BBW Planet XXL - by Marlow

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Marlow

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~BBW, sci-fi, action, ~xwg - We return to outer space with a bigger budget, better special effects, and a whole galaxy of delicious food.



Episode II

ATTACK OF THE SCONES



After generations of unsustainable terraforming and subprime hydroponics,
humanity’s far-flung space colonies were on the brink of starvation.

It was only contact with the Confederation of Species which saved them.
This collection of wealthy alien races supplies planets all across the galaxy with food subsidies.

But in exchange for survival, the human colonies have given up their independence.
They are completely reliant on the Confederation’s supplies and powerless against its might.

The rule of the alien oligarchs has been nothing short of oppressive.
And the enriched nutrient paste they supply doesn’t even taste good.

The flagship of the human navy has traveled to the galactic capital of Cunaxa to negotiate a fairer treaty.
The diplomats aboard are optimistic.

It is the furthest a human ship has ever ventured into alien space.



Chapter 1

Laser fire tore into the flagship. Jets of plasma fire sprayed from the hull. The Confederation warships pressed their attack, blasting away with every weapon they possessed. The human ship crumpled inward, broke in two, and exploded.

A flurry of shuttles and escape pods raced away from the flames. Most were quickly cornered and captured, but a handful, hidden by a lucky piece of debris, managed to crash-land on the docks of a nearby spaceport. Human survivors scrambled out, dragging all the equipment and footlockers they could carry. Their prim, skin-tight, brightly colored uniform jackets were an absurdity amidst all the wreckage and destruction.

“What in the stars just happened?” cried an ensign.

“I don’t know what the diplomats said,” grumbled a lieutenant, to one of the ship’s armored guards, “but you were right. Negotiations were short.”

The guard motioned to the other guards and they gathered around her. The lieutenant buttoned up his uniform and rallied the surviving crewmembers. They were supposedly the fleet’s best and brightest, but they were all young. The admiralty had seen the mission as a photo-op and had sent their most conventionally attractive, rather than most experienced. For most, it had been their first trip through a spacegate.

“We can’t just stay here,” panted a cadet. “We’ll be captured…like all the rest. I’m just a kitchen steward. I’m not—” The shorter, stockier commander of the guards set a hand on her shoulder.

The lieutenant agreed. “What shape are the shuttles in?”

“Mostly wrecked,” said an engineer.

“And they’d only get shot out of the sky.” He glanced around the dockyard. Local aliens were fleeing into the corridors. Civilian ships and personal transports were blasting off in a hurry, eager to be away from the fighting.

The shorter guard nudged him and pointed. A loading ramp at the far end of the docks was unattended. They couldn’t see much of the ship it led to, but it had Confederation markings. The cargo bay door was wide open.

“Star-troopers,” gasped another ensign. Armored soldiers poured into the spaceport, firing wildly.

“Make for that ship!” bellowed the lieutenant. The cry was taken up throughout the crowd.

They sprinted across the dockyard, knocking over kiosks of alien food and barrels of alien drinks. More survivors crawled from the wreckage and joined in. The guards fought a fighting retreat all the way, holding off the star-troopers until everyone had hauled themselves and their equipment up the ramp. The stocky guard commander was the last aboard; she took a glancing blaster-shot to the thing and collapsed into the ship just as the door slammed shut.

“I’ve sealed it,” said the engineer. “I think. Alien tech is weird.”

“What do we do?”

The crowd milled about in the darkness. “Find the bridge,” someone suggested. “Commandeer the ship.”

“Yeah. They’ll think we’re just another freighter or whatever trying to get out of the way.”

“Slip away in the confusion?”

“You’re going to just power this thing up and fly it away? We don’t even know what kind of ship it…” The lights flickered on. “…is…”

“I have located the lighting controls,” reported an android.

They stood and stared. They had entered through the cargo bay: an enormous cargo bay that had to be half a mile across, if not more. It was packed wall to wall with crates, casks, tanks, containment cubes, and polymer sacks. The labels were in alien script, but their intent was clear.

“Food,” said the kitchen steward. “And not nutrient paste, either. Holy nebulas…Thalassian cream, salted Taochian stew…it’s real food. Years’ worth.”

“What kind of ship is this?”

The android scrolled through a console. “It appears to be a privately owned vessel. It is configured and stocked for several hundred passengers, in addition to a full complement of crew. I would tentatively classify it as something not unlike a ‘luxury cruise-liner’, though on a much grander scale.”

“A galactic scale,” breathed the lieutenant.

“Its name appears to be a idiom in the alien tongue. The nearest equivalent would be the ‘Golden Goose.’ The ship is full prepared for flight.”

The engineer opened an access hatch and discovered a long, carpeted corridor, lined with erotic alien paintings and sculptures. “So our plan,” he scoffed, “is to escape the battle in a stolen cruise ship? Are we serious? Who’s in charge here?”

“Good question,” said the lieutenant. “How many other senior officers made it? I’m only an operations lieutenant…I’ve never commanded a starship.”

They looked around. The captain and most of the senior staff at been at the diplomatic meeting when the firing started. Almost everyone who’d made it was an ensign at best.

“Following stated interstellar naval protocols,” said the android, pointing, “I believe the guard commander to be the highest-ranking officer remaining.”

Every eye turned to the door. It was the short, stocky guardswoman. She was slumped against the door, treating her wounded thigh and paying them no attention. But there, on her armor, were the four glowing rings of a commander. A crowd began to form around her and the cargo bay went quiet.

Estelle pulled off her helmet. “What?”
 
Last edited:

Marlow

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Hi everyone! This is a loose sequel to my 2016-17 story Planet XL. If you'd like to read or re-read that one first, it's around at this link:


Some punctuation has been lost in forum reformatting over the years, so I've also attached a .pdf of the original draft to this post.

But don't worry. It's a loose sequel, as mentioned. Without spoiling anything too terribly: a strange planet was visited, food was eaten, and weight was gained. There were also some spooky space-monsters and a friendly android.

Enjoy!
 

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Oh man, you have no idea how excited I am for this. Was just re-reading Planet XL a month or so back, and was reminded for the third time what a great story it is. Hopefully this sequel can continue the trend!
 

Marlow

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Chapter 2

Estelle Gorlois had survived her mission to exoplanet LV-237, but she’d returned to her home colony bloated, sloppy, and just shy of three hundred pounds. The colonies had endured generations of hunger and starvation and her reappearance had turned into a significant scandal.

The admiralty had immediately separated her from the other even heavier survivors and forced her into spaceguard training for ‘rehabilitation and reconditioning.’ She had shed nearly a hundred pounds in the years since, but she hadn’t shed the reputation. They’d assigned her to the Cunaxa mission solely to keep her off-world and away from any other potential embarrassments to the navy.

