Science Fiction Adventure

Vorganthe, Arch-Scion of Sector Betelgeuse-AEX-17, was having a staff morale problem.

Granted, it had only been a few cycles since her predecessor had been violently vanquished by Astro Force, and changes at the executive level always take a period of adjustment, but she got the feeling that none of them really understood her vision for the sector.

Vision had literally been one of the problems. "Stop fidgeting with your helmet," she snapped at Vice-Commandant Quarm, "and give me a report on the remodeling progress."

"Sorry, Arch-Scion," he replied, tapping experimentally on the duraglass of his new helmet's wide, transparent visor, "it's just, I'm not used to having peripheral vision. Construction seems to be moving along, but I have to admit, some of the changes seem a bit pointless. The ventilation work—"

"There was zero reason for this megaship to have six-foot diameter ventilation ducts," Vorganthe cut him off.

"That's true, but they worked perfectly well, so…" he trailed off, mumbling something about unnecessary spending, under her withering glare.

"They worked perfectly well," she said, "for Astro Force agents to climb through after escaping their magna-cells. I want those things small enough that a Sirian miniature yip-hound would get stuck."

One of the guards ran in, not even acknowledging how much easier it was to move in his newly-designed, streamlined uniform. "Arch-Scion! Astro Force agents have infiltrated the megaship and are trying to sabotage the ultra-fusion reactor!"

Vorganthe's mind raced. "Should be fine," she said. The reactor was woefully undefended and featured a big, red button labeled SELF-DESTRUCT, and she hadn't yet had the time or resources to properly rectify any of that. In a pinch, she'd covered all the labels with duct tape and written over them. The self-destruct button now read 'Page Down'. The on/off switch featured a symbol that was either a hot beverage or a small dog. The button she'd relabeled 'self-destruct' actually vented radioactive exhaust directly at the person who pressed it (a truly baffling design flaw). Fortunately, most Astro Force agents were as dumb as her predecessor. "But neutralize them quickly and keep me apprised."

She looked at the Vice Commandant. "Let's walk and talk." Without waiting for him, she headed briskly toward the bridge.

Trotting to keep up with her, the Vice Commandant continued. "The advisory council is also in doubt that it's really necessary to install a second life support system."

She gave him another withering look. "Think back to all the times former Arch-Scion Gurlag stirred things up with Astro Force.

What's the second thing they're going to sabotage after the reactor?"

"The life support system," Vice Commandant Quarm answered meekly.

"And another thing," she continued. "I ordered a cover for the hurg-beast pit at least three cycles ago. A cover. Is that really so difficult?"

"No, Madam," the Vice Commandant demurred. "But as far as priorities—"

"It would be less of a priority if there were railings. Gurlag lost an average of one man every half-cycle to accidental falls into the pit, and that is not going to be my legacy."

Arriving at the bridge, Vorganthe went straight to the window to view the ensuing space battle and speak with command. "How are we doing, Captain?"

Captain Arloc looked grave. "Not well, Arch-Scion. Astro Force has destroyed two squads of fighters already with no casualties of their own. There's one particular pilot who seems to be quite the crack shot. It's only a matter of time before they strike the megaship's lone vulnerable point."

Vorganthe chewed on her lower lip for a moment and cursed her predecessor for the thousandth time that day. "A tactical withdrawal seems best for the moment, then. Tell all hands to fall back at least two subsectors."

Captain Arloc looked aghast. "You're retreating?"

Vorganthe stared at him. "You literally just told me we're in serious danger."

"But—but we haven't even deployed the singularity ray yet!" Captain Arloc protested.

"We're not using our high-powered superweapon?" Vorganthe sputtered. "Why the stars not? We're down two squads already!"

Captain Arloc's second in command, Lieutenant Onda, cleared her throat politely. "The Captain was waiting for a dramatically appropriate moment, Madam," Onda said. "Arch-Scion Gurlag would wait until Astro Force started getting their hopes up. He used to insist on some maniacal laughter first, as well." Lieutenant Onda looked as if she hated every single word she was saying.

Vorganthe glanced at Onda. She was an exemplary officer, lots of common sense, and she'd been speaking up more ever since Vorganthe had eliminated the 'women's uniform'. Privately, Vorganthe missed the miniskirts, but she had to admit that workplace harassment incidents had dropped exponentially since the dress code had gone unisex.

"It's just one fighter," Arloc chuckled arrogantly. "What can one man do?"

He's serious, Vorganthe realized. "This, for starters."

She pulled her magna-pistol off her hip and shot him.

"Fire that superweapon indiscriminately, Onda."

"Yes, Madam."

Her next stop was the security station. "Neutralize those infiltrators yet?"

"We found one of them dead, covered in radiation burns," the security officer responded. "The others were rounded up by our forces."

"Where are they now?"

