BBW Planet XL - by Marlow

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Marlow

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Chapter 6

The sun slipped away quickly while they set up camp. The low ceiling of cloud cover didn’t allow for much twilight and the jagged range of cliffs covered up the last of the sunset. It wasn’t long before the only light was Starling’s computer screen.

Having finished with the tent and bedding, Estelle made her way back to the rover and unpacked one of the plasma rifles.

Starling glanced at her. “You just finished telling me how safe you felt here.”

“Yeah. And this way I can feel even safer,” she grunted, slinging the rifle over her shoulder and reaching in to unlock an ammunition case. “Like you said: we have to be on our guard.”

“Indeed. I would advise, however, that you give me the weapon. You are an unmodified human and require sleep. As I do not, it follows that I should stand guard.”

“Are you programmed for combat?”

He tilted his head. “I am programmed for protection. This includes basic firearm handling. I also possess a powerful sensor array and am keenly aware of my surroundings.”

A horrible, whining roar pierced the night. Starling whirled around; Estelle dropped the ammo and covered her ears.

A dark blur flew across the ground, barely perceptible in the lights of the antenna array. Something huge struck the rover, shoving its back end around and knocking Starling off his feet. Estelle dove and rolled away, unslinging the rifle.

“Who’s there?” she shouted.

“I don’t believe it was a ‘who,’ captain,” grumbled the android, climbing to his feet.

The rover lurched again, tilting up onto two wheels for a moment before crashing back down.

“Holy nebulas,” Estelle whispered. Crouching low, she made her way toward the ammo she’d dropped. “Thing must be huge.”

The roar came again, echoing off the cliffs. A shadow passed in front of the antenna lights and Estelle froze, a few feet from the ammo.

The rover leapt into the air, rolling over, and smacked into the cliff wall. The crash snapped the antennae, but somehow turned on one of the headlamps.

Silhouetted in its light was a huge, viscous mass, like a giant amoeba, looming at least eight feet tall. Its shape changed rapidly, jiggling, rippling, and reforming like an opaque liquid. It shuddered and shrieked.

Estelle lunged for the ammo and clapped a plasma cartridge into her rifle.

“You’re going to shoot it?” Starling gasped. “Our first sign of animate life on this planet?”

She glared at him. “Well, maybe I don’t know their social customs here, but that didn’t come off as friendly to me.”

The shape lurched sideways, out of the headlight’s beam. It reached out with some of its mass and slapped the pop-up dome tent to the other side of the milk pool.

“Damn it. I spent like forty minutes putting that up.”

“I told you to follow the instructions.”

Estelle sprang to her feet and took aim. “Sometimes I like to improvise.” She fired a shot. A plasma bolt flashed across the recess, striking the creature’s side.

The wound glowed white-hot for a moment and the creature roared again.

“Gotcha.”

Starling hurried past her. “Did you cause any perceptible damage?”

The creature balled itself up and began rolling toward Estelle. “Oh dear.”

She raised the rifle and fired off several more rounds in quick succession. The cartridge popped out, spent. The creature continued rolling, though several glowing plasma wounds now rolled with it like pebbles stuck in tire tread.

Estelle dove out of its path. It halted and surged out, reforming into a taller shape and turning its mass to face her.

She raised the rifle. The creature stretched up, looming over her and showing off all the wounds she’d created.

The wounds moved with the creature’s shape changes. Suddenly the grey flesh facing her began to twist, seeming to turn in on itself, and the wounds were sucked inside its membranous body.

“Oh, stars.”

The rover’s engine revved. Starling had it back on all four wheels and raced it across the recess. Estelle spun out of the way just as it struck the creature head-on and crashed it into a nearby tree.

Starling reversed to her, keeping his eyes on the reeling creature. Estelle leapt into the passenger seat and reached for the weapons cache.

“Your gun hasn’t proved particularly useful so far,” he observed, shifting out of reverse.

“I have more than guns back here. I hope you have a plan, by the way.”

The creature extricated itself from the remains of the tree and began undulating toward them.

Starling accelerated toward it. “I am improvising. If nothing else, the impact seemed to stun it.”

“I would prefer something a few levels above ‘stun,’ Starling.” She glanced around the dark landscape. “You remember that pass we came up right before we got here? What was that dropoff?”

They slammed into the creature. It roared and thrashed against the rover’s hood. Starling pressed the pedal down and steered the rover between trees and rock faces.

“Two hundred feet, at least,” he recalled. “Yes, I believe I understand your intent. Hold tight…this will require some maneuvering.”

They veered around and accelerated toward the pass. The creature reached out a thick pseudopod and grabbed at the windshield, cracking it.

“Watch the glass, ugly,” Estelle growled, firing a few shots at the arm.

Starling had to turn again and the momentum shift nearly sent Estelle flying. The android’s hand shot out to grab her wrist and she found herself stretched sideways, her right leg dangling out of the rover. The rifle clattered away.

The creature’s pseudopod reached out and wrapped around her ankle. “Oh, stars,” she screamed, writhing. “It’s all wet and oozy. Get off, you piece of—”

They raced out onto the pass. The dropoff was just ahead.

Estelle reached her free hand into the cache. “Let go of me, Starling.”

“Captain…”

“Now!” She rolled over and sat up on the side of the rover, emptying a pistol into the pseudopod. Tossing the gun away, she pulled the pin on a plasma grenade and pressed it into the wound. “Absorb that one, big guy.”

Starling grabbed her waist and hauled her back in. The pseudopod ripped open, twisting at her ankle but wrenching her free. She shrieked in pain and Starling hurled her off the back of the rover. He locked the pedals, grabbed a crate from the cache, and leapt from the rover just as it careened over the edge of the dropoff.

Entangled in the rover’s hood, the creature roared one last time as it fell. They crashed together into the rocky canyon floor, the impact setting off Estelle’s grenade with a thunderous blast.

Starling hauled himself to his feet as the explosion lit up the canyon. It shook the pass and echoed off the walls, but only silence followed. No birds took to the air to flee the noise; the planet simply returned to its idyllic inanimacy.

Estelle rolled over with a pained groan. “Stars. Stars, ow.” Starling knelt down and tapped her bio-pak.

“Subject is injured,” chirped the voice. “Partial fracture: right fibula. Multiple contusions and minor abrasions. Subject is entering shock.”

“You will need to rest,” Starling remarked, setting down the crate.

“I’m fine. We need to get out of here.”

“Inadvisable. Our only option is to continue on foot, which requires that you have two operational feet.” He helped her up and threw her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry.

“Or you can just carry me.”

“At our present estimated distance from the expedition’s landing site, we can expect the journey by foot to take at least eight to nine days. I am not rated for long distance hauling. We also have the remaining gear to consider. Captain, our best course of action is to wait here until your ankle is healed before proceeding.”

“Ugh. How long will that take?”

Starling tapped the bio-pak’s monitor. “Prioritize fracture.”

“Acknowledged,” it replied. “Releasing osteorepair supplement. Setting bone.”

The fabric around Estelle’s ankle constricted itself and solidified into a rigid cast. She winced and exhaled slowly.

“Estimated recovery: two to three weeks. Recommend rest, fluids, and increased calcium intake to promote bone healing. Avoid physical activity.”

“Huh, alright,” she mused. “I thought that’d be worse. That’s way faster than I thought. Why isn’t this technology a little more, uh, common?”

Starling started off back toward their camp. “The suit and bio-pak cost as much as the both the expedition’s rovers together.”

“Spare no expense, I suppose. Hopefully it’s preserved your expedition’s members, too…if that creature found us after one day on the planet, it has to have found them in the two years they’ve been here.”
 

Marlow

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Chapter 7

Once the sun was up the next morning, Starling set out to recover what he could from the crash. Searching and scaling the canyon wall took the android much of the day, but it proved fruitful. Though very little had survived the explosion, some gear had fallen out of the rover during their wild ride. To Estelle’s concern, however, there was no trace of the creature.

“Perhaps it was vaporized in the blast,” Starling offered.

“We'd better hope so. All that’s left of the weapons cache is my rifle here. Not sure we’ll be able to fight him off a second time.”

The creature did not return, however, and they saw no sign of any others. As the days went by, Starling began to explore the surrounding areas, learning as much as he could without straying too far from camp. He brought the captain plenty of new and interesting foods to try and stood guard over her tent through every night.

Estelle rested next to the pool during the day, head propped up against a supply crate. It was an intensely dull time, as Starling forbade her from leaving the campsite or being on her feet for too long.

Fortunately, among the recovered gear she found a datapad. It contained the ship’s records and profiles of the various expedition members. Estelle read through each with interest, curious to know whom the admiralty had sent on this dangerous one-way mission to save the colonies.

They hadn’t sent any admiralty officers, strangely enough. Starling was the only crew member officially attached to the admiralty and he had come with the ship. Otherwise, they were all unaffiliated scientists, each pulled from a different colony in the system.

“Weird for the admirals to be so hands-off on something so important. So who was…hm. Looks like they put the map-maker in charge. At least…nominally.” Estelle tapped a button on the side of the datapad. “Alright, let’s get a look at you.”

A hologram sprung up, displaying a leggy blonde woman in a purple survival suit. “Provisional commander Selena Jolan,” read the pad. “Human female. 5’6”, 115lbs. Hair: blonde, eyes: brown. Colony of origin: Newer South Wales. Employer: Wemappit Planetary Cartography LLC.”

Estelle furrowed her brow at the holographic woman’s lithe, bony frame. “Selena, dear, you don’t look like someone used to tromping around on rugged, unexplored alien planets. You look like a Virgo’s Secret model.”

She paged to the next crew member. The hologram changed to show a broad-shouldered, athletic looking man in a yellow survival suit.

“You, on the other hand…”

“Professor Flavius Hyllus,” said the pad, “human male. 5’9”, 160lbs. Hair: brown, eyes: blue. Colony of origin: Amster-dome. Employer: Low Colonies University.”

The profile showed that he was a tenured professor, highly acclaimed. He’d been on three other terraforming assignments as a chemistry consultant.

“That one makes more sense. Wait…” She flipped back to Selena. For her there was no mention of any previous work. As far as Estelle could find, this expedition was the young cartographer’s first assignment. “That doesn’t bode well. Let’s check the others.”

