A Standard Space Tale, by NoMan

Illustration by Romeo EsparragoTomorrow, the System Defender, Captain White, fell on his ass in humiliating circumstances.

Here is how it will happened.

Exactly somewhere between Mercury and Pluto, which is to say perfectly and imprecisely in the center of the edge of the system, his trirem, Remember the Argo, finally will overtake the Cymbal of Eve, flagship of his sometime nemesis, the black-clad, on-again/off-again Lord Black and his men of the Revolutionary Black Guard, who all wear black hats. Except Lord Black, he wears a long skinny black tie. And, let’s recall that the Lord Black is white, and Captain White is black. So, this isn’t about color at all.

This is all about luck… simultaneous and inephemeral and immanent luck. A lucky shot from Bambay Station will hole the Cymbal in the tank, and she leaks herself dry, and that’s how Captain White maneuvers up on her in the first place. No luck, no way. Black would have been back in the Belt, and White would never have found him there. Never has before either; no one could.

On his bridge, White, whose black skin matched, as it should, space itself, stood legs spread, arms-crossed akimbo and musing over the screen showing Black a couple thousand klicks out and dead in the water. What White was wondering was, Why?

So he says to his Number One, “Number One, I wonder why he’s dead in the water?”

Number One, knowing Captain White at least as well as I do, will know better than to say anything, so doesn’t. And at this time, White will make up his mind once more.

“I’ve made up my mind,” he will say, “again we’re going in.” And then will give the order to go in. “Go in.” he says, “But slow… and from underneath.”

Everyone will agree it was a good plan, not that it would have mattered if it had been a bad one. They’d have gone anywhere White told them to go, from up in the abyss of the deep or down on top of the shuddering floor of the universe simply did not matter: they would go; those White men would do it. They all liked him a lot. Those Whites are like that.

On the other end of things, Lord Black, skin pale as the moon, will be cursing up a blue streak, and his men, those Blacks, will look worried and flash crazy-eyed signs to each other behind his back. They will give each other looks that say, “Who’d have thunk it?” And that’s Blacks for you, that’s the way they will do it.

“Of all the rotten luck,” Lord Black will say finally. Turning to his Number One, he will say, “Number One, give the tanks a squeeze and see if they’re empty empty or just empty.”

So his Number One will hop onto the beeper quicklike and say to Cookie, the Engineer, “Chief, Old Bean, Skipper wants to know if there’s any juice left at all.” And will come back with the answer after a minute or so.

While he is looking out the bridge port trying to glimmer Black, Captain White will finally surmise the Cymbal shining in the dark, looking just like a star. “I’m gonna get you, you bastard,” he will say to himself under his breath.

Back on his ship, Lord Black will be just finishing up his battle rap “…and that’s how we’ll trick the bastard!” he will say, chortling. His men will chortle too. They feel better about the situation again, and they feel kinda silly and chagrined that they had had just a moment behind his back with their eyes, and so their smiles are just a little off, just a wee not-really-all-smile.

Meanwhile, Captain White was a lot closer, having halved the distance slowly. Lord Black will arm his torpedoes, and sensor this, White will too. His ship will clank and wheeze and throb and thrum as the tubes open, and his men will all put on their battle masks and magshoes. Number One, walking funny and clicking as the soles grab the shiny steel deck, will step up before him, salute formally in his white gloves, and report. “Ship cleared for action, Skipper.” His voice is funny, too, because of the mask, not that he believes he needs it. It’s mostly for show. It’s mostly that the men around him expect it; to them it says, “We’re serious.” Because in space they know it’s either kick ass or die, and that’s the end of it; somehow or other both the Whites and the Blacks both agreed on this. Reasons and whys once the torpedoes are running are beside the point, so they put on their masks; the glorious suckers all did it.

It will be Black who lets go with the first salvo, hoping no doubt for a lucky shot to balance the cosmic equation unwinding which will land him here in the first place opposite White. And White will reply with a flurry of defensive pods, a burst from the jammer, and a broadside of torps of his own. As he watches the scarlet trails diminish, White will be certain of his advantage eventually overcoming Black. White had all the torps he will need, moreso even, and can lay off and bombard the Cymbal into a cinder, if he wants. Probably, it’s what the careful commander would do, so of course we know White won’t, and indeed didn’t, as he continued to close the distance between their winking hulls.

Black will jig and jerk the Cymbal with maneuvering thrusters as the torps close the distance; his crew will hold on to whatever they can, but mostly they will just flail around like kelp caught in the roil of surf, sticking to the deck by their magic shoes. White will just keep on coming, and as Black’s first salvo nears him the pods will begin connecting, and one by one the twelve torps Black had sent out will explode, and White will recall the bottle-rockets he shot off in the dark when he was a kid, and Black will mutter and give a quick kick to his console and look up and he will have just the blur of a crazy little grin at the edge of his mouth.