So much for that: now she was standing in the captain’s cabin of a stolen Confederation ship, trying on a captain’s uniform. The cabin was much too big for her—it was a full luxury suite with a sensually furnished bedroom, an entertainment parlor full of erotic alien statuary, and a bathroom that seemed to go on forever—but the uniform was too small. Snug blue trousers with a gold stripe tracing her thick legs, a white undershirt that clung to her muffin-top, a stiff jacket buttoned all the way to the collar; the gold buttons were pretty, but they had not fastened easily.

The crew were all lithe, toned, meticulously trained young socialites with flawless complexions and perky buttocks. To Estelle it felt almost wrong that they should now have to take orders from a short, blocky-framed commander with a doughy, square-shaped lump hanging from her midsection. Even if she could keep it all tucked away behind her jacket and her waistband, she still had the round face, plush chin, and sagging chest of a woman who’d once been much bigger. She had no business on the bridge of a starship.

“Still,” said the admiral on the viewscreen, “we’re glad to know you’re alive. How many of you made it?”

“There are ninety-four of us, sir. We commandeered a, uh, commercial vessel and managed to slip out of the system in the confusion.”

“Well, that’s…well. Impressive, commander. Recalling your former days as a smuggler, are we? Well, what do you mean to do next?”

Estelle tied back her hair. She could at least look professional, if not as fit as the others. “I was hoping you’d tell me, sir. Who can we rendezvous with for a ride home?”

“Rendezvous? Commander Gorlois, you’re all that’s left. The spacegates are closed to human ships until all this gets sorted out. It’s a political nightmare here on the colonies.”

She stared. “So we’re stuck out here?”

“For now. The way things have been…we can’t risk acting against the Confederation. They’d cut off the food supply. I’ve recalled all available ships for local defense. There’s no one to send even if we could.”

“So, we’re stuck out here in hostile territory…we’re in an unarmed ship with no access to the spacegates…and we’re as far from home as we can possibly be.”

The admiral forced a smile. “The politicians will sort something out. We’ll get you home. Just…sit tight until then. Keep your people safe. And keep them in shape this time, hm?”

She grimaced. “I’ll keep a log and send you updates when we can. Golden Goose out.”

“Don’t do anything reckless.” His voice dropped. “Good luck, commander.”

The viewscreen went dark. Estelle tossed her datapad across the cabin and stood. The blaster wound flared in her thing as soon as she put weight on it, though, and she collapsed back into the chair.

“Shall I call for a medic?” asked the android, returning from the other room.

“No, Starling, thank you. I’m fine. Just…hand me my bio-pak.”

He obliged her, as always. She strapped the device around her wrist and tapped its little screen.

“Subject has sustained an injury,” it chirped in its tinny little voice. “Cauterized plasma wound detected on left membrum inferius. Dispensing reconstruction proteins. Continuing biological analysis. Subject is in good health. 201 pounds…”

She shut it off. “Almost back under two, Starling. Almost there.”





“At ease,” she said, ten minutes later. Her forehead glistened with sweat. She’d insisted on taking the access-ladders rather than the turbolifts, but the wound was still giving her trouble.

The crew had assembled in the stellar cartography chamber. They had shot rigidly to attention at her arrival, snapping off a well-coordinated salute. If anyone was as exhausted, frustrated, or anxious as they should have been after several harrowing days, they refused to show it. The only worry they showed was the occasional concerned glance at one of the tasteless erotic alien paintings that seemed to be everywhere in the ship.

“We were able to make contact with an admiral back home,” Estelle announced. “The situation is…well, it’s basically as bad as we thought. It’s just us out here and we shouldn’t expect much in the way of help. Confederation ships will attack us on sight. No access to the gates and no safe rendezvous.”

This was not inspiring. “We’re blasted, then,” said a cadet.

“That’s our only advantage. No one’s going to expect anything from us. But I think we owe it to ourselves and to everyone back home to…well, to at least try. If we sit here doing nothing, they’ll find us and do who knows what to us.” She glared around the room. “Unless anyone objects, I’m officially reading myself in as captain of this ship. Lieutenant Caelius, I’m naming you first officer. Starling, let the log show that we’ve taken command of the vessel under interstellar navy emergency protocols as of 1100 hours, stardate 401.09.13. And we’re getting the hell out of here.”

No one objected, but an ensign raised a hand. “Do you have a plan?”

“I have an idea.” She called up a holographic star-map. They gathered around it. “So this is us, here. We can’t use the Confederation’s spacegates, so we can’t go back the way we came. But the New Kansas gate over here is human-controlled. If we can get there, we can make the jump home.”

“That’s half the galaxy away. We’d have to cross all of Confederation territory to get there.”

“Without their gates, all we could do is hop system to system,” said a cadet.

Estelle nodded. “Pretty much.”

“You want to run system to system through the middle of enemy space? They’d just blow us out of the stars. We saw what they did to the flagship.”

“There’s another way.” Estelle rotated the map and waved through the sparsely-populated expanse outside the color-coded borders of the Confederation. “We can make a run for the Outlaw Rim.”

The crowd murmured. “So, your plan,” scoffed a science officer, “is to avoid the deadly route through hostile, dangerous territory by taking the even deadlier route through even more hostile and more dangerous territory? In a cruise ship?”

“Half those systems aren’t even on the charts,” said a cartographer. “Warlords, collapsed societies, thieves’ havens, mercenaries, rogue AIs, space pirates…even Confederation forces know not to go out there.”

Estelle forced a smile. “That’s why it’s our best bet.”

The lieutenant whistled. “All the way around the rim…it’s not exactly a shortcut. We’d be out there for more than a year.”

“Or we could stay here and get killed in less than a day,” said the engineer. “They’re on our tail already and this ship isn’t exactly inconspicuous. If the Confederation fleet catches up to us, we have no real defenses on this thing. It barely has shields.”

“So, we fly blind into the Outlaw Rim in a highly recognizable stolen ship with no armor and no weapons. Your plan is to fly us through the scariest part of the galaxy in a conspicuous, unarmed, and totally defenseless cruiseliner?”

“Yes.” Estelle closed the map. “If anyone doesn’t want to come, you’re welcome to take a shuttle back and wait for the Confederation to pick you up. Yes, it will be a long trip. No, it won’t be easy. But I say we go out there are take our chances.”

She folded her arms and waited. No one moved.

“It is a really nice ship,” said the kitchen steward, biting into a strange-looking alien sandwich. “And given what’s in the cargo bay, at least we don’t have to worry about running out of food. Mm—mm—have you guys tried these?”
 
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Dodging armies and possibly pirates on a stolen private cruise ship loaded with food while traveling through dangerous territory. Sounds like the start of a great adventure and awesome shenanigans.
 

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Chapter Three

“Captain’s log, stardate 401.09.21. We’ve successfully steered the Golden Goose through three empty starsystems to the edge of Confederation space. It’s taken us two weeks, but it’s given us all some time to settle into our new roles and to understand…well, to try to understand more about the ship. Even those of us who have seen alien ships before have only seen military vessels. This thing is…something else. Even the kitchens are a little beyond us.”