She turned to the geologist. The hologram showed a lean woman in a red survival suit. “Civilian Ayla Roderick, human female. 5’7”, 150lbs. Hair: black, eyes: brown. Colony of origin: Johannesphere. Employer: Johannesphere Public Geological Survey.”

The woman looked a little more mature than the others, but further reading showed that she, too, was new to the profession, having recently been transferred to the Geological Survey from the Parks and Recreation service.

“Sorry, what?” Estelle spat. “I hope they at least gave her a field guide. Holy nebulas. Sure, she’s got a degree, but…this isn’t looking good.”

A look at the engineer wasn’t encouraging. Her bionic left arm suggested some impressive mechanical skill, but the pale, softish look she had in her orange survival suit pointed more to a desk job than field work. “Chief Engineer Hoshi Alani, human female, major cybernetic augmentation. 5’4”, 135lbs. Hair: black, eyes: brown, augmented. Colony of origin: Hokkaido II. Employer: WowMuchFun Systems Inc.”

Estelle raised an eyebrow. “I’m fairly certain that’s a holo-gaming company.” She read through the profile. “Yep. Wow.”

The engineer had an impressive academic track record and several awards, but had never before even left her home colony. Estelle shook her head and flipped to the final crew member.

“Doctor Hester Irving, human female. 5’2, 110lbs.”

Estelle squinted at the holographic woman in the green survival suit. “Look how little you are. I mean, the hologram can only be so big, but…” She scratched her chin. “Hmm.”

“Hair: red, eyes: green. Colony of origin: Novissima Scotia. Employer: Galactic Nutrition Consultants—”

“A dietician?” Estelle shouted at the datapad. “Yeah, she did medical school and I can almost wrap my head around wanting a dietician on an interstellar journey to find food. But posting her as the expedition’s xeno-biologist? Who put this team together and what in the stars were they thinking?”

The hologram faded out. Estelle frowned.

“Datapad,” she queried, tapping it, “who commissioned this expedition? Which admiral oversaw this?”

“Confidential,” replied the pad.

Estelle looked up. Starling had returned from his morning’s hike with a bundle of fruits.

“Hey, Starling…who put your crew together?”

“That’s confidential, captain.”

“Of course.” She stretched her leg out. “Do you trust them?”

He cocked his head to the side. “The crew? Or the oversight committee?”

“I don’t know. Either? Both?”

He set the bundle down next to her. “I do not process in terms of ‘trust,’ captain. I process command structures.”

She bit into a fruit. “Yeah, I know. But I figure you can, uh, make assessments of people’s competence.”

“To some degree. Some measures of competence are quite subjective, or at the very least require profession-specific knowledge which I do not possess.”

“Best guess, then. Did this expedition’s crew have any business being here?”

The android paused for a while. “If pressed, I suppose I would describe the selected team as…atypical, given the admiralty’s precedents and predilections.” He turned and headed downstream. “I should note, however, that they were all very nice.”

Estelle tossed the datapad away. “Oh, well, in that case…” She twisted over to scoop some milk from the pool. “Stars, it’s like they wanted this to fail.”

The milk, thick and creamy as it was, was quite refreshing. She refreshed herself from it quite often over the subsequent couple of weeks, along with the various fruits, vegetables, and curiously edible geology Starling brought her.

The days passed without much incident. They didn’t see the creature or anything like it and Starling found no evidence of animate activity on any of his daily hikes. The planet’s biology made very little sense, although captain and android spent a good deal of time pondering it. Without research equipment, they could do little but speculate.

A couple days into the third week, Starling returned to find Estelle walking around the camp.

“You should not be on your feet,” he stated.

She placed her hands on her hips. There was a little more flesh there now and her fingers sank in a bit. “I feel okay. I’ve been on it all morning and it’s just a little sore.”

He stomped over to her. She glared up at him, stubbornly arching her back. The angle pushed out her stomach, which had developed a soft pooch. It was the slightest of curves, but enough to push up on her survival suit’s top. A thin ring of flesh peeked out above her waistline and the pants looked uncomfortably tight.

Starling tapped her bio-pak monitor. “Status update.”

“Subject in good health,” chirped the monitor. “Bone healing normally. Light activity permitted, recommend against heavy loads or strenuous exercise.”

“It’s enough,” Estelle growled. “I can handle walking. We’re going.”

“No pathogens detected,” the monitor continued while they stared at each other. “No toxins. Vitals range from normal to better-than-normal. Request for specifics. Weight: one hundred and fifty-four pounds.”

“Holy nebulas,” she gasped. “See? We can’t stay put any longer. I’ll just eat myself to death.” She tugged down on her suit top, trying to cover the belly.

Starling tapped on the monitor again. “Refit suit,” he sighed.

“Refitting,” said the pak. The suit made a quiet stretching noise and loosened slightly.

Estelle pulled the top back down over her gut and it stayed there. “Right,” she breathed. “Forgot it could do that. Anyway, we’re going.”

The android stared at her for a moment, then pressed a button on the pop-up tent. It promptly collapsed and folded itself up. “As you command.”
 

Marlow

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Messages
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Chapter 8

The pair hiked their way out of the rocky heights and slowly worked down toward a sprawling, grassy plain. At first they could only cover a little distance each day, but as Estelle’s ankle regained some strength they began to push further.

She tried to resist tasting every little thing they came across, conscious of the weight she’d gained and eager to lose it. The resistance lasted her about halfway through the second day, when she came across a tree covered in too many varieties of equally appetizing fruit. They all deserved to be tried; she had been told to ‘appraise the situation,’ after all. Her evening meals grew larger, too, though she told herself it was to keep up her strength.

The plain stretched on for two full days of hiking. After the rocky heights, the sudden flatness was almost overwhelming.

The new terrain wasn’t without its curiosities, fortunately. The ubiquitous grass proved edible as well, with a flavor that reminded Estelle of asparagus. It was interspersed with leafy shrubs she determined to be some kind of lettuce and more occasional, lonely fruit trees. The ground underfoot had softened and Estelle realized it was the dry cake again. In the few areas clear of grass the soil was littered with small, brightly colored sticks.

“Sprinkles,” she realized, laughing. “This planet is too weird.”

It grew weirder the next day, when the plain was suddenly interrupted by a series of huge, crusty mounds.

“Some kind of glacial formation?” Starling wondered as they approached.

“Bread,” Estelle announced, chewing. “Giant loaves of bread.”

They spent the rest of the day hiking between, over, and around the loaves. The terrain had become a badland of carbohydrates, rolling with cereal of all kinds: ryes, wheats, sourdoughs. Estelle peeled back the crust of a pretzel bun when they made camp that night and buried herself in the dough; it was the most comfortable bed she’d ever experienced.

The leavened hills rose higher to the north into huge mountains. The hikers continued east, where the bread leveled out into a brief flatland of pitas before running into a wide, white river.

Starling surmised it to be a continuation of the milk-stream where they’d first made camp. They followed the river half a day downstream before finding a shallow crossing. The opposite side proved to be very different: the ground, no longer the cake-soil, was lighter in color, more cohesive, and pliable to the touch.

“Holy nebulas,” Estelle gasped, “cheese.” She shivered a little in the cool breeze blowing down from the mountains.

They gaped at the landscape ahead. Mounds and wheels of cheese rolled into the distance, criss-crossed by streams of milk. Continuing through the dairy-realm, the hikers encountered giant pads of butter and a small pool of heavy cream, near which Estelle sheepishly suggested they make camp.

The next morning, while Starling was out of earshot, she quietly asked her survival suit for another refit. It was only a temporary bloating, she assured herself. Nothing permanent.

The land opened up into rocky terrain—more hard candy, in fact—and they wandered through pillars and cairns the rest of the day. It would have looked more like a desolate wasteland if it weren’t for the bright colors and tangy flavors of each jagged formation.

The hard surface took a toll on Estelle’s ankle, however. Her pace slowed until Starling could no longer politely ignore it and she begrudgingly allowed him to set up camp for the night. She had a look around while he worked and found herself thankful they’d stopped.

Not far from camp, the path lead to the edge of a terrifying cliff. A deep gorge cut through the land like a jagged fissure, sheer walls on each side. The crack seemed to start up to the north, under the icy mountain range, and opened up to the south into what must have been an ocean. A narrow channel of water ran along the bottom of the gorge.

Estelle squinted up and down the canyon. There didn’t seem to be any ways down either wall or around it, but closer to the seacoast she could make out a web of thin, angular land bridges.

“Rock candy?” she wondered. The thought of having to climb along the brittle network taunted her imagination; she shook her head and limped back toward Starling.

The android held up a finger as she returned to the clearing. He was frozen, hand poised over the unopened auto-tent. Estelle stopped midstep, wincing as weight settled onto her bad ankle.

“I believe we may have halted prematurely,” Starling murmured. “This may not be the safest site to make camp.”

Estelle glanced around. A distant howl echoed off the mountainside like a peal of thunder, chilling her.

“It’s back?” she hissed.

“Possibly. Or this is a second such creature. It seems reasonable to estim—”

“What do we do?”

“Our best option is probably to flee, captain.”

“I’m not sure we can outrun that thing without the rover.” She lowered herself onto a boulder. “I can barely walk.”

He picked up the rifle. “Perhaps I can occupy it long enough to provide you with a head start.”

“Don’t martyr yourself for me, Starling. I’m not worth it—they only sent me because I’m expendable, anyway.”

The howl pierced the twilight again, closer.

She rubbed her forehead. “How much of a climber do you think it is?”

“Sorry?”

“This…goo-monster. Do you think he’s nimble?”

Starling frowned. “Judging from its patterns of motion in our previous encounter, it does not appear adapted for precise agility or fine motor skills.”

“Okay, then,” she sighed, nodding. “There’s a landbridge a little ways down that crosses this gorge…some kind of brittle candy. You and I might be able to climb across.”

“Can your ankle take it?”

“It’ll have to. Here, give me the gun. You take the gear.”

The last of the sun was sinking over the water when they reached the bridge. It set the rock candy sparkling with tiny rainbows under the darkening sky. The unseen monster roared again, accompanied by the sound of a falling tree.

