The Joneses #24

Bring ‘Em Back Alive

“Elder gods?” Wolf asked, shaking his head. “What kind of goofy shit…”
“They’re the oldest living things in the universe and they regard themselves as gods,” Ellers said. “I work with the material I got.”
“And you killed one?”
“A little one.”
“So they can be killed?”
“Well, just point me in the right direction. It’s like the only thing I’m good at.”
“Hold on,” Luna said, “we don’t even know what they are.”
Ellers handed Luna a book.
“‘The Call of Cthulhu’?” Luna said, holding the book with disdain. “What kind of information can an anti-semite, pulp horror writer from the 1920s offer?”
“Aside from the antisemitism, the man knew what he was talking about,” Ellers said.
“And every protagonist was driven insane,” Holly said.
“That’s what makes you parents the perfect defense. They’re already insane.”
“I’m not insane,” Luna said.
“I’m barely holding it together,” Wolf said.
“You kept your daughter in a box for half a century,” Ellers said. “I’d say you’re dipping a toe in the water.”
“I didn’t keep her in a box.”
“That hole in an asteroid you call a home isn’t exactly spacious.”
“I was protecting her.”
“Just because you're not a psycho like your husband…”
“I’m cool with that,” Wolf said.
“Alright, alright,” Ray yelled. “Enough bickering. Mind on the mission. Joneses, you are off your rockers.”
Ellers smirked.
“So are you, Ellers,” Ray said.
“What?” Ellers barked.
“I need to know what we’re looking at. Manpower, firepower, time frames…”
“Multitudes, apocalyptic, very little.”
“So this an all hands on deck scenario?”
“All of them. Every man, woman, child, every planet, every house pet, every house plant. Pull up your socks and grab your…”
“I get it, I get it. I want a full report…”
“You’re getting a transmission. I’m letting it through.”
“Letting through? Oh, thanks so much,” Ray turned away and put his hand to his ear. “Director Raphael. Uh-huh. What? What do mean it’s gone? Okay. Stand by.”
“You lose something?” Wolf asked.
“Outpost 1138 went missing.”
“The whole outpost?”
“Everything and everyone.”
“They’re testing,” Ellers said. “Seeing what they can expect from us. 1138 is close to where I encountered the scout.”
“I got some things I’d like to test,” Wolf said, pulling his helmet on. “Would you like us to test some stuff?”
“Maybe we should exercise some caution,” Ray said.
“Yawn. Caution doesn’t explode. We can go out and gather data or whatever it is you need to fill out paperwork. See what kind of firepower makes the biggest holes.”
“Speaking of,” Ellers said, “I’ve designed you some things that’ll be much more effective than your conventional guns and rifles.”
“But I like conventional guns and rifles.”
Ellers handed them small, metallic bands that snapped around their wrists. The metal crept up their forearms and covered their palms.
“These are upgraded versions of those dopey wrist blades you seem to like so much. They also fire energy bursts that should be capable of cutting through their hides,” Ellers said. “I also upgraded your ship’s firepower, the drives, the shields...”
“You touched my baby?” Wolf gasped.
“You’re going to need a lot more than that low-grade garbage against these things.”
“Garbage? That ship was top of the line when we stole it.”
“Two new forward guns and a gunner pod in the belly specially designed for Luna’s specific skill set.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Ray said. “I didn’t authorize any engagements here.”
Ellers, Luna, and Wolf glanced at each other and laughed.
“I don’t think anyone here works for you,” Ellers said.
Wolf and Luna headed for the Starcrossed. Holly looked back and forth between Ellers and Lovelace.
“Go,” Ellers said to Holly. “Make sure they don’t kill themselves.”
“Wait up,” Holly called as she ran after her parents. “I’m coming.”
Luna turned, “Holly, it’s too…”
Wolf made an obnoxious coughing sound.
“ know what? Never mind. Hop aboard.”
“Go, Jones?” Holly made a sheepish grin.
“Work on that,” Wolf said and entered the ship.
“How far is it to 1138?” Luna called to Ellers.
“We’re there already,” Ellers called back. “I made the hyperspace jump when Ray got the call.”
“Hey, E?” Lovelace said. “These things are entirely biological, right?”
“Right,” Ellers replied.
“Than what should I do. I’m kind of nerfed without electrical and data systems to exploit.”