The security officer blinked. "I'm not sure, Madam." They both looked up at the giant grid of camera feeds arrayed before them. "I don't see them anywhere."

"What's that?" She pointed to one dark cell on the grid.

The officer shrugged. "Just a faulty camera. Several of them are buggy. Happens all the time."

Vorganthe felt a headache coming on. Happens all the time?

"Send five security squads to that location to search for the infiltrators," she ordered. "Instruct them that each squad is to stay together and no one is to split off and search alone. When they inevitably do anyway, the minute they notice someone is missing, they're to take up defensive positions and call for backup, not just stand around puzzled. Maybe we can salvage this."

Vice Commandant Quarm stepped toward her. "Arch-Scion—sorry to interrupt, but the mercenary you sent for has arrived."

Confident that the security officer probably wouldn't screw this up too badly, Vorganthe went to the briefing room to meet her new hired thug.

The hulking figure before her was clad in yards and yards of black leather, studded with metal spikes. Several body parts had been replaced with cybernetic machinery. His one remaining organic eye was wild.

"This is Butch Deadlift, Arch-Scion."

Vorganthe sighed.

"I understand you need me to eliminate some up-and-coming Astro Force agent," Butch Deadlift growled.

"That's right," Vorganthe replied. "We're prepared to pay you a sum of—"

"Oh, I'm not doing this for the money," the mercenary growled. "I'm doing this for the thrill of the hunt."

Vorganthe paused.

"See…that's a big red flag for me," she said.

"Huh?" Butch Deadlift looked as though he'd never heard those particular words before in his life.

"Just…not to stereotype, mind you," she said, "but mercenaries who talk like that are usually the kind of guys who also say stuff like, 'it's no fun unless I give you a sporting chance' or 'if you can best me man-to-man, I'll let you go'."

Butch cleared his throat. "Well—that's, um," he began.

"That's not a no," Vorganthe said. "You know, thanks for your time and all, but I don't think we're gonna be able to work together. I need someone who's just gonna remorselessly annihilate for cash."

Leaving the stunned mercenary in the briefing room, Vorganthe went back to the bridge and discovered several handcuffed men in Astro Force uniforms, surrounded by armed men from her own forces.

The security officer looked pleased. "Arch-Scion—your advice worked! We caught the infiltrators!"

And you brought them here?" She shrieked, livid. "To the command center of our ship, where they can cause even more trouble? Why didn't you just shoot them?"

"Shooting is too good for this scum, Madam," the security officer said dramatically.

"No, it really isn't," she replied, rubbing her temples.

"We thought you'd want to interrogate them before we leave them to rot in the magna-cells."

"Return Princess Zurlene to us safely, and we'll accept your surrender!" One of the agents announced to her.

Vorganthe just shot him.

As she aimed her magna-pistol at the next one, he held his hands up in surrender. "Please—before you shoot me, just tell us—why are you doing all this?"

Vorganthe shot him. "No."

The next one sounded slightly panicked. "Wait! Can't I have one last—"

"No," Vorganthe said, firing.

The last one standing was wearing Sergeant's stripes. "I just want to say I didn't expect a jewel-toned pantsuit and sensible flats on an Arch-Scion but I think it really works," he said rapidly before she could pull the trigger.

Vorganthe paused.

"I think I get what you're trying to do here," the agent continued. 'And I gotta say, I respect it. A powerful, beautiful woman like you with a brilliant head on her shoulders—hard for a guy like me to resist that. I think I could get behind it. And I think," he said, giving her what she was sure he thought was a seductive gaze, "that you and I would make a very powerful team."

Vorganthe rolled her eyes and pulled the trigger.

She instructed her minions to fire several more rounds into each body and dump them in the incinerator to make sure they were really dead, and then turned her attention to other matters. The space battle was finally turning around now that they weren't saving the superweapon for a moment when it would look cool, Lieutenant Onda was proving much more capable of commanding the fleet, and Vorganthe could focus on other things, like arranging marksmanship lessons for her troops, meeting with an architect about getting rid of all those cover-providing alcoves in the hallways of the ship and rewiring the magna-cell doors so they didn't just open when you shot their utility panels, and imposing a strict ban on countdown timers.

She should have known it was too good to last. There were really only a handful of competent people in this whole operation, so of course, that one hotshot Astro Force fighter pilot was inevitably going to find his way through them and into the bridge. It was so hard to find good help these days.

The strapping young hero managed to fight his way through most of Vorganthe's bridge crew before Lieutenant Onda finally disarmed him, but as she drew her magna-pistol at him, he pulled a small grenade from his belt and held it up threateningly.

Everyone paused, an uneasy standoff ensuing.

"I'm Flint Ironstag," he announced. "I'm here to bring you to justice, Arch-Scion."

He looked at Vorganthe expectantly.

