Yeah, Csilla saved the day there for sure. I am kind of hoping that when they face down the federation fleet, they lure them back to that giant ship eating ship. Seems like an opportunity one can't waste.
An alert flared on the long-range scanners of Confederation Frontier Listening Post 2682. An unannounced vessel was crossing the border at the far edge of the system and making a beeline for the nearest hyperlane. The three-eyed guardswoman on duty registered the alert out of the corner of her rightmost eye, but she ignored it and turned up the volume of her headset instead. Her other screen was showing something much, much more interesting.
Opening credits for the galaxy’s hottest new film began to appear, accompanied by a disarming melody. The sultry dancing colors finally coalesced into a view of a ship’s bridge. It had all the trappings of a naval vessel, but the lighting was curiously sensual. All the sensors were light blues and pinks.
“Captain,” breathed science officer Vesper Virgo, turning from her console to reveal a mesmerizingly low-cut uniform. “I’ve probed deep and hard into the anomaly.”
“Go on,” grunted infamous interstellar outlaw Captain Urrp, posing. She was in something that might once have been a uniform, if naval uniforms could ever have been permitted to show so much skin.
“If my calculations are correct, it may be possible to counteract its effects and escape the sector. But we would need to generate 1.21 gigawatts of pure erotic energy.”
“Holy…nebulas.” Estelle had, in her own opinion, mastered the dramatic pause. “Is it even…possible…to have that much sex? And for it to be that…amazing?”
Vesper Virgo was already unzipping her uniform. There wasn’t much to unzip. “It’s never been done before. But it may be our only chance. Either we go down with the ship, or we go down on—”
“Private!” buzzed a voice. The screen went dark and the guardswoman frantically opened a logsheet in its place as her supervisor scuttled into the room. He was an ugly man-sized scorpion in a necktie; he adjusted the tie as he inspected her workstation.
She stood and tucked the holo-film case into her back pocket. “Good evening, sir.”
“Have you scanned this new contact yet? It’s been in the system for almost half an hour and I haven’t seen your report in the logs yet.”
“Oh! I’m so sorry, sir. I was…um. I was monitoring an interlink between a small pleasure-craft and a heavy-freighter.”
He watched her blush. “Just scan the newcomer, private. Command wants full reports on every crossing.”
She typed with all three hands. “We don’t have a visual, but registration says they’re a trade-ship inbound from Cepheid space. Manifest shows…fitness equipment.”
“Do they have a code-clearance?”
“It’s an older code, sir, but it checks out. I was about to clear them.”
He read over the same display she’d just read, tapping his pincers on the desk. “Very well—but not until after you’ve completed a full material-scan and sent probes into range for visual confirmation. We can’t afford any irregularities, private. The oligarchs are at each other’s throats and the battlefleets are on high alert. And there are rumors of smugglers broadcasting some horrible new holo-pornography. You haven’t seen anything come across, have you?”
“Nope,” she managed, turning back to the console so he wouldn’t see her blush even redder. “Full scans. Yes, sir.”
“Carry on.” He glanced around a bit more with his usual suspicion, but finally scuttled out.
The guardswoman locked the door behind him. Probes and a thorough quantum-materials scan would’ve taken a miserable amount of time and busywork. And she’d have to hail the ship and presumably sit through an agonizing conversation with some Cepheid statue and hear all about his new lifting routine.
She returned instead to her movie. As she settled into her chair and loosened her uniform she reached over and, almost as an afterthought, cleared the strange ship for transit.
“I don’t know,” sighed Estelle. “Fly casual.”
Starling turned from his console. “Casual? I am an android, captain. I am perfectly at ease.”
She shifted nervously in her chair. “I’m not.”
“This is so stressful,” Csilla agreed, twisting the lid off her thermos of asteroid-jelly. “Does anyone mind if I swell up a little? I haven’t had any all week and the cravings are killing me.”
“As much as you need.” Estelle kept staring at the screen. She barely blinked.
“Take another neural-soothing gel, captain,” said Lucine.
“Not yet. Need to stay sharp in case—holy nebulas. What’s that sound? They saw through it. I knew it. We’re blasted. We’re so blasted.”
The comms officer moved a sandwich aside to check his display. “Oh, hey, we’re cleared,” he announced, after an infuriatingly long pause. “No scans, no queries, no probes. We’re good to go.”
Estelle heaved herself up and grabbed the gels from Lucine’s hand. “Right. Ahem. Never a doubt.” She unwrapped a gel and popped it onto her tongue, but froze and glanced around before swallowing. Everyone was looking at her. “What?”
“That’s the border,” offered Lieutenant Caelius, nodding to the star-map.
She squinted at it. The blip representing the Goose drifted across the Confederation border. The map zoomed out and showed the course they’d taken. It was a jagged, tangled, wildly inefficient course, full of dead-ends, backtracking, and wild guessing, but it crossed the entirety of the uncharted expanse from the outlaw rim to the frontier arm of Confederation territory.
They’d done it. Caelius couldn’t keep from smiling any longer. “Congratulations, captain.”
“I suppose congratulations are in order,” said the admiral.
Estelle couldn’t see his face, since she’d opted for an audio-only channel to avoid any comments on her weight. But he sounded sufficiently surprised and genuinely impressed. She lounged back in her cabin’s easy chair, sipped at her drink, and allowed herself a smirk. “Thank you, sir.”
“The whole thing,” he continued. “We all thought it couldn’t be done.”
“Oh, I’ve gotten pretty good at finishing the whole thing.” She muted her comm while she giggled. It might’ve been smarter to save the neural gels for after she called home.
“Well, I know it’s still several weeks from that border to the New Kansas gate, but it sounds like we’d better start getting things set up on our end. I’m sure you’re making all speed for home.”
The word roused her from her haze. “Home. Sir, does…does that mean there’s a plan? You’re coming to meet us?”
“There’s an opportunity. Believe me, commander, we’re eager to get our hands on that ship. And to see you in person.”
“I can’t tell you how good it is to hear that, sir. You and I are going to have one hell of a celebration dinner. Just tell me what you need us to do.”
He cleared his throat. “You shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping a low profile on your way to the gate. There’s a power-struggle brewing between the oligarchs and many of the battlefleets have been called to the core systems. It seems the actions of a certain rogue starship full of humans have sparked some unrest.”
“The blockade is still in place, so it may be a tight squeeze. But if you can signal me when you’re within range of the spacegate, we’ll lock on to your resonance and pull you through.”
“Tight squeezes are what we do best, sir. We’ll be there. I promise you that. We’re up to any challenge.” She reached for her menu datapad to start planning dinner, but she was reclined too comfortably and the stretch proved too much of a challenge. A service arm passed it to her instead.
“I don’t doubt it, commander. What you and your crew have done is truly an achievement. It’s clear you’ve grown into your role as a leader. A welcome change from the smuggler we arrested all those years ago."
Estelle folded her hands atop her paunch. “Yeah, I’d say there’s been a few changes aboard.”
The captain wasn’t alone in her changes. The whole ship was becoming less recognizable by the day. The crew moved through the corridors at an unhurried waddle. There were snacks stored at every workstation and drones in every cabin, ready to serve. The exercise deck had been converted into a pleasure-hall; its weightrooms were now private alcoves with waterbeds, its line of laser-bikes was now a line of buffet-tables, and its antigravity swimming pool was now an antigravity chocolate fountain.
The Golden Goose itself had changed in its travels. It hadn’t seen a Confederation dockyard in two years now and it’d suffered more than its share of daily wear and tear, battle damage, and the effects of interdimensional anomalies. Straya and her team of engineers had worked miracles to keep everything intact and patch every new hole, but they’d had to do so with the few materials at hand. Every new part had to be bartered or scavenged from the alien worlds they’d visited.
The new panels were irregular materials and never quite fit the deflector casings, making several areas of the hull noticeably bulge. Compartments that had once been sharply angled were now round. Swollen cargo compartments threatened to burst out from the structural belts that held them in place.
Giant claw-marks could still be seen just aft of the bridge. “Property of the Jolly Ribbiter” had been scrawled in alien script along the starboard engine tube. The signature lipstick of a Vesper Virgo kiss still adorned the viewpane of the captain’s ready-room. The framing around the shuttle bay was still stained purple from the asteroid-jelly.
