“Welcome on board my space station. I take it you’re the little piece of shit I have to coddle,”Hastur said.
The liaison stood stolid and didn’t respond. He couldn’t see Hastur’seyes, a bizarre floppy sunhat sat low on his head, hiding his eyes, and a bandana, screamingly yellow, covered his face from the nose down. But the liaison knew he was being stared at, studied, sized up, judged, and dismissed.
“I’ve lost too many good pilots,” Hastur went on,“creatures with more guts in one tentacle than you have in your entire body. Too many good pilots lost because of some stupid politician’s rules, so if you think I’m going to listen to the likes of you just because the rubber stamp on your paperwork is bigger than mine, I’m not. So just keep your mouth shut and try not to get in my fucking way.”
The liaison had been warned to expect resistance during his investigation of the massacre in the Delta Quadrant. He had especially been warned about Hastur’s well-known disgust for anyone who wasn’t a member of his crew. But being warned about it and being confronted with Hastur’s hidden eyes staring him down were two different things, and he found himself flustered and looking for a way to save some face. Should he agree with what had just been said? Was he supposed to speak? Would that make him look stupid?
Hastur turned and started walking out of the docking bay and any chance the liaison might have had at salvaging a first impression were gone.
As Hastur strode through the metal doorway he reached up and banged on a spot over the door, the metal giving a satisfying clang under his hand. The liaison looked up and saw the famous insignia, “GO1” stenciled in yellow. The Great Old Ones. Mercenary pilots for hire. Most members of The Elder Gods had been reluctant to seek out their help in this latest war because that insignia, “GO1,” was synonymous with murder and pirating in some areas.
And after the massacre in the Delta Quadrant many had come to believe that the mercenaries had gone rogue. Just nobody had any proof.Not yet.
The liaison realized that Hastur had taken off down the hallway while he had studied the bright yellow insignia and he ran through the door to catch up.
“…is the mess hall,” Hastur was saying. Hastur motioned to a hatch off of the metal hallway, pausing so the liaison could take a glance inside.
It was tight quarters, as huge as the spacestation seemed from the outside, there still was a limited amount of space inside and there were plenty of bodies moving about. A tentacled torso with no mouth was standing behind a counter serving meals. A line of beings moved, assembly-line-like, down the row of steam trays, accepting the slop being delivered.
The liaison watched a hulking water lizard, a spider with a humanoid face, and a radiant ball of smoky light, all bitch at the server that the food smelled awful and that the portions were too small.
“That’s Chef,” Hastur said, indicating the mouthless torso spooning out slop. “He hates being called that. Apparently if he ever got his hands on some actual meat he could make it taste good, but here you just rehydrate what’s dehydrated and serve it up.”
Hastur nodded towards one of the tables. “Not that Xin minds.”
The liaison looked at where Hastur was gesturing and saw a creature with a countless number of mouths shoveling food into every opening it could find with bristling spidery arms. The liaison could feel revulsion deep in the pit of his stomach and his lips pressed together to clamp down his nausea as he watched the insectile arms maneuver food into slobbering holes.
“Something wrong?” Hastur asked. His voice was too good-natured and the liaison knew he was being tested. In this spacestation, if you looked weak, you were weak.
The liaison managed a nonchalant shake of his head, and then for good measure he leaned in and sniffed the air, as if curious as to what was being served.
Hastur didn’t react to this, he only stared the liaison and, despite the yellow bandanna covering his face, the liaison got the feeling that Hastur’s teeth were bared. He didn’t like that the liaison had showed no signs of being rattled.
Abruptly Hastur turned and began walking and the liaison had to scramble to catch up as the tour was apparently off again.
“Up here is communications and navigation,” Hastur said, one hand on the rung of a ladder built into the wall. “Make a hole!” he bellowed out as he turned and began climbing.
The liaison followed him, noticing as various monstrosities backed away from the ladder at the first landing, pressing against the wall to clear a path for their leader. He got the feeling that if he hadn’t hurried, they would have resumed their position and blocked his path.
He caught up with Hastur in the communications room. It was dimly lit, with screens full of information all around. “Yog’s in charge here.”
The liaison’s eyes flicked around nervously. Somewhere in the darkness of the room he could see a mass of something, all of it writhing like a thousand snakes were crawling over each other.