Estelle grimaced at her tray of breakfast. The poor kitchen steward was still fighting to get alien appliances to make human food and was having no luck at all getting them to make human portions. Estelle didn’t need a bright green waffle the size of a loaf of bread, but it sat there on her plate nonetheless, slathered in a syrup that had already set off several radiation detectors.

She didn’t need it. She needed to keep her appetite under control this time. She couldn’t afford to repeat what had happened on LV-237. Her crew needed her fit. But after two years of enforced dieting and tasteless nutrient paste…and the kitchen steward had worked so hard…and since Estelle was alone in her cabin there was no one watching…

“And there are other questions,” she continued into her communicator, by way of distraction. “The engines are running, but we don’t understand them at all. We desperately need some alien technical advice if we want to survive. Stellar cartography’s located a scrapping outpost just beyond the border. It isn’t on any patrol routes and isn’t on the networks. Probably black market. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll find someone open to a trade.”

She set down the communicator and glanced across the cabin. Its previous occupant had left an erotic statue of a nude three-eyed alien, staring coyly at the table. Estelle crossed over, turned it around, and then ate her waffle in peace.





The scrappers’ outpost proved to be the wreckage of an abandoned ring-world. The fragments orbited a tiny blue star and in its ethereal light there was no telling what was active and what was space-junk. The Golden Goose eased through the debris, incongruously smooth and sleek.

Her captain and bridge crew marveled at the ruins as they passed. Darkened habitats large enough to simulate continents, long-dormant maintenance thrusters longer than most capital ships; the scale of the ancient project was inconceivable. Estelle hadn’t felt so small in years.

“Whatever species this was,” said Lieutenant Caelius, “they must’ve been huge.”

Only after hours of orbiting and hailing did a shuttle putter out from behind a solar panel to meet them. The radio transmission was all bubbles, but when they opened their hangar the shuttle seemed eager to come aboard.

The crew was already gathering around to see the alien. Estelle marched into the hangar and waved them all back; humans were probably unknown to this part of the galaxy and they’d need to make a good impression.

They saw little of their visitor, though. She emerged from her shuttle in a sealed exo-suit and never took off her helmet. Balaenans were an aquatic species, she explained, and required a special fluid for respiration. The fluid swirled behind the glass of her helmet, shrouding her face. Her voice bubbled out through a vocoder, but sounded friendly enough.

“The ring was abandoned a thousand years ago,” she said. “My people found it a while back. We’d hoped to settle in one of the habitats after the Confederation took our homeworld. There was no way to sustain it, though. Not with our environmental needs. Most of them moved on. But there’s still good pickings in the scrap, if you know where to look…and if you’re willing to pay. Hi. I’m Straya, by the way.”

Estelle studied the blank mask. “Captain Gorlois. So the Confederation doesn’t come out here?”

The scrapper tilted her head. “You’re…not Confederation? This is an Oligarch’s ship.”

“No, we’re humans. As for the ship, we, uh…well, we stole it. Want a tour?”

“Please,” she gasped. “Oh, yes. Oh my. I’ve always dreamed of seeing one of these things. Everything we have out here is made of junk.”

Estelle brought her through the maindeck. Starling explained as much as he’d been able to gather about each module they passed and each seemed to excite her more than the last. The crew followed at a polite distance, straining to hear.

They showed her the luxury sleeping quarters—beds available at seven different gravities—the audiovisual relaxation chambers, the robotic massage parlors, the holo-salons, the virtual gaming rooms, the zero-gravity swimming pool, and the theater of the eight senses. They even showed her the bridge, but there her demeanor suddenly changed.

“You don’t have any weapons on this thing?” Straya laughed, studying a console. “None at all?" She tapped a button on her wrist-panel.

One of the security officers stepped in and put a hand on his rifle. “We have small-arms.”

She opened her wrist-screen and held up a blinking light. “If anything happens to me,” she burbled, “my shuttle blows. And you join the scraps.”

“Easy, easy,” begged Estelle. “That’s not why we’re here.”

“No, you just stole some Oligarch’s favorite ship and came out to show it off. I’ll have Confederation patrols crawling all over this place for weeks. I’ll be ruined.”

“Straya, no, we—we didn’t mean—look, there’s—there’s one more part of the tour before engineering. Please. Come down and see our kitchens.”
 

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(3, continued)


The officer’s lounge wasn’t as enormous as the general crew’s mess-hall, but it was far cozier and boasted its own private kitchen. The chairs were plush, enveloping thrones and the tables hovered on adjustable ergonomic repulsors.

“It has recipes from every member species in the Confederation,” Estelle explained, sitting, “and many others. We’re still trying to add human dishes. For synthesized stuff, it’s definitely tasty. And I have a little experience with strangely-sourced foods.”

Starling appeared from behind the counter. “Captain, I have taken the liberty of accessing recipes from the former homeworld of your guest’s species. The kitchens are preparing a selection of krill, diatom, and phytoplankton-based dishes, if it would not be disagreeable.”

Straya nearly choked. “It would…it would not be disagreeable.” The fluid in her helmet changed to a gentler color.

The kitchen steward, a peppy young cadet in a uniform too large for her frame, brought out the first trays. “I configured the dishware to fit with your suit’s nutrient induction port. Please allow me to pour you a glass of this kelp-wine.”

Estelle did her best to look pleased at the taste. Straya didn’t have to pretend. “This is just like my old clan’s vintage. They still had some strains on the habitat. I thought I’d never taste it again.”

The other senior officers—and, soon, most of the crew—gathered at the doors and security monitors to watch. Some placed bets on the negotiations and speculated on when the shooting would begin. Some turned to their datapads to research the Balaenan homeworld. Some, watching the first courses coming out, sneaked away to the cafeteria.

They regretted not waiting to see the captain’s expression. Estelle wasn’t much of a liar and couldn’t keep the nauseated look from her face. She couldn’t bear to insult her guest, though, and made up for it by making herself eat the rest. She forced a smile through the whole phyto-souffle, though it was hardly a small dish.

She finished the entire bowl of diatom slurry, too. The smile had faded, but she set down the empty bowl before Straya was halfway through hers. The scrapper paused, seeing this, and ate faster. Estelle refilled their glasses and waited.

After this the steward brought out a hefty pair of slab-like plankton steaks, struggling to balance the platters. Estelle worked her way through all of hers, looking more guilty than full. Straya took much longer to finish less than a third and then gave in. She pushed her platter away and fell back into the cushion with a strange gurgle.

“No,” she said, after a pause, “I will preserve the rest for rationing. You have to understand, human, things are sparse out here on the rim. The Confederation takes everything we produce.”

Estelle summoned the table closer to hide that she was unbuttoning her trousers. The resulting relief allowed for a deeper breath and an easier smile. “No, Straya, you have to understand: we have enough in our cargo hold to feed a full complement of crew and hundreds of passengers for years at a time. There is no rationing on the Golden Goose.”

