I escaped with my life, surely to their present chagrin. I outran the squirmers and managed to conceal myself while their attentions turned back to much…meatier prey. You see, friends, by not consuming my bodyweight in cheesecake twice a day, I have retained my ability to run, to jump, to hide, to climb…to survive.”

Ayla huffed. “You wouldn’t have had to run at all, if you had the ability to think about anyone but yourself.”

He grinned and glanced at the dough-puff in her hand. “Scathing criticism from people who just pushed their partners aside for the possibility of first pick from a pile of pastries.”

She seethed and stepped out from behind Estelle, but froze as the rifle swung round to face her. Estelle rushed to place herself between them again.

“Take it easy, professor,” she panted. “It’s my mission to get the expedition off this planet and safely home. That mission would include you, too…if you want.”

He scoffed. “If I wanted to go home, captain, I wouldn’t have removed the control core. I would have taken that shuttle and left the day I found it.” He shook his head and wandered into the beam of the rover’s headlamps. “No, I’m not going anywhere, and with the core hidden safely away, I can now ensure that you aren’t going anywhere, either.”

“But the planet’s a trap,” Estelle implored him. “That mural over there proves it. It’s only a matter of time before this place kills all of us.”

“Ah, except I have not yet fallen for the bait. I have the willpower to resist our new home’s temptations, unlike your crew and, evidently…” He cast a smirk at her belly. “…unlike yourself, as well.”

“Please,” Hester spat, “you’re more trapped than any of us. Maybe you don’t crave food like we do, since you grew up rich enough to not feel the scarcity crisis back home. But this planet knows what you do crave: power. You’re so desperate for it you followed that temptation halfway across the galaxy just for a taste.”

“Pigs in a passion play. Yes, blame the scarcity crisis, as always. One day you’ll realize it was gluttony like yours that caused the crisis in the first place.”

Hoshi rubbed her temples. “Nebulas…first off, it’s been shown that the problem was unsustainable satellite-farming policies stemming from corporate greed. Second—”

“Of course. Always blaming everyone but yourselves. No sense of responsibility.”

Estelle held up her hands. “Look, I have a sense of responsibility. I’m responsible for getting this expedition home safe. So let’s just put the gun down and discuss what it’s gonna take for you to let me fulfill my responsibility.”

“Always thinking about yourselves. What about my responsibility?” He spat, rifle quivering. “I am burdened with the future of this whole planet. LV-237. The birthplace of a new power in our galaxy. A window to tomorrow. The future and fortune of humankind.” He raised a menacing finger. “I see you moving to flank me, Starling. Go any further and I open fire.”

The android stood up from behind the rover. “Acknowledged. But please understand, professor: your expectations for survival and prosperity on this planet are extremely unrealistic, given the available data. It would be in your best interest to discard whatever plans require you to remain here. I advise departing with us.”

“Besides,” Hester grumbled, “if you trap us here, it’s not like we’ll cooperate with your stupid fantasies.”

Ayla nodded. “Definitely. Count on us to make your life here hell for as long as we’re alive. You use that rifle and you can build the future of humanity by yourself.”

“And we’ll cackle from the afterlife while you run and hide from a thousand hungry squirmers for the rest of your miserable days.”

He studied each of them in turn. “Mm, I had feared that would be your stance. Your worldview is, as usual, immature and incorrect, but clearly it isn’t about to change…regardless, it helps to know with certainty where you stand, for the sake of negotiations.”

“Negotiation?” Estelle echoed.

“Don’t sound so skeptical. I’m a good man, captain. I’d prefer a civil resolution to having to use this gun. So, let’s approach things with reason.” He paced, but kept the rifle and a watchful eye cast in their direction. “You want everyone to leave. I want everyone to stay.”

They watched him pace. Hoshi began to shuffle forward, but Estelle caught her and motioned for everyone to stay still.

“My withholding the flight control core,” Hyllus continued, “grants me the power to prevent your desired outcome from being realized. Likewise, your collective, spiteful pettiness prevents my desired outcome from being…as desirable.” He slowly lowered the gun and glanced around to make sure they all remained still. “I can offer a compromise.”

