“There are two reasons why regulations for warfare in space don’t exist,” Theresa told the human crew of the Quick Sliver. “First, no one has ever really crossed any boundaries that would cause that kind of legislation to be put in place. And the galactic community would have a really hard time standardizing it without examples.”
“And the second?” Carlos asked her.
“The second,” Theresa snipped at him, “is that conducting any kind of attack on a spacecraft is incredibly difficult. They’re designed to survive collisions with asteroids and comets, for god’s sake. Bullet-proof is putting it mildly. If a ship can withstand a solar flare or the shockwave from a nova, it can survive a gun or a missile or even a nuclear blast. I mean have you seen the radiation shielding on just the Quick Sliver?”
“Yes,” They all said as one.
Theresa paused and said, “So?”
“So Star Wars is a comedy and the very, very few weapons we have at our disposal are useless,” Marcus said.
“Wrong!” She flicked the metal strut she was using as a pointer at him. “Our weapons and guns are incredibly efficient once they’re inside the ship.”
“But Star Wars is still a comedy,” He deadpanned.
“Laser weapons can burn your eyes out,” Carrie pointed out, “and theoretically they might be strong enough to heat up metal, but—”
“Interplanetary spacecraft have to disperse a lot of heat,” Theresa said over her, “so even if you did have a laser weapon that could burn someone, it would be useless on the ship itself.”
There was a moment of silence while they all caught up.
“So fuck the ship,” Theresa supplied for them gently.
“Do not fuck the ship,” Alex interjected, and they all dissolved into a much needed laugh.
After they got their breath back, Theresa continued, “So ignore sabotaging the ship at least from the outside. The trick to combat in space is getting inside the enemy warship and taking out the crew.”
“I bet they’re just as hard to break into,” Marcus said, “I mean we only have one door and one airlock, and we need to open them from the inside.”
Wendell, sitting at the back of the room, cross-legged on top of the counter, thumped a foot against the metal. “Theresa,” he said in his quiet voice, and everyone stilled to listen to him. “You already know I can get us in.” It was not a question.
Theresa nodded at him. “If we can open an airlock from the outside, we’ll be able to get in. And Wendell can trick the computer into opening up for us.”
“Probably,” Wendell said. He knew not to make promises when there were factors outside his control.
“The Canteron fleet was manufactured by Udomach factories, with some after-market modification,” Theresa said, “Right, doc?”
Carlos nodded. “That’s right. Most warships are.”
Alex raised their hand, then remembered they weren’t college students anymore and put it down. “Why is Udomach the standard? Should we be prepared for, you know, advanced defenses?”
“No. Everyone uses Udomach because they build large ships with large corridors for cheap.” Carlos shrugged. “Costs really drop when you don’t have to build special corridors for every size of alien.”
“The Sliver is Udomach make too,” Theresa said, “or it was originally. I think most of the internal systems are Lorakian and the outer hull has been replaced since it was bought.”
“Alright, so we know how to actually get on the ships,” Carlos brought them back to the matter at hand, “and Theresa and I have already figured out how to get us across the no man’s land between us and them undetected. So that just leaves—” He looked at Ferdinand, “–do they bleed?”
Ferdinand stood up and bowed slightly to Theresa, holding out his palm. She laid the metal rod in it ceremoniously. He turned to face the group, cleared his throat, and said, “They do.” And he handed the stick back to Theresa.
The humans laughed again, and after a moment, Ferdinand took the stick back and continued.
“All jokes and movie references aside, the Canteron are a pretty standard carbon-based, oxygen-breathing species. They don’t have many built-in defenses. They breath with lungs. They have fur…” He made a face, “they look like if you piled up a bunch of animal figurines and melted them all together. Nothing about their bodies make sense based on an earth-like world.”
“The same could be said for the Lorak,” Marcus pointed out.
“No: it’s different than that. It’s like they were mad by a little kid who had never seen a living thing before. I mean they have eyes stalks on their backs and a separate appendage to eat and drink.” He pulled up a picture of a Canteron and, after a moment of fiddling, made it appear on a nearby monitor.
The rest of the humans studied the image in silence for a few moments. They had all seen their fair share of alien animals, but even on other species, there was usually a face, a mouth, eyes, hands. The Canteron had none of these features. They were all legs and hooked finger-like appendages, spindly off-shoots from a central mass.
“They’re like a cross between a centipede and a sea urchin,” Carrie said, “that’s just weird.”
“I have theories why they’re like that,” Ferdinand said. “The Canteron are a really rare species. Their planet is a paradise. It means that other than walking towards food, their ancestors didn’t have to contend with anything. Their bodies just kind of… did whatever their genetics felt like. They vary wildly in body shape, size, coloration, and everything else.”
“How did they evolve at all without predators or, like, outside pressure?” Carrie asked.
Ferdinand shrugged. “The only thing I can think of it that they just kind of… philosophied their way into it. Like eventually, after millions and millions of years of evolution, they just kind of thought their way into sapience because they didn’t have anything else to use energy on.”
“You mean that they literally evolved to live in the Garden of Eden, and they decided that they should steal other people’s planets?” Marcus sighed, “that is such a typical rich kid thing. It’s kinda nice to know entitled people are entitled across the whole universe.”