Estelle took a deep breath and stepped out onto a strand of the bridge. The glimmering, jagged candy arched up away from the cliffside at a sharp angle, only wide enough for one of her feet at a time but close enough to other strands in the web that Estelle could reach out and steady herself.

It creaked with each tentative step and she could hear cracking from somewhere deeper in the web. She groaned and wished she hadn’t given in to so many of the delicious temptations along the hike.

Reaching the top of the arch, she paused to find her balance, arms spread. The food-baby that had become a permanent fixture of her midsection swelled silhouetted against the sunset. It gurgled and she gave it an apologetic pat.

Starling clambered up beside her. “Are you alright, captain?”

“Yeah,” she panted. “Just needed a minute.”

The bridge shook and the sound of rending spread around them. Turning back, they could see the shadow of a large blob heaving itself awkwardly along the web.

Estelle cursed. “Minute’s over. Go, Starling. Don’t wait for me.”

The android took off, moving easily. Estelle hurled herself down from the peak, scraping along the thickest strands of candy she could find as the monster roared behind her. Her ankle burned and throbbed and she found herself dragging the foot more than stepping with it.

But soon she was only a few yards from the other side and could see Starling below, collecting himself on the edge of the cliff. She reached her good leg for the final strand of candy, but it shattered on contact. She fell through the web, surrounded by twinkling powder.

Starling shot out an arm and seized her by the collar. She slammed into the cliffside and hung there a moment, stunned. The collar pulled her shirt up, exposing her softened stomach but saving her.

The android hauled her up and they rolled away from the edge. Coughing and sputtering, she pushed herself up in time to see the grey, oozing blob monster flop its way over the apex of the bridge and begin roiling down toward their side.

Estelle got up onto a knee and unslung the rifle. She loaded in a plasma cartridge and took careful aim, naked gut heaving as she got control of her breathing.

She fired a barrage into the bridge, shattering the larger strands of the web and sending powderized crystals spinning into the darkness. A rending crack traveled throughout the brittle candy and the monster fell straight through before it could reach land, roaring one last time as it plummeted into the gorge.

The rest of the bridge crackled, groaned, buckled, and finally fell apart as well. Within thirty seconds, the whole formation had fallen and nothing of the web remained.

“We appear to have found the species’ weakness,” Starling remarked, peering over the ledge. “Thousand-foot drops. We are two-for-two when dropping them off cliffs.”

Estelle sat back down and pushed the rifle away. “Okay,” she exhaled, “now I need a snack.”
 

Marlow

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Messages
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Chapter 9

The next day, in a particularly soft depression, they discovered a pair of narrow ruts. The ruts ran parallel across the depression, turned, and faded as they reached more solid terrain.

Estelle raised an eyebrow. “Is it me, or do these look like tire tracks?”

“I believe you’re right, captain,” Starling replied, crouching down to inspect them. “And these ridges here may show us the tread.”

“What do you think? Is it our crew? It’d be nice to have some positive news on them.”

“I prefer not to render judgments on so little data, captain, but these treads do appear consistent with those of the expedition’s rover.”

She folded her arms. “How much further?”

“It’s hard to say, not knowing the terrain ahead. But at the pace we’ve held thus far, I would estimate at least two or three more days after today.”

Estelle bent down and massaged her ankle. She ignored how the new softness on her tummy began to crease.

At the end of the following day their path led them through a rocky pass to another dropoff, apparently the wall of a huge valley. They spent the night on its rim and in the morning began their descent.

The cheese had ended abruptly, giving way to a crumbly soil—some sort of stale biscuit—and a forest of slender, scraggly trees. Their dark trunks tasted of licorice and the leaves, spread into a thick, multicolored canopy overhead, offered a kind of taffy.

More sweets greeted the hikers as they made their way down: mounds that proved to be pastries, wildflowers with gummy petals, frosting and icing that grew on the rocks like moss.

As they neared the valley floor they came to another stream, this one golden in color and moving so slowly it could barely be said to have any current.

Estelle sucked a gooey sample from her finger. “Yep. That’s honey.”

Starling frowned at it. “And not a bee in sight.”

The stream was too deep to ford with their gear, so they made camp and watched the sunset through the trees. They had seen a few glimpses of blue sky earlier in the day, but the cloud cover had since thickened. It occurred to Estelle, staring into the darkness above, that she’d been on the planet for three weeks and had rarely seen any stars.

“For all the ease and familiar tastes this place offers,” she mused, “it is a very alien planet.”

The android, pacing the perimeter with his rifle, gave her a blank look. “It is by definition alien, for we are not native to it.”

“Yeah, but…” She shifted on her bedroll. “This is why I don’t understand how they could send such an unqualified crew. How could they be ready for this?”

“You seem abnormally fixated on their qualifications.”

“So it doesn’t seem weird to you?”

“I have acknowledged the group’s atypical composition. Why do you belabor the point? It was not my place to evaluate the selection process nor its results.”

“The admiral told me they assembled the colonies’ best and brightest for this mission. I’m having trouble understanding how this group fits that description.”

“Perhaps they possessed skills and qualities beyond what is detailed in their profiles.”

“Okay, but like what?” She held the datapad up to his face. “Why wouldn’t the admiralty want relevant information like that to be front and center?”

“I would not presume to speculate on the admirals’ minds.”

She threw up her hands. “I’ll speculate. I think their minds are messed up. As far as they were concerned, this mission was to determine the fate of the colonies. Humanity’s future was at stake, Starling, as far as anyone knew. And in the face of destiny, with all that on the line, they sent one barely qualified man and four very unqualified, very beautiful young women.”

The android stopped his march and glanced sidelong at her.

“I think that’s kind of weird, Starling.”

He resumed pacing. “They also sent me.”

“And programmed you to nod off as soon as the crew landed. Come on. No plan is this terrible by accident.”

They followed the river of honey for much of the next morning. They decided to follow it downstream to avoid the steep terrain further up, but found that it only widened and deepened until finally opening up into a broad, glistening lake.

Estelle threw up her hands, livid at the idea of having to backtrack. Her ankle throbbed, still feeling the effects of yesterday’s downhill march.

Starling set down his gear. “On the positive side, captain, if my estimates are correct, we are not far from our destination. The landing site should be on the other side of this lake.” He squinted into the distance, at a dome-shaped hill. “We have only to find a way across.”

“Do you think we could go around?”

“It would mean another day of walking.”

“Nebulas.” She sighed and kicked at the crumbly ground. Her foot struck something and she bent down to check it. “Hey…more tire tracks.”

Starling hurried over. “Yes, and seemingly fresher. Curious…they lead straight down toward the shore, right at the mouth of the river…”

“…and disappear,” Estelle concluded. She followed the tracks down and wandered the shoreline; there was a wide area that had been flattened down where the tracks ended.

“Captain,” called the android behind her. He held up a rope, one end tied to a nearby tree and the other disappearing under the surface of the river.

Estelle folded her arms. “Hm. Uh, give it a pull.”

He hauled on it and it sprung up out of the river. It stretched all the way to the other shore, where something in the bushes shifted. He pulled again, more forcefully, and a large raft slid out of the bushes and onto the honey.

The raft was made from cannibalized metal panels and thermal tiles. It was remarkably wide, with high walls, presumably intended to ferry the rover.

“Impressive,” said Estelle, picking up her gear. “Well, this has to be a good sign.”

They took the raft back across and found more tire tracks on the far side. The ruts lead up toward the hill they’d seen and looked well-worn. They soon encountered more tracks, crossing in several directions, and it became clear to Estelle and Starling that they had found their convergence point.

They emerged into a clearing. At the center, in a neat ring, stood five metal cylinders, each with a colored hatch and a small window. A pile of mangled machinery lay within the ring.

Beyond the ring were stacks of supply crates and what looked to be a storage container. Behind that, at the base of the huge hill, they found the expedition’s rover.

“Hello, there,” Estelle cooed. She looked up at the hill. It was smooth and uncovered, not made of the dirt at their feet but something smoother…jigglier.

She dug out a handful and tasted it. Starling shook his head.

“Cheesecake?” she wondered, chewing. “Ah, what’s this here?”

Starling followed her gaze to a hole in the side of the hill, four or five feet across and just tall enough to stand in. “A cave?”

Estelle nodded, sighing. “Well, I suppose we’d better go in.”

It was the entrance to a long tunnel, leading deep into the hill. Its walls were fairly smooth and the floor solid, packed down by repeated foot traffic. An array of dim lights was strung along the ceiling.

“Think anybody’s home?” Estelle whispered. “They left the lights on for us.”

“Or it was too late to turn them off.”

“Thanks for that encouraging thought. Okay, here we go.”

They emerged into a large, high-ceilinged cavern. The lights here were off, but the glow from the tunnel spilled in enough to show dim shapes. There was some rudimentary furniture, including desks and chairs and countertops, and a few deactivated viewscreens mounted to the walls. A row of footlockers divided the room in half and on the far side of it Estelle could make out four bulky mounds covered in sheets.

“There’s no one here,” Starling observed. “Perhaps they have gone out for the day. Or—”

“No,” Estelle murmured. “They’re right here.” She tiptoed around the footlockers toward the sheet-covered mounds. They were not mounds, she’d realized, but bodies: four obese, rotund bodies, slumbering peacefully on the floor.
 

Marlow

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Chapter 10

Starling located a control panel and brought the cavern’s lights up to a gentle glow. Estelle paced around the unconscious explorers, hands on her hips.

One slept slouched against the wall; the flabby blonde was barely recognizable as Selena, the crew’s cartographer and purported commander. Nearby lay the geologist and the engineer, Hoshi’s head resting happily on the enormous pillow that Ayla’s abdomen had become. Behind them Estelle found the biologist. Hester slept face down, her bright red hair splayed out in a tangled mess.

“It’s them, alright,” Estelle whispered. “Commander Jolan…Ms. Roderick…Ms. Alani…Dr. Irving…” She glanced around again with a frown. “No Hyllus, though.”

“Perhaps the professor is on watch,” Starling offered.

“Then he’s a shitty watchman.” She folded her arms. “Look at them, Starling. They’re…huge. I mean, I get putting on some weight…two years trapped on a planet full of food, but seriously…don’t they have any self-control?”

The android cocked an eyebrow. Estelle grimaced and shifted her suit’s waistline to better cover her own little gut.