Estelle shook her head. “I’m not going to compromise on these women’s safety.”

“Admirable. But would you perhaps compromise…for their safety?”

“What are you suggesting?”

“Here’s my proposal: everyone of the crew who wants to leave will leave. I will reveal where I’ve hidden the core, the shuttle will take off, and they can be safely delivered home. Your mission will be fulfilled, captain, and what passes for your conscience may be set at ease.” He puffed out his chest; the contours of his ribcage could be seen through the yellow fabric of his survival suit. “In exchange, you will stay here with me…”

Hester started. “What? No—”

“…serving my vision without impudence and willingly cooperating in the grand endeavor that is this planet’s conquest…not as a prisoner, but as a partner.”

Estelle looked back at the others. They vehemently shook her heads.

“You’ll give up the core and let them go?” she asked.

He nodded. “You have my word. Starling can lead them from here and pilot the shuttle. They will be free to head home. The rover and this rifle with have to stay here with us, of course…for our continued safety.”

Hoshi swallowed. “We’d have to…walk the whole rest of the way.”

“You could use the exercise. It’ll be a safe journey, regardless. Squirmers do not frequent these tunnels. And even after you leave the mountain, they’ll be too busy failing to catch Estelle and me to bother any of you.” He sat down on the rover’s hood and smiled at Estelle. “Captain, as a gesture of good faith, the first step of our new partnership will be to see that the shuttle lifts off safely.”

“And the next step?” Estelle ventured.

“Conquer the planet. Shape it according to my vision.”

She grimaced, looked over at the darkened mural, then back to him. The others murmured behind her, but she shushed them. After a long moment, she took a step forward. “…our vision. If we’re gonna be partners, I get to at least have some input.”

His sunken face broadened into a smile.
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Old 05-10-2017, 08:47 AM   #65
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The plot thickens even though it seems the girls will not (for now.)
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Old 05-21-2017, 07:47 PM   #66
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Chapter 29

A chorus of huffing and wheezing sounded from the mouth of the tunnel. Heavy, uneven steps echoed from the shadows, soon joined by shuffling and scraping.

Just as the last rays of the sunset faded from the sky, three obese women spilled out of the cave, gasping for air and held upright only by one another’s shoulders. Seeing that they’d finally escaped the tunnels, they released each other, stumbled around for a few moments, and finally collapsed against a nearby wall.

They had emerged on the far side of the mountain into a maze of rock towers and crags. Below, in the distance, they could see a wide plain spreading toward the horizon.

Starling strode out of the cave, carrying their bags. He glanced at the exhausted trio, set down his burdens, and climbed up a rock to check their surroundings.

“How could she?” Hester panted at length.

“What?” asked Ayla, hand to her heaving chest.

“Estelle…she just…she just abandoned us…to stay here with…with him, that stupid bastard…” She choked faintly. “No goodbye kiss, even…”

“She gave herself up so we could go. That’s a bigger gesture than any kiss. And there wasn’t much room for discussion, what with the gun and all.”

“I just…it doesn’t seem right.”

“I know. But you know Estelle...obviously she weighed the decision carefully and...” She glanced around. “Hoshi? No snide comment about 'weighing the decision'?”

Hoshi mumbled faintly.

“Come again?”

“I said…I just walked more in one day than I probably ever did even before I put on 360 pounds. If I waste breath on snide comments I might just die.”

“I hear that.” Ayla craned her neck. “Starling, I don’t suppose you see any food from up there? We’re out of the caves…we should be seeing edible stuff again, I figure.”

The android slid down and dusted himself off. “Yes. We are in a small recess in the mountainside, made from the same artificial material as the cave system, but outside of this recess the planet’s usual landscape resumes.”

“Thank the stars.”

Hester blinked. “Wait…more artificial stuff? Is this whole mountain a structure, or something?”

