Humorous Space Adventure Short Story: The Hyphiz Deltan Job


I had posted this tale a few months ago, prior to giving my novel the launch. But I thought now that There Goes the Galaxy is officially out there in the world, I would repost it for the folks who missed it.

This short story uses two characters found in There Goes the Galaxy, and it takes place a Universal year or so before that storyline. People who are reading or have finished the book are likely to recognize 'em.

Enjoy!
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The Hyphiz Deltan Job


Never agree to be Lookout when you’re pressure-locked into a Personal Smoking Enjoyment helmet, Tseethe Tsardonee decided.

It was a lesson learned.

Sure, the headgear met Greater Communicating Universe public safety standards. And since Tseethe had been smoking so long, he’d evolved to actually feed off the stuff, well, it wasn’t like the helmet was exactly optional these days. It was medicinal. Survival. Prescribed even.

He was smoking his way to continued good health.

But the heavy bubble around his head and neck reduced his peripheral vision. It compromised his reaction time. As a result, Tseethe looked out across the desolate Hyphiz Deltan street and jumped at every shadow before his smoke-fogged lens. He leapt at every crackle of sound that filtered through the in-helmet audio.

So much for that air of brusque, fearsome self-possession he’d worked so hard to craft. It was the first time, during any job, Tseethe felt like a liability.

Not that he’d ever tell Rolliam Tsmorlood that. Tseethe still needed the yoonies from this job to fund his own Underworld endeavors-- projects light years more profitable and dignified than busting into a Print Liberation Lounge to steal something that sane lifeforms across the galaxy couldn’t get rid of fast enough.

Of course, “sane” and “Rollie” were rarely said together. Here, Tseethe’s partner fragged the LibLounge surveillance system to nanoparticles, as if to make the point.

“Um, nice little fire ya got going there.” Even Tseethe could see the flames licking what was left of the Klinko® Intruder Repellant System.

“Aw, it’ll burn out in a minute,” Rollie assured him.

The camera box melted in on itself.  

“Er, prob’ly.” Something spit and flared. “Any time.” Rollie cleared his throat and redirected his XJ-37 handlaser to the LibLounge front doors. “Besides…” he said, finger on the trigger, relish in his voice, “now comes the fun bit.”

But The Fun Bit hit a detour, as the doors whisked open. A voice shrieked, “Don’t shoot! We’ll give you anything you want! Just don’t hurt us!”

Frantically, Tseethe whirled from his post, scanning for the source of the voice. Was it a ploy or an employee?

The LibLounge stood strangely still under the early morning moons.

And Rollie Tsmorlood began to laugh.

“What?” hissed Tseethe, “What is even a little bit funny about this? And who the frag was that?” He’d turned so fast, sweat from his forehead had splattered and trickled down the inside of his helmet. He flipped on his dehumidifier. “Some poor froob better not be in that shop. Because you know I don’t do hostage situations.”

“Relax, mate… It’s a Property Personality Module.” Rollie was still chuckling. ”Read about ‘em in Creative Criminal Weekly. ” He vanished into the darkened Lounge. His gear on the hovercart followed him dutifully.

“Property Personal whats?” said Tseethe from the door.

“Fear sensors,” came Rollie’s voice. “Same basic tech as in Non-Organic Simulants.”

Tseethe frowned at the clear street before him. “For what possible purpose?”

“Real estate insurance lobbied for it. Architecture that does its own threat assessment and acts accordingly. Supposed to reduce property damage claims.”

Tseethe sniffed. “And how is it on theft?”

“Funny you mention it. Turns out, most people want security systems that don’t give up under duress. So it’s all being hashed out in court.”

A lantern pierced the darkness, and Tseethe turned to see Rollie crouching beside a drop-off bin just inside the door. “Meantime, it’s all gone silent alarms again.” Rollie pulled an electronic lockpick from his toolbox and slapped it on the bin. “Which reminds me: aren’t you supposed to be looking out? Never know when the night shift RegForce’ll make their rounds.”

“I’m lookin’. Just make it quick, will ya?”  

“Time?”

Tseethe checked the clock in his helmet. “Little after Regimentation Hour Two,” Tseethe said. 

Rollie nodded.

That was Mandatory Sleep on the planet of Hyphiz Delta, a time when all sensible native Hyphizites completely shut down, hearts slowing to nothing, brain activity minimal…

They wouldn’t feel a growing night chill, the pinch of a passive-aggressive spouse or even hear the friendly sounds of, say, breaking-and-entering.

Due to this biological quirk, Hyphiz Delta was well-protected from outside invasion, but the government hadn’t really focused on rebellion from within. Its people were prosperous and crime rates were practically microscopic. Since criminal activity was never formally scheduled, no one ever tried it.