The engine core was held together with space-tape and prayer. Two years of unguided interstellar transit and desperate emergency jumps had it trembling wearily.
In the sealed, rarely-entered resonance chamber two decks above it, even the part of the ship they’d never had to use looked concerningly haphazard. It was a gigantic glowing sphere, suspended in midair at the center of the chamber. It swirled with color and every so often gave a coughing pulse.
“Is it supposed to do that?” asked Estelle.
“Not usually,” said Straya, crossing ponderously to the console. She’d developed a respiration-bubble to allow herself to walk outside her containment tank again, but she clearly still had little love for walking. “I mean, it’s not about to explode or anything, but it’s not ideal.”
Zora finally reached the top of the ladder and joined them on the catwalk. “Clip my wings,” she huffed. “How did…you all…get up here?”
“I levitated them,” Lucine replied. “You were late.”
“I was eating.”
Estelle turned. “You said you were going to wait and have dinner with me.”
“And you have a creamsicle in your hand.” She shook her head as Estelle licked it. “Anyway. Sorry. What’re we talking about?”
“The big round thing.”
“No, not my gut. The big glowing sphere up there.”
“It’s our Space-Gate Resonance Orb,” Straya explained. “When we reach the gate, this is what activates to transport us through. We haven’t had a chance to use it or even test it out yet, but it’s clearly taken a beating in all our travels. The probability fields are all over the place.”
Maura handed Zora a popsicle. “And I went over the security logs. You remember that stealth ship that boarded us? The one with all the jellyfish? They sent a party down here. Probably wanted to sabotage it.”
“What do you recommend?” asked Estelle, watching the orb fade from yellow to orange. The orange reminded her of something and she returned to her creamsicle.
“I can shore up the conduits,” said Straya. “We’d have to move it to another compartment for a week or so while I work on things. But in theory, as long as it’s aboard and safe, we can activate the space-gate. I’ll need parts, though. Actual Confederation parts.”
Estelle nodded. “We’re still a few weeks out. I’m sure we can find a supply depot or something along the way. We’ll do whatever we have to…I know there’s nothing you all can’t handle.”
She looked around at her team. Each of them, too, had been transformed by their voyage across the void. Straya was a blubbery whale struggling to keep upright, on the rare occasions she was out of her tank. Lucine was a levitating, fat-thighed, honey-slathered daydreamer always eager to be touching someone. Maura and Zora were flightless, their increasingly plump backsides were unarmored, and the onboard bars that once crowned them arm-wrestling champions now cheered them in contests of a very different kind. Princess Csilla was haughtier and more regal than ever, wearing her most expensive and prestigious gowns of state and enough jewelry to buy a starship of her own, but she was never without a thermos of jelly and her stomach regularly swelled over the course of a day from a modest pot-belly to a sloshing balloon that utterly immobilized her. Io wasn’t able to join them in the chamber at all. She’d grown too tall, too long, and simply too large for the room and instead watched happily from the door.
The resonance orb flickered and swirled again as Straya toyed with the conduits. Estelle watched it shift to a mix of arid yellows, lush greens, and deep, lively blues. For a brief moment the colors swirled into just the right configuration to strike her as familiar and she stepped back, overwhelmed with homesickness. She spent the rest of the afternoon wondering whether it had reminded her of New Kansas or of LV-237.
Estelle dipped her brush in the nail polish and braced herself. She leaned forward, holding her breath, and reached carefully from her chair. She strained, relaxed, and strained a different direction, pulling her knee up against her paunch. But she could barely see her toes, much less reach them with any dexterity. She handed the paint off to a service arm and lounged back. It happily painted her toes a bright lively blue while she sipped a margarita of much the same color.
“Captain’s log, stardate 403.01.01. We’re across. We’re in Confederation space and we’ve set our course for the New Kansas gate. We’ll have to go slowly, but moving slowly is something I’ve gotten kinda used to. Straya, stop laughing.”
Straya, still in Estelle’s bed, blew her a kiss but kept the rest of the snickering to herself. She also quietly ordered them more dessert.
“Anyway, the main reason is all the traffic. The admiral was right: there’s something going on that’s got everyone nervous and on the move. We haven’t seen many patrols yet, but there are whole squadrons gathering. And we’re seeing civilian ships everywhere, heading in all directions. There’s only so much we can do to avoid them and pretty soon we’ll be spotted. Just have to hope we fit in. Straya—
“My very amorous and currently very smarmy chief engineer has identified a few outposts where we should be able to find the parts we need to stabilize our resonance sphere. Hopefully we’re still fast enough to make a few raids without alerting the battlefleets. Plus, it’ll be a good opportunity to stock up on local food. Don’t want to go into our final missions on an empty stomach.”
“Captain’s log, stardate 403.01.09. More traffic. Somebody finally saw us. Fortunately, they were civilians. And very friendly. It was a migrant fleet of Balaenans—some of Straya’s people. Whole huge colony-ships full of beings like her…or like what she used to be. They’re all still in their exo-suits, talking about how big they used to be when they had their own planet.
“I’ll never forget the looks on their helmets and when wheeled Straya’s containment tank onto their flagship. They all understood it immediately. You could feel their awe…their hope, even through all that water and glass. She was an instant celebrity. More than that. Every ship in the fleet is insisting that she and her friends visit. And they’re all insisting on a feast.
“So far we’re done two. Given how those went, we’re going to have to expand her tank. And I—urrp—well, let’s just say she won’t be the only whale on board once we’re done here.
“When I came back from LV-237, I got a very different reception. To see how happy her size made her people…I can’t help but feel some of that hope, too.”
“Captain’s log, stardate 403.02.11. As we go on, we’re seeing more and more signs of whatever’s going on in the Confederation. Some kind of power struggle, from what we can tell. It seems whatever happened back at Cunaxa had some consequences.
“It’s meant a lot more mercenary traffic, along with all the rest. We came across one merc transport yesterday that Maura and Zora recognized. I guess they’d been hired at the same time by some warlord a while back or whatever. I forget.” She paused to suck down another helping of pickled Ambull. “Mm. So they went across to say ‘hi,’ or whatever mercenaries do. No communications at all for a couple hours. I was so worried I almost couldn’t eat. Slurp. Almost.
“Finally, Zora answers our hails. Apparently a fight had broken out. Maura had sat on their commander or something. But they swear it’s all in good fun. And apparently we owe them a cargo pod, because we’re hiring them to act up and throw the patrols off our scent. Thanks, Maura and Zora.”
“You’re very welcome,” they said in unison, rubbing her shoulders.
“Just wish you would’ve asked first. But we’re always happy to make friends. What did you come in to ask me about?”
“Well, our new friends are just back from a bug-hunt on Vespa V,” said Zora.
“They want to have us over for a carapace cookout,” said Maura.
“Oh,” realized Estelle, looking at her plate of Ambull. “So I shouldn’t spoil my appetite?” They gave her a look. She smiled and grabbed another slice. “Who am I kidding?”
“Captain’s log, stardate 403.02.17. Our visit to Myrmax III was a success…barely. We managed to get Io into the tunnels, but while we ran around planting charges underneath the Confederation satellite array—”
“Oh?” wondered the kitchen steward, returning with a plate of glowing sandwiches.
“Okay, maybe we didn’t exactly ‘run’ or whatever, but while we were planting the charges, Io managed to find the Myrmidons’ pantry. When it came time to leave, there was no getting her through the tunnel. The Myrmidons weren’t exactly pleased with the situation, but they were so eager to get rid of that array they offered to do anything they could to help. Are any of those for me?”
“Nope. I have a date with Lucine tonight and I’m going in good and stuffed.”
Estelle pouted at the plate, but turned back to her communicator. “It took three excavators. We may have to get our own excavators soon. The only turbolift she fits in at this point is the cargo-conveyor. Even if there was room for her on the bridge, I don’t know how we’d get her up there. And the shuttles…I mean, I tend to brush against doorframes now and then myself, but…wait a minute. I have a date with Lucine tonight.”
The steward pondered this. “Her cravings must be getting stronger. That’s the third time she’s double-booked us.”