“It’s possible,” Starling replied. “Or, at least, it is built into the mountain. The tunnel system clearly contained an underground habitat, larger and more complex than your cheesecake domicile, but not wholly dissimilar.”

“And out here? What did you see from up there?”

“The recess appears to be some kind of gathering area. There are several features which I would describe, through a human eye, as a dais, an altar, and a pair of large thrones.”

Hoshi scoffed. “The capitol of a dead empire.”

“The civilization that built this chamber,” Hyllus droned, beckoning Estelle away from the rover, “left a number of ruins along this end of the continent. I have explored many of them while seeking refuge, collecting all manner of artifacts. Thanks to the lack of microbial activity on the planet, much of them are well-preserved. We may well be able to build our new empire upon the bones of what came before.” He cast his wrist-light toward the wall, illuminating a narrow passageway. “The next chamber contains a cache of textiles and furnishings. It has served me as a serviceable hideout for some time now.”

“They should have sent an archaeologist,” said Estelle. She strained to keep a polite expression on her face while keeping her eyes on the gun in his hands.

“No reason we can’t play the part. The fabrics alone could generate a new field of research, I imagine.” He headed toward the doorway. “Make your way inside and you will soon discover just how comfortable alien clothing can be.”

“Is there a reason I’m putting on alien clothing?”

“I thought we might find you some better-fitting attire. I can only imagine how uncomfortable and embarrassed you must be, squeezed into what’s left of that survival suit…” He tilted his head. “…and I’d rather not have that fat stomach in my face for the rest of my life.”

Estelle looked down at her fat stomach. It slouched listlessly over her waistband, painfully empty but still blocking any view of her feet. She looked back at the rifle. “Whatever you say, professor.”

“Oh, stars…we’re partners now, Estelle. You can call me Flavius.” He gestured for her to go inside.

She shuffled through the passageway, twisting a little and blushing as her lovehandles brushed the doorframe. “I’ll…think about it.”

“Of course. I understand,” he mused, following her into the darkened chamber. “Respect must be earned. I must say, though: you’ve earned mine. Staying here for the sake of the others…that’s a very noble and selfless act.”

He fiddled with some mechanism she couldn’t see. A hum echoed through the chamber, followed by a rattling whir, and then a trio of floodlights flared on overhead. They illuminated a dome-shaped chamber piled high with folded brown fabrics. A few stacks had been shoved aside to create a shallow pit, in which Hyllus had evidently been living.

“Those lights look familiar,” Estelle observed warily.

Hyllus grinned. “They came from our expedition equipment. I have visited camp from time to time for supplies, I confess. Often your friends were away for much of the day, allowing me to collect what I needed without notice.”

Estelle nodded. It could have been any of the long, heady days she and the others had spent outside of camp: diving into a doughnut, excavating a colossal croissant, drowning in a giant gelatin mold, bloating their bellies in a babbling brook of beer, staggering along the sticky spirals of a spacious cinnamon roll…her stomach whined.

“I need something in here,” Hoshi whined, massaging her paunch. “Anything.”

Ayla helped the engineer to her feet. “Just a little more walking, then.”

“That’s the opposite of eating, Ayla.”

“I know. But look…we get out of these ruins and we’re back in the usual environment.”

Hoshi took a few waddling steps and halted, groaning.

“Just think about it, Hoshi,” Hester urged. “The usual environment. You remember what that means…food as far as the eye can see. Breakfast, lunch, dinner—”

“A fifty-foot cherry pie,” Starling stated, appearing from around a corner.

Hester grunted, helping Ayla keep Hoshi upright. “I was just gonna say ‘dessert,’ but yeah, that sounds pretty good.”

Taking Hoshi’s arm, the android continued, “I have followed the directions Professor Hyllus gave us for the flight control core’s hiding place. Assuming I have not erred in my navigation, it seems he dropped the core into a fifty-foot cherry pie just at the base of this hill.”

“Holy nebulas.”

“I considered going in to extract the core myself, but my empathy protocols suggested you might appreciate the opportunity to search for it yourselves.”

They quivered.