The alien lifted her head and turned toward the kitchen, colors swirling in her helmet.




The engine core emanated a warm light and a soothing, contented, undulating tone, almost like the rumbling of an overfed stomach. Estelle reconsidered: it may just have been her stomach rumbling. Tomorrow she’d need to visit the exercise deck.

Straya flitted from console to console throughout the engineering bay, bouncing and peeking into every panel as though she hadn’t just eaten her largest meal in years. A delighted bubbling echoed from her suit.

“Is this safe?” asked Lieutenant Caelius, from a platform overhead. “How much can we trust an alien?”

Estelle leaned herself against the railing beside him with a wince. She had forgotten how a heavy meal could weigh on every movement. “We just have to trust her.”

“We trusted the aliens at Cunaxa.”

“They were…after something different. She’s got as much reason to hate them as we do. I think it’s more important to get her to trust us.”

“Captain!” called Straya, waving her arms. “This ship is unprecedented! There are so many systems your people haven’t even activated! Hidden systems, illegal aftermarket modifications, AI service nodes…I could spend months finding everything.”

Estelle grinned. “You’re hired. Starling, see if the kitchens can figure out what her species likes for dessert. Get our new Chief Engineer as much as she can eat.”
 
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Wow, every time you start a story I'm like "Aight, surely he's peaked" and nope! This is the best yet, keep up the good work and thank you for posting
 

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Let's meet some more alien friends.


Chapter Four

“Captain’s log, stardate 401.10.23. Our new friend Straya has held up her end of the bargain. The scrapyard’s pretty stripped of weaponry, but she was able to track down a few old ion cannons and a decent phaser array. They’re outdated, but if we’re lucky they should be enough to discourage some of the space-pirates out here on the rim. Straya’s proud of whatever it is she did to get the array installed and she’s been a big help to our engineers, at least when she isn’t busy stuffing herself to the…” Estelle paused the recording. “Straya has gills, right?”

Starling handed her a datapad. “Her species respirates through a combination of madreporites and diffusion nodules, which interface with the coelemic fluid in her exo-suit—”

“Would you like anything for breakfast, captain?” asked the kitchen steward.

“I already ate,” Estelle replied, tapping her bowl—her singular, half-finished bowl—and looking proud. Her stomach protested loudly. She countered by pulling a loose athletic top over it. “If anyone needs me, I will be in the exercise deck. Crew inspection at nine-hundred hours, Starling.”

She skipped out of her cabin before anyone could tempt her further. An intriguing aroma drifted out from the officers’ lounge, but she held her head high and continued on. She passed one of the kitchens without pausing and, for the added sense of achievement, took the access ladder down instead of the turbolift.

Estelle had visited the exercise deck every morning—almost every morning—since their escape. The alien-oriented workout spaces and equipment took some getting used to and the wound in her thigh kept her off anything too strenuous, but she could do enough to feel reasonably worn out. And there were no mirrors, so she didn’t have to watch the squarish lump of her gut bounce around as she moved.

This mission would be different. She had returned from the LV-237 rescue operation a bloated, atrophied, unprofessional embarrassment. She had doubled in size on that trip. The scandal had shaken her from a dream; a pleasant dream, admittedly, an alluring and very enticing dream, but merely a dream.

This time, she would return home fitter than ever. The admiral wouldn’t believe his eyes. Maybe he would finally stop threatening her with prison. She tapped her bio-pak.

“Subject is in good health,” it bleeped. “211 pounds.”

She stepped off the hover-treadmill and frowned at it. That was wrong. She had behaved so well. She had kept to a prescribed diet—except for her meal with Straya, which had been necessary, and except for the navigator’s birthday, which the captain couldn’t well have skipped, and except for her movie night with the very pretty and very amiable officer from Stellar cartography—and she’d made up for the exceptions with additional workouts.

Maybe it was the luxuriousness inherent in the ship’s design. The Golden Goose dripped with opulence and decadence from every bulkhead. Every surface was plush and comfortable. Every decoration was sensual. Every meal was gourmet. The holo-film library was filled with a disconcerting amount of alien romance, erotica, and pornography from all over the galaxy, from softcore to hardcore to warp-core. Everything aboard was a temptation. Estelle would have to be stronger.

“Bridge to captain,” buzzed her communicator.

“Go ahead,” she panted.

“Sensors are picking up a small ship, dead ahead.”

“General alert,” she replied, heading for the lift.

By the time she’d made it to the bridge, the ship was in visual range. It was indeed small and probably nothing more than a freighter, but it had the telltale Confederation insignia.

“What are they doing all the way out here?” asked the sensor technician.

“Looks like a prisoner transport,” said the lieutenant. “I’ve seen some like it before.”

Estelle studied the viewscreen. Everyone else had brought their breakfasts to the bridge and the mixture of aromas had hit her hard. “Move to cut them off. We have to assume they’ve seen us.”

The Golden Goose answered perfectly. The engines purred, the ship came around, and within minutes had drawn ahead of the other vessel. It turned to flee, but they outpaced it in every direction. As it tried more desperate evasive maneuvers, Estelle climbed into the captain’s chair and reached for her safety belt.

“Weapons locked,” said the tactical officer.

“Belay,” called Estelle. “Prepare an away team. We’ll go aboard.”




Estelle’s commando armor wasn’t feeling any tighter, at least. Maybe the bio-pak had been wrong. The rifle felt a little heavier in her hands, though, and she considered adding more lifting exercises to her routine as she and the away team waited for the airlock.

“I’ll have it breached in a moment,” bubbled Straya.

“Any sensor readings?”

“The data is unusual,” said Starling, over the communicator. “There has been a great deal of motion and several firearm discharges.”

Estelle glanced at her team. “Be sharp. Brace for an ambush.”

The airlock hissed open. They charged into the corridor only to find it filled with smoke and flashing alarms. The commandos took cover and advanced, one step at a time, to the first junction.

A squad of Confederation star-troopers ran past, completely ignoring them. Before Estelle could give an order, a black tentacle snaked out from the smoke, seized one of the troopers by his helmet, and dragged him away. The others fired a few frantic shots, came to sudden halt, and threw down their guns. They backed away from the smoke at the far end, hands raised.

Two winged women flapped into view. They were tall, muscular, and heavily armored, each carrying a plasma cannon too heavy for most humanoids. They landed with a clang and shoved the star-troopers against the wall. One folded her wings and pointed.

“Are you an angel?” asked one of the commandos, staring. Estelle shushed him.

The women turned and both faces brightened with delight. “Clip my wings,” gasped one, “you’re humans! You’ve been all over the galactic news.”

“And you’re every bit as sexy as you looked on the vids,” said the other, eying Estelle.

Estelle lowered her rifle. “Captain Gorlois, human interstellar navy. Identify yourselves.”

“Well, this is a prisoner transport. We’re the prisoners. I’m Maura. This is Zora.”