“Hilp! Hi. The captain can’t do her log tonight because the supply depot we raided turned out to be a Con-fed-er-ation brewing facility and she doesn’t remember what happened. Oh no! But I’ll give you a little clue, Mr. Logbook: now Princess Csilla isn’t the only one aboard who sloshes whenever she moves. Listen to all that beer. Gloosh, blorp, bworble, slosh, sloshy, slosh.”
“Shuddup. Stop it. And get off. Your belly…so big.”
“Captain’s log, stardate 403.02.28. More old friends in the civilian lanes. We crossed paths with a passenger ship carrying some of the Plastic Courtesans of Galatea IV. The madam I’d met there was traveling with them and holy nebulas was she excited to see me. Started measuring right away. I, uh, I’m seven feet around, now. And that was before we had lunch.
“Or course, I should add that she’s gotten a little bigger, herself. A lot of them have. Nothing like anyone on the Goose, but there’s no denying the courtesans have been living pretty well since getting free. The extra weight just means more mass they can move from one part of their body to another. And the things they can do with those bodies…” She leaned back in her chair and blushed.
“They’ve left Galatea behind and are looking to establish a colony of their own. I bet wherever they end up, it’ll be the most popular place in the sector. Oh—and they made sure to give me a parting gift. Something to remember them by.” She held up the tiny metal bikini. It hadn’t fit back then and beside her now it looked like little more than a joke. The top couldn’t even reach across her breasts, much less contain them. The cups couldn’t even cover her nipples. The bottoms had pinched painfully enough when her waist had been 36 inches. Each of her thighs was rounder than that now. “Not that anything else fits me. I tried on some of Lucine’s mesh leggings the other day and I looked like an Antarian sausage.”
She chuckled and tossed the bikini across the room. The service drones raced to pick it up.
“Captain to kitchens,” she said, before she could stop herself.
“Go ahead, captain.”
“Do we have any of that Antarian sausage left?”
“Captain’s log, stardate 403.03.04. Just a couple weeks from the gate. After we fuel up at…where are we fueling up?”
“Aerostaticus Beta,” said the head of stellar cartography, without opening her eyes or losing her dreamy smile. “It’s suspended in a toroidal gas cloud. Everyone just…floats…”
The cartographer was in a lounge chair across the spa, absently rubbing lotion into a fold of hip-fat. She was completely naked, again. In fact, now that she considered it, Estelle couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen the cartographer with clothes on. “Right. That place. Uh, it’s the last station on this edge of the sector, anyway. After this, no more planets or outposts until we get to the space-gate. So we’re hoping for some smooth sailing. Finally, a chance to relax. Feels like it’s been all work, work, work lately. Lower, please.”
The massage-bot worked lower.
She relaxed. “Perfect. What’s that you’ve got there?”
The cartographer finally stirred. “What? Sorry, I’m really high.” She nudged the jar toward Estelle. “Uh, it’s a luxury mellowing cream. Very…mellowing.”
A service arm delivered it the rest of the way. “I can’t believe all those days I wasted in the workout center,” mused Estelle, scooping some with her finger. “This spa was right here the whole time.”
“Captain,” whispered the sensor technician, backside filling the doorway. “The station’s signaling. They’ll have a dock open for us in about two hours. Full service.”
“Full service. Now we’re talking. Invite their technicians aboard for dinner. Have we had dinner yet? Invite them for whatever. I could eat.”
“Turn over, please,” chirped the massage-bot.
She grunted and waved. Service arms unfolded from the wall and gently rolled her onto her back. “Two weeks with no missions,” she groaned. “What are we going to do with ourselves?”
“Bror-oorr-oorp,” she announced the next day, punctuating a two-hour poolside dinner. The belch echoed through the deck. She adjusted her bikini top, adjusted it again, and in the end simply untied it. The pool chair creaked beneath her. The bikini slipped down onto a pile of empty plates.
“Impressive,” said Lucine, hands atop a rather bloated belly of her own, “most impressive.”
“Well, those toroidal beverages were pretty fizzy.”
But Lucine held up a hand. Everyone waited; she released a shorter but much deeper belch, all of her psi-gems momentarily aglow.
Straya, the only one actually in the pool, slapped her buoyant stomach and produced an even louder, bubbling burp. They applauded her.
Zora looked at Maura. They belched together in perfect unison and, somehow, in perfect harmony.
All eyes turned to Csilla. Her burp wasn’t much, compared to the others, but it was proceeded by a hiccup that rang off the Lido deck’s glass. More applause.
Io silenced them. Her eructation seemed to shake the hull. She’d eaten a highly radioactive coolant-compressor before dinner, though, so the contest wasn’t entirely fair. But it was well-received; they were all well-received. They were all too stuffed and too comfortable to be unhappy about anything at all.
They sat there awhile, gazing at one another over their glutted bellies. “Hey,” said Estelle, when the meal began to settle and her breath was coming in more steadily, “I just wanted to thank you all.”
Straya propped her fat elbow on the edge of the pool. “Us? Taco night was your idea.”
“No, I mean…crossing the half the galaxy with us. Doing everything you’ve done. Dealing with all—hic—well, dealing with the—hic—oh, stars. Look, I know there’ve been some changes you’ve had to adjust to, is what I’m trying to say.”
“Are you saying we’re getting fat?” gasped Maura, with all the innocence she could muster.
“Technically I’m not fat,” Csilla reminded them. “Just…stretchy.”
Estelle regretted not planning her speech better. “I just mean—huck!” She tried a longer breath. “It’s still change. I’m sure it’s meant some…some big changes.” She made it through the sentence before the next hiccup caught her, but when it did come it was an even stronger one than she’d prepared for and she fell back with an overindulged groan.
Straya shook her head. “Captain, I’m a big fish outgrowing her pond. I’m living my people’s dream. I’m the closest any Balaenan has been to our ancestors’ glory in centuries.”
Csilla capped her thermos. “When I was a princess at court, it was all prescribed appearances, etiquette, suitors, performances, expectations…and then when I went on the run it was just living off bad girlfriends, bad boyfriends, bad ternary-friends…transforming myself all the time to hide from my heritage, or to appease somebody, or to meet expectations. When this thing filled up with jelly and people had to carry me around…captain, that was the first time I ever really felt like royalty.”
“And look at Io,” grunted Zora.
They looked. Io took up half the volleyball court. Her tentacles were splayed lazily along the deck and her four arms were massaging a belly that held a deployment-pod full of food, along with a highly radioactive coolant-compressor. Her rounded face was pure happiness.
“You know,” said Maura, “when we first found her, she was seconds from being swallowed by a Dentalian crawling colossus. Biggest crawler we’d seen in all our years of bug-hunting. Had skinny little Io right in its jaws.”
Zora grinned at the memory. “What a fight. Took almost all our ammo.”
“And you know what? Looking at her now…she’s bigger than even that colossus was. I think if they met again the shoe would be on the other foot.”
Io licked her lips.
“Still,” Estelle continued, “thank you. I know it hasn’t all been easy. You’ve all left your homes and societies and careers to help a bunch of stray—huck—humans. I just…I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate it.”
“We’ll get you home, captain,” Lucine assured her.
“Though if you keep this up,” said Straya, watching her wince at another hiccup, “when we get there we’ll probably have to roll you out of the ship.”
Between the Madam measuring Estelle, and the old bikini being salvaged, here's hoping she might just get a chance to wear another metal bikini that almost fits her...
They're worried about rolling her off the ship? At this rate, will she even fit out?!
If she's eating Ambull, I really hope they're careful. Some legendarily unfriendly spacefarers might be about!
The soft light of a blue supergiant star peeked through the viewpanes of the captain’s cabin. Something in Estelle’s mind registered it, but she remained half-dozing and half-dreaming for another hour. She felt Straya slip out of the bed and sneak out to breakfast. She heard the sounds of the ship’s day slowly getting underway. But it was long before Estelle stirred.
It was her stomach that finally woke her. She groaned, stroked it groggily for a while, and eventually stretched back to rap her knuckles on the headboard.
Two service arms unfolded from the wall. One re-stacked the pillows so she could comfortably sit up in bed. Estelle had long since stopped sleeping on her back, as her bosom pressed into her fat neck and made it hard to breathe. The other arm handed her a datapad and poured her a mug of coffee. It was another typical everyday morning, the same as so many others lately: waking late, a little hungover and a lot bloated.