Okay, occasionally there’d be some renegade who challenged Regimentation in a public way. But the offender would be captured, labeled a prib and promptly exiled from the star system.

Tseethe knew it happened. He’d done it. Of course, there were always ways of getting back in.

“Y’know, it’s been a fraggin’ long time since I’ve even been to a LibLounge,” Tseethe mused now, leaning against the wall. “I get my infopills delivered these days. Cheap, easy, saves time.”

Rollie didn’t respond.

“I mean, what’s the allure of sitting around, sucking down capsules and yammering with strangers about what you just digested? Like anyone cares. They’re probably just talking to hear themselves talk.”

A beep and a curse emanated from the Lounge, as Rollie adjusted the lockpick’s settings.

“And it’s not like I have any print to bring in,” Tseethe continued. “I gave you what I had when the Purges began. So as far as needing the public incinerator…”

Shrugging, he could hear the device start up again. These electronic lockbusters were kinda hit-or-miss with decoding non-residential items. There were no standardized systems. So mostly, you had to make an educated guess and hope for the best.

“Plus the food here… those mud-thick nutrients shakes…” Tseethe grimaced. “Sure, some people love ‘em, but I say, ‘Give me a bottle of Carsoolian pod liquor and a funnel and I’m a happy—‘”

At the end of the street, something wavered, something Tseethe hoped was a simple trick of the streetlight on his in-helmet smoke. A second glance proved, as always, that hope was not quite enough. “Rollie, they’re coming. About five hundred kroms and closing.”

“How many?”

“Two. Looks like a standard surveillance patrol. Haven’t spotted us yet, but...” He turned to check on progress. The device flashed an unhelpful yellow.

“RegForce,” growled Rollie, “If only they’d sleep the sleep of the Just, Productive and Fraggin’ Dull, like everyone else on the planet.” The man’s orange-gold eyes were fixed on the lockbuster. His fingers moved across the device slowly, methodically, as he scanned for the right unlocking sequence.

Tseethe turned back to the street, tracing the progress of the uniformed beings. Now that they were closer, he could see they were short, dark humanoids—pretty much the opposite of your average native Hyphiz Deltan—all of them with the same bland features, the same perfect hair. It only meant one thing.

“Simulants! Flamin’ Altair, they’re Non-Organic Simulants, Rollie! Our local boys outsourced the night shift to the polymer people. You’re gonna have to hurry.”

Rollie was still fooling with that decoding device like it was some Vos Laegos showgirl at an after-hours party.

Tseethe let out an exasperated sigh. “Will ya laser the fragging bin, already? We don’t have time for this stuff.”

But Rollie fixed him with an astonished glare. “Laser it?! There’s print in there.”

“Oh. Of course,” Tseethe snapped, arms to the heavens. “What was I thinking? We can’t laser it; there’s print.”  He laughed and shook his head. “Un-fraggin’-believable! Here you are, happy to stun, melt, disintegrate or blow up anything in a thirty krom radius, unless it happens to be a completely obsolete hard copy of…of…” Tseethe pulled a title off the top of his head. “,,,P.K. Flutterbitt’s Field Guide to Deep Space Fauna and What Will Eat Your Ship. Or… The Black Hole Vacation Planner.  Or The Intergalactic Gourmet’s Supernova Meals in a NanoSecond.”

Rollie opened his mouth to protest but Tseethe wasn’t done. “Ninety-eight percent of the GCU has gratefully switched to infopill for its flexibility and instant knowledge. Yet you approach the LibLounge purging bin like you’re looting the Mighty Regal Coffers of—“

The metal bin opened, sending an echoing avalanche of print rumbling, tumbling to the floor.

The robo-RegForce heard that all right and, almost as one, they blazed a trail straight for the LibLounge.

“Incoming!” Tseethe checked the settings on his handlaser. It was an XJ-36, an affordable model, but versatile enough for both distance and close-range.

Rollie was stacking the print into his hoverbox as fast as he could. “It’s the smell, isn’t it?” he said meditatively. “Of time, and use and experiences. You don’t get that with an infopill.”

“It’s fire-or-bail time, man.” Tseethe braced his helmet against the doorframe and prepped to fire; the XJ-36 had kick.

“Print’s tactile. Requires a bit of effort,” Rollie went on. “And portable, but never gives you indigestion.”

“Fire-or-bail!” Tseethe shouted. “Fire-or-bail!”

“Whereas, you down an infopill with a Feegar bourbon-- I guarantee, mate, you’ll be coughing up whole paragraphs of chemical coding before the night is through.”

Tseethe fired-- one! two! In seconds, the Simulant RegForce officers were flat-out and fried across the LibLounge Welcome mat. Systems sparked. Fluids oozed. The fear sensors in the front doors were crying hysterically from witness trauma.