"Uh huh," she said. "And?"

"I believe he's waiting for you to monologue, Arch-Scion," Lieutenant Onda said bemusedly.

Vorganthe groaned. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. What do you want, Ironslab or whatever?"

"All I ask," he began, voice cracking with emotion, "is that you think about what you're doing. So many are suffering! Your own people as well! Is this power worth the cost? If you just return Princess Zurlene, we can all resume our peaceful lives and be the better for it."

Seriously? Vorganthe thought. "You know what," she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm, "you're right. This isn't worth it. I think I need some time to meditate, think about what I've done, and return to being a productive citizen of the galaxy."

He looked at her in surprise. The arm holding the grenade faltered.


"No, of course not!" She shouted, seeing the opening she needed and taking the shot.

She missed.

Reacting quickly, Slab Bulkhead or whatever his name was tossed his grenade. A deafening boom filled the room, along with a static charge and the high-pitched screeching of dying electronics.

"A Faraday pulse grenade!" Lieutenant Onda shouted. "All our magna-weapons are fried!"

"Idiots!" Vorganthe shouted back. "That's why I gave you each one of these!" She pulled a regular old switchblade from her back pocket, lunged at Punch Rockgroin in her sensible flats, and stabbed.

By the time Vorganthe got back to her lair at the end of her long day, she was exhausted. Princess Zurlene heard her enter and came to greet her at the door with a kiss and an embrace. "Come sit down," she said, urging Vorganthe into a comfortable chair and putting a gentle hand on her shoulder. "I'll get you some Rigellian Brandy. You look wiped."

"Thanks," she said, squeezing Zurlene's hand. "It's been kind of a rough day."

"So I heard," Zurlene replied as she went to the liquor cabinet. "You should see the news." She gestured toward the hologram display in the corner, where a stern-faced reporter addressed the public over a chyron that blared, in all caps, "WANTED FOR EVIL".

"The dastardly deeds of the evil Arch-Scion Vorganthe continue to reach previously unseen heights," the reporter said. "Today, the Astro Alliance mourns the death of hotshot Astro Force pilot Flint Ironstag, who heroically died at her hands while trying to bring peace to the galaxy. The Astro Force has sworn to continue their crusade against the evil overlord of Sector Betelgeuse-AEX-17, and have promoted Ironstag's younger brother Dirk, an up-and-coming young pilot in his own right, who will continue the fight in the name of vengeance…"

January 29, 2022 04:56

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Graham Kinross
21:19 Apr 24, 2022

This reminded me a little bit of Hitchhiker’s Guide and a bit of Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese, and I see you’re a fan of Star Wars. Is Dirk a Dirk Gently reference?


Laura Jarosz
04:01 Apr 26, 2022

I am huge Douglas Adams fan, but it was a coincidence! I wanted a name with action hero connotations and I liked the sound of that one. I've never heard of Starship Grifters, but I just looked it up and it sounds like I definitely need to hunt down a copy!


Graham Kinross
05:58 Apr 26, 2022

I have the audiobook on kindle and it’s really good, I just finished the second one as well and that’s good too. I like Dirk Gently the Netflix show because it reminded me of an American Doctor Who but in the book Dirk is a smoking grump who swindles old women so I didn’t enjoy it so much. What sort of stuff do you read?


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Crows_ Garden
18:21 Mar 10, 2022

Commenting as I read: I love when people create their own system of things that are clearly not real life. "Vorganthe rolled her eyes and pulled the trigger." Love a woman not easily seduced. Excellent role model I think. "By the time Vorganthe got back to her lair at the end of her long day, she was exhausted. Princess Zurlene heard her enter and came to greet her at the door with a kiss and an embrace." As a baby queer- this makes me extremely happy to see. I love the ending bit too. While Vorganthe is a bit harsh(and prone to kill-), evil...


Laura Jarosz
18:45 Mar 10, 2022

I had so much fun writing this one, I'm glad you enjoyed it!


Crows_ Garden
19:28 Mar 10, 2022

It's awesome.


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Olivia Moorman
23:15 Jan 31, 2022

So good!! Hitchhikers reference? :)


Laura Jarosz
23:24 Jan 31, 2022

Aww man, now that you mention it, completely missed opportunity to have her read the captives her poetry.


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Hannah Barrett
02:01 Jan 31, 2022

Laura this is AWESOME. Galaxy Quest only smarter and funnier. Vorganthe is a first class heroine - her withering commentary and exasperation were so well-written. I love how her every word and decision both reinforce and subvert sci-fi (and real world) stereotypes simultaneously. Well done!


Laura Jarosz
05:01 Jan 31, 2022

Thank you! Not gonna lie, it was so much fun to write this one! As soon as this title came up I knew I had to do this with it! And congratulations on your shortlist this week!


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