“Yog is our eyes and our ears. He is everywhere and knows everything. If it happens in this quarter of the galaxy, Yog knows about it.”
At the mention of the rest of the galaxythe liaison wanted to bring up the massacre in Delta quadrant. He had lost the chance to open with an abrupt line of questioning, but here, the way Hastur was almost preening over Yog-Shotthothas he showed him off, made this seem like a decent opportunity to rattle him and bring his attention back to the real reason the liaison was there.
But the liaison couldn’t concentrate. His back felt prickly with sweat as, somewhere in that dark room lit by monitors and buttons, that disgusting mass pulsed and watched and thought.
The liaison managed to pull himself together only after he had followed Hastur down the ladder. “I’ll need some time to interview Yog-Sothoth,” he said shakily once his feet were planted back on the hallway floor.
Hastur didn’t answer. He didn’t even react. He just kept walking, leading the liaison through the ship, his ridiculous yellow t-shirt and sunflower-orange corduroy pants always half a step ahead, leading him along.
They passed a hallway branching off to the left and Hastur halted, stopping so short the liaison almost bumped into him. He backed up with a smile on his face. “Here’s our maintenance crew,” Hastur said as three scorpions with the heads of ants emerged from the hallway. “They’re led by ‘Dust’ there.”
The liaison was almost surprised as a humanoid came out of the hallway after the scorpions.
“Real name’s Oztalun, but nobody calls him that,” Hastur said, wrapping an arm around Oztalun’s shoulder, his arm gripping tighter, almost like an older-brother bullying a favored sibling. “Everyone calls him ‘Dust’ ‘cause he comes from some backwoods planet nobody’s ever heard of.”
“Charming,” the liaison said. The incessant use of nicknames was childish in his mind, and this helped to dispel some of Hastur’s overbearing presence, allowing him to regain some composure.
Oztalun, or “Dust,” didn’t seem thrilled with the nickname either, nor did he seem too happy with Hastur’s bony arm wrapped around his shoulders. As he disengaged and made to follow after the scorpions, the liaison noticed that he bore a faint scar on his face, a seven sided star that reached from forehead to chin and ear to ear.
“As much as I’m enjoying the tour,” the liaison said. “I am here on official business and I was told that I would have time to meet with you alone to begin my investigation into the—“
“Absolutely,” Hastur broke in.
The liaison almost lost control of his emotions, his patience was being pushed to the limit and he was sure Hastur was interrupting him and not even allowing him to mention the incident, the massacre in the Delta Quadrant.
The entire spacestation was under suspicion for actions unbecoming of officers under the command of The Elder Gods, and even if everyone on board was innocent, multiple planets and stars had been obliterated for some reason, which Hastur should at least be expressing some level of concern about. Instead it was bullshit nicknames and a constant stream of little power games.
“This is the rec room,” Hastur said.
The liaison had barely noticed that they had walked into yet another room, this one with a ton of beat-up couches and monitors where VR games were being played by various creatures.
“Tell you what,” Hastur went on. “I have a lot of important stuff to do, like bailing your Elder Gods out of this war they started. You know, seeing as how they hired me and all. So when I do have time to be interviewed for their school newspaper, I’ll be sure and come back down here. In the meantime, I think you should relax with our ace-pilot here. Get to know him, have a chat, he’s full of interesting information about what it’s like to actually fight in space and is a huge fan of listening to bureaucrats.”
The liaison wanted to fume, he wanted to interrupt and stop this before Hastur could get another sentence out. But instead he found himself barely able to concentrate as a prickly sickness began to grip his stomach.
“Cthulhu,” Hastur said, calling over a staggeringly tall monstrosity from the other side of the room. “This here is a liaison from The Elder Gods. I’d like you to keep him company.”
The liaison walked, nonchalantly he hoped, towards an empty couch and sat down on the arm, hoping to look like he was just relaxing instead of needing to sit down because his stomach felt ill. He didn’t even notice Hastur leaving. He manage to look up as Cthulhu lumbered over to him, tentacles squirming around his mouth, hiding most of his face. His footsteps sounded heavy on the thick metal floor. He took a moment to stand up to his full height, the wings on his back expressing themselves, his silhouette the image of horror, before settling down on the couch.
“Something wrong with your stomach?”