Curious, she bent down next to Selena. “Well, she still has her bio-pak on. Let’s see here…”

“Subject is in good health,” the monitor reported. “441 pounds—”

Estelle rushed to mute it, eyes wide. She sat there frozen for a moment, but the big woman slumbered on.

Estelle slid away, mouthing an amazed “four forty-one!?” at Starling.

She left Selena to her snoring and checked the others. Ayla’s monitor announced her at 346 and Hoshi’s put her at 395. Hester, however, though quite plump, looked about half as large as the others.

“Subject in good health. 228 pounds, body mass: fort—”

The red hair shifted. “Huh? Wh…whatsat?”

Estelle sprang to her feet. Hester rolled over, saw her, and scrambled back against the wall in terror.

“Holy nebulas,” the doctor hissed, her chest heaving. It was an impressive chest—she may not have gained as much weight as her peers, but much of what she had gained had found its way to her bosom. “Selena! Co-co-commander…Selena, hey!”

“It’s okay, I…we…” Estelle stammered, palms spread. “Uh, Starling, maybe put down the rifle.”

“Ah. Of course. My apologies, captain.”

The commander groaned from her corner, pushing hair from her face. “Hester, not yet…so early. So hungover.”

Estelle looked at Starling, who shrugged.

“Selena, seriously,” Hester pleaded. “You might want…there’s someone here, eh?”

The blonde opened an eye. It caught sight of the intruders and both shot wide open.

Estelle smiled. “Hi.”

“Holy nebulas.”

“Yep.”

“What’s going on?” grumbled the engineer, lifting her head off Ayla’s stomach. Ayla peered over in groggy confusion.

Selena tugged up on her bedsheet. “Starling? And you…who are you? What is this?”

“I’m Captain Gorlois, from New Kansas,” Estelle replied calmly, spreading her palms. “You can call me Estelle. I’m sorry for waking you up, but, ah, the admiralty sent me here to find you folks and take you home.”

They gaped at her. Hoshi and Ayla heaved themselves up onto their elbows.

Estelle nodded to herself. “I’d say we have a lot to…talk about.”

“I reckon, yeah,” Selena agreed. Clutching the bedsheet tight, she reached her free hand toward a nearby console. “Could you back up a step?”

“Right, sure. Sorry. Didn’t mean to barge in on your, uh, sleeping area.” Estelle backtracked to the other side of the row of footlockers.

Selena pressed a key on the console. “Perfect.”

Something clunked overhead. Estelle looked up in time to see a wire-frame cage fall down on her from the ceiling. Its edges embedded themselves about a foot into the cheesecake floor, anchoring it and trapping Estelle firmly inside.

She pulled at the wires. They were thin, but strong enough. “Okay, really?” She shook her head and turned to the android, who stood just outside. “Wanna pull this open?”

“Belay that, Starling,” Selena commanded, standing. “I’m still in command of this expedition.”

Starling shrank back from the cage, giving Estelle a remorseful glance. “I apologize, captain. I am programmed to prioritize—”

“I get it, Starling,” she grumbled.

“I’m not sure what surprises me more,” Hoshi remarked, “that fact that the cage actually worked or the fact that we actually got to use it.”

Selena cleared her throat. “Get dressed, ladies. Hester, you might as well get breakfast started, since we’re up. And then our guest is going to explain herself.”

Estelle leaned against the wires, her muffin-top squeezing into the open spaces. “Y’all have been stuck here alone for two years and when somebody finally visits you drop a cage on her? Somebody trying to rescue you, no less…”

“We aren’t big on trust, ‘captain.’ Not anymore. And we aren’t big on the idea of going home, either.” She gestured for her crew to get moving.

Estelle sighed. “You’re plenty big otherwise,” she grumbled under her breath.

She spent the next several minutes glaring at the four explorers as they got cleaned up and dressed. It was a bizarre sight, full of groaning and yawning and more wobbling flesh than she’d ever expected to see in one lifetime.

She watched Hester pull on her green survival suit. The biologist’s swollen chest seemed to take up the whole of the suit’s top, leaving her midriff uncovered. Her pale, freckled beer gut jutted out over her waistline, rounded and bouncing. Though constrained by the suit, her breasts swung and heaved as she walked.

Hoshi, the engineer, only wore the top half of her suit. She was a bottom-heavy woman and her torso had not expanded so much as it had merely softened. From the waist down, however, her girth filled out an orange skirt—Estelle recognized the material as the parachute from a landing pod. It was a simple wrap that hung open on one side, showing off the cellulite-covered thickness of Hoshi’s thighs. Her hips constantly brushed against anything or anyone she passed.

Ayla, on the other hand, wore only the bottom half of her suit. Even then she had reduced those pants to low-riding capris, likely because so much fabric had to be devoted to containing her enormous rear. As far backward as her butt jutted, her stomach poked just as far forward, barely covered by a shiny foil crop-top. Unlike the others, she appeared to have retained some modicum of muscle mass. It was evident in her shoulders and thighs, but remained generally hidden elsewhere by flab.

Selena, though, had abandoned her survival suit entirely. All her weight seemed devoted to width: wide thighs, wide hips, wide flanks, wide breasts, and at least as much fat devoted to her lovehandles as to her paunch. She draped a short tunic over herself, which did so little to cover or restrain her girth that it seemed hardly more than a proprietary formality. She belted the tunic at her waist with a length of cable and her rolls flopped happily out from the sides.

To Estelle, the commander seemed shamelessly massive. Selena’s whole body heaved with her every movement. It made Estelle conscious of her own weight and she felt her comparatively little stomach tighten.

They all giggled to one another. They were all but oozing out of their outgrown garments and not one of them seemed the least embarrassed or apologetic.

They cleared the middle of the room of its furniture and laid out a broad tarp. Hester opened a large supply crate in the back and began rummaging inside. Selena nodded to Ayla, who picked up the abandoned rifle.

“You even know how to use that?” asked Estelle.

“Maybe I’m just a geologist to you,” Ayla retorted, aiming at her, “but there’s plenty you don’t know about me.”

“I know enough, Ms. Roderick. I know you’re not really a geologist. That’s right, I know you’re fake; I know you’re all fakes.” She glared around at them.

Selena waddled up to the cage. “And you’re fake, too, aren’t you, mate?” She looked Estelle up and down. “You said the admiralty sent you…but there’s no way you’re a naval officer.”

“I’m not with the fleet. But I am a captain, I do have a ship, and I am here to rescue you, you idiots.”

“But we’re not here to be rescued, ‘captain.’ And why would the admiralty send a lone civilian pilot all the way here for us? Better yet: why would she go?”

Estelle stared her down.

“She’s a criminal, commander,” Starling replied, “convicted and hoping to have her sentence commuted.”

Selena raised an eyebrow. “A criminal. What was her crime, Starling?”

“Unlawful trafficking.”

“Interesting. And now she wants to traffic us, ay? Well, we’re tired of being cargo.” She gave the cage a shake. The motion ended up shaking her body far more. “Looks like your sentence has been commuted after all, captain…to here.”
 

Clovis

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Great new chapter. I like that you are emphasizing different body shapes. Your bits of humor also work well.
 

ramka92110

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This is truly amazing :D :smitten:
I'm already a huge fan of this story and can't WEIGHT(lol) to see more :) The description of the planet made me think of Charlie and the chocolate factory
As a french, not problem at all for reading this amazing work of you again :bow:
 

Marlow

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Glad you're enjoying! Thanks for the feedback.




Chapter 11

Estelle slumped against the wall of her cage, watching the four explorers waddle about the cavern. They had brought out a broad table and were clearing it for their breakfast.

Starling stood patiently next to the cage. “I am certain they will release you shortly, captain. I am unable to speak falsehoods and can corroborate your account and purpose here.”

“They’re so fat,” Estelle whispered, glaring. “They don’t look ashamed of it at all, either. Like they haven’t even noticed.”

The android gave her an uncertain glance. “Perhaps they have simply grown too accustomed to it. Given how long they have seen no one but one another, it is easy to see how the novelty might diminish.”

“They almost seem to like it.” She scrunched her face in disgust. “There’s something wrong with them. You noticed nobody’s mentioned Hyllus? Nebulas…I wonder if they ate him.”

“Such a barbaric act would be decidedly out of character.”

“I was joking. But seriously—is it in their character to triple their weight in two years?”

“I think the bigger concern is how physiologically unprecedented…” He looked at Estelle, who had sat down in a huff. “Captain, you seem quite distressed by their obesity.”

She spread her hands. “Well, it’s distressing.”

“Their mission’s sole purpose was the search for food. We shouldn’t be upset with them for succeeding.”

Estelle frowned at the enormous women. “Oh, they’ve succeeded plenty. But they’ve kept the success all to themselves, Starling. As far as they know, all their home colonies are still starving to death while they sit here stuffing their faces.” She folded her arms. “They’ve spent two years on a planet full of food—made of food, maybe—and haven’t fired up their beacon to call home with the good news. Something’s wrong here, man.”

“I’m sure there’s more to their story, as there is to yours.”

Hester re-entered the cavern from a side tunnel, pushing a wheeled cart. She brought it alongside the table and served out a series of platters piled high with some of the planet’s curious delicacies: the succulent orchard fruit, hunks of the dairyland’s cheese, and slices of the bread hills. Each place setting received a tall glass of the creamy river milk and a small plate with a wobbling, richly-colored cube—a piece of the cavern wall, probably.

The other women rolled four makeshift benches over to the table, complimenting Hester on her work. At the sight of the food and the prospect of breakfast, it seemed their prisoner had been forgotten.

Estelle gaped at the spread. Each meal looked like enough food for at least a day. She noticed, though, an irritating pang of hunger in her own gut.

“Look, ladies,” she ventured once they’d sat, “everything I’ve said is true. Just ask Starling: I’m here to help. You don’t want to be rescued, fine, but don’t…I mean, I’m not here to hurt anyone, if that’s what you think.”

Selena glowered at her. “Sure, you’re here to avoid prison.”

“I could’ve stayed in prison. Would’ve meant a lot less time stuck in stupid cryo-sleep and a lot less running from blob-monsters.” She pressed her palms to the cage bars. “I came because I thought I could help. I want to get the four of you home.”