Zora waved. They were identical. The light even hit the golden, metallic sheen of their faces the same way. “And the one with the tentacles doesn’t talk much, but we call her Io.”

A star-trooper’s scream echoed through the corridor. Maura snickered. “They got antsy when they saw your ship. Gave the three of us a chance to make our move. Thanks for that…I was starting to think our mercenary days were over.”

“Mercenary days?”

Zora grinned. “Deadly Angel Attack Company, Elite Aerial Assault Unit, specializing in bug-hunts and uncontrolled demolitions. Genetically engineered to kick some heads in.” She kicked away a star-trooper helmet. “But now we’re all that’s left of the company, thanks to these bastards.”

“Our clone uprising didn’t go very well,” said Maura. “I don’t think we’d be alive at all, if not for Io.”

An even taller woman—eight feet, almost—undulated out of the smoke. ‘Io’ had four humanoid arms and walked on four long, terrifying tentacles. She wore nothing but heavy iron chains and a wholesome, girl-next-door smile. Seeing the humans, she crossed her tentacles in an attempt at a curtsy.

“You wouldn’t have anything to eat, eh?” wondered Maura, shouldering her weapon. “What they feed prisoners is even worse than the usual paste, if you can believe it.”

"We can definitely beat prison food," laughed Straya. "Can we drop you off somewhere?"

"I'm not sure there's anywhere left for us to go. Captain, if you humans have made the Confederation as mad as it seems you have, I think we'd as soon just ride with you. Could help make some more trouble for the oligarchs, scare off some of the seedier types out here, keep you company..."

Estelle tapped her communicator. “Starling, open up three of the guest cabins. Full service. And...get the kitchen going.”
 

Marlow

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Chapter 5

“Captain’s log, stardate 401.10.30. We…what? No, Starling, just the oatmeal. Why did you bring all that in here?”

“My apologies, captain. I based this selection on the breakfast you consumed yesterday morning. The kitchen steward asked that I ‘bring it by,’ if I was on my way to meet with you.”

“I can get my own breakfast. Just because this steward is proving to be a lazy little cadet…” Estelle buttoned up her uniform jacket, privately celebrating as the last button slipped into place without difficulty. “And yesterday’s breakfast was a…we’ll call it a one-time thing. Today, we’re back on the routine.”

Starling moved the breakfast-cakes back onto his tray. “Yes, captain. Although if it is your intent to make use of the exercise facilities, I must remind you that Engineer Straya has temporarily diverted power from that deck while she reconfigures the shield generators. She is confident it will boost the gain by twelve percent.”

“Gain? Oh, the ion power. Stars. She’s supposed to check with me before she does these things.” She fought with her boots. Sitting would have made the process much easier, but she refused to let anything today be easier, especially after yesterday’s breakfast.

“She did speak with you on the topic, captain. It was yesterday, while you were at breakfast.”

Estelle rubbed her eyes. Straya had turned the meal into an all-morning affair and details from the last half hour or so were hazy at best. “How long til we’re in range of this convoy thing?”

“Ninety minutes.”

“I’ll just take a jog in the corridors or something. Can’t miss a day. I’m not gaining another pound, Starling. Not this time.”

He collected the last dish and departed. She exhaled; the buttons of her jacket had cooperated, but she could feel the button of her trousers struggling. Hopefully, it was just that she was still a little bloated from yesterday’s breakfast.

“Anyway,” she continued for her log, “we dropped off the prisoner-transport’s crew at an old outpost. By the time they get picked up, we’ll be too far away to track. As for the mercenaries, I don’t know how much loyalty we can count on, but they certainly seem to be enjoying the ship’s amenities…and its kitchens.”

She made her bed—an enormous, luxuriant bed with an automated pressure-intuitive softness algorithm, so absurd by naval standards she’d almost switched cabins on moral grounds—and tidied up the room. Something in Estelle’s mind wanted her to be the image of a disciplined, fit, immaculate officer; something else wanted her to have more breakfast.

“We’ve picked up signals from a Confederation supply convoy. The Golden Goose isn’t exactly low on supplies, but we’ll need something to barter when we start asking the warlords out here for safe passage. The Rim has no laws, but everyone seems to have their territory and no one trusts each other.” She strapped her plasma pistol to her thigh. “The crew is as fit as the admiral said. They’re ready to handle anything. But I can’t help feeling nervous…a Confederation convoy isn’t going to just surrender.”




“We surrender,” begged the captain of the guardship, his three eyes bulging with terror.

Io withdrew her tentacle and looked back. The guardship’s deck was in ruins, littered with twisted metal, empty plasma shells, and unconscious bodies. Sparks flew from a console and fluid dripped from a torn hose. Smoke billowed from the airlock. A handful of star-troopers were on their knees, allowing Maura to handcuff them. The boarding party had carried the ship in under a minute.

Estelle pulled off her helmet. The explosions and blaster-shots still rang in her ears. “We accept. Nice job, everyone. Io, uh, you can put him down.”

The other tentacles released him and he crumpled to the floor. “Listen,” he spat, “we aren’t carrying munitions or spacegate crystals or whatever it is you pirates are always after. There’s—there’s payroll in the third transport. It’s all yours. Just let us go.”

“Payroll’s useless out here. You’ve got twenty fully-loaded transports with you. What are you carrying that’s so special?” She nodded to a hatch at the far end of the deck.

“Personal effects. Nothing valuable. Junk. Please, just take the payroll pod and go. I won’t even report it missing.”

“Yeah, no. Signal your ships and tell all of them they have five minutes to jettison their cargo pods and run. Any ship that doesn’t…gets visited by my boarding party.”

Io grinned and flexed her tentacles.

The guardship captain spat and, with an unseen third arm, produced a photon-pistol. He trained it on Io before she could react. As he backed away, he picked up two other guns.

A golden blur swept down from above and smashed him against the deck. Zora folded her wings, kicked away his weapons, and knelt her armored knee on his throat.

Estelle caught herself panting. Her own armor had felt strangely heavy all day. “Thanks.”

“You’re getting slow, captain.”

Io sent out a tentacle and dragged over one of the star-troopers. Estelle guided him to a console. “Your turn. Would you like to tell all your friends to jettison their cargo-pods?”

“Yes,” he stammered. “Yes I would.”

They turned at a new metallic creaking. Straya was running up the deck, waving. She doubled over after reaching them, her suit’s respirators huffing. Estelle recalled seeing her ordering a sizable lunch in the officers’ lounge before battle.

“I’ve hacked it,” she gasped, pointing to the hatch. “Found the…cargo manifest. You won’t believe…what they’re hauling.”

Food. Of course it was more food. The rest of the transports reported the same, in quantities that were overwhelming to calculate. The Golden Goose carried enough to feed crew and passengers for a multi-season cruise; the convoy carried enough to feed a colony for years.