It was hard to tell if Cthulhu had spoken the words, the tentacles around his mouth hid everything, and to the liaison it was more like the words had been spoken inside his head in a booming voice. He felt like his body was being invaded, like foreign thoughts and illnesses were appearing inside of him. He tried to swallow, saliva thick on his tongue, but his nausea only flared up again.
He cast a look around the room, forgetting where he was for a moment and hoping to see a set of familiar eyes. But he only saw an array of strange forms, beasts with animal bodies, mouths that appeared at will, sentient blizzards.
“How do your bones feel,” the voice seemed to say in his head.
The liaison slumped over, sliding off of the arm of the couch and onto the floor as his legs suddenly felt like hot metal needles were being driven into his bones. He looked over at Cthulhu, who was scratching lazily at his large belly with a clawed finger.
He looked around the room again as his eyes began to water and he noticed that nobody was watching him. Nobody was paying attention to what was happening. In fact, the beings in the room were all making their way out the door. A toad walking upright was the last one to leave, and with a final bang the metal door swung shut.
“Don’t worry,” the voice in his head said. “You aren’t going to die. But I’m afraid you aren’t going to be the only one in control of your brain anymore.”
A snake, cold and black, appeared behind the liaison’s eyes. He couldn’t see it, but he knew that something was sliding around inside his skull, something was beginning to choke his thoughts into silence.
He wasn’t entirely sure what happened after that. He just knew that he felt better, the pain and nausea were gone and the feeling of a snake inside his head slowly dissipated. As he breathed in and out and began to come back to himself, he noticed that an alarm was blaring and the lighting had dimmed to red combat lighting.
Cthulhu was no longer there and the door to the rec room was open. Outside in the hall there was a lot of yelling and things rushing about. There had been an attack. The spacestation had mobilized.
His legs were still shaky as he stood up. He could hear, amidst the general bustle out in the hallways, the loudspeakers throughout the station calling wings of fighter pilots to their ships, general situation reports, and reports that there had been zero damage so far.
Out in the hallway he was largely ignored, except if he got in the way of someone hurrying along. And, having been on board a mobilized spacestation plenty of times, he knew how to stay out of the way. He also knew that he had been given no warnings from the Elders about an attack requiring Hastur’s pilots while he was on board. He took out his comm device and, naturally, saw that it was scrambled. Scrambling the Elder’s channel was highly illegal, but at this point it wasn’t much of a surprise to see that Hastur was doing so on board his space station.
The communications center would be the best place to patch through to his superiors…but then the liaison remembered that hulking mass waiting in the darkness of that room.
Maintenance would be able to help as well, he decided.
He retraced his steps and found the hallway where he had met the crew full of scorpions and the head of maintenance. “Dust” was his name?
He walked down the hallway. His steps slowed and his eyes tried to adjust to a sudden darkness. Even the red lights, designed so the ship could use power in other areas when the fighters were deployed during battle, weren’t doing much to illuminate the room.
He paused when he noticed that one of the red lights was still able to shine in the darkness, and in its glow he could see that those around it had been smashed.
Now worried, he took another step and almost yelled out when his face brushed up against something hanging from the ceiling. He scrambled backwards, his heart pounding, and took out his comm pad. A few button presses and it began to emit a nice white glow which he aimed up.
Dangling there, swaying gently, were the scorpion workers. All of them were strung up by their feet. All of them had been gutted with jagged cuts running down their entire bodies. Some of their insides were dripping almost down to the floor.
The sounds coming from the loudspeakers in the hallway changed. It had been a voice, calmly running through a list of basic reports and requests for personnel. But now there were no longer words, instead it was…
The liaison scrambled out into the hall and listened. There were a few other things out there as well, all of them staring up at the loudspeakers in fear. What was coming out of them was disgusting, a throaty gargling mess of noise. There were some bangs, like someone was struggling against something. The gargling became more desperate, and then there was the sound of shattering glass. Then nothing.
The few people in the hall looked at each other, nobody understanding.
“That was the sound of Yog-shottoth being strangled to death,” a new voice said over the loudspeaker.“Now have a listen to the sounds of the battle outside. One second while I patch you in.”
There was a pause and a burst of static, and then there were sounds of pure terror. Someone had patched the fighter pilot’s comm channel in through the loudspeakers and at first it was hard to tell what was happening, there was nothing but panic everywhere and screams.