“Uh, yes,” Hoshi breathed, “we might appreciate that.”

“Anyway, yes, I appreciate your conviction,” Hyllus remarked, passing Estelle a bundle of fabric. “You have a capacity for doing what’s needed…what’s right.”

She cautiously unfolded it. It resembled a heavy robe. “I’m okay in the survival suit, actually.”

“You’ll be much more comfortable if you change.” He bounced the rifle absently. “And, as I mentioned, I’d rather not have—”

“Rather not have my fat stomach in your face for the rest of your life. I heard you. Alright.” She took a deep breath, stepped back a bit, and peeled her suit top off overhead. Her fat stomach stretched up and bounced with the motion.

Hyllus glanced away for a moment, but, fidgeting with the gun, turned back to watch her, clearly making an effort to keep his gaze at eye level.

“Anyway…conviction, sure. I mean, I care about them.” She slowly stepped out of her trousers, quaggy thighs jiggling. “And when I care, I find a way to see things through, whatever it takes.” She stood naked a moment, squeezing her flabby midsection with a grimace. “Hell, I had to let myself go and double my bodyweight just to earn those gals’ trust.”

His eyes widened. “Ah, and here I was worried you were just another thoughtless glutton, like the others.” He nodded nervously at the robe in her hand. “Instead I can see you’re a…pragmatic thinker. You’re willing to negotiate and sacrifice, able to see of and contribute to the bigger picture.”

She wrapped the robe around herself and tried to close it, but her belly jutted out from between the folds. “Yep. Bigger picture, that’s me.”

He pulled a sheet from one of the nearby stacks, revealing a closet-like compartment, and turned on another light. A collection of trinkets was piled within, sparkling and gleaming. Estelle could see what appeared to be jewelry: necklaces, bracelets, rings, and crowns, all strangely sized and oblong, like the aliens in the murals outside.

Hyllus hefted up a circlet of glistening white metal, adorned with blue and yellow stones. “I think we’ll be very good partners, Estelle,” he announced. “I’m glad to have your cooperation.”

“Well, I’m happy to cooperate,” she replied tentatively, “but I do have…one condition.”

He set down the tiara. “Condition?” he echoed, fingers twitching on the rifle.

She spread her palms. Doing so let the robe fall open and she hurried to tug it closed again. “Not to go back on our deal…what’s done is done and I accept that. I’m here to stay.” She sidled closer to him and laid a hand on the jewelry. “But if you want smiling, enthusiastic cooperation—if you don’t want that rifle to always be the key to our partnership—then all you have to do is grant me one condition. One…one little concession.”

He eyed her.

“Trust, like you said. Mutual respect. Give me this one thing, and you’ll earn that.”

“I’m listening.”

She swallowed. “Thank you. That’s all I ask. My one request…Flavius…is that once in a while, if I want to have a full stomach, you let me fill my stomach.”

He glared at her gut. “Didn’t you just tell me you only did that to yourself to gain the crew’s trust?”

She kept her eyes fixed on his. “That…doesn’t mean I didn’t learn to enjoy it a little bit.”

“Mm.”

“Look, I won’t let myself get to the point where I’m useless to you or can’t move or whatever. I just want to, you know, reserve the right to have some fun here every once in a while.” She wrung her hands. “Think of it as…availing myself of our new empire’s riches.”

He glanced back at the pile of jewelry. “The empress wants to enjoy some occasional luxury?”

“As is, uh, my royal prerogative.” She watched him stare at the gems. “Right?”

“I…” He turned back to her. “Yes. That is not only reasonable, but respectable, in a way. I would be a poor emperor to deny the empress her interests.” He offered her the tiara. “As long as you keep yourself able enough to help build this great new empire, then I decree that you are free to indulge in our planet’s bounty whenever you so desire.”

She whirled around and headed for the passageway, ignoring the tiara. “Royal treatment. Good. And I’m gonna need to exercise that right, uh, right now. I haven’t eaten since breakfast and those fried dough puffs out there would make me feel a lot more regal.”
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