She rested her arms over her breasts and perched both the datapad and the mug on her gut. She acknowledged the various night-shift reports--no incidents, thank the stars—and studied the schedule ahead. It would be a standard workday, though busier than she liked. More departments than usual were requesting her attention. And she would need to make her usual rounds; and stand her usual watch on the bridge. It would be a long morning. Breakfast would have to be light.
The service drones brought in a light breakfast. They set a tray to either side of her and delivered everything fresh from the kitchen: an overflowing bowl of Galaxy Swirls, a Cassiopeian quiche laced with xeno-aphrodisiacs, a scone dripping with hiver honey, and another coffee that was more cream than coffee. She waved the service arms off and ate everything with her own utensils, but they did sneak in now and then to wipe syrup from her chins.
It was a light breakfast, too light, and her stomach growled for more when the spoon scraped the bottom of an empty bowl. But there was work to be done first. Estelle got herself to the edge of the bed in a few heaves and dangled her legs over the side. The service arms supported her as she slid to her feet.
“Shower,” she grunted, scratching her gut. As she padded off to the bathroom, the drones began tidying up the cabin. Their whirring was too noisy at night, so they’d learned to wait until morning for any cleaning. And there was plenty to clean this morning: wrappers, pie-plates, a trashy alien romance novel, some bottles, towels from the Lido deck, Straya’s bra…
More service arms danced to life as she waddled into the shower. They helped her out of her pajamas—she didn’t remember pulling those on—and blared her favorite upbeat alien pop songs. The shower’s rain-spouts drilled her with hot, rejuvenating mineral waters. The spouts followed her wherever she went in the enormous shower-chamber. She stood long enough for the arms to lather and scrub her backside and lower rolls, but then sat on the bench while they cleaned the rest and washed her hair.
They gave her a hand up when she was done and they toweled her dry with the galaxy’s softest towels. A drone presented her with a virtual mirror console when she’d returned to the cabin, allowing her to customize her makeup for the day. She took a moment in the mirror to watch her chin waggle.
The wardrobe opened. “Blue today, I think,” she said absently. The drones helped her step into a pair of blue panties, recently fabricated but still pinching into the flesh below her stomach. She pulled on the blue bra herself, but it was the drones who clasped it shut. It was new, too, but her sagging bosom was already spilling over the edges of each cup. There was no point in trying the uniform, so she spread her arms and let the drones drape the billowing xeno-silk peignoir over her once again.
It had no pockets, so she had to tuck her communicator into her cleavage. The drones brought out her slippers while she tied up her hair. Her belly begged for more breakfast, but it would have to wait. The workday had begun. She was out the door and waddling to the bridge. The security guards bounced to attention and their own guts bounced free of their shirts.
“Captain on the bridge,” announced Starling. No one moved. The sensor technician continued chewing.
“Ready for turbulence,” she grunted.
Escaping the supergiant’s gravity well and swinging toward the next system—during a radiation storm, no less—promised to be uncomfortable work. Estelle settled into her increasingly tight chair, cursing its armrests, and clipped on her safety harness. Fortunately engineering had been able to install an extender.
There were complications in the jump, as there always were, but no disasters. The helmsmen averted a potential meteor collision by spinning and they vaulted into intersystem space. Estelle complimented him on the neat trick.
She called for smoothies to celebrate. They might have grown too fat for their uniforms, but there was no one she’d rather have at their stations. She spent the rest of the shift sucking down her smoothie and handed off the bridge to Lieutenant Caelius. A service arm took her hand as she extracted her bulk from the command chair.
It had been a successful shift, but a long one and an increasingly uncomfortable one in such an ill-fitting chair. It was a shift that had certainly earned her an award. She walked to a café above the Lido deck and made up for cutting breakfast short.
It was a quiet little spot that she’d visited often for privacy. It had no service arms installed, though, which might have been why it was less popular than others, so she had to serve herself. But the kitchens were prepared and she served herself a plate of dried whip-smelt, a whole moon-melon, and more pastries with hiver-honey. A neural-soothing gel helped deal with the remnants of the hangover.
She did miss the arms when it was time to get up. She had a pleasant mid-morning bloat going and wanted more, but now wasn’t the time. It was a busy day.
The Goose was long overdue for a weapons inspection. Estelle met Maura in the phaser array. The mercenary greeted her with an eager kiss.
They went through the usual tour, but not with much intense scrutiny. Maura seemed to be rushing everything. Estelle didn’t mind; the inspection was an important task, but one she always dreaded. The array was a long walkway that seemed longer every week. And there were stairs.
Maura skipped the stairs. She pulled Estelle into the phaser turret instead. It was layered with pillows that looked very out of place.
“Okay, I lied. I did the actual inspection yesterday. Everything’s fine. I just wanted a block of time with you all to myself.” She seized the tie-cord of Estelle’s robe. “This is the only compartment on the ship where I haven’t had sex yet.”
Estelle returned to her cabin smiling, but sweating and disheveled. The drones freshened her up and fixed her hair Both morning meals had been necessarily abridged and her workday had been busy so far and now Maura had riled her up; now she was truly hungry. Fortunately she’d scheduled a lunch break for herself and had an appointment ready to deal with that.
Lucine’s cabin was lit only by psi-gems. She entertained Estelle with a deep, bubbling bowl of Higartha brain-stew, along with a full loaf of preon bread for dipping. Every bite was perfectly hearty and Estelle felt her stomach warm with relief. They followed it by splitting some nameless mutated gourd Lucine had grown in the hydroponics bay. They cut into it and found it filled with smaller gourds, each a surprising new flavor. They enjoyed it with some dark Denorian beer, pausing occasionally to kiss and caress one another, until Lucine’s communicator buzzed. She was needed in the medical bay: a crewman had tried the mind-scrambler muffins without the appropriate preparations.
Estelle left the cabin comfortably full at last. She still had enough time left for a short nap and headed back toward her own. A belly-rub in bed sounded perfect.
She never made it to her cabin, though. The kitchen steward caught her in the corridor. “Captain,” she gasped, “have you eaten?”
Her reply didn’t matter. The steward didn’t wait to hear it and instead pulled her into the officers’ lounge, explaining her latest culinary experiment. It had a short half-life and had to be tasted immediately, or she’d never know if she’d gotten it right.
She sat Estelle in front of a shifty-looking cut of steak. “Grade-A Ontarom beef, captain.”
She needed Estelle’s opinion. It was urgent. Estelle was a good captain, a dedicated and selfless captain, and she did her duty to the ship. It was a hefty cut of meat, but she packed the whole thing away bite. When she began to slow, a quick whiff of appetite-stim dust brought on her second wind.
The steward’s pot-belly heaved with pride. Estelle set her hands on her own distended belly and napped right there on the couch, the steward’s head on her shoulder. The drones cleaned the table.
The nap was refreshing, but much too short. The communicator buzzing in her cleavage reminded her of the time and she called for the service arms to help her up.
She was still groggy and noticeably bloated when she arrived at Stellar Cartography. This, thank the holy nebulas, was a meeting she could sit for. Someone had thought enough ahead to bring a reinforced chair and she remained in it, massaging her gut, until they’d finished plotting tomorrow’s course.
Her head still wasn’t quite clear, but she managed a few intelligent contributions and did what was expected of a commanding officer. The perpetually-naked head cartographer smirked at her several times, fully understanding the situation, and let the other officers do most of the talking.
She winked at Estelle when the meeting was finally over and the rest filed out. “Thanks for staying. I wanted to show you what I bought at that last station.”
“Trust me, I’m in no hurry to get back on my feet.”
“You’re always so busy. I can’t imagine. So when I saw this on the shelf I thought of you right away. Look.” She opened a small tube. “Stress-blaster lipstick.” She puckered and applied a thick layer.
Estelle watched, trying to look reserved but unable to hide her interest. “Is this anything like the lotion you found?”
The cartographer shuddered. “It’s better.” She ran a hand through Estelle’s hair and leaned in for a long kiss.