Tseethe stepped over to admire his laser work, and was impressed how much collateral damage had come from two clean shots. Sure, the Simulants could probably be rebuilt, but it would cost the RegForce more than a few yoonies. Not to mention all the paperwork they’d have to file with the Non-Organic Simulant labor union. Those guys were sticklers.

Turning, he saw Rollie holster his own still-smoking weapon. Tseethe had suspected there had been more laserfire than just his, but with lasers, you never could tell. He always wondered why the manufacturers didn’t add a little noise, make ‘em glow blue or something, just for safety and dramatic effect.

Somebody should send them a comm, he thought.

“Time to launch,” Rollie announced. The filled hoverbox rose from the ground and hummed gently, stirring up crumbs and wrappers and print ash that hadn’t been caught by the LibLounge cleaning robots. It ruffled the top-layer of print in the hoverbox.

It ruffled the pages of Moople the Mootaab Goes to Mig Verlig.

Tseethe gave a short, sharp inhale. “Stop!” And he slammed his hand down on the hoverbox power button. The box sank and whirred to the ground. The print settled.

“Frag it all, Tseethe, what gives?”

Tseethe barely heard him as he smoothed the book’s cover with a trembling hand. Moople the Mootaab Goes to Mig Verlig. Through smoke, he read the title twice, just to be sure.

The slim volume was faded and stained. It depicted a young mootaab running away from home, separating from the Great Purple Herd. This uncertain creature stood in the busy mass transit depot of the Farthest Reaches Cosmos Corral, holding a ticket in one of its six feet, and leading luggage twice its size. (Unusual behavior for your average livestock, Tseethe granted, but Hyphiz Deltan kid lit took liberties.)

“Tseethe, mate, something wrong?” he heard Rollie say faintly.

But far from wrong, it was all flooding back. Suddenly Tseethe recalled dozens of important life lessons Moople the Mootaab had taught him. Like why you should never even think of separating from the herd. Why you should adhere to a strict daily Regimentation Schedule. And why you should never, ever, ever discharge an XR-25 handlaser without proper supervision.

“You’re not hit, are you?”

“Nah,” Tseethe managed.

He was hit, though-- stun-gunned by memories, lasered by time. He hadn’t seen Moople the Mootaab Goes to Mig Verlig since he was barely out of Didactics classes. His second-level maternal archetype-- he called her “Nana” --used to read the tale to him in a hard copy version, just like this. That book once belonged to her M.A. Sure, the story was total Hyphiz Deltan propaganda, but it was also a Tsardonee tradition. There was even an XR-25 handlaser-- really just a starter weapon-- that they passed down along with it, from generation to generation.

If it hadn’t been for Moople the Mootaab and his whiny conformist ways, Tseethe Tsardonee might never have become the creative, independent thinker that made him the up-and-comer in the Underworld he was today. And he had that brainwashed, six-legged purple skein of fiber to thank for it.

“Look, mate, we’d better launch,” Rollie was saying. “Don’t know how many Simulants signed on for night shift, yeah?”

“Oh.” Tseethe looked up, as Rollie powered the hoverbox again.

It rose, swirling up more crumbs and blowing an old bookmark from the collection bin.

“Right,” said Tseethe. “And, um… this is mine.” His hand shot out and grabbed Moople off the stack. He drew it toward his helmet, turned off his air filters and inhaled deeply. The book smelled like the impact-resistant polymers and tangy astrodynamic metals of a good old-fashioned in-ship toy storage unit.

Tseethe realized Rollie was staring at him. “It’s y’know: payment. For my help.” He cleared his throat. “Along with the yoonies you owe me, of course.”

Rollie glanced from the book to Tseethe and back again, one pale eyebrow reaching new stratospheres in query. “Of course…”

“Stellar.” Tseethe tucked the book under his arm. “So let’s go. What’re we waiting for-- the whole fragging RegForce to bust down the doors?”

“NOOOO!” screamed the doors, electronic voice buzzing in terror. “For the love of Hyphiz Delta, NOOOOO!”

But Tseethe and Rollie were already slipping through darkened streets on their way to the ship, the hoverbox of print trailing close behind. Some might have said it was a little like a young mootaab reunited with its herd, after a tiring adventure.

Of course, Tseethe wouldn’t have. He barely noticed it through the smoke.

24 comments:

Libdrone said...

ROFLMAOPIMPTIME! I can't stop laughing Jenn. Now I find myself wanting to urge you to forget about courting a traditional publisher and e-publish right away so I can read the book now instead of in a year!

Jenn Thorson said...

Libdrone- YAY! I'm glad you had fun with it. I am serious considering the idea of self-publishing the novel, for a number of different reasons. Largely because my main goal is to just to share (finally) the characters with readers.