Then Hastur’s voice began to get his pilots under control as he tried to get them back into formation. “Cut the damned chatter, I want everyone checking in and forming up on my mark!”
One by one the various pilots began to check in. The people in the hallway all stared at the loudspeakers trying to sort out what was happening.
“Has anyone heard from Cthulhu?” Hastur screamed.
There was no response from his pilots.
“He crashed,” the voice that had strangled Yog-Sothoth said calmly. “Shot down into the oceans of a planet called Earth. And now we’ll be sending Xoxiigghua there as well.”
There was screaming, panic, a commchannel suddenly shutting down.
“I am going to rip your head off and feed it to—“ Hastur was yelling when he was cut off.
“Feed it to who?” the voice said.
The liaison listened and began to backtrack his earlier tour some more.
“Maybe to Zathog? Except his ship is about to transport him to the Xentilxgalaxy from which he will not be returning.”
The loudspeaker began playing sounds of fear and confusion again as the fighter pilots in their ships continued to be picked off or eliminated.
The liaison climbed the ladder to the communications room. Yog-Sothoth, even choked and dead on the floor, still turned his stomach. But he forced himself to walk through and then watched as “Dust,” the man with the seven-pointed star on his face, head of maintenance, someone who could easily rig the fighter pilot’s ships to do whatever he wanted, continued talking into the microphone. “Dust” had blood running over his face, and a few slimy strands of something were clinging to one of his arms.
“For those of you still on board, The Great Old Ones are no longer operational. You will be picked up by Elder God ships soon and each be tried individually for the massacre in Delta Quadrant.”
“Nobody listen to that piece of shit,” Hastur screamed over the radio. “Someone figure out where he’s–”
Dust reached a tired hand up and flicked a switch muting Hastur’s voice. Then he leaned over the microphone again, and the liaison saw no joy in what he was doing, just weariness that it had come to this.
“Red wing, you are all condemned to imprisonment on Earth. One by one you’ll be joining the other members of your wing there. You will be stashed under mountains, crammed into swamps, buried under oceans, and watched over by the Elders so that you never get out.”
Looking around the liaison could see the various monitors showing statuses of the fighter pilots out in space, and he watched as a few began to blink off here and there.
“Blue Wing, you are being banished. There are hyperdrive engines on board all of your ships which you have no control over. You are being sent to the farthest reaches of space.”
More crackles and screams from the radio. More monitors blinked off.
Hastur’s channel was still live, though not being broadcast throughout the ship, and the liaison could hear him screaming for blood. And then something changed and he began to panic. “Oh shit oh shit oh shit those are Elder God battleships!”
“Hastur,” Dust spoke into the microphone, his voice tired. “For your crimes against sentient life in the Delta quadrant, you will be tried and no doubt found guilty. And? To be honest? I have no idea what they’re going to do to you. I don’t really care.”
“Why are you doing this, you son of a bitch!”
“Dust” leaned forward and his head hung over the microphone. “I am Oztalun, from a small little planet that nobody on board this ship could ever be bothered to learn. You called me ‘Dust’ for that very reason. But I am Oztalun, from the Pavonis system, a peaceful set of planets that all used to exist in the Delta Quadrant. Goodbye, Hastur. You’re a real prick.”
Slowly the other monitors in the room began to flick off and fade as ship after ship was sent off to its fate and the Elder God battleships cleaned up what was left.
The liaison just stood and watched Oztalun slump down in his chair.
“Okay,” Oztalun said. “You can take me away now.”
Joseph Devon: Hailing from New Jersey, Joseph is sarcastic, caustic, abrasive, and yet a surprisingly good cook. As the eldest member of the arena’s cadre, Joseph has come to rely on discipline over flash and dozens of rewrites over bursts of creativity. He also sometimes remembers where he put his dentures. Joseph grew up fighting for attention over loud guidos and even louder New Yorkers and polished a knack for concise, striking imagery. A fan of most anything silly, Joseph also has a depth hidden under his love of talking animals that can rope in unsuspecting readers and make them think before they realize they’re reading anything of substance. Joseph is the author of the first two books of the Matthew and Epp trilogy, Probability Angels and Persistent Illusions and is hard at work on the third.