It was better. Estelle was still feeling its light, unworried haze as she arrived at her next appointment. She was grateful for it, too, because the engineering bay was much more crowded than seemed right.
The scientists were hosting a social. Estelle had forgotten what they were celebrating, or if they were celebrating anything at all. But they had a snack table and they were happy to share. Estelle’s appointment wasn't with the scientists, but felt obligated to lend her weight to their gathering. And the snack table was worth the detour: larded neutrinos, bruschetta with molecularly-agitated cheese, breaded antennae with a creamy dipping sauce. She probably spent too long on the detour and realized this when the rickety card-table collapsed under the weight of her belly.
The drones raced over to clean things up. The scientists only laughed and called for more snacks. Estelle excused herself; Zora took her by the elbow and reminded her of her actual appointment in engineering.
Being a little high made the long inspection of the engineering bay much more tolerable. There were a lot more counters here to lean against and everything was much sturdier. She nodded through Straya’s reports and even dredged up a few questions of her own. She drummed her fingers on her belly while Straya flopped out of her tank and pulled on her new bubble-suit.
They rode the lift up, barely fitting side by side, and took another look at the space-gate resonance orb. The new parts they’d stolen had been made to work, but Straya was still nervous.
“It seems a lot more stable now,” she explained. “I’m just worried about the actual jump. Our engine core is pretty overtaxed. One try at the gate might be all we get. I think a power surge like that, with all this jury-rigged gear, might totally fry this thing. And then we’re stuck.”
“But we get that one try, right?”
“Pretty sure. We just have to keep it stable until then. We’ll all have to keep an eye on it. If it turns bright red all the sudden, that’s an anti-probability breach and we’ll all disappear from existence forever.”
“Neat,” said Estelle. She took a longer breath to clear her head and squeezed Straya’s hand. “I’m not worried. You’re the best one for the job.”
Relief spread across the engineer’s blubbery face. Straya opened her bubble and kissed her.
Dinner was all that was on Estelle’s mind by the time she left engineering. It had been a long, trying day and she’d decided she would end it good and stuffed, no matter what it took. She stopped by her cabin to dress for the occasion, slipping out of the robe and directing the drones to bring out her evening gown. It was the only dress in her wardrobe still intact and this was only because it was more negligee than dress. It had been another gift from Vesper Virgo and was full of convenient slits and openings. Most of her stomach was on display.
She was the first one to the officers’ lounge, but the rest weren’t far behind. They all seemed to share her mood and showed up in their various finery, too. And when the first course of the meal appeared they all tucked in just as ravenously.
The meal was worth the wait: plasma-roasted spider-beetle in a succulent marinade, paired with Wine of Qaddis and accompanied by seasoned Presidium lake-fish and a bowl of iridescent noodles that seemed to go on forever. Estelle devoured everything put before her, never slowing, talking only through mouthfuls. After a while it became difficult to reach past herself to the table and she let the service arms feed her the rest while she stroked her belly. Her belly swelled before her eyes; soon it pushed up against the table and the service arms dragged her chair another few inches back. She called for another plate.
It was a meal they all needed help getting up from. They’d broken another chair and splattered enough sauces and crumbs that the cleaning drones were already busy. Evening plans were discussed between groans and belches.
“Remember,” said Estelle, finishing her glass as the service arms hefted her up, “this is—this is only part one. Catch your breath while I finish the…the thing. We’ll drink a bit, we’ll party a bit, and then remember—remember—dessert in my cabin. Dessert ‘til we can’t move.”
Her belly was so full it no longer sagged. It filled the turbolift as she stepped in. It obscured her view of the walkway as she waddled unsteadily onto the bridge. It bumped into the drinks-cart as she mixed herself a pre-party drink. It had to rest on Starling’s console while she tried to concentrate on his reports. It go in the way of greeting the night watch; they had to squeeze themselves past her to get to their stations. But they were happy to see her and to see her satisfied and she met them with loud, tipsy greetings.
She finished her drink and another taller one, and then the bell finally chimed and the watch was relieved. Estelle was relieved. Her workday was over at last and she could cut loose a little.
The Lido deck’s poolside lounge had already been transformed, as it was so many evenings, into a pulsating nightclub. There were only a few on the dancefloor, lazily gyrating, but the music was loud, the corners were dark, and the tables were filled with snacks.
Estelle parked herself in a booth near the snack table, just in case. The music’s beat reverberated through her overstuffed stomach and she sat awhile, enjoying the sensation and nursing a Serrice ice-brandy. Her hand soon found its way to the snacks.
The party only really got going when Csilla arrived. She’d been at her jelly again, despite promising to take it easy, and her stomach had to be carried in by three crewmen. They set it on the dance floor and she began to work her practiced sultry moves behind it. She and her jelly-filled partner were soon surrounded by admirers. The music intensified. The lights dimmed.
Maura and Zora called everyone over for mindfish shots. On top of all their other effects these tended to stimulate the appetite and Estelle was at the snack table again before she knew it.
Io and Straya paddled lazily in the pool. The kitchen steward sat in the hot tub, her breasts afloat and their impressive weight finally off her shoulders; she relaxed back between two crewmen while they fed her chocolates. On the dancefloor, Lieutenant Caelius found himself trapped between Maura’s and Zora’s backsides. A leap sideways landed him on the waterbed of Csilla’s stomach, where he found himself very welcome. Lucine levitated partners up above the crowd to dance with them in midair.
Estelle returned to her booth with a piled-high plate and a fresh glass. She’d lost track of the plates. It must have been more than she thought, because her dress had broken open. Part of her winced; it was her last good dress. But the rest of her was only more emboldened. It was too late to stop now. She drained her glass, swallowed everything on the plate in what seemed like one mouthful, and called for the drones to bring more.
She wasn’t alone. More torn dresses and split pants danced past. Fat bellies were everywhere. The music grew more mesmerizing, full of alluring rhythms and tones calculated to produce a pleasurable tingling sensation in human skin. A round of shots. People were bouncing on Io’s stomach. Estelle bounced her plate on her own stomach. She was so painfully, wonderfully, perfectly bloated. Everyone stopped by to visit her, some by themselves, some in pairs, some in whole departments. They chatted, they laughed, they told stories, they made out, they toasted the day they’d see home again.
“Almost there,” she agreed, emptying her glass.
She left the party early. She’d had a long, wearying workday, after all. And there was still dessert waiting. She reminded her officers of this, took a bottle from the bar, and stumbled into the turbolift.
The walk from the lift to her cabin was a short one, but she made it a long journey. She weaved and bounced against the walls, giggling to herself, smile never leaving her face. Her hands were too busy caressing her distended stomach to be of any help balancing, so it fell to the service drones to keep her more or less upright.
Nor was the corridor at all easy to navigate. Other parties had spilled out from the mess halls and cabins. Crewmembers of all rank were indulging one another in every way they could. Estelle stumbled past couples and groups feeding one another, sharing tubs of pleasure-stimulating dessert creams, pouring multicolored liquids or gels or butters down one another’s throats. They cheered their captain as she passed and reached to touch her belly.
More drones appeared as she flopped into her cabin. They held her as she swayed and peeled off the remains of the dress. They dabbed away the spilled crumbs and sauces. They let down her hair and held her up while she gulped down the last of the bottle in one long pull.
She took a couple staggering steps toward the bedroom, but missed and collapsed against the doorframe. The service arms extended and she let herself fall backward into them. They carefully raised her up, rotated her, and carried her to the bed. Far too stuffed to lie down, she reclined against the mountain of pillows and directed the drones to massage her belly. She knew it wasn’t worth the discomfort of trying to reach around it herself.
Her swimming gaze slowly fell to the table across the room. Dessert was waiting.
There were stardust candies in every flavor. There were euphoria cubes. There were frosted antimatter puffs filled with custard. There were brown-dwarf brownies. There were cookies that floated in midair above their plate. But the star of it all was a large multi-layered cake that had been baked inside a time-continuum fluctuation. It was a paradox and it was quickly becoming one of the most popular dishes aboard. It was a cake they could have and eat, too.
The drones were already cutting a slice, but Estelle stopped them. “Soon. Hic! Wait for the others. Need to…need to make some room anyway…”
The subsequent belch was a good start, but she was still uncomfortably full. Estelle eased back against the mountain of pillows and spent a few minutes watching the stars, quietly contending with her hiccups.