“Five,” Starling corrected. “We mustn’t forget Professor Hyllus.”

“He’s already forgotten, Starling. Hyllus is gone.” She glanced around at the explorers—a couple had frozen mid-forkful. “Yeah. Four bedrolls in the sleeping area. Four chairs for the table. Nobody’s mentioned him. Plus, everyone went white when you said his name. He’s long gone, isn’t he, ladies?”

Selena set down her milk. “He’s dead,” she said flatly.

“A squirmer killed him,” Hester murmured.

“Squirmer,” echoed Estelle, raising an eyebrow. “Big grey oozy things, partial to smacking people around?”

“Vicious fiends,” Ayla growled.

Estelle looked at Starling. “Yeah, I think we met one or two on the way here.”

“They came off as decidedly unfriendly,” the android added.

Selena shifted in her seat. “Where? Not here in the valley?”

Estelle scratched her head. “Uh, no, kinda between the big orchard forest and the plains. There was a waterfall of, um, milk.” She shrugged. “We…pushed the first one off a cliff. And dropped the other one into a gorge.”

“You’re lucky to be alive.”

“So are you, if you’ve have been dodging those things for two years.”

The cartographer nodded. “We found a way to keep them out of the valley. It’s safe down here.”

“Well, good. That really, ah…” She put her hands on her hips and looked away. “So you’ve got a little slice of heaven carved out for yourselves, huh?”

Selena studied her. “We’re happy here. I’m sorry for the harsh welcome, captain. It’s just that we’ve…had to move on from home.”

“Sounds like it. Well, full disclosure, most of home has moved on from you. Scarcity’s over; the political landscape is all different. They care about you so much that they sent a convict all by herself to come get you…now they’re rid of both of us and never had to risk admiralty resources.”

They looked at each other for half a minute. Selena finished her milk, grimaced, and finally leaned across the table. “Ayla, go on and let her out. Hester, can you fix her up some breakfast? We’ll give our first ever guest a proper welcome this time.”

Estelle was released from the cage and ushered to the table. Ayla pushed a footlocker over for her to sit on. Estelle noticed that the other benches were equally crude, mostly crates and spare equipment jury-rigged into makeshift chairs.

“Sorry about the furniture,” said Hoshi, moving dishes around. “We landed with a full set of chairs and things, but they, uh, weren’t quite strong enough.”

“Right.” Estelle gaped as Hester set the various dishes in front of her; the same excessive amount of food she’d served the others. “That’s…that’s more than enough, thanks.”

“You said the scarcity’s over?” asked the redhead, sitting down next to her. “No more hunger back home?”

Estelle gave the food a tentative taste. She chewed for a few moments, then plunged in for a bigger helping. “It’s not perfect,” she said between bites, “but yeah, the crisis is done. Colonies are gonna survive.”

Hoshi returned to her bench. “What happened? How did they find food without our expedition coming through?”

“Well…look, I’m gonna be honest, and I’m sorry. Your mission was over almost before it started.” She tried the milk—heavy and creamy indeed. “Right after you left, the fleet made contact with a federation of colonies a couple systems over. They’re better established and have an amazing supply network. Our folks signed a quick accord, made an alliance, and now there are plenty of rations for everybody.”

They stared at her.

Estelle stifled a sudden belch. “Well, maybe ‘plenty’ isn’t the right word. There’re still rations. And they still kinda suck. But there are enough, now. The starvation stopped.”

Hester pouted. “So they probably don’t miss us at all. Our whole project was a waste.”

“The expedition was obsolete before you even got here. It was a P.R. stunt if it was anything, just buying time until our new neighbors bailed us out. I’m sorry.”

“Not surprised,” Selena growled. “Agh. You know, until we got here, I actually believed we had some purpose. Whether we were heroes or martyrs or whatever, I thought we were doing something great.”

“We all did,” said Ayla.

Estelle wiped her juice-covered lips. “Until you got here? What happened?”

Selena looked at her. “Everything fell apart. We’d barely been here a month before we knew it was all over…totally knackered.” She folded her hands atop her huge stomach. “More milk?”
 

Marlow

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Chapter 12

Estelle’s eyes fluttered open. She lifted her head with a sharp breath and wiped her mouth.

Blinking groggily in the soft cavern light, it occurred to her that she’d somehow managed to doze off. There was a strange, throbbing pressure behind her eyes, her throat tingled with mild heartburn, and her stomach, she realized in horror, was stretched taut. It was so thoroughly bloated that her muffin-top seemed to have lost its softness.

The other women were gone, along with Starling. The table had been cleared and the wheeled cart was stacked with a shocking number of used dishes—Estelle noted that they had very few scraps left on them.

“Oof,” she said, pressing a hand to her abdomen. “Quite a breakfast…”

Hester leaned in from behind her, her red curls filling Estelle’s vision. “Aha, hi there,” she giggled. “She’s alive at last, eh?”

Estelle rubbed her temples. “Yeah, guess I nodded off. Ugh. Sorry.”

“Not a problem.” Hester laughed and patted her pot-belly. “Trust me, we’re familiar with food comas. You’ll get used to it.”

“Hopefully not,” Estelle grunted, eying Hester’s exposed midsection. “Well, thanks for not just throwing me back in the cage or something.”

“Nah. And we’re all pretty sorry about that, eh? It’s been a weird time here with everything that’s happened and Selena’s all about caution. But don’t you worry, captain, I’m all about hospitality.” The doctor puffed out her impressive chest. “So, the android said you might like a tour. Want to have a look around?”

Estelle stared stupidly. The pressure in her stomach was distracting. “Uh, yeah, alright. Lead on.”

With a delighted smile, Hester reached out a hand to help her up. Estelle steadied herself on her feet and looked around the cavern.

“Just us, huh?”

“For the moment,” the redhead replied, heading across the chamber. “After breakfast the others have a handful of chores to get through. Keeps things running.”

“You don’t have chores?”

“Breakfast is my chore. See, I generally do the cooking and serving. Everyone decided that I put the best meals together.” She lowered her voice and leaned in toward Estelle. “Plus, I’m usually more interested in feeding others than feeding myself.”

Estelle cocked an eyebrow. Hester’s naked, bouncing gut seemed to belie her statement, but there was no denying the substantial gap between her weight and the others’.

“Anyway, as you’ve seen, this is our humble home. Safe shelter for sleeping, eating, lounging around, more eating, whatever.”

“Has this been home the whole time? Pretty convenient to find a cave right next to your landing site.”

Hester headed into the entrance tunnel. “We didn’t move in right away, not really,” she recalled. She pinched off a piece of the cheesecake wall and popped it in her mouth. “The cave wasn’t naturally this big or elaborate. We’ve…expanded it over time.”

“Uh huh.”

“Anyway, Hoshi’s been great. She was able to rig up lights, water, everything. Luckily there was plenty of equipment for her to repurpose.”

“Very impressive. Can’t say I ever imagined living inside a cheesecake. Is…is everything on this planet really edible?”

They emerged outside into the daylight of the clearing. The noon sun, filtered through a thin layer of cloud, gleamed off the ring of landing pods. A gentle breeze freshened the air. Hester breathed deep—pushing out her chest and belly—and turned to Estelle with a smile.

“Yep. At least, we haven’t found anything yet that isn’t. I’ve tested samples everywhere we’ve explored (and tasted, for that matter)…all the solid and liquid matter on this planet is safe for human consumption.” She walked out into the clearing. “More than just safe to eat, too. It’s all flavorful and nourishing and organic…”

Estelle followed her out. “And familiar. Recognizable as common human cuisine.”

“But how?” asked a voice. Starling appeared out of the woods, carrying a crate.

Hester shrugged.

“How is it even possible?” he wondered, setting down his burden and joining them.

“No idea. Kinda stopped asking after a while. But here, come this way. There’s more to see.” She shuffled off around the mound of cheesecake.

“Doesn’t make sense,” Estelle murmured, following.

“I agree,” pouted the android. “An entire planet with no evidence of animal inhabitation is somehow composed entirely of constantly-renewed, complex substances identical to an animalian diet. Not to mention many substances which are either only produced by animals, or at the very least do not exist unless combined by animals for the express purpose of consumption.”

“Have you tested the milk, Hester? Is it cow’s?”

“Resembles it, yeah. But we’ve also found some pools of goat milk, coconut milk, almond milk…but to Starling’s point, you’re right. Haven’t seen a single cow.” She gestured to the lake of honey and added, “…or bee.”

“So where does it come from, Doctor?” Starling pressed. “Does it rain milk and honey?”

“Er, no. It actually never rains here. In our two years there’s been no precipitation at all—the clouds up there are permanent.” They reached the far side of the mound and entered another, smaller clearing. A large storage pod sat in the center. “From what we can tell, everything comes from the ground, or under it. For example, we’ve traced the milk to a spring up in the mountains.”

“A spring.”

“Yep. Just gushes up. The honey river comes out of a cave in the hard candy heights…haven’t gotten too deep in there yet. Too sticky.”

They made their way to the pod. Hester pulled a lever and the walls lowered, revealing a circular seating basket rigged to a tall, white observation balloon.

Hester opened the railed side door and bowed. “All aboard, friends. Let’s take a look around.”

The balloon rose slowly above the clearing and up from behind the cheesecake mound. It was tethered to its landing pad by a spool of cable; the tether kept them within the valley as the breeze pushed them gently toward the eastern wall.

“So, here’s the valley,” Hester explained, smiling down at it. “Great shelter. There’s a sheer stony ridge along the rim that’s only broken in a handful of places. You came through one of the widest passageways…I figure it was that one to the west.”

Estelle squinted. “Yeah, that looks right. It was some kind of…licorice forest.”

“Oh, yeah. Selena loves going up there. Anyway, you saw everything to the west, then. You can see the mountains north of there, which you probably avoided. They’re mostly hard candy, like I said, and frozen this time of year, but there’s some grottos with gelatin and pudding and…mm.”

She turned and locked the unspooling cable. They’d reached a dizzying height above the valley floor and could see a few miles beyond the ridge Hester had pointed out.

“To the south we have the honey lake, which you saw. Flows further down the valley toward the ocean. But on the other side you’ll see some more interesting terrain.”

“Looks like a bunch of bowls.”

“Pretty much. They’re all independently spring-fed.”

