Aboard the Sypher, captain Tok and crew were under attack. Wiley had clicked a pop-up notification on the ship’s dash and activated location sharing. A big blip appeared on the radar. The entire ship shuddered and a minute later the blast doors burst from the barrage of invader fire power.
Figaro, the feline-spliced operative, stood from cover, took aim and connected with two direct hits. It didn’t slow them. The invader’s armor was dense, dark, and ribbed with a familiar logo printed on the chest. Figaro ducked back behind cover. She cupped her hands to her mouth and hollered across the bridge to captain Tok. “They’re too well branded! That gear’s ‘VaderLife,’ we won’t leave a scratch on them!”
GYNZT, the ship’s female droid commenced battle-mode. Her human form shifted, clicked, whirred, and snapped into a spider-like array of guns. She scaled the walls while laying down a continuous cover fire. Figaro sprinted over to Tok who was crouched behind his chair. “Captain, I’ve got to slip past them. We don’t stand a chance going toe to toe like this. I have a plan. I get into their control room and create some leverage for us.”
Captain Tok nodded, stared into space for a beat, then shook his head. “It’s too dangerous. You’re fast, but–“
“With all due respect captain, you don’t know what I’m capable of. I’m not just genetically engineered, I’m biomechanically modified. You’ve never seen me fully activate my assets because I’ve never had to.”
A hot beam hissed through GYNZT’s center. She clunked down against the floor.
“Captain.” Figaro’s voice boomed. “GYNZT is out of commission. Give me some cover fire and let me do what they won’t expect.”
Tok tightened his grip on his pistol. He stood. Black-clad invaders were pouring through the blast doors. He took aim. Figaro leapt into action. She changed direction unexpectedly. Tok fired a wild shot that hit her in the back of the head. Figaro dropped lifeless to the floor.
“Oh!” Tok dropped the pistol. He covered his mouth with his hands.
An energy projectile cut the side of his neck. Blood spurted and the captain gurgled as he fell.
“Aw shit.” Wiley adjusted his cowboy hat from behind cover. “Yousef, my man, things just got FUBAR.”
Yousef didn’t respond. Wiley looked at Yousef’s nine appendages and translucent blue skin. “Ya know, lookn’ at ya, I don’t even know how I would describe you let alone talk to you. Why dontcha’ cut me some slack and chill with the silent treatment for once. I get that you’re an alien and all but we’re ’bout to die, here.”
Yousef’s skin shifted from blue to illuminating green hues. Wiley sat up and tipped his hat back, “You tryn’ to tell me somethin’?”
An energy projectile severed one of Yousef’s appendages. A horrible wet guttural reverberation emanated.
Wiley grimaced. “Aw shit, man!”
A thick grey muddy substance gushed from the severed appendage as it flailed about. The goopy mass bubbled thicker and climbed up the tentacle-like arm. It covered Yousef’s entire body as if his own blood were devouring him.
Wiley pressed himself as far away as he could safely manage. “Jesus, what in the hell!”
The fluid mass thickened and hardened. Yousef was a clumpy grey statue. Wiley sat there with a blank stare.
The barrel of an energy rifle tapped his temple. “Up. Slowly.”
The cowboy-hat-wearing pilot lifted his hands and rose as commanded. “Take it easy. I’m not nothin’ to be afraid of.”
“Shut up.” The hot barrel prodded him again. “Show me your dash.”
“Yeah, sure, whatever you want.” Wiley walked over to the ship’s dashboard and pressed spacebar.
“Type the password or die.” The barrel jabbed Wiley between his shoulders.
Wiley typed the four-digit password. The dash was open. There were some icons on the screen: iFly, navigation software. FaceSpace, the inter-shuttle social media. A health and wellness app with a green leafy icon. Calculator. Wiley was knocked to the floor. The invader’s gloved fingers rattled across the keyboard for a few minutes. The typing stopped. “It’s done.” The armored typist readied his weapon.
“Hey, wait, any chance–umm–ya know, just, not kill me?” Wiley said from the floor.
The closest invader looked at the others then back at the pilot. “We don’t really operate that way. However, you could take a survey.”
“Are ya still gonna shoot me?”
The invader looked at the others again then looked back. “Yeah.”
“Unless.” The invader fidgeted. “Unless, you wanna sign up for a monthly subscription with us.”
Wiley hesitated. “I mean–OK, tell me. What is it exactly I’d be signin’ up for?”
The invader took a breath. “We’re with planet Seppio-X5, it’s an entire planet of the densest jungles of Guatemala precisely recreated using the latest decentralized cloud-based eco-mapping software. We bring you the universe’s best coffee from what was Earth’s number one top best coffee. Seppio-X5’s 3055-Blend presents a dark roast from the lushest jungles grown from volcanic soil. You will experience flavors of distinct spice, smoky aromatics, and rich chocolate. With membership it’s like having Guatemala delivered to your door every first Earth-calendar Sunday of the month.”
“Is there, like, a trial membership I could do?”
“Yeah, I can coupon you for a free trial. We’d be cool with that.”
“100% money back guarantee, no questions-asked, good for 30 days after your first paid month. So, you actually get two deliveries to experience it over time to see if you really like it.”
“And, um, just for the record, it’s not actually from Guatemala. Am I right?”
The invader sighed. “It’s from Seppio-X5, we believe it’s better than Guatemala. We’ve engineered more oxygen-rich air and nutrient-rich soil.”
Wiley sniffed. “Right…”
The invader adjusted his posture. “What do you think? Want to at least take the survey?”
“Ya know.” Wiley looked around at all the invaders holding loaded weapons. “I think I’m good.”
The energy rifle discharged a shot through Wiley’s eye socket and out the back of his skull. The invaders filed out. The Sypher was silent.
The dash flashed on. TAO, the ship’s integrated AI, booted up. Cables dispensed from the walls and drug all the bodies into the incinerators. The ship commenced self-cleaning mode. A few hours passed. The lights readjusted and the walls and floor gleamed pristine.
The big dash monitor read: Clone replacement crew activated. Hull pods: A13 Jules Tok, B4 Codename: Figaro, C2 Wiley Breaux, D2 ‘Yousef’, and Maintenance pod Gynoid Zenware Technician ‘GYNZT’ ready for thaw-process and bioindividual activation.
A few hours later the crew was back on the bridge with updated memory implants. Figaro stretched. Yousef and GYNZT settled into their assigned stations. Captain Tok yawned and took his seat on the elevated center of the ship’s command deck. Wiley reclined in his chair in front of the dash. He pressed spacebar. He typed in the four-digit password. Something in the bottom right hand corner caught his attention: a jungle green icon. He clicked it. A topographical map of Guatemala showed on the dash. A gravelly voice startled everyone as it came through the ship’s intercom: “Guatemala is known for its rich culture and rich coffee–“
Wiley click-cancelled the ad. The voice on the intercom cut out and the screen went blank. “Sorry everybody.”
* * *
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