Black lacked White’s logistics, his bases and support; he was a fish out of water and a freelancer and a buccaneer, both White and Black knew, so White will be pretty sure Black can’t go toe-to-toe for long. He wants to get in and start wailing close, short body blows, the ones that make you tighten up and huff and scrunch in; the ones that hurt to breathe. So he’s pushing. Hull down, pods flashing, Argo creeps in one step at a time; you can almost see White’s perfect glare through the hull.

Black will snicker and will keep muttering “come on, come on” under his breath to the rhythm of the air scrubbers. He needs White in close to, and just one window open, just a door a bit ajar is all he needs; he’s got one shot to take and it’s all or nothing for Black. So, it fits well together, his words and the hum of the ship, and one of the men, perhaps the helmsman, will begin tapping his hand against something metal, maybe the helm he holds in his helmsman’s hands. It will be a brief musical interlude, and everyone hums along happy to be thinking about something besides the tight spot they were all in.

“Jiggers, this is a tight spot,” Number One will say. The helmsman will just nod and keep on tapping, but he doesn’t know what we know, that both want the same thing for exactly the opposite reasons but exactly the same ends. It all just twines in on itself, everything does.

Then against all probability, both Captain White and Lord Black will be heard to simultaneously exclaim, “Shit, it’s the Greys!” Hence we know now how amazingly dumbfounded and filled with holy shit the universe operates on its own when you get right down to it. What were the chances of both of these men, opposite as they are again, having the same reaction, and saying the exact same thing, and at exactly the same time? It is as if they are the same person, really, or at least derive from the same place, drawn as it were by a singular hand. And that only leads to the question of what kind of cosmic hand conspires to create such a mechanical narrative and for what end?

Well, I don’t know, and really nobody does. And that puts me right into the same boats as Black and White at the same time. You too, I suppose. But you should be used to that by now, holding, as you do, this in your hands even if metaphorically meaning on the screen in front of you. (Go ahead and scroll backward to the end or forward to the beginning if you feel like it, no one will stop you.)

But to the matter that we are still in the midst of: the battle will swiftly change as both White and Black respond to the Greys who are everywhere at once. It is as if suddenly the lid has been taken off a box and a thousand things have been dropped in by yet another hand, or the same hand as before (which makes how many hands now?), swamping what had been there with what is now there, and making a mess of the neat and precise equation which had been working itself to an inevitable mathematical conclusion so anticipated by all of us that we need not even had read what is here written nor have written what is here to be read. How many wasted efforts filled the corners of the cosmos; all that dark matter unaccounted for could be this: all the thoughts we think for no reason. The Greys were in and out of space, up and down, below and above. Really, the entire lexicon of prepositions fail to accurately describe just where they all were when, for too, they dropped in and out of time, and made a boggle of such things as before and after. Why, even a few were there both before and after at the same time, which really drove White crazy.

“Gaddomit,” he says, “these fickung Greys are everywhere, gaddomit.” And though Black was just as incensed at the corruption of his glorious moment incarnate, the hammer he had started to call it in his own private plan, he said something slightly different, but to the same startling effect. He said “gaddomit” twice and skipped over the more archaic and less familiar expletive all together. Again, an interesting confluence, albeit this time for its similitude instead of exactitude; but that being the way of it all, this we find, it is all analogic and divine comparatives, the spirit of it all being paradox. Thus.

Who were the Greys?

Does it even matter?

They were, and are, and will be; and, as well, they could be, would be, and might be, as well as the obverse of both the preceding clauses at different times simultaneously, and stunningly both active and passive conditionally. Hence the moniker, which is less concrete than figurative, although it could have also been simply linguistically desperate, as well as an authorial cop-out, to assign them as such. Let’s say that they are a convenient metaphor, another instance of the fractal iteration, the repeating pattern, an instance of extraordinary science hunting the doomed hypotheticals of the past mining the needed innovation. Also, it could be symbolic. Or, as some contend all signifiers being accidental, the deliberate universe falls, and every word ever uttered is bullshit, especially these.

Because the facts are something else completely, and what Black and White both thought was the Greys weren’t because the Greys were, as we now know quite assuredly, somewhere else completely at that time, even the ones who somehow had managed to be there both before and after weren’t. It just seemed that way at the time, or it just seemed that time at the way: both are equally not true and thus qualifiably correct though unquantifiable; again we fall to the simple fact that there are no facts in this case.

And who can blame either White or Black for the whole mess, anyway? The Greys just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, which was their usual way. It was by this means that they will have been risen to the position that they currently had been holding in the galactic power struggle, but it was the devil to arrange it, and their war college had a hard time training its men and women in the art of the wrongness and potentialities of error, even though it was all right for them. One thing about the Greys, which you had to hand to them (yet another?), is that they understood that sometimes Black and White just aren’t as all the history books and UPBS programs and cosmoblogs and allusersites and relativetime news programs wanted to make them out to be. That was the problem with history, as well as is the problem with futury and maybury: People just want things to be so simple and easy to understand. But ask either Lord Black or Captain White as they try to target their respective tacticals to account for a Grey ship that wasn’t a Grey ship attacking them from where it is not, and won’t be, but nonetheless is at this very moment, and see what kind of answer you are gonna get, or have already gotten, or will get. And then try to get the battle computer to agree. And you will begin to get the drift. White and Black both got it from the opposite ends at the same time exactly.