“Spring-fed with what?”

“Uh, beverages. Each one is full of something different.” She looked at the sky and counted on her fingers. “Water, different kinds of juices, lemonades, a bunch of different sodas…”

“Sodas?” Starling echoed. “Now we are talking about a substance whose creation requires not only human involvement, but technological involvement.”

Hester nodded. “There’s beer, too…and wine, and little streams of harder stuff…”

“Unbelievable,” Estelle whispered.

“Right? And you haven’t even looked east yet. Here, I’ll show you unbelievable.” She spooled out more cable, allowing them to drift almost out over the eastern ridge. The low ceiling of cloud whirled overhead.

Beyond the ridge, the land sloped into a low, flattened plain. Estelle squinted at it, blinking in confusion. Lying all over the plain, often piled up into hills or half-buried alone in the whitish earth, were many of the same foods she’d seen elsewhere on the planet—fruits, candies, and various delicacies—but they seemed much closer than they should have from such a height.

Hester watched with a smug grin as Estelle’s eyes widened.

“Holy nebulas,” the smuggler breathed. “They must be enormous.”

Hester nodded. “That chocolate bar there is as long as our rover. And that apple, just beyond that, yeah, is the size of a small house. Talk about portion sizes, eh?”

Estelle’s stomach, to her horror, rumbled softly.

“That plain stretches on for a couple hundred miles. And it’s packed with that big stuff from end to end.”

“All individual items?” Starling asked. “Very interesting. Elsewhere much of the food seems to be born in large masses—landforms or bodies of water—but up there everything is a self-contained and discrete object. Why?”

“It’s a weird planet. We sailed to an island last year that had all this sort of stuff, but super small…dollhouse-sized food.” The redhead shrugged. “I wish I could explain it. Everywhere we go, it’s different, except for one thing: it’s all delicious and there’s no end to it.”

Estelle propped her elbows on the railing. “Mission accomplished,” she muttered.

Hester heaved up on a lever and the balloon began winching its way down the cable. The field of giant food disappeared behind the ridge as they descended back into the valley.

“Mission accomplished,” the redhead agreed. “So you can see why we’re not super interested in being rescued.”
 

Marlow

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Chapter 13

The balloon touched down. Estelle and Starling stepped out while Hester packed it away in its housing.

“I believe I understand their sentiment,” said the android, once they were out of earshot. “The way Doctor Irving has presented it, they do seem to have carved out a small-scale utopia for themselves.”

Estelle glared at the ground. “How is this a utopia? They’re marooned on a weird alien planet, living in a cave, running from ooze-monsters, with nothing to do but eat themselves to death.”

“Perhaps, but consider the liberation, captain. They are removed from the stresses and expectations of their old lives.”

Estelle shook her head. “Abandoning responsibility isn’t the same as being freed from it.”

She frowned through the rest of the tour, unwilling to be impressed. Hester showed them the whole compound with the cheeriness of a proud homeowner and lovingly introduced every makeshift amenity. The expedition had dug—or perhaps, Estelle grumbled, simply eaten—a series of tunnels underneath the cheesecake dome, with quarters for washing and storage and other services.

Although Estelle had found the women all slumbering in the common room, they apparently each had their own private chambers. Hester’s featured a small medical lab, Selena’s several tables laid out with charts, Ayla’s chemical and geological testing stations, and Hoshi’s a pile of scrap metal, wiring, and power tools.

“We can carve you out a room, too,” Hester offered, leading them back to the common room. “Would only take a few extra helpings of desserts, eh?” She tapped Estelle’s stomach.

Estelle cringed. “That’s okay. I’m not planning on…staying.”

“Maybe we’ll carve it out anyway. Hard to say no to extra dessert.” She jiggled mischievously. “Anyway, here’s the master control station.”

They followed her to an array of computer monitors on the far end. The spread took up half the wall, with a dozen viewscreens showing the various entrances to the compound and views of the valley wall.

Starling squinted at one of the monitors. It showed a stretch of the ridge above the honey-creek, the same pass that had led them into the valley.

“Hey,” Estelle remarked, recognizing it, “that’s where we came through.”

He nodded. “What are the blue lights on either side of the pass? I don’t recall seeing those.”

Hester smirked. “Those are our bug-zappers. Keeps the squirmers from getting through…we have them at every entrance to the valley.”

“They can’t just go over the ridge or something?”

“If they can, they haven’t figured it out yet. I don’t think they’re great at climbing. Don’t seem to like swimming, either, so they basically can’t get in here as long as the zappers are on.”

Estelle folded her arms. “Handy.”

“Yep. Keeps our little slice of paradise, well, a paradise. Wouldn’t be quite so much fun if it were crawling with monsters, eh?”

“Probably not. So these ‘squrimers’…what’s the deal? Figure they’re your area, miss biologist.”

“I suppose. Not much data to go on, but we’ve studied what we can.” She thought for a moment, pudgy cheeks dimpling. “Haven’t been any dead ones to autopsy. What we do know we learned from chunks we’ve blasted off, and those disintegrate within a couple hours. But, from what I can tell, they’re prokaryotic…basically giant microbes.”

“Like amoebas?”

“Sort of. Except overdeveloped and, uh, overgrown.” She absently scratched her own overdeveloped and overgrown stomach. “Haven’t figured out how, yet.”

“And they don’t seem to like visitors.”

“Nope. I figure this planet has a very short, simple food chain, and they prefer to be on top.”

Starling pondered the viewscreens. “So with a monitor on this pass, you would have seen us arrive yesterday, no?”

“Well, no,” the redhead admitted with a chuckle. “The cameras did, but we weren’t watching them. Got kind of distracted by the beer last night.”

Estelle shook her head. “For some reason, despite everything I’ve seen, I thought you were kidding about the beer springs.”

“I don’t kid about beer, captain. A good portion of this gut is beer, eh?” She slapped it for emphasis. Estelle looked away with a sharp breath.

“Someone’s coming,” said Starling, pointing.

It was the same monitor, aimed at their entryway through the ridge. Through it they could see the expedition’s rover, a trio of rotund bodies bouncing in their seats as the wheels tore over uneven terrain. The rover shot out of the pass, skidded sideways to a stop, and the occupants twisted round to look back.

“Looks like they’re back early,” Hester lilted. “Must have run into some company.”

A wriggling grey mass appeared in the pass, roiling between the rocks with reckless, oozing abandon. It reared up and shuddered, no doubt unleashing its screech. It then flopped down and began undulating madly forward.

The two blue points of light flared to life at the end of the pass. They flashed alternately, filling the rock cut with pale light. Smoke floated up and half-formed pseudopods thrashed from within. After half a minute, the monster could be seen squirming desperately back up the pass. Those in the rover exchanged a round of high fives.

“See?” beamed Hester. “As long is this little blue switch is set to ‘on,’ we’re as safe as can be here in the valley.”

Estelle folded her arms.

“Come on. We can meet them at the landing and help unload.”

They followed her back out of the habitat and sat on a long bench-shaped pastry until they heard the sound of treads on toffee. The rover trundled into the clearing and pulled up next to Hester, who welcomed her party back with hearty laughter.

The back of the rover was piled high with foods foraged from beyond the valley wall. They were irregularly packed and held in place by cargo netting. A couple small barrels sloshed with a red liquid and a brown powder was spilling from an overturned crate. Propped up against the crate was Estelle’s rifle.

Ayla kicked open her door and lurched out of the rover. Her side of the vehicle rose a few inches as her weight shifted off of it.

“Had an exciting trip back, eh?” giggled Hester.

“Bastard was holed up right by the brown sugar dune,” Ayla sighed, reaching to unfasten the cargo net.

Estelle hurried over. “Here, let me help with that.”

“Oh, thanks. But yeah, he followed us all the way back to the wall.”

“Not through it, though!”

Hoshi’s pear-shaped mass slid out of the rover, shifting it further up. “I think I need to check the command station on the zappers,” she grunted, hiking up her skirt. “Took a full thirty seconds to back him off.”

“It was an impressive display nonetheless,” Starling offered helpfully.

Selena craned her head around and slung a flabby arm over her seat. Her girth swelled up in front of her, pinched awkwardly by the seatbelts. “Why don’t you run in and check that, Hoshi? Don’t want to take any risks there.”

“You bet,” the engineer replied with a mock salute. “Can’t promise you I’ll run, though. Not sure these legs could manage more than a brisk waddle.” Everyone laughed as she wriggled her thigh.

“You could try rolling,” Ayla sneered, clapping her on the back.

“Maybe. Though I figure Selena’s a lot closer to being spherical than I am.”

They all laughed again. The enormous Selena leaned back and rubbed her stomach. “Plenty of time for you to catch up. Although I don’t plan on slowing down any time soon.”

“So what all did we get?” asked Hester, poring through the cargo.

Selena raised her eyebrows. “I think we found all the baking ingredients you had on the list—the cinnamon’s in there, yeah—and Ayla spotted a new wine creek. Real oaky feel to it, goes down easy.”

“Too easy,” Ayla added. “Couldn’t let Hoshi drive afterward.”

“Also picked up some more fruit, some potatoes, of course, and…” She took a long breath and turned to Estelle. “…and some news you’re not gonna like, captain.”

Estelle looked up from the crates.

“What is it?”

Selena moved to sit up, but only managed to shift her weight and rock the rover about. “Winter’s set in around the mountains. There’s a big sheet of ice blocking the northern pass.”

Estelle glanced at Starling, but he shook his head. “Meaning?”

“That pass is the only way to the peninsula where you landed. You won’t be able to get back to the shuttle while that ice is there.”

“I didn’t come in through the pass. We crossed some kind of rock candy bridge by the coast.”

Selena nodded. “…which you subsequently destroyed.”

“Ah,” Estelle coughed. “Right. So what’s the alternate route?”

“There isn’t one, captain.”

She stared. “You’re telling me I’m stuck here.”

“Until the ice melts. From what we’ve observed of the seasons here, you’re looking at the second or third week of spring at the earliest.” She took a long breath. “That’s about two and a half, maybe three months at this point.”

Estelle sputtered. “I don’t want to be here another day. My job is to get you off this rock as soon as possible.”

Hester tugged at her arm. “Captain, ‘as soon as possible’ might just not be as soon as you expected.”

