Blink If You Can Hear Me!

The huge cargo ship, Alushion, lumbered on in space, dwarfing some stars as it hurtled towards its destination.

The crew didn’t know what they were carrying, nor did most care. The majority of the 32 man-crew were old-timers who had been with the ship for years. There was one new crew member however.

His name was Gorm, and he was assigned all the shit duties aboard the ship. He was pretty sure that it would take years before he moved up enough to where he wasn’t cleaning bathrooms and grease pits.

But he didn’t plan on being a crew member forever. He was a former reporter for The World News in Gallax’s biggest city Aahorn. He quit his job because his editor wouldn’t let him write stories about state corruption and slavery.

What made him make the big move was a tip from a trusted informant. Gallax’s biggest cargo ship was carrying more than minerals and Gallaxian steel. It was also covertly carrying slaves!

Gorm was sure his editor wouldn’t let him go undercover and investigate it. So he quit and applied for