It had been another day like any other. Once again she would end it stuffed to her limits, happily inebriated, and utterly surrendered to her comfortable discomfort. A thoughtful service arm unclasped her bra and helped slip it off. Her breasts sagged out onto the taut swell over her belly. Her communicator, freed from her cleavage, tumbled off and fell between her knees, well out of reach.
“Oh, right. The thing. The—huck—the log. Right. Record.”
Another service arm extended to tap the communicator.
“Captain’s log, stardate…hulp. Star…date. Yeah. Nothing to report. Just another typical, av…average…everyday day aboard the Goldenenen Goose. Bhurrp. Standard watch-duty. Standard inspec—inspection rounds. Very round. Crew is in—hip!—perfect shape. I’m in…I’m in…I’m in…hilp! I’m…great. We’re almost there.” With as little movement as possible, she poked the bio-pak on her pudgy wrist.
“Subject is in excellent health,” it replied. “499 pounds.”
“Almost—hic!—almost there.” She heard the cabin door slide open. She heard the stumbling and the hushed giggling of her officers. It was time for dessert.
“You’re kidding, right?” scoffed the alien tailor. He was a diminutive turtle-shaped creature, one of the shortest beings aboard, but he managed to look down on everyone all the same.
The kitchen steward’s bloated face turned to a pout. “It’s just…I was really hoping for something formal to wear. We want to host a nice ceremony for the captain tonight, after we go through the gate. But I don’t have anything left that fits over my, you know, my tummy.”
“I’ve had a hard enough time designing things that fit over your, you know, your chest. Maybe you should’ve thought of that before you grew a tummy to match.” He tutted and poked her growing pot-belly. It was still firmly swollen from a long brunch.
She took a sip of her atomic soda, resting the enormous cup on her enormous bosom. “So you won’t do it?”
“You don’t understand, ensign. I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to. Ship’s completely out of fabric. We’re down to bathtowels and bedsheets.”
“Oh.” Her indignation vanished. “Sorry. I guess I haven’t been paying enough attention these last few weeks. I’ve been, um, partying a lot.” She turned to leave, but hadn’t been paying enough attention and accidentally slammed her left breast into his face.
She stammered apologies and readjusted her bra. Service arms shot out to offer their help. Fortunately the tailor’s face was unharmed and the steward’s soda was unspilled.
“We’ll just have to get creative,” he sighed, relenting. “My honest opinion? If you really want to wear something the captain will like, just spray some whipped cream on your boobs and call it a day. But please stop asking me for clothes you’re only going to outgrow as fast as I can sew them.”
She apologized again as she opened the door. He froze. A long line of plump, half-naked, sheepish-looking crewmembers waited outside his cabin, arms full of torn dresses and split pants.
“Oh, you’re kidding me,” droned the head of stellar cartography, sorting through the data-blocks on her desk. The little red cubes and blue tetrahedrons were all accounted for, as was the green micro-sphere, but the indigo icosahedron was missing. It had all the telemetry data she’d collected on Asselli Delta. “Can’t lose that. The Callipygians promised me—urp—promised me a vacation home on the second moon…”
She carefully moved aside the various plates, wrappers, and bags left from her working lunch. The data-block wasn’t beneath the remains of her Klendathu pie, nor among the crumbs of her zro-stuffed profiteroles, nor covered by the smoldering peels of her synthetically-enlarged Titan-fruit. She rejoiced for a brief moment at the sight of a turquoise lump, but it only proved to be a stray bloat-gel that had escaped her dessert.
“Oh, no you don’t.” She swallowed it at once and washed it down with the rest of her still-fizzing Urillan cream soda.
As she lowered the empty glass, though, she caught sight of the indigo data-block it had been obscuring. The block had rolled to the far edge of the desk.
Her first attempt at leaning forward didn’t achieve much. She was more full than she’d realized. She half-stood and stretched out a flabby arm, but she was also much more bloated than she realized and her stomach jounced the desk. The data-block rolled over and disappeared over the side. She heard it clattering away on the floor behind the desk.
“Drone,” she called, settling back into her chair. “Ow. That might’ve been one too many bloat-gels. Remember that for next time. Drone? Hello?” She tapped the communicator on her desk. “Stellar cartography to engineering. Think there’s a malfunction with the drones.”
Straya was chewing. “No, sorry. Standing orders. We’re within one jump of the space-gate, so we’re on silent running. The service AI is in standby mode until we make contact.”
So the cartographer had to get up from the chair herself. Getting to her feet drove home just how full she was and she spent a moment finding her balance. She was a tall, bottom-heavy woman and carried less weight in her drooping belly than many others aboard, but today its upper roll was jutting forward and feeling wondrously heavy. She massaged it as she maneuvered around the desk.
The map-room she worked in was an elevated alcove, one of many set into the walls up and down the ship’s research atrium. Her data-block had fallen between the bars of a safety-railing and landed on a pipe just a few feet below.
But if it fell off the pipe, the cartographer realized, it would fall into the next department down. That was the xeno-linguistics library, an infamously cluttered labyrinth. She would never find it in there.
There was no other way. She carefully lowered herself to her knees, rolled to one side with a pathetic grunt, and reached through the railing. She felt the bars against her naked hips. They were tighter than she’d expected. She must’ve grown wider than she’d realized. But her fingers were close to the data-block. She sucked in her gut, inched further, squeezed further, reached further, and wrapped her hand around the prize. It bleeped.
She tried to back out. She sucked in and tried again. “Oh, no.”
“Oh no,” warned the sensor technician. “You’d better be kidding me.”
The comms officer showed her an empty carton. “I wouldn’t kid you about that. Look for yourself—it’s empty.” He set it by the others they’d finished. “They’re all empty, darling.”
She glared playfully at him over her bulging belly. “Then you’d better go get some more.”
“Aye aye, ma’am.” He struggled to his feet, cursing the silent-running protocol. She pushed at him with her pudgy feet until he left.
The café nearby was out of ice cream. Desserts had been popular all day as everyone celebrated their impending arrival at the space-gate. But a quick chat over the private comms revealed the officers’ lounge still had a carton of tupo-berry.
The kitchen steward was gulping down a milkshake of her own as he arrived. Her meeting with the tailor had put her in a mood; her gut was resting on the counter and her chest was resting on her gut. She wore nothing but whipped cream.
“You owe me a box of Noctuan chocolates next time you’re up here,” she droned between gulps, sliding him the carton of tupo-berry.
“Deal,” he agreed. “I’ll bring it by this afternoon. You can eat them while we go through the gate.”
He ducked back out. The steward licked her spoon. Chocolates for the gate-transit. They were so close to home she could almost taste it.
“Ensign,” whispered Lieutenant Caelius, poking his head in, “do you have the captain?”
“Oh, I wish, sir.” That would have been perfect. She shook a can and refreshed her whipped-cream bra.
But Caelius frowned. “She left her communicator on the bridge this morning. Can you find her and wake her up? Starling says we’re in range and can make the broadcast.”
“We’re in range? Holy nebulas. She’ll be so excited.”
“She’ll also be a little grouchy about the drones being on standby. You might need to remind her that was on her orders.” He stole a sandwich. “Thanks. Well, happy hunting.”
It was an easy enough hunt. The captain had been entertaining the night watch while they were off-duty. The trail of revelry led straight to deck two; the steward merely had to follow the overindulged moans.
She had to step carefully, though. The corridor was cluttered with discarded platters, bowls, bottles, and broken crates. The clutter grew thicker and thicker until she was ankle-deep in dishware, clothing, and fully-drained stimulator-prisms. She opened the cargo door at the end of the corridor and had to roll an empty keg out of the way before she could enter.
The captain was slumbering soundly atop Io’s stomach. She was nestled in the crater around Io’s navel, her hair splayed wildly across the valley between Io’s breasts. They snored in unison. Half a dozen other naked crewmembers were passed out on the floor around Io, heads sinking into her soft enormity.
“Captain,” hissed the steward.
“Hrrn,” said Estelle.
“Captain, you’re needed on the bridge. I’m sorry.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me, ensign. I was having…the best dream.” Estelle lifted her head and blearily glanced around. “Ah. Maybe it wasn’t a dream.”