“All the more reason to go nuclear on them,” Theresa said. “Have you ever tried to actually reason with someone who was raised super rich?”
“Yeah,” Marcus said, “I knew a dude in college whose dad owned a private jet. He would say stuff like, ‘if I had a boss I didn’t like, I’d just buy the business from him.’ Dude had no idea how the world worked.”
“Well, they bought the planet. Stole it. God, I hate rich kids.”
“The upside for us is that they’ve got literally zero natural defenses aside from their immune system,” Ferdinand said. “So whatever we want to throw at them, bullets or rocks or metal darts, it’s going to work.”
“Thank you, Ferdinand,” Theresa took the metal stick, but immediately extended it to Carlos. “Now for the rest of this operation, Dr. Carlos is going to be coordinating our movement and plans. Because he is the oldest and wisest of us. And because he’s got ‘management experience.'”
Carlos took the metal stick and stood, swapping places with Theresa. “Thank you, Theresa, but we all know the reason I’m coordinating is that the rest of you want to see some action.”
They all looked at him, less students and more weapons waiting to be aimed. And, though none of them knew it, Carlos had spent his teenage years trap shooting and firing crossbows, so he knew how to aim a weapon.
“Before we get to that, though, we have to have one more difficult conversation,” He made eye contact with each of them in turn. “We need to tell the Lorak what we’re planning and give them the chance to bail.”
A day later, they gathered the whole crew in the canteen. Three of the Lorak who were more comfortable upside-down hung from the ceiling, and the rest sat on the floor except for Captain Shishab, who hadn’t touched the ground in decades due to losing three of his four legs in an explosion before the galactic community had ever made contact with Earth. He was still in his chair.
Carlos and Ferdinand did most of the talking. They laid out what they wanted to do and why they wanted to do it, but they excluded how they planned to go about it. “If you want to kick us off the Sliver and send us on our way, we get it. Alex found another ship of humans nearby who could pick us up, and you don’t have to have a part in this.”
The Lorak looked around at the humans, who were watching them with a blankness none of them had seen before. Isa was looking especially at Markus, who was standing between Wendel and Carrie. He looked back at her, arms folded behind his back.There was nothing of the affection he usually showed her there. Not even a hint of the gentle creature who had learned so quickly about her body and what it needed to keep functioning. This was his “macho face” as he called it.
It wasn’t the first time he’d been distant with her. Not even close. It wasn’t even the first time this scene had played out around them while he stood stoically not reacting. Before it had always been about a risky salvage or landing in a strange port, however, not making a suicidal attack on a fleet or warships. But even just looking at Markus, Is a could tell he was as serious about this as he had been about those meetings.
“I’m going with you,” she cried at once, ferociously. “If you’re going to fight, I’m fighting with you.” She didn’t care about anyone else besides his reaction, but it she had been looking, she would have seen Shishab do a double take and the humans nod in approval. All Isa saw was Marcus smile at her: a tiny quirk upwards at the edge of his mouth, a softening around his eyes. And maybe what they had said about her back home was true and some part of her was broken beyond repair, because she was fairly certain Lorak weren’t supposed to feel affection so intensely it was almost insanity.
The rest of the Lorak shuffled and waved their antennae. After a long moment, Kasi, who was Ferdinand’s counterpart in the kitchen, reached down from the ceiling and settled himself on the floor among the others. “I will stay too,” He said, “the Canteron need to be put in their place. I won’t be much help in combat, but I can help with the preparation and any injuries you sustain.”
“Thank you, Kasi, we’re depending on your help for some of the chemicals we’ll need,” Ferdinand said. Kasi rubbed his first set of hands together in acknowledgement.
Shishab rolled his chair to the front of the group. “I know about the plans you’ve been making,” He told the humans. “You forget that this ship is my hive and my body, and I know everything that happens on it. You’ve taken advantage of our resources for your research and preparations, and to be honest, I am shocked by some of what you’ve looked up. I knew your kind were bloodthirsty, but the lengths to which you are prepared to go already are disturbing.”
Theresa’s hands started sweating where they were clasped behind her back. She butted heads with Shishab all the time, to such an extent that he had forbidden her from speaking to him for several days in a row after they got into an argument over using some salvage for a personal project rather than selling it. He might have decided to throw them all out. Privately, Theresa, Marcus, Alex, and Wendel had decided that they wouldn’t settle for being kicked out of the Quick Sliver if they could help it. Even if that meant killing a couple of the Lorak in the process.
Captain Shishab paused to breath for a moment, “But I admit I see the logic in what you are doing, and I’m not about to throw away the crew that’s kept this ship together for the last several years. You have my support and the Quick Sliver too. On the strict condition that you do not actually take the ship into combat.”
After that, the rest of the Lorak fell in line quickly. Their brood mother and their captain and their cook had all agreed to fight with the humans. Abandoning them now would have meant uprooting their entire lives.
“Thank you, captain,” Carlos said. “Don’t worry: we won’t take the Quick Sliver anywhere near combat, but if you don’t mind, we’ll borrow one of the escape pods.”