“Biological bodies are electrical systems. The nervous system transfers data. Get creative.”

The Starcrossed lifted off from Ellers' traveling planet and drifted toward the former site of Outpost 1138. A cloud of dust hung in space. As they drifted through the dust, the particles reveal themselves to be tiny flakes of debris that used to comprise the former space station. Wolf tapped on the console with impatient fingers.
“Any life readings?” Wolf asked Holly.
“No,” she replied.
“How about now?”
“Dad, I’ll tell you when I find life...I found life readings and holy cow.”
“So did I,” Luna said and pointed out the window.
Outside the ship hovered a pulpy, black orb, studded with glow red bumps. It was the size of a small moon and pulsing as if it were breathing. The red bumps tracked the ship as it floated by.
“What in the fuck is that thing?” Wolf asked.
“No idea, but it’s the smallest life reading out there,” Holly replied.
“Out where all I see is empty black…”
Before Wolf could finish, the empty black curtain of space in the front of the ship erupted into a myriad of glowing red points.
“I think the red lights are eyes,” Luna said.
“Red eyes,” Wolf mused. “That’s how you know they’re evil.”
“That’s not how evolution works, Dad,” Holly said.
“How many of those goddamn things are out there?”
“I can’t tell. The numbers keep fluctuating. Just by looking at pure data it seems like they can merge and divide at will. But it’s a lot regardless.”
“Quantify ‘a lot’,” Luna said.
“Hundreds of millions, maybe billions.”
“Eh,” Wolf shrugged. “I’ve killed a billion of a thing before.”
“These things are a lot bigger than the Q’darian roaches in your flight school dorm, hon,” Luna said.
“The principle is the same.”
“Don’t concern yourself with the mass on the outskirts,” Eller’s voice broke over the comms. “They’re busy evolving based on the results of their test on the outpost. That’s the merging and dividing you’re seeing in on the scans.”
“So we’re watching a space monster orgy?” Wolf asked.
“Exactly. They’re reordering their DNA to adapt to the weaponry and defenses they encountered. They’re going to send out a seek and destroy squad to get rid of any witnesses. Make them chase you until you’re about 20 AUs from the gangbang. That should be far enough to break their psychic connection. They won’t be able to send back data on your new weapons. And if it’s not too much trouble, could you bring one back in as much of one piece as you can manage? And maybe even alive? Thanks. You guys are great.”
“How do you know so much about these things?” Luna asked.
“When you’ve altered your own brain as much as I have, you spend a lot of time staring at the wall. The wall in my case is deep space. I picked up on them about a century ago and have been obsessed ever since.”
“I should get a hobby too,” Wolf said, peering into space.
“How do you suggest we get a live specimen?” Luna asked.
“The hell if I know. Good luck.”
“She’s gotten pretty weird in the last 300 years,” Holly said.
“I think she’s always been like that,” Luna said.
“Hey, Lu,” Wolf slapped at Luna’s arm.”
She looked to where Wolf was pointing out the window.
“Four life forms approaching,” Holly said.
“I know,” Wolf said. “That why I was slapping your mother.”
“Alright,” Luna said. “Make them chase us.”
The Starcross spun around and sped off. Four tentacled beasts chased after them. They gained ground and flanked the vessel, one above, one below and two on each side. The whipped at the ship with black tentacles that emitted a purple glow. The ship ducked and rolled avoiding the fleshy whips. One made contact and sent the ship diving.
“Wow,” Holly gasped. “That hit reduced the shields to 30%.”
“Jesus,” Wolf said. “How far are we from the clusterfuck?”
“3 AUs,” Luna said.
“Shields have regened to 60%,” Holly said, “One hit though and they’re gone.”
“I can do math, kiddo,” Wolf said.
“No you can’t,” Luna replied.
“Shield math. How far?”
“7 AUs.”
Another tentacle slapped across the viewscreen of the ship leaving behind a thick gel.
“What is that shit?” Wolf barked. “I can’t see a thing. Gotta go by instruments.”
“Shields are gone,” Holly said.
“Can you get them back?” Luna asked.
“Already on it,” Holly replied running out of the flight cabin.
“Kid’s a good crew member,” Wolf said. “Maybe we could get her a bitchin mask too. Owl, Raven and I don’t know, badger or something.”
“Can we discuss fitting my only child for a bounty hunter mask later?” Luna said. “11 AUs.”