“Starling says we’re in range of the gate. You can make your call to the admiral.”
“Hrrn,” said Estelle. She rolled onto her side, sinking into Io’s flab. She summoned all her strength, rolled again, and slowly slid down the rest of the supple slope. She landed on her feet but immediately toppled over.
The steward helped her up. “Good afternoon, Captain Gorlois,” she giggled. “It’s stardate 403.04.01 and we’re one hour from the New Kansas space-gate. We’ve made it. How does it feel?”
Estelle blinked. “I am so…full.” Her eyes slowly focused and fell to the whipped cream bra.
“Thought I’d dress for the occasion,” the steward explained, blushing.
“Looks perfect. Any chance you’ve seen my robe?”
“On the bridge.”
“Oh, good. That’ll save…a few steps. Whoa.” She slung an arm over the steward’s shoulders to stop from swaying, leaning her whole weight against her. “Thanks. Sorry. Okay, ensign. Roll me up there…it’s time to phone home.”
Washed, refreshed, and as dressed as someone her size could be on a ship with no fabric, Estelle arrived on the bridge to find her officers standing and saluting. She stared stupidly and returned the salute; they gave her three cheers.
“We’re not through it yet,” she reminded them. But she couldn’t help smiling. The starmap showed just what she’d dreamed of for so long. One jump to the next system, one hour of spaceflight would bring them to the prism at the center of the space-gate. Home was on the other side.
Even Starling looked chipper, at least as much as his programming would allow. “All decks reporting clear, captain. All hands at transit stations. All systems nominal.”
“And the resonance orb?”
“Solid enough for one use,” said Straya.
“One’s all we’ll need, hopefully.” Estelle lowered herself into the command chair, struggled once more with its armrests, and then folded her hands atop her belly. It overflowed the chair. It overflowed her thighs and very nearly her knees. “Comms, open a secure channel, voice only, naval encryption. Hail the admiral.”
It took a while to get a response, but at last the speakers crackled to life. “Golden Goose, come in. Is that you, commander?”
“Yes, sir,” she replied, with triumph. “Admiral, we made it. In an hour you can shake my hand in person.”
A pause. “Well done. Amazingly well done. I’m thrilled to hear it. I look forward to doing so.”
She flushed with anticipation. “Our orb’s powered up and ready. We’re one system away. Send your prefix codes and we’ll begin our approach.”
“Perfect, commander. Perfect. I’ll just need your coordinates and the ship’s drive signature…”
“I’ll send them right over. Stand by.” She muted the channel. “Let’s make sure we get this right. Starling, what are we reading? Tell me the gate’s active. Is their prismatic array up?”
“Unknown? Keep scanning. We only get one shot at this, with the state our resonance orb’s in. Poor thing’s been carrying too much load. My feet sympathize.”
Starling moved to another console. “Scanning. There are no readings at all.”
“Gotta be some kind of reading, up or down. Unless…” Her smile faded. “He shouldn’t need our coordinates.” Lights blinked on her monitor. “Don’t send anything. Pull up—cancel the approach—pull up.”
“Captain, I’m detecting a power surge in the neighboring starsystem—”
“Captain, multiple signals—”
“Captain, Confederation ships in sector three-seven—”
Alarms blared and screens flashed. Estelle turned her chair. “It’s a trap!”
The admiral waited as a spider climbed across his console. The bridge of the Confederation command ship was dimly-lit, cold, and filled with the sound of several scuttling, many-legged things. Water dripped from every surface and swirled underfoot. The admiral’s jacket, designed for human navy environments, was soaked through and he had to do his best not to shiver.
“They’ve reversed course,” said the spider. “Looks like they’ve seen us.”
“No matter. The nearest hyperlane is hours from their position. We’ll be on them long before they could make any escape. Let the general know the Golden Goose has waddled right into our grasp.”
“He will be very pleased.”
“Sir, I’ve reestablished the channel,” reported a scorpion.
The admiral leaned over his console. “Commander—Estelle—you seem to be overreacting. Your journey’s over. It’s time to stand down and be relieved. I am ordering you and your crew to take some well-earned shore-leave. Congratulations.”
He watched the screen. The Goose continued away. He sighed and shook his head.
“If you don’t want to come to us, we can come to you. Our engines have twice the capacity, so it’s no trouble at all. Go ahead and power down. We can take it from here.”
“Well, commander, one of us is keeping to his orders and working for the security of all humanity, and one of us is a rogue outlaw space-brigand, disavowed by her species, and a clear threat to good upstanding hard-working citizens throughout the galaxy.” The admiral set his hat aside. “Everyone’s very concerned about you.”
“Glad to know I’ve been on your mind. Caelius, get us the hell out of here.”
The admiral sighed. “Move your snacks off the map-table. A full battlefleet is currently one hour from your position. There is no exit point you can make before they reach you. Power down and end this without any further conflict.”
“Calm down. All you have to give up is the ship. That’s all. Everything else can be forgiven.” The spider beside him rolled its eyes. “Commander, I’ll take you home myself. All of you. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
Estelle said nothing.
“We’ll be there in one hour,” the admiral assured her. “Just send us a message that you accept. Do that and this whole fully-armed battlefleet won’t have to fire a single weapon. Tell us you accept, and you can all finally, finally go home. Mission accomplished.”
“The channel’s dead,” said the scorpion.
The back end of the bridge opened onto a tall, open chamber where the water collected into a murky pool. Its depths stirred, churned, and a gigantic jellyfish rose into the air.
“Do you believe she is wise enough to accept?” asked General Tissaphernes, crackles of electricity arcing through his tentacles.
The admiral considered. “They’re in no condition to fight. And she’d better accept. I want that ship undamaged. Getting command of it was the whole reason I gave up Clearchus and the delegation. I won’t let that be for nothing…I plan to be on that bridge by the end of the day, at any cost.”
“Good. And my Cnidarian Legion will accompany you.” Beneath the general, a hundred smaller, armored jellyfish floated up from the water. “Once this overindulged nuisance is dealt with, you will carry the Legion through the gate and we will begin the correction of your species.”
I sense that a large living ship somewhere in the galaxy is going to get nice meal delivered to them pretty soon. Also nice job on the latest chapters, I am looking forward to how the captain and her crew gets out of this mess.
Straya turned sideways to get through the door. The atrium was unusually quiet. The rest of the away team were staring out the windows or at the floor. No one was eating.
“Sorry I’m late,” she bubbled. “Had to…cut two people out of the railing in stellar cartography.”
Csilla looked up. “Two?” The princess was on her feet for once. It was still early in the week and her stomach only had a few gallons of jelly in it.
“The head cartographer’s got really wide hips and so she got stuck. And then the xeno-linguistics librarian saw her and came up to help, but she’s, um, she’s really top-heavy and—” Her mask swirled uncertainly. “So…so it’s true? A whole battlefleet’s on it’s way?”
“We’ve got forty minutes left,” said Maura.
They all went quiet again as Estelle shuffled in. Her eyes were wide, bagged, and staring past everything.
Csilla cleared her throat. “Captain, you gave it your best. It isn’t what you set out for, but maybe it’s…maybe it doesn’t have to, you know…”
“What are you saying?” gasped Straya.
“Maybe we can make a deal,” offered Zora. “Your admiral obviously made one. Maybe we can still get something out of this.”
“Exactly,” said Csilla. “I’ve negotiated with them before. They’re always happier to buy what they want if it avoids making a scene. They want the Goose, fine. I bet I could talk them into giving us something for it. A smaller ship, maybe. Or a station somewhere out on the rim. They’d make that deal ten times out of ten, if it keeps the peace and saves them face.”
“A station stocked full of food.”
“Leave the Confederation and the oligarchs and all their nonsense behind. Let them park us on a nice comfy asteroid somewhere. We won’t bother anyone and they won’t bother us. And we can just spend the rest of our days in pure comfort, stuffing ourselves into oblivion and getting so fat the service arms can’t pick us up.”
“That’s the dream, captain. You deserve that.”