“The Confederation provides all its member species with food subsidies,” Estelle mused, “but if that’s what this is, they’re going to wrong direction. They were heading for the nexus.”

Maura read over the manifest. “This isn’t their nutrient paste, either. This is…these are delicacies. Some of these aren’t even legal to make anymore, thanks to the anti-indulgence laws. This is stuff from all over the Rim and it’s…clip my wings. It’s heading straight to the Oligarchs.”

“Tribute,” suggested Straya.

“Extortion,” said Estelle. “Anything to hoard what the rest of us can’t get.”

“What do you wanna do?”

She tapped her communicator. “Away team to Goose.”

“Go ahead, captain.”

“Power up the tractor beam and start collecting cargo-pods from the convoy. And send another team over here. We’re taking everything.”
 

Marlow

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(5, continued)


In addition to the ship’s largest and most opulent bed, the captain’s cabin on the Golden Goose also boasted the largest and most opulent bathroom suite. It was lavishly decorated with nude alien artwork and was by itself bigger than most of the other officers’ cabins. There was room for two bathtubs, a hot tub, a steamroom, a scouring-chamber for the more chitinous species, a hair-dressing studio, and a shower the size of a small dance-hall.

Estelle never did get her morning jog in, but boarding the guardship had been sweaty enough work and she allowed herself a long shower once the Goose was once again underway. She kept the water cold for a moment, thinking of punishing herself for yesterday’s breakfast and for skipping her workout again, but quickly gave in and stood luxuriating under a hot, relaxing downpour.

The downside to the shower’s size was the distance between all its amenities. The deluge of water came from an orb in the center, the body gel from a dispenser in one corner, the shampoo from another corner, and the conditioner, for some inconceivable reason, from a metal arm hanging just outside. For a shower it required far too much walking, but in Estelle’s head it still didn’t make up for skipping her jog.

After two years of uniforms, armor, and bunks in the tight quarters of navy starships, the private comforts of her new cabin were still a shock. It was the most time she’d spent without clothes on since returning from LV-237. She could feel—and see, if she dared—how her body shifted and moved. For all the training and physical conditioning, there was still a slight softness above all the muscle. Her thighs, however toned, still gave a faint wobble with each step, her chest still sagged and, no matter how hard she worked or how little she tried to eat, her gut was still there, interrupting an otherwise strong physique with a drooping, squarish lump. The obese, perpetually overfed body that had returned from LV-237 may have been a distant memory, but even more distant was the spry, svelte, agile figure that had turned so many heads in her smuggling days. She used to have abs, damn it.

She ignored the mirror as she toweled off—another long, circuitous journey to the towel-rack and a battle with the mechanical claws holding the towel—but she did pause to poke at her stomach as she dressed. It hung harmlessly enough and didn’t show too obviously when she was in uniform, but it could painfully resent being hidden.

It complained as she made her way through the ship’s corridors, pinched not only by a waistband but now also by a belt. And it hadn’t been fed in hours. She shushed it; it had survived two years of naval routine and should be ashamed of forgetting all that hard work after one or two accidental breakfasts.

“Captain,” called Maura, flapping over to join her. “What a haul, eh?”

“If the Confederation hadn’t realized we were out here before, they will now.”

“You’re a hell of a shot with the rifle, by the way. And I saw that punch you gave their navigator. Classic renegade stuff. If you ever feel like…sparring sometime, just let me know.” She gave Estelle a flirtatious eye. “We’re doing dinner together in the officers’ lounge. Grab a bowl?”

Estelle stopped at the door. Zora joined the other aliens at the table; it was covered in dishes. None of the food was anything Estelle recognized. Much of it didn’t even look like food.

Maura was digging her spoon into a heap of still-wriggling grubs. Zora sat down to a bowl of neon-colored eggs in a burbling liquid. Straya set a plate of quivering, gelatinous ooze atop an empty plate, paused at some discomfort in her midsection, and cut herself another slice. Io was helping herself to a melon with antennae.

“We’ve been going through some of the cargo pods,” said the kitchen steward, bouncing over to Estelle. “I’ve spent all day adding recipes to the kitchen computer. And it’s all homeworld-sourced…Maura says the atomic performance slurry is just like what they had back in their cloning center. And Straya says this pie can only be made from the mold that grows on Balaenan ships’ engine cores…”

Estelle grimaced at her. “I’d just like a salad, cadet. To go.”

“Captain!” called Zora. “Did you eat your mate?”

“Did—sorry, what?”

“Io was asking. Since you’re, you know, bigger than the other humans. She wanted to know if that’s why you’re their leader.”
 

Marlow

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Chapter 6

“Captain’s log,” puffed Estelle, between lunges, “stardate…401.11.14. Two weeks of hard running have brought us deeper into the Outlaw Rim. We’re seeing Confederation’s influence reach even all the way out here…all the aliens we’ve met are thin and hungry. Colonies and outposts are starving. We’ve shared some of the cargo pods we captured from that convoy and they’ve given us information and star-maps in return…oh, not again.”

She paused to squint at the holo-vid playing in her cabin. No matter what film she chose, the machine had a habit of swapping back to alien erotica at every opportunity: Debbie Does the Deneb System, Behind the Green Airlock, Omicron Persei Ate Me Out, Alpha Sent Whoring. Today, cybernetically enhanced astro-porn superstar Vesper Virgo was stopping an invasion of fanatic exterminator robots the way only Vesper Virgo could.

“We come,” droned the murder-bot, “for the extermination of all life on this planet.”

“I’ll give you a different reason,” breathed Vesper Virgo, unlacing her bodice. Something beneath the bodice bleeped and whirred.

Estelle shut off the screen. It was hard enough to stay focused with the aliens she had aboard flirting with her every chance they got. And she’d caught herself leering back at them much too often.

“Apparently,” she continued, resuming her log and her lunges, “we’re nearing the territory of something called the ‘Psi-Hive.’ Everyone we’ve met avoids that part of space and tells us we should do the same. But if we want to get home, we have to get through. These hivers may be dangerous, but maybe…” She finished her last lunge and collapsed onto a chair. Working out should have been getting easier. “…maybe we’ll catch more flies with honey…”




The Psi-Hivers’ vessel was, naturally, a cluster of honeycombs. Thousands of glowing hexagons peered back at the Golden Goose as the ships drew alongside. The hiver ship was twice as large and supposedly only one of many. It bristled with weaponry.

The crowd that welcomed Estelle and Starling on board the vessel, though, were all smiles. They were long, slender beings, their lavender skin embedded with glowing hexagonal gemstones. One, a waifish woman in billowing silver robes with a smile even dreamier than all the rest, stepped forward and bowed.

Her voice sang telepathically in Estelle’s head. “I am Lucine, apprentice honeymaker and seventh speaker for the queen of Hive 1138, next in line for the rites of ascension. I have been sent to speak with the outsiders.”