I'll let you know what ends up transpiring. But I'm delighted you like it!

JaneneMurphy said...

Love it, Jenn! Very imaginative and fun. What a crazy world you've created!

Jenn Thorson said...

Janene- I've been working with so much of it for so long, it's almost seeming normal to me-- maybe I should worry. :)

Libdrone said...

Jenn,

You may already realize this. These days it is Very common for acquisitions editors at major houses to spend time checking out self-published books. It is very common these days for a major house to buy a self-published book that is really good. IMHO, whether you are self-published or traditionally published you the author will still have to do most of the work to promote the book. Buy going ahead and self-publishing you can direct the bulk of your social efforts to that goal now.

Or perhaps like J. A. Konrath you will decide to be exclusively self published because, honestly, you can make more money from your writing that way.

Jenn Thorson said...

Libdrone- I have discovered this, yes-- the industry has changed a lot. So that is one of my potential drivers toward self-publishing.

It's an exciting thought.

Glen said...

A very interesting piece of work and a damaned cunning idea to get your characters known. like it

timethief said...

This is great stuff. Meeting your characters this way so a grand idea. I laughed and I loved it. More please ...

Jenn Thorson said...

Glen- Thanks! I never would have thought to do it if it weren't for my friend Claire.

TimeThief- Yay, happy to send some laughs your way. Tseethe is actually not a major character in the book, so it was fun to get to work with things from his perspective for a change.

nothingprofound said...

Jen-wildly imaginative and original. You've created a world and a language all your own. I really felt I had fallen into some alien, inexplicable Universe, where perhaps slowly as I moved on I could start to make sense of things.

Claire said...

Yay for that Claire, she sounds awesome.

The more I think about it, the more daft I feel for not suggesting it sooner, as I was thinking about it last year! We could have had six months worth of wee glimpses by now.

I love the fact that it is short story, but I also love the fact that it is a glimpse at a whole universe of more stories and characters to come.

The 'fear sensors' are hilarious! I could hear them as I read it. haha!

PS: Was four cups when you published this post :)

Pearl said...

Jenn, this is hilarious.

Both envying and admiring you,

Pearl

SprigBlossoms said...

Enjoyed reading your short story...It takes you to an imaginative world, but amongst very relatable characters....: ) For the love of print, it is! Great, Jenn!

Jenn Thorson said...

Claire- Yeah, that Claire IS pretty cool. But don't tell her, she gets a big head pretty easily. :)

Six months ago I was still refining the book. If we'd added anything else to my to-do list, I would have mentally imploded. So the timing was right on this!

PS- with your coffee you are confusing an entire country of Americans who envision you drinking tea... (Oddly, lots of folks in my office drink tea-- what is HAPPENING to us all??!)

Pearl- Hey, you ALREADY have a book out, so there's no need for story-envy. :)

SprigBlossoms- Oh, thank you-- that's really helpful feedback.

Richard said...

You are a gifted writer! I look forward to seeing which publishing route you take. Best wishes!

Jenn Thorson said...

Richard- Thank you much. :) Though I'd say I'm just OCD on wording of things. I drive MYSELF nuts through the editing phase.

Sci-Fi Gene said...

I'm late to the party but from one Douglas Adams fan to another I really enjoyed this "short" - not short on ideas or laughs. Best, sfg

Jenn Thorson said...

Gene- Ah, thanks a bunch, Gene!

Melody J Haislip said...

That was better than a TSarops IV in a Magnuff cloud! LOL! Forgive me. Some of us have it, some of us read it. This is tremendously clever, and it had to have been a challenge to write. It flows, and it reveals and it obfuscates. The best thing about scifi/fantasy is that there Are No Limits to where your imagination can take you and your readers. My most sincere compliments. :)

Jenn Thorson said...

Melody- :) You're welcome in the Greater Communicating Universe any time! Writing the stuff is both really fun and astoundingly difficult- but I guess the challenge is a part of the personal satisfaction. Thank you for reading.

Doug Stephens said...

Alrighty - You sold me. One more sale for "There goes the Galaxy."

Jenn Thorson said...

Doug- Oh, wow-- thank you!

COUNT SNEAKY said...

You know, I'm surprised nobody mentioned the idea behind the story...behind the characters. Books, tactile, scarred, memory-laden, old, worn, smelly, ragged books are things rather than information trading brain synapses. They have character and charm and you can write in them, mark passages use (gasp!) book marks. No wonder the intergalactic Murgatroyds are stealing all of them they can...not necessarily for any intrinsic monetary value, but because the damned things are fun, keepable, showable, and...well, human. Well done!

Jenn Thorson said...

Sneaky- Ah, I love how you got into the spirit of the story! I have read books online, but I do personally think there's something just wonderful about a book you can curl up with, feel and smell.