“No,” said Estelle. They all turned. “Everyone deserves it. If we give in…if we take a deal while the rest of the galaxy scrapes by on nutrient paste, we’re no better than the Oligarchs. I’m not going to let them cover up what we’ve done.” Resolve returned to her rounded face. “We’re a lot to cover up, after all. Just ask the tailor.”
Starling opened the shuttle-bay door. “Captain, the crew is assembled.”
When they’d first commandeered the Golden Goose, Estelle had briefed the crew in Stellar Cartography. Now, though, the crew took up three or four times the space they used to and it wouldn’t have been a very comfortable briefing.
They still took up plenty of room in the shuttle hangar. There were few uniforms in sight, as not one of the original crew had kept anything close to the trim, lean, famously fit figures they’d brought aboard. Backsides were too plump for pants, chests were too heavy for tops, and waists were too wide for belts. The hangar was populated by fattened midsections of every kind, frequently on full display: beer-guts, paunches, folds upon folds, creased teardrops, sagging triangles, double bellies, triple bellies, bellies with larger upper rolls, bellies with larger lower rolls, bellies that pinched at the bottom, bellies that defied gravity, bellies that embraced gravity.
Clothes had been modified as much as possible and many had begun to repurpose spare bedsheets and curtains. Colored sashes preserved some semblance of rank and uniform color. But distinctions in rank were largely meaningless now, anyway. Saluting was rare, posture was scarce, and any sense of superiority or deference had fallen away. They all knew each other too well by now, very often intimately, they worked well together, they played well together, and everyone seen everyone else, regardless of rank and station, helplessly surrendered to the throes of indulgence and decadence—the ultimate equalizer.
Many had brought chairs or stools. The kitchen steward had contrived to have a couch brought in. And she was not alone in bringing snacks.
They were a fat crew. They were fat and they were willing to be happy. Estelle waddled out onto the walkway above and leaned against a console, dreading what she would have to tell them.
“We’ve come a long way,” she said, trying to keep her voice from cracking. She didn’t succeed. “You have gone above and beyond every single day. You struggled—and not just to get into your pants this morning.” They were kind enough to chuckle. She adjusted her robe and drew it tight. “You woke up this morning expecting to be home by this evening. So did I.
“But instead there’s a Confederation battlefleet coming for us. A fleet we can’t escape. You’ve come too far not to be told the truth, and there it is. The safest thing for you all to do would be…would be to take these shuttles and go your own way. They’re coming for the ship, not for you. I won’t stop anyone who wants to go. Honestly, I think I’d encourage it.”
“What about you?” asked the kitchen steward.
She took a deep breath. “I’m going to stay. The oligarch we stole this ship from…he thinks himself and his buddies are the only people in the galaxy who deserves to live the way you and I have been living. He can’t stand that we’ve been eating his food. He can’t stand that we’ve been giving it away to everyone we meet. He wants me to admit to the rest of the galaxy that he deserves what he has and we don’t. So, no. I’m going to stay.”
There was no hesitation. “Then we’re all staying, captain.”
“We’re with you, too,” said Straya. The other aliens agreed.
Estelle leaned her bulk against the railing and caught her breath. “Then sound the alert,” she huffed. “Battle stations.”
The Golden Goose slowed and veered around. The shield generators sparked and powered up. The weapon arrays unfolded. The combat-engines flickered and flared to life.
“Take us toward that asteroid field,” said Estelle, fidgeting with her safety harness.
Starling set the course, but turned his chair to consider her. “Captain, I have calculated the probability of a lightly-armed pleasure-vessel surviving combat with a standard Confederation battlefleet.”
“Never tell me the odds,” she snapped. “We’ll…we’ll think of something. We still have thirty minutes.”
“We still have—”
“Contact,” cried the sensor technician. “New ships bearing three-four-three, inbound on our position.”
“But he said we’d have an hour,” said Maura.
Zora scoffed. “And you believed him?”
“Is that a battleship?” Lucine wondered, squinting at the monitor. “I do not recognize the type.”
Csilla’s eyes widened in horror. “I do.”
Estelle twisted in her chair. “What?”
“I…I know that ship. It belongs to a sort of independent military order. The Confederation uses them as enforcers…punitive expeditions and that kind of thing. An ex-boyfriend of mine joined up a while back. Very intense space-marine types. Very dangerous.”
“And looks like they’ve been sent ahead to cut us off. Alright. Options?”
“Captain…” offered the comms officer, with some confusion, “we are being hailed.”
She stared, wringing her hands. But after a long breath she straightened her robe and sat up. “On screen, I guess.”
An alien man in full blaster armor appeared on the screen, his helmet decorated with a complex constellation. Banners and weapons hung behind him. “Golden Goose,” he bellowed.
Csilla frantically transformed her face into something unrecognizable. “That’s—that’s him—blast it—”
“Yes,” said Estelle, ignoring her.
“You have been declared an enemy of the Confederation of Species. A battlefleet is en route to destroy you if you do not surrender your stolen ship immediately.”
She held his gaze over her stomach. “If they want their ship back, they’ll have to pull all five-hundred pounds of me out of the command chair themselves.”
The bridge waited in silence. The alien studied her for a long moment.
“I am Prince-Commander Bardylis,” he announced, removing his helmet. “Three more of our ships are on their way. May the Knights of the Holy Nebula be of any assistance, Captain Urrp?”
Estelle exhaled and pushed her hair back. “Holy nebulas,” was all she could bring herself to say.
“Contact,” cried the sensor technician. “ And this one we’ve seen,” she added, a grin spreading across her pudgy face. “Captain, it’s the Jolly Ribbiter.”
The old pirate behemoth dropped into view. A frog in an ancient naval hat appeared on the viewscreen. “Arr,” he croaked, “Confederation bounty for the Goddess of Plunder. Lead on, Captain Urrp, and may you grow fatter on the booty.”
“Well, I’ve always been more topheavy than—”
“Lots of contacts!” The sensor technician was on her feet, scrolling through her readout. “46…47…it’s…captain, I think it’s the entire Sphrigon warfleet.”
Several dozen ugly, rickety, cobbled together ships blasted into the system, trailing ooze. The last to arrive was the gigantic overloaded dreadnaught itself, Royal Slug, the warlord’s own flagship.
“…Indestructible IV standing by,” read the technician. “Ceaseless Devouring Maw of Ravenous Murder standing by. Swift-Undulator standing by. Deadly Mucus standing by. Definitely Not Stolen standing by. Princess Csilla standing by. Aw, that’s sweet. They named one after you.”
“I’m not here,” she hissed.
“More signatures. Straya, are you reading this down there?”
The Balaenan migrant fleet floated into range, flying banners with Straya’s round, unmasked face. “Imperial Diatom standing by…”
From the far side of the system came the gigantic mobile honeycombs of the Psi-Hive. And more hive-ships a moment later: the ascended hivers Lucine had visited. A cheerful figure made of honey appeared on the viewscreen and chattered happily to Lucine about how much the hivers were eating, but the conversation was lost beneath all the reports of ship after ship jumping into the system.
A dozen smugglers and blockade-runners appeared from the Twilight spaceport. “My dear Captain Urrp,” breathed cybernetically enhanced astro-porn superstar Vesper Virgo, “you know I’ll always come for you.”
A convoy from the ice-harvesting union, the armed stardust-traders of the Aquarian Rift, mining ships full of worms and moles, the colonial militias of Limax VI and many other frontier stations, the space-vampires and space-werewolves, the Bathykolpians in their round, twin-moduled vessels: all roared in to join with whatever weapons they possessed. Scanners picked up the micro-fleets of Mildendo and Blefusco. Warships from the Lacertan commune reported in, including one under the command of a former chameleon-thief. The mercenary company Maura and Zora had commissioned now returned, with the guild of plastic courtesans in tow. Even a few rogue vessels from the Cepheid Commercial Collective offered their services. Estelle watched the viewscreen fill with ship after ship from every corner of the Outlaw Rim and beyond.
“Captain,” called the comms officer, between cheers, “the Confederation flagship is hailing. General Tissaphernes this time…we have ten minutes to surrender or he’ll…hold on…or he’ll squeeze the life out of you with his tentacles personally, he’ll…well, it goes on like that for a while. Should I, uh, send anything back?”
Estelle tapped her console. “Sure, I’ve got an answer for him.”