Estelle bowed in turn. She’d worn her full uniform for the occasion and its stiffness was not helped by her soreness from the morning’s workout. “Estelle Gorlois. We’re called ‘humans.’ We come in peace and are hoping to get home to our colonies.”

“We have never before met humans. We do not know of humans. We do not know to trust humans.”

“We’re, uh, new around here. But we have goods to trade. Food taken from the Oligarchs.”

The crowd’s gemstones flickered. Lucine listened, then stretched out a hand. “You will follow me. We will learn of you.”




“Sensors have lost them,” said an ensign.

Lieutenant Caelius turned in his chair. “Well, we thought that might happen. Can you reconfigure?”

“Hiver tech isn’t very well understood,” replied Straya, sipping at a tall cylinder of delecti-goo. “They mostly keep to themselves.”

“What do we do if this little talk goes sour?”

“Run, probably. Does anyone want anything from the kitchen? This waiting around is killing me.”




Lucine ushered them into a more spacious chamber. Mosaics of hexagonal tiles decorated the walls and ceilings. More glowing gems floated through the air like dust, drifting aside as the party passed.

A hexagonal table hovered at the center. Lucine waved to a chair against the wall and in response it slid across the room, sliding into Estelle’s backside. With a few more gestures she summoned a tray and a glass from some opening in the ceiling. Estelle watched them float down and let herself sit.

“You will be refreshed,” said Lucine, filling the glass with water. “You say you have brought gifts that may be eaten.”

It was refreshing water, as promised. “Thank you. Uh, yes. Whole cargo-pods full, plus what we already had aboard. Foodstuffs from all over the quadrant.”

“We also offer gifts that may be eaten.”

“No, that’s—”

Two other hive-beings appeared, though in less lustrous robes. One set out a platter of thick hexagonal pastries; the other a bowl of what looked and smelled suspiciously like honey. They tossed glitter into the air, bowed, and retreated.

“Eat,” said Lucine.

Estelle wiped glitter from her face. “I had lunch. But you’re kind to offer. Now, uh, I was talking about giving food to you.”

“We have only what we make. The Confederation takes much.”

“Right, so we—”

“We are left with very little. What we have is precious. We wish to know if you appreciate what is precious.”

“Captain,” whispered Starling, “I believe she means that in their culture—”

“I get it. Thank you, Lucine. It would be, um, an honor to try…one.”

Lucine nodded. One of the pastries floated into the air, dipped itself in the honey, and presented itself to Estelle’s mouth.

She bit into it and shuddered. Her whole body delighted in the sweetness. Before she could stop herself she’d seized the pastry out of the air and pushed another bite into her mouth. When it was gone, her stomach rejoiced. It would mean another five or ten minutes added to her evening jog, but it was worth it for that explosion of flavor—finally, alien food that didn’t look repulsive or dangerous to a human digestive system.

Lucine’s hips swayed as she paced around the table. “What is precious to the captain?”

Estelle wiped her lips. “My crew. We escaped Confederation betrayal. We all just want to get home.”

“Have another.”

“One was plenty. Delicious. Very filling, thank you. Would you like to try something of ours? Starling can bring something over.”

“You will have another.”

She had another, piled with even more honey. The uniform began to feel even stiffer. Definitely ten more minutes for the jog. She found herself reaching automatically for one more, a motion that had been so natural on LV-237. Her stomach warmed; a happy pressure was growing. Maybe fifteen more minutes of jogging.

“Your ship carries weapons.”

“Nothing dangerous to your vessels. We just want safe passage.”

“And if the Confederation follows you? You are hunted.”

“Tell them whatever you want. Can—stars—can I have another?” A good long jog, certainly, followed by core exercises. It would all be fine.

“Our honey is welcome in humans.”

Estelle gasped. “Yes.”

“Many lesser species do not survive it.”

“Oh, good.” She instinctively tapped her bio-pak. It assured her she was not flooded with poisons and she shut it off before it could report her weight.

“We are pleased. Now I must know you.” Lucine bent over, robes falling open. The glowing gems floated closer and danced around her. Still swaying, she held Estelle’s head and took her lips in a long, languid, honey-laced kiss.

Estelle’s vision swam. She saw the vastness of space. She saw lights; stars, a planet, a sky. She was wading through a river of honey back on LV-237. Her old friends were waving to her. She was fat; she was round; she was hungry.

The kiss ended and she was back in her chair. “By the queens,” cried Lucine, recoiling. “You—you have seen the forbidden planet.”

“The—” Estelle loosed a belch unlike anything she’d loosed since that planet.

“You have seen it.” She took Estelle’s hand. “You have felt it. You have…you have eaten of it! We have seen it only in dreams. Now I have seen it in you.”

“Is that good? I’ve been trying to forget it, honestly…”

“It is everything. By the queens. Yes, it must be so. Please understand. I was to begin my rite of ascension tomorrow. But having seen what is in you…I must learn more. I invite you to stay and dine with us. Your ship will be welcome here for as long as you require.”

“I…wow. Thank you. Thank you, Lucine. Starling, contact the ship.”

Lucine sucked honey off her fingers. “Captain, you may travel through our territory in peace. We will conceal you from the Confederation. It will be our honor and our pleasure. I shall delay my ascension and I shall join you aboard your ship as guide, ally, and…devoted companion to you and your crew.” She leaned closer. The gems glowed brighter.

“And Starling, ah…reschedule tonight’s workout to tomorrow morning…” Estelle swallowed and went in for another kiss. “…afternoon…”


--


NEXT WEEK: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Fornax Cluster
 

Marlow

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Chapter 7

“Captain’s log, stardate 401.12.02. We’ve successfully crossed through the Psi-Hive’s territory and are continuing out into the Rim systems. Lucine has chosen to stay with us on the Golden Goose. She’s already become popular with the crew.”

A crewmember’s cry of “oh yes, oh more, oh yes” sounded from the cabin below Estelle’s.

“…very popular.” Estelle paused to towel away a bead of sweat and put away her handweights. She’d been good about doing her morning workouts. She’d been bad about adding pastries and Psi-Hiver honey to her morning meals.

“Scanners have picked up a distress call…appears to be an independent mining outpost. It looks like Confederation star-troopers have occupied the station and begun seizing property.” She stared at an uneaten pastry and bit her lip. “We’re planning to head in tomorrow and check it out. The Goose is burning more fuel than usual with all this cargo and we could really use a…fill-up.”

In the lounge, her alien guests were stuffing their faces with newly-discovered dessert recipes. It wasn’t fair: a salad for dinner and a workout after, but Estelle had still gone through the day feeling bloated and lethargic. But Straya sucked down candies from all over the galaxy without losing her bubbly energy. Maura and Zora could feast on giant xeno-insects without discomfort and still flap around with their usual belligerence. Lucine’s romantic encounters were invariably preceded by romantic dinners. And Io—no, Io didn’t count. Io had a habit of eating inanimate objects whole.