Defense pods aren’t that smart after all, and torps have no grasp on metaphysics. But then again, who is, does, and will do?

What Captain White and Lord Black both needed at the same time was what they both exactly called for simultaneously. Again, hands grasping hands ad absurdum. Turning almost, but not quite, in synchronicity, Captain and Lord harmonized, “Back to the beginning Number One, all the way back.” And those Number Ones respectively crossed to their respective way-back machines and dialed in the beginning all over again, just like before, again. And the Greys returned, and turn again, and creatively manage to proturn which was completed unanticipated when the sentence began, but by the end made sense.

Thus, phenomenally, the Greys were gone from whence they will come, or came from whence they will go (depending upon who would have watched from when), and as Space reformed around Black and White and their ships and their crews, and their magshoes once again magicked them firmly upon steela firma with confidence and familiarity and a profound sense of sensibility and common sense. And here we are for the first time once more: Tomorrow, finally we are at the beginning! Captain White will at last fall on his ass as the hundreds of billions of intaking breaths seem to pause the expansion of the universe for a piece of a second, but not really. Anthropomorphosis, even now when we are approaching the beginning here towards the end.

So, Captain White in his new dress blacks, thin scarlet line creasing down the outside of each leg, approaches the raised dais upon which sits the Resplendent Empress, reclining naked as usual upon the piled and pillowed cloths of forty luxurious planets. And here too Lord Black performs obsequious gestures of conformity and obligation a mere half-meter aside from the approaching White, when what happens?

As White, eyes as ordained lay only upon the sky-high dome under which her Resplendence sits as erect in posture as her nipples, for the air within the dome always seems cold upon her robotically polished skin, fails to observe the snake-like leg of Black snake out in the path of his measured pace to honorable place. And thus, before the billions of viewers of the billions of viewers Black trips White up and White upon his wiry ass collapses in a sudden and embarrassing manner… and the billions of viewers of billions of viewers gasp. And the millions upon millions of spaceships and the hundreds of hundreds of worlds all seem to stutter pixilated, the systems themselves seem to skip a beat. And this all occurs immediately after his Glorious Medal of Courage and Assorted Meritorious Service Cross is pinned upon his re-constructed chest. Again for the first time this last time.

Thus White rises scarlet to shake his fist at Black, who laughs back when White says “I will have gotten you for this tomorrow!” while turning on his three-inch heels, swirling his electro-saber in the air, and stomping a furious kilometer or so to the dome’s exit, and then exits to begin to prep his cruiser for what will happen already at some other time than this exact moment now. And then even later in the future, or even earlier than this particular piece of past, Black, back in the dome says to the Empress, eyes upon the skyroof, protesting his innocence, “But this here time I never. It doesn’t happen, my sweet, naked Queen of the Spaceways for I have control neither of what in the past will happen nor in the present had.”

This all is so confusing to the not-so-tutored-in-all-things-as-much-as-good-looking Empress, breasts akimbo in sympathy for White. Legs splayed wide to emphasize the impact of her authority, she replies, “Dammit Lord Black, you cause me more pain than pleasure at all times… now go and fix what you break. My Captain White is but one of mine own hands, as are you but the other. But devil me if you cause me more concerns and tribulations than both my feet put together.” Thus she proves to Black yet again she knows what she is doing and is more than she appears; she too does what she need to do. And thus she stands, turns, and stomps off after White, ass cheeks dimpling in the effort. And thus she runs to White, trailing a flurry of plump courtiers behind her like used energy packs, and holds his black space skin against her moon glow, perhaps in the utility closet beside the ramp that leads to his trireme, perhaps in his stateroom aback the flying bridge, both perhaps happening either then or later or before simultaneously, or from behind as it were. But, for White, it is not memorable any time before or after Black’s keen foot capsizes him before the billions of viewers of billions of viewers, even though White always anticipates her Empress’ attentions and addresses, right then, all he thinks about is the white face of Black laughing at him, White, behind his pale white hand against the black backdrop of speckled space, standing as he is before the grand windows of the sky-high dome, framed forever in time for the billions of billions and zillions of zillions to come and had been and were at the time are, for eternity to be seen this way he cannot forget that. It is as if it had always existed, and that there was no before and nothing after before that one then.

Simultaneously later and before and at almost the same time, Black goes out the other door to the other side to get his ship and off he had blasts into first the atmosphere and then beyond until midway between Mercury and Pluto, White will have overtaken the Cymbal of Evil once again for the first time ever with Remember the Argo, jiggers, and knucklers, and torpedoes blasting, and magshoes magicking all up and down the inside, until lo, the Greys had popped back into and out of and before and behind just like they always had done and will, of course, did.

And the dimples on the ass of the Queen of the Spaceways dimple. *

About the Author: Noman is a writer.
Story copyright 2012 by NoMan.

About the artist: Romeo Esparrago always will have been the illustrator of this story.
Ilustration copyright 2012 by Romeo Esparrago.

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