“I’m just saying, the time away did her some good. She went out on her own. Did some journeyman shit and now she’s ready for the major leagues.”
“I got them back up,” Holly’s voice broadcast over the ship's speakers.
Another slam impacted the top of the ship.
“And they’re down again,” she groaned.
“Does she even want to be a bounty hunter?” Luna said.
“Who knows? But she’s finally been given the space to figure it out,” Wolf replied.
“What do you mean finally? Everybody acts like I was her jailer. I kept her close to protect her. I’m her mother. I was scared for her. 14 AUs.”
“Nobody’s blaming you.”
“Ellers was pretty clear about accusing me holding Holly back.”
“Fuck her. She’s not part of this family.”
“Technically, she’s your great times whatever aunt.”
“Great to fifth power Grandma Sophie was adopted. Does that still count?”
“I think it does. 17 AUs”
“Anyway, I don’t blame you. I get it.”
“Does Holly?”
“You’ll have to ask her.”
“Hey, Wolfie. Why are you only flying at fifth level?”
“These engines only have five.”
“This says it has 12.”
Wolf examined the console and hummed, impressed.
“Great, Auntie Cheryl, thanks for telling me,” he said and ran his finger over the touchscreen from five to twelve.
The ship lurched forward and left the beasts straggling behind.
“20 AUs,” Luna said.
The ship spun around and faced the beasts which were barrelling down on them.
“Wanna see what Old Auntie Cheryl’s new guns do?” Wolf asked Luna.
“I would love to,” Luna replied.
“Interstellar dogfight with ancient space squids from another galaxy. That’s good resume fodder.”
“It sure is, hon,” Luna jogged from the flight cabin to the gunner pod.
She arrived in the lounge to find a giant metal cube blocking the big screen television. She walked toward it and one side split open. The inside was as plain and featureless as the outside.
“How is this supposed to…” she said aloud to herself.
As she spoke the side sealed back up. She was in total darkness. She blinked. When her eyes opened again she was standing on the underside of the ship, a sniper rifle in her hand. She staggered backward startled and smacked up against an invisible, metal surface.
“This is cool,” she said.
“You’ll have to let me try it out sometime,” Wolf’s voice broke in.
“You’ll have to fight me for it,” Luna started taking shots with her rifle and blasts fired from a cannon mounted to the belly of the Starcrossed.
“Started without me?” Wolf said.
“Get on it.”
The ship engaged the beasts as they wheeled and crisscrossed around the ship. The ship twisted and twirled in response. Pursuers became pursued became pursuers. The forward guns severed a tentacle off one as the belly cannon carved a gash into the side of another. Luna held her trigger down and it fired a continuous stream of a searing laser. She turned a dial and the gun fired a quick tempo volley.
“Ooh, it’s got pulse setting, Wolfie,” she cooed.
The forward guns tore through another as the belly cannon cut another in two. The remaining two reached out with their tentacles, trying to grab the ship. The Starcrossed zipped and looped just out of reach.
“What are you going to do with those stubby things?” Wolf laughed.
A beast roared at them screaming, it’s fanged maw wide and angry. Luna fired several pulses down its throat. A fire burned through its flesh from the inside. It floated with its other lifeless brethren. The lone survivor whipped around and darted back to where it came from.
“I guess that’s the one we take back with us?” Wolf said.
“Get after him,” Luna said.
The Starcross pursued. The beast sailed ahead of them with its tentacles flapping behind him.
“Aim for the tentacles,” Wolf said. “And then we’ll take care of its fangs. Then it will be...toothless. Huh? Huh? Toothless?”
“Just fly, Dad,” Holly groaned.
“You liked it.”
“Yeah...I kinda did.”
One by one Luna amputated the creature’s limbs. It whirled around and opened its mouth wide. Its fangs dripped and glistened. Wolf slammed the ship’s nose into the creature’s mouth. Its fangs drifted off in lazy somersaults, cracked at the roots. The beast wriggled and shook, helpless, with the front of the ship lodged in its mouth.
“That’s one solution,” Holly said. “Now how do we get it home? It’s too big to bring on board.”
“I think it's stuck there,” Luna said.
“We can fly it back to Ellers like this,” Wolf said.
“Gross,” Holly gagged. “We gotta look down that thing’s throat the whole time?"