Estelle decided it was the stress of command. Too many lives were on her shoulders, too many lieutenants and cadets were coming to her with problems and questions, and too many Confederation ships were out there looking for them. Hopefully her body would calm down when she did.

She felt better as soon as her trousers were off. Her gut relaxed out, rumbling softly, and she felt better still once she’d changed into pajamas and settled into her large reading chair with an alien romance novel. She sipped at a tall glass of wine and gazed out at the stars, thinking of happier, easier times. She caught herself thinking about the mountains of food she’d left on LV-237. She scolded herself for it, but didn’t stop.




“And don’t stop until you reach the control center,” she said the next morning, as she buckled herself into her commando-armor. “Once we’ve got access there, Straya will hack the terminals and shut down the rest of the defenses. They’ll be forced to surrender.”

Maura stretched her wings. “Lead the way, captain, and we’ll take care of the star-troopers. I woke up hungry today.”

“Even after all that centipede stew last night?” laughed Zora.

Estelle tried her last buckle again. The armor was feeling tighter in some areas; the midnight snack had done her in. No one aboard had noticed her sneaking into the kitchen, but she couldn’t hide it from her armor. She sucked in her belly, forced the fastener to close, and the seals and shields finally powered up.

It was just in time. The shuttle reached the mining station’s dockyard and lowered its ramp. The platform outside was crowded with star-troopers, already on alert. Their three-eyed helmets turned as Estelle and her away-team appeared.

“You’re not our resupply shuttle,” said an officer.

“Nope,” replied Estelle, shooting the pistol out of his hand.

Running; shouting; a wild fusillade of blaster fire. Estelle dove behind a crate for cover—a crate of preserved Rigellian spice-noodles, she noticed—and growled her orders. The other human commandos leapt into action with perfect discipline, though they seemed to be moving a little more slowly than usual.

Her alien allies never waited for orders. Maura and Zora were already in the air, blasting away with glee. Lucine’s telekinesis deflected blaster-shots and shrapnel. Io disappeared beneath the platform and reappeared moments later at the far end in a whirl of tentacles, throwing troopers aside with ease. Straya charged through plasma-flames to the nearest terminal to begin unsealing the doors.

Beyond these doors, once they’d pushed through the outer defenses, they found themselves in the station’s central market. More star-troopers were gearing up and fortifying their turrets. The locals were fleeing in a panic. A statue in the center square showed both of the native species: a large mole-like creature and a worm wearing a hardhat.

The star-troopers held their fire. One snickered as a wheezing engine core powered up. A lumbering combat-mech stomped out from behind the statue, brandishing oversized weapons on every joint and limb.

A three-eyed officer sneered out from the mech’s cockpit. “You outlaw scum…this place could have been the staging point for a move against the Sphrigons. We could have finally imposed some peace out here.”

“I’ve seen enough of your version of peace,” shouted Estelle, sliding behind cover. She was out of breath already. She shouldn’t have been out of breath already. But the others—even the aliens, now—were looking to her for direction. “Uh. Lucine, concentrated shielding. Io, get under his guns and give his legs some trouble. Maura, Zora, run interference overhead. Keep him firing away from civilians. Straya, get me an analysis and find me something vulnerable.”




The mech toppled over and its guns went silent. The remaining star-troopers threw down their weapons. Some grumbled and cursed, but quickly froze when Io turned their way. She led them to the brig with a friendly smile, Starling and the ship’s medics landed in another shuttle, and Straya restored power to the station.

Estelle turned away from a damage report to find a mole and a worm waiting for her. They were stooped in caution and trembling.

“Hi,” she ventured. “We picked up your distress signal. We’ve come to help.”

“These beings are grateful to you,” said the worm, bowing.

“Grateful,” said the mole.

She set her helmet aside. “Is everyone alright? What happened here?”

“Those ones came two-thirds of a solar revolution ago. Those ones displaced these ones from command of the station. Those ones took control of mining operations and confined these ones to living quarters.”

“Confined,” said the mole.

“Those ones removed most of the station’s provisions. It was intended that these ones would starve.”

More locals were emerging from the corridors, staring about. “Starling,” murmured Estelle, “what in the stars was going on here?”

The android scrolled through a datapad. “I am detecting fertilizer-inhibitors and nutrient suppressors in the station’s hydroponic facilities. They are not dissimilar to those discovered in the soils of human colonies during the scarcity crisis. It would appear the Confederation prefers its subjects to be fully reliant upon its subsidies.”

“Holy nebulas.” She tapped her communicator. “Lieutenant Caelius, unload one of the cargo-pods. I want these people fed.”




“By the queens,” moaned Lucine, “engaging in combat arouses such an appetite in me.” She ladled a globule of sweet, iridescent ooze onto her tray, thought for a moment, and scooped up some more.

“That’s the spirit,” said Zora, cutting into a square of greenish fuzz.

Maura reached a spoon over the table and stole part of the globule for herself. “This is so much more rewarding than mercenary work. Back then it was just fight, fight, run, fight, hope to get paid. Maybe get lucky and hit the bar.”

“Speaking of which—Straya, it’s your round.”

Straya, despite her suit’s servo-motors, was already looking unsteady on her feet. But she happily obliged, after making them all promise to leave her a plate of mud-bake.

They weren’t alone. The miners held nothing back in their celebration, filling the station with music and lavishing the crew of the Golden Goose with gifts. Both the ship’s and station’s kitchens were kept busy all day and both miner and spacefarer kept their bellies full all night. The worms were excellent dancers, each of their sixteen or seventeen genders specializing in a unique style of writhing. But after the first hour or so everyone was more often seated than not, too enamored with their meal, their immensely welcome meal.

Estelle resisted with all her might. She moved from table to table, never staying long enough to be served a real dish. But the samples added up and were simply too intriguing to the tongue. The joy everyone shared was too real. It was an irresistible joy and eventually she found herself in the food line.

She joined a table at random and ate. She ate more than she planned and more than tomorrow’s workout would make up for. She ate her largest meal since the beginning of the voyage. But still she wasn’t full.

She considered this before getting back in the line. Two bowls of stewed narconium and a platter of breen had been enough to put the mercenaries into a glazed, uncomfortable stupor. Lucine was groaning and clutching her tiny abdomen after one tray of asteroid lichen. Straya was tripping over her feet and flirting with every worm in sight after half a tankard of warp-fuel. Estelle had put away all of that, and in less time, and she had only reached a mild, comfortable state of relief. Fullness was still far away.

Maybe it was a difference in anatomy. Maybe it was her time on LV-237 playing havoc with her sense of what was normal. She hesitated to think how much it would take to feel the decadent agony those around her were feeling. Her belly yearned to feel that again.

But the feast continued without her. She returned to the Golden Goose and disappeared into her cabin. She tried to look over reports for a while, but ended up in the chair again with her alien romance novel. And without her noticing, her hand crept under her shirt and gave her food-baby a gentle massage.


--


NEXT WEEK: These aren’t the sex-droids you’re looking for
 

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