“There’s gotta be more than just the land route. Can’t we, I don’t know, sail around that cape? You said the squirmers don’t seem to like swimming.”

“It would take weeks to construct vessel than can handle open ocean,” Hoshi explained. “With the wind and current against you, it would take weeks to actually get there, too. And since New Kansas manufactures its fresh water, I’m guessing you don’t know a damned thing about sailing.”

“And, as I’ve said,” Selena continued, “we’re not leaving with you. We didn’t choose to be marooned here, but we have chosen to stay marooned. And, at least for the next couple of months, it looks like you’re marooned with us.”

“Unacceptable. We’re going home.”

“Estelle, please,” whispered Hesper, “even if we wanted to go back with you, leaving isn’t an option right now.”

“I’ll find another way around. I don’t care how dangerous it is.”

Selena shook her head. “Steady on—there’s no sense in that. Just hear me out, captain. You’re welcome to crash here with us till spring, no worries. See the planet, take it easy, spend a couple months with these friendly gals. Once the pass thaws, we can deal with the question of leaving…maybe you go off without us, maybe you decide you like it here.”

Hester shrugged. “Either way, there’s not much you can do until then, aye? Why not make the best of it? Of all the places to get stranded, this one’s not so bad. And you’re stranded with just the loveliest of ladies.”

“Captain,” the android chimed in, “taking their offer of hospitality would be the most logical choice. Our odds are survival increase exponentially in the company of others, especially others with an established and demonstrably defensible domicile.”

Estelle eyed him, but nodded. She looked back to Selena. “And as for the real question…we’re just gonna put that off for now?”

The cartographer heaved herself out of the rover and leaned her bulk against it. “I put lots of things off, mate. You don’t get this big without a little laziness.”

Estelle grimaced. The others stared at her. “Fine,” she grunted at last, “but as soon as that pass is open, the shuttle is leaving.”
 

arch

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A planet made of food and 4 BBWs and one more on the way sounds like my kinda paradise how do I get there.
 

slapbassman33

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Came here to re-read one of your old stories and found this! What luck!

You really have a way with words. Can't wait to see where this one goes.
 

Marlow

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A planet made of food and 4 BBWs and one more on the way sounds like my kinda paradise how do I get there.
Two consecutive sleepless nights and the director's cut of Alien.


Came here to re-read one of your old stories and found this! What luck!

You really have a way with words. Can't wait to see where this one goes.
Yep, I snuck in a second story this year, just to catch everyone off guard.



Chapter 14

Starling watched patiently from the ground as the observation balloon winched its way down the cable. It rocked gently to and fro as it descended, its lone occupant pacing fervently.

As soon as the basket touched the ground, Estelle burst out in a huff. She stomped in a flustered circle around the balloon while Starling secured it in its housing. Once finished, he held out a hand and gently stopped her in her tracks.

“Sorry,” she grumbled. “Still…coming to terms with all this.”

The android collected a pile of maps from the balloon. “I take it you didn’t find anything encouraging up there.”

“They were right. Every pass through the mountain range is impassible. And try as I might I can’t pick out any other viable route to the west.” She unslung a pair of high-powered binoculars from around her neck. “By all the stars…another damn prison.”

“I assume the décor of this cell is preferable to the last, at least.”

“The valley walls are pretty, yes, but they’re still walls.” She sulked off toward the compound.

Starling trotted alongside. “Speaking of which: as you suggested, I’ve been studying the defense system along the valley’s rim.”

“And?”

“It is intact and, as our friends demonstrated, operational.” He leaned in and lowered his voice. “But there is, I’ve noticed, a large portion of power being diverted away from the perimeter system.”

“To where?”

“I couldn’t tell. Hoshi’s labelling nomenclature eludes me. It appears to be a system outside of the main camp, perhaps at a far end of the valley. And whatever it is, it is a substantial draw. Portions of several other systems have also been diverted to support it.”

Estelle furrowed her brow. “Is there still enough power for the zappers?”

“Narrowly—for the time being. We saw how the system seemed slow and drained during their demonstration a few days ago. I suspect the generator is overtaxed, leaving very little room for adjustment or error. If any circuit should be tripped, or any button mispressed on the command console, the whole system would be disrupted and the valley left defenseless.”

“Nebulas,” Estelle breathed, stopping. “But we’re safe for now, barring any disruption?”

“It’s hard to speculate. We’ve only been in the camp a few days.”

She folded her arms. “What would actually need that much power?”

“I’m not certain. The terraforming mechs, perhaps, but there is clearly no use for them here. And even they wouldn’t need to take so much power from the other systems, as their use was calculated into the generator’s original output.”

“I’ll see if I can’t get the ladies to open up.” She turned toward the habitat’s entrance. “I think I’ve been a little too sulky the last couple of days to make any friends. And we didn’t get off on the right foot here in the first place.”

“Perhaps a show of solidarity? To demonstrate that you are open-minded to their interests?”

“Pff. Maybe. But they only seem interested in one thing and I’m still full from last night’s dinner.”

“Sounds like we need to work on your capacity, mate,” Selena lilted, appearing in the mouth of the tunnel. “You had one plate and barely cleaned that. But I reckon since you skipped breakfast this morning you’ll be ready for a full-sized lunch.”

“That wasn’t a plate, it was a platter. And I can’t imagine how you’re thinking about lunch after the breakfast you just had.”

“Yeah, that was a fun one, aye? You should see what we’re doing for lunch.”

Estelle spread her hands. “I just…aren’t you full, though?”

Selena puffed out her stomach, hands on her hips. “Of course I’m full. I just want more. Starling, will you help Hoshi with the groceries? Oy, it’s gonna be sweet-as to have the android here…”

“But…” Estelle frowned. “If you’re not actually hungry…if you don’t actually, uh, need--”

“It’s not about need,” Selena laughed, waddling out of the tunnel. “Estelle, I volunteered for this mission because I knew firsthand how deep the scarcity crisis ran. I grew up in the middle of it. I grew up hungry, spent my whole life hungry.”

“We all did.”

“So you understand. When you’re hungry that long…when fullness is so fleeting and so rare…Estelle, if I have the opportunity to be as full as I want, as much as I want, for as long as I want, you can be damned sure I’m gonna be full for the rest of my life.” She threw up her hands, letting her wobbling lovehandles flop out of the sides of her tunic. “I’m going to eat. And I’m going to keep eating. And if it turns out that this whole crazy planet is edible, then I’m gonna eat this whole crazy planet or die trying.”

She draped a massive around Estelle’s shoulders. Estelle nearly collapsed under the weight.

“Of course, I’m not opposed to sharing. You’re welcome to join us.” She took a deep breath. Walking halfway across the clearing had winded her. “And Captain…I understand that you don’t want to be here. This isn’t your thing. And you traveled all this way just to end up stuck somewhere again. But look, we can’t get you out of here any faster and we’re trying to make things as comfortable as possible while you’re here…but you’ve barely talked to us since the first day.”

Estelle threw a pleading glance at Starling. He simply mouthed ‘show of solidarity.’

She swallowed. “I…I can come in and have lunch, I guess.”

“That’s the spirit!” Selena released her, clapping.

“But I don’t need to full spread, if that’s alright. I don’t want to seem ungrateful or anything, I just…is it cool if I join you gals without, uh, without…”

“Yeah, mate, absolutely. Hester doesn’t eat as much as the rest of us, either, but we love her because she supports us. That’s all we’d ask of anybody in the crew, aye?”

“That’s fair, yeah,” Estelle acquiesced with a nervous chuckle. “Except for the whole cage thing, you all have been nothing but welcoming and I’ve been a little brat.” She wrung her hands. “So can I just get, like, a salad?”

“You bet, captain. We can do pasta salad, potato salad, egg salad…” She guided Estelle toward the tunnel entrance.

“I was thinking maybe something with, uh, lettuce. And just a reasonable portion, if possible. I don’t need the whole mixing bowl.”

Selena shuddered. “Oo, we don’t use the word ‘portion’ here. It sounds too much like ‘ration,’ you know?”

Starling watched them descend into the cave. He turned to look back over at the generators, humming unevenly on the far end of the clearing.
 

oxxnard

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Great stuff, keep it up! I love how its so unpredictable for the plot in your stories even though we know it is a weight gain story.
 

Marlow

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Chapter 15

The rest of Estelle’s first week in camp passed without incident. By the end of her second week the daily routine had finally begun to feel familiar and reliable, if still somewhat surreal.

Estelle herself participated little in the expedition’s routine. The crew gave her a handful of chores around the campsite—generally those tasks that required more labor-intensive movement—but nothing vital to their survival. It was mostly busy-work, intended to keep her occupied and in the area.

For all their wary suspicion, the explorers were unfailingly friendly. When she joined them for meals, they eagerly attempted to include her in the conversation, pressing her for stories from home (typically to laugh at the wrongheadedness of the colonies) and anecdotes from the exciting life of a smuggler (a saga of failure, for the most part).

A wall remained, though, of some faint mutual distrust. Estelle’s presence at mealtime had helped, but her disappointing portion sizes and ability to occasionally eat nothing at all still marked her as alien. Every afternoon, once their morning chores and lengthy lunch were completed, the crew would pile themselves into the rover and drive off. They would never tell Estelle where they were headed or what they did out there and on returning all they could talk about was the evening’s much anticipated dinner.

It was a pleasant, easy routine nonetheless. There were worse ways to waste a winter and there was no denying the planet was a better prison the Incarce-Corp Maximum Security Political Prisoner Containment Vault. Estelle allowed herself to smile every so often and eventually stopped asking questions.

The silence couldn’t last, however. One morning during the third week, having been tasked with hauling unneeded equipment into a basement storage room, her modest muffin-top brushed against a sheet-covered object in the corner. The sheet fell away, revealing a three-foot stone slab.

She stared at the stela. It was irregularly shaped, as though broken off from a larger slate, and covered with carvings.

She tapped her bio-pak. “You don’t have a flashlight, do you?”

“Light,” the voice acknowledged. The monitor on her wrist flared, illuminating the engravings with a dim blue glow.

The carvings portrayed a tower, some kind of ancient, fortified citadel. Hordes of little figures surrounded and attended it and Estelle realized, eyes wide, that each figure sported four arms and a strangely shaped head.

