Contact: Book 1 Prologue
Contact: Book 1 of the Zaftan Troubles will be serialized and published here over the next few weeks. The schedule calls for a new chapter to be posted every Monday and Thursday.
The solar system flaunted unpretentiousness. It existed in a shabby neighborhood at the raggedy end of an unremarkable galaxy and had a common yellow dwarf at its core with five planets in orbit.
Beyond the solar system, space expanded outward with nothing to see except the pinpoints of light coming from distant suns, a portrait of tiny jewels set on a black velvet cloth. The solar system centered a huge sphere of nothingness.
For eons, the solar system’s peaceful vista existed undisturbed, unblemished and unvisited except for an occasional meteor or comet.
The only source of color came from the second planet. It sparkled in the light from the sun: blues from the oceans, greens from vegetation, reds, blacks and browns from mountains, whites from the clouds. They all combined to form a pleasant scene, especially when viewed against the blackness of space.
Near the solar system’s outer edge, a gravity ripple appeared and broke the smoothness of space. When the ripple grew into a wave it broke apart and a space ship appeared to shatter the serenity of the panorama.
The ship could charitably be described as ugly, but that failed to account for the unsymmetrical and repulsive sight. The paint had peeled away in many areas showing bare metallic skin in various stages of rust. Parts of the ship appeared cylindrical, other parts spherical, suggesting the ship had been made by cannibalizing a number of other ships and melding various parts together without a master blueprint. Grafted onto the exterior skin, these additions had different sizes, shapes and metals. They resembled burn blisters on skin. Antennae sprouted everywhere. It was as if the designers couldn’t make up their minds about when to stop modifying the ship. As a result, it reminded viewers of a traveling junk yard.
The ship rolled, pitched and yawed in an uncontrolled manner while it plowed through the distant reaches of the solar system. Gradually, the gyrations slowed and stopped, leaving the ship motionless in space, as if deciding how to further besmirch the prettiness of the scene.
A legend on the side of the ship, in large blood-red letters, read Black Carrion Flower. Additional smaller lettering read, Furshtanker Inc, Zaftan 31B.
Inside the ship, Captain Yunta groaned on her reclining couch in the small flight deck. Another pair of couches, two control consoles and view screens filled the front. Electronic gear took up the left side and read-out devices were everywhere, even hanging from the ceiling. The flight engineer and the navigational shaman sat on couches at the front consoles while the captain’s couch occupied the space behind them and to the right. Like all zaftans, these three were seven feet tall and weighed over four hundred pounds. Their grayish-black, rubber-like skin oozed green slime. On the top of the body, over a cruel beak a pair of eye stalks protruded and held black eyeballs with red irises. Eight tentacles served as arms or legs. None of the zaftans wore clothes because the slime made most cloth material smolder and catch fire. The surfaces of their couches were treated with fireproofing chemicals to prevent a shipboard catastrophe.
Rank medallions hung from their necks; steel for the engineer, bronze for the shaman and gold for the captain. The engineer also wore earphones that covered the holes zaftans used as audio receptors.
Yunta, like all zaftan females, had three wombs and right now she suffered from triple menstruation. Chemicals and hormones waged war in her bloodstream producing three headaches. The first one settled in the area behind her eye stalks, the second near her right audio receptor and the third at the base of her head where it joined the main body.
Once the ship became motionless, Yunta looked at the forward view screen. Among other objects, it showed a small planet with definite bluish tint. Yunta tried to recall if she had ever seen another planet with that unusual color. She couldn’t. “Drek,” she said addressing the navigational shaman. “Where are we?”
“Drek is still in his coma, Captain,” the engineer replied.
“Nonsense. If he was in a navigational coma, he would not be snoring. Wake him up.”
The engineer reached over with a tentacle and shook the shaman. The navigator’s eye stalks bobbed as he snorted and pushed himself up slightly.
“Where are we, Drek?” Yunta asked again.
Drek looked at a monitor on the console in front of him. After a brief interval, he replied, “I have no idea.”
“How can you not know where we are?” Yunta snapped. She now regretted hiring a second-rate navigational shaman to shave a bit off the ship’s expense account and thus increase the profit margins.
“My farsight spotted an unknown worm hole and I drove the ship into it. Part of our mission is to explore new galactic areas, is it not?” Zaftan navigators put themselves into a shamanistic coma and let their minds roam far away from the ship seeking the safest course while piloting the ship with mental commands.
Drek’s voice had an edge that Yunta found offensive. On the other hand, she found everything offensive these days. “Well, find some known stars and calculate our position.”
“Captain,” the engineer said, “this planet looks interesting.”
“In what way?” Yunta rotated her eye stalks from the shaman to the back of the engineer’s torso.
“It appears to have a varied geographical makeup. Using the long range scanner, I can make out mountains, rivers, marshes and forests. This could be a good place to explore.”
“Drek. Put us into a stable orbit so we can get a better analysis of the surface.” She called up a mental picture of the voyage’s abysmal profit and loss chart. If this planet didn’t yield the minerals they sought, the voyage was doomed to show a loss and that meant the end of her career aspirations. She thought of herself as a corporate tree struggling in a forest of sap-sucking corporate bureaucrats. Profits would fertilize her tree allowing it to grow bigger and stronger. Losses would lead to infestation of bugs and diseases. For the first time in her career, Yunta faced failure. She would be hard pressed to eradicate a negative performance assessment from this voyage.
She massaged the slime by her aching audio receptor. It didn’t lessen the pain. Again, she looked at the planet in the forward view screen. Perhaps her luck was about to change. She and the ship were certainly overdue for a break.