Old wives’ tales in space


My grandmother always told me: never leave a door open unless you want unwelcome guests.

That was I thought when all hell broke loose in the ship, and the captain told me to lead a squad down to Cargo Bay seven to handle a situation.

A situation could mean anything. But since the captain didn’t like me being the first female third officer on his ship, I assumed the detail involved cleaning up behind one of the large mammals we’d corralled on Clyan 12.

“A woman’s work is never done,” my grandmother always said.

The idea we might be endangered did not occur to me until I smelled the smoldering of flesh and knew someone had fired a blaster -- more than likely more than one.

My squad just got through the door again when the blasters fired again, melting my troop of six along with part of the ship deck around them.

I survived by diving behind one of the heavier beams -- which softened but did not melt since it was of the same construction as the exterior hull.

“Sometimes luck is better than skill,” my grandmother said.

I saw a boy nearby -- the child of one of the colonist we had rescued from The Rim worlds. He looked more bewildered than scared, apparently puzzled at how the enemy could reach him here inside one of the Imperial ships.

I could have told him: there are Imperial ships and then there is The Grande, a rust bucket of a space cruiser assigned mostly to backwater duty picking up after the real cruisers had made the area safe.

“There will come a day when all the work is finished or when it is too late to finish it,” my grandmother said.

Not me or anyone else ever imagined The Grande involved in a battle, nor ever foresaw us being boarded.

The boy scurried to my side, his skin still brown from life in extreme light. He silver eyes shone like mirrors, revealing my haggard and frightened face.

He was the one that informed me who was attacking us: warriors from Simteria.

My heart nearly stopped at the name of what most of us believed mythical creatures, a race bred solely for the purpose of war against whom no civilized nation could withstand without overwhelming odds.

Saying The Grande possessed less than overwhelming odds was a gross understatement.

My grandmother, being kind, would have said, “Never forget that you are unique, just like everybody else.”

Curiosity got the best of me and I eased out from my protective shadow to stare over at the figures on the other side of the cargo bay, most stood in shadow too dark for me to make them out clearly, but I saw one standing in an angle of light, and cast such a powerful figure I instantly believed the myths.

My grandmother – who never had to face a Simterian warrior – would have told me “Beauty is a matter of taste,” but this brute was so ugly as to ruin even my grandmother’s most positive opinions.

He wore no space suit, just a kind of leather jerkin that somehow contained his bluish leathery flesh. He seemed more lizard than anything warm blooded, though reports said his kind evolved from a common genetic seed that was our own.

Muscles rippled as he turned, each limb developed to its full potential, capable of feats of great strength. His dog-like muzzle and his canine teeth made him look prehistoric. But the rifle-type blaster he held ready belied any belief that he was less sophisticated than our race.

The eyes stunned me most, glittering with some inner light that made him seem half robot, though I could tell this was the product of some natural evolution on some very dim planet where sight needed to be keener than on planets like mine.

I didn’t know what to do. My communications man was a pool of puss on the floor along with his devices for contacting the bridge. A few feet away I saw a wall panel communicator, but to reach it required I race across open ground, and easy target for the eagle-eyed monsters who had invaded our ship.

Even had I been able to talk to the captain and hammer home the importance of what transpired here, I doubted we had the resources to keep the Simterians from taking over the ship once they wandered beyond the cargo area.

“Making a bad decision is better than making no decision at all,” my grandmother once told me, so I looked around, then spotted the glass enclosed control tower a dozen yards from where I stood, where traffic controllers usually sat guiding in and out cargo shuttles when we were in port.

In this, I knew I could find controls for the bay doors that had closed once the Simterian ships had landed. If I could reach the control room and open the doors, the Simterians would die from lack of air.

Or at least I hoped.

I heard my grandmother’s voice whisper in my head, “Always look on the bright sight of life.”

I saw that I could get near to the door to the control tower by sticking to shadows of beams now that some of the lights have been damaged in the initial conflict. But a gap of ten feet to the door made that part of my run perilous. If they saw me they would open fire, and I would not have time to get inside and up the lift to the panel.

“If life were easy, it wouldn’t be fun,” my grandmother might have said.

The boy looked at me. I asked him to yell or something when I gave him the signal. I gave him my small blaster and then made my way towards the control tower.

I could hear the rasp of the Simterians breathing, their lungs struggling to get breath in our thin air. They seemed to move slowly, as if getting drunker on the lack of adequate oxygen.

All the better, I thought, as I weaved around vacant small craft we used to repair the ship’s hull while in space.

Then, I came to the gap, took a deep and equally inadequate breath, then signaled the boy.

He yelled, fired a blast at one of the creatures I could not see, then ran, his blast answered by a dozen other blasts that melted repair craft and pieces of the floor, but did not harm the boy.

I rushed to the door, pounded at the button for the door to open, then not waiting for it to completely open, shoved inside, pounding the closed button just as several blasts hit the closing door.

“The waiting is the hardest part,” my grandmother always told me.

I felt the sharp warmth on my face through the not quite closed doors, but suffered no real harm though I knew the melted doors would not again open.

Up, up, the lift went, depositing me into the control room, where for a moment I lost all sense of purpose, staring at the array of controls without understanding any of them, as blasts from below told me the alien invaders sought to reach me through the glass. The beams glanced off the glass casting an eerie light over the controls that made me even more confused.

“One step at a time,” my grandmother advised.

Then with some will that my grandmother had instilled in me, I forced my brain to concentrate on what I needed to do. I found the panel I wanted and after a brief glance, pounded on the switch that opened the cargo bay doors.

The beams against the glass ceased replaced by a loud sucking sound. I reached the window to see the last of the Simterians clinging to the beams in order to keep from being sucked out into space.

As strong as that grip was, space was overwhelming, and the warrior vanished.

Only then, did I remember the boy -- that survivor who had clung to us for help against the warrior race. But the cargo hold was empty.

“The one who makes no mistakes does none of the work,” my grandmother would have said. “It happens to the best of us.”

A moment later, I heard my captain’s voice squawking over the control room intercom, demanding to know what the hell was going on down here.

I sighed, and then, remembering my grandmother’s advise, I closed the cargo doors before making my way out the emergency exit for my painful trip back to the captain, to explain how sometimes there are truths in old wives' tales, and legendary myths.

“Everyone might hate me, but still I am alive,” I mumbled, repeating something my grandmother might have said.


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