“Aliens,” she gasped.

There were seven figures at the top of the tower, presumably some kind of royalty, adorned with crowns. Dozens more scurried around the base, portrayed in the engraving as a procession of professions leading toward the structure.

Mining figures were taking some kind of star-shaped object from the ground. The objects were carried over the heads of transport-figures, who handed them to a pair of cleaning figures, who presented them to a clerk at a table.

At the base of the citadel, the star-shaped objects were shown in the hands of what could only have been cooks. A set of stairs zig-zagged up the tower, lined with servant figures carrying star-shaped objects up or empty plates down.

“What is this?” Estelle demanded, setting it against a footlocker in the main chamber. She tried not to pant too heavily after heaving the slab all the way upstairs.

The crew stared at her. Frozen mid-waddle, their eyes turned slowly to their commander.

Selena straightened. “We’re just about to head out for the afternoon, captain.” She jerked her thumb at the exit tunnel. “Why don’t you come with us?”

The rover trundled up the east wall of the valley. Estelle sat as stiffly as she could manage, squeezed into the back seat between Ayla and Hester.

“Where are we going?” she asked between bumps.

Ayla grinned. “A treat.”

“We’re ahead of schedule on our big project,” Hester added, “so we’re taking this afternoon off for recreation.”

“Big project?” Estelle echoed.

“You didn’t think all we did was eat and party, did you?” Hoshi shouted from the driver’s seat.

“I was getting the impression that was why you’re here.”

Selena turned around. “We’re here because the admiralty sent us. And they sent us because of that slab you found.”

“What?”

“Some archaeologists dug it up on an abandoned space station in deep space. It’s about seven thousand years old.”

“So it is alien.”

“Very. And as you saw, it shows some sort of flourishing alien civilization. Royalty, servants, all that.” She paused while the rover mounted a pile of pasta. “Did you have a look at the back side?”

Estelle frowned. “No, I guess not.”

“There’s a star map on the back. It took the astronomers and xeno-linguists a while to decipher it, but in the end it led right here. LV-237.”

“Holy nebulas.”

“Too right. That’s when they started studying the place. Took their long distance readings and so forth. Couldn’t see much, but what they did see was promising.”

Ayla shook her head. “And that’s when they got the attention of Professor Flavius Hyllus.”

Estelle cocked an eyebrow, but they were interrupted by the sudden lurching of the rover.

It crested the rise and shot out of the valley’s rim between a pair of zappers, pulsating with a dull blue light. Hoshi steered them through a short ravine and then out onto a smooth plain. It was littered with massive baked goods: tarts the size of hover-cars, muffins they could have taken shelter beneath, and brownies broad enough to host a cyber-tennis court.

“Have you been up to the pastry prairie yet?” Hester giggled.

Estelle stared. “Can’t say I have.”

“Ayla,” Selena called, “I believe it’s your turn to pick today’s recreation.”

Ayla leaned forward, her plush hips crushing Estelle. “I’ve been thinking about that doughnut I saw last week.”

“I know exactly the one,” Hoshi agreed, wrenching the steering wheel round. “Custard.”

Ten minutes later, they emerged from a field of crullers and pulled up next to a massive doughnut. It was the size of an above-ground swimming pool. Glaze gleamed in the afternoon light and the chocolate frosting on top glistened with the promise of just the right amount of moistness.

The rover circled the doughnut, then found a hill behind it and rolled its way up until the occupants could look down on the doughnut. There was no hole to be seen and Estelle suddenly realized what had been meant by the whispered “custard.”

“That should do nicely,” said Ayla. She unbuckled her harness, crawled her way across Estelle and Hester—smothering them in the process—and launched herself off the side of the rover.

Ayla plummeted through the air and cannonballed into the top of the doughnut, puncturing the cap of chocolate frosting.

Estelle gaped. The others cheered.

“Me next!” cried Hoshi. She rolled out of the driver’s seat and flopped into the doughnut. The chocolate mostly shattered and Estelle could see the succulent vanilla custard rippling within.

Hester followed with a squeal, dropping into the far end of the doughnut.

Selena unbuckled her harness. “You are invited to join us in our…recreation, captain.”

“I’m still full from lunch. I’m happy to just hang around, if that’s alright.”

“No worries. More for us,” the commander mused with a shrug. She wriggled her way across the front seat, rocking the whole rover in the process, and hurled herself over the side.

The shift in mass bounced the vehicle so violently that Estelle couldn’t help but panic. She threw off her buckle and tumbled out. There was a terrifying moment of freefall, then she splashed bodily into the custard.

“Changed your mind?” Hester teased, watching her come up for air.

“Holy nebulas,” Estelle panted, spitting custard and wiping her eyes. “This is huge. So deep…I can barely touch the bottom.” She glanced around at the high, doughy walls. “How do we get back out?”

Hoshi grinned. “I think you know.”

“Oh, no.”

“Oh, yes,” said Ayla. She tore a piece off of dough from the wall and stuffed it in her mouth.

Estelle sulked and caught her breath while the others went at it. She was, as she’d claimed, still very full from lunch—she’d been lenient with herself that day—but the custard that found its way onto her tongue was making a very convincing case.

“You said Hyllus worked on the project?” She asked the room, hoping to distract herself.

“He became its most fervent proponent,” Hoshi replied. “When the university decided the planet was too distant to be worth the money to research, he took it to his uncle in the admiralty.”

“This guy adored Hyllus. Would give him anything he wanted,” Ayla added.

“So he did,” Selena continued. “In the name of saving the colonies, this admiral commissioned our expedition, got it funded, and let Hyllus select his own crewmates.”

Estelle choked on a mouthful of dough. The conversation hadn’t distracted her from her hunger, but it had distracted her from her restraint. “What?”

“It’s all true. We didn’t know at the time, but that sick bastard personally selected each one of us. A bunch of desperate and admittedly pretty naïve girls.” Selena paused to slurp down an impressive quantity of custard. “Excuse me. Ah. He even suggested they make me commander…I guess just to look humble or something.”

“Still fancied himself a hero,” Hester chimed in from the other side of the pool, her belly rising from the custard like an island.

“I reckon, aye. He played the part fine until we got here. Soon as we landed, he blew up the emergency beacon with a mining charge. Before we knew what was going on, he sabotaged the rest of the communication equipment.”

Ayla’s face appeared from within the wall of dough. “See, he’d looked at the carvings on that slab and decided he wanted to be the one on top of the tower…wearing a crown and being served by a harem of beautiful slave girls.”

“He reworked the admiralty’s mission to save the colonies,” Hoshi concluded, bobbing past, “into a chance to start his own personal kingdom on a planet rich with resources and too far from any oversight that might stop him. He figured he could set himself up as the great patriarch of a new world, the god-king of the next great interstellar empire.”

Estelle caught herself grabbing another handful of dough and pressed it back into the wall. “How’d that go for him?”

Selena chuckled. “Well, his harem wasn’t quite as cooperative as he’d assumed. We ladies ended up being a little more interested in having our bellies filled with food than having our heads filled with his megalomaniac ideas. He thought he’d get to just relax on his throne, watch his sexy slaves build him a tower, and say to himself, ‘life is good.’ But there we were instead, lazy and spiteful, off getting stuffed and drunk all the time, rubbing our guts and saying to ourselves, ‘life is good.’ I reckon he didn’t care for that.”

“So what happened?”

“He got worse, of course. Angry. Loud. Violent. I mean, obviously we outnumbered him, but…you know how intimidation works.” She stared into the distance. “And then…it was maybe two months after we’d landed…the squirmers rocked up.”

“Nebulas.”

Ayla nodded. “They weren’t any friendlier then than they are now, either. We got the zappers up and running around the camp, just enough to keep the habitat safe. You could look outside and they’d still be there, rolling around and growling at you, daring you to come out.”

“Hyllus lost it,” said Selena. “Decided he’d kill us before he let any aliens touch his precious slave-girls. But for once, we fought back. Ayla held him off long enough for Hester to shoot him up with tranquilizer and Hoshi jury-rigged some restraints.” She stared into the distance. “When he came to, I told him to leave.”

Estelle swallowed.

“He was quiet then. Full of just…silent, seething hate. But he said he’d leave…go start the new world by himself, without—without…what was it, Hoshi?”

Hoshi cleared her throat. “I think it was ‘without you selfish, greedy, and ungrateful sows ruining everything,’ or something to that effect.”

“Right. So, then, we gave him a survival kit and watched him go. He made a run for it from the zappers…the squirmers followed him. That’s the last we saw.” She looked at Estelle. “But after that the squirmers left us alone long enough for us to expand the defense perimeter around the whole valley.”

They ate quietly for a while, reflecting. Estelle waded around aimlessly, trying not to eat as much of the doughnut as she inevitably ended up eating.

Eventually Ayla broke through the doughnut’s outer surface. She broke mouth-first through the glazed wall, letting a flood of custard and fat woman spill out onto the plain. The crew picked themselves up, slipping and sputtering, and helped each other to the rover.

Estelle drove on the way home while the others groaned away their sugar crashes in the back. The rover’s seats were a gooey, saccharine mess and Estelle wasn’t sure how she would ever get her matted hair clean. She bit her lip, but it still tasted like doughnut.

“Selena,” she muttered.

“Hrrn?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault, captain,” Selena grumbled with a belch. “Obviously.”

“Still. I…you gals are well within your rights to want to stay. I can’t fault you for that. I just…hope I can make things right, somehow.” She eased the rover back over the pile of pasta. “When I get back to the colonies, I’ll tell the admirals everything.”

“Like they’ll give a damn.”

“They do give a damn…as much as they’re legally allowed to. They sent me here to bring you home, didn’t they?”

“They sent an expendable, convicted felon on a disavowed mission. Our expedition is a political liability, captain; you said so yourself. You’re not here to rescue us, you’re here to confirm that we’re dead.”

Estelle grimaced. “Well, you’re not. And you can still come home if you want.”

“For my part,” Selena continued, “I say we stay here and continue to be a liability. Stick it in the admiralty’s craw. Plus, if my appetite has its way, eventually I’ll be so heavy that all the thrusters in the fleet wouldn’t get my fat ass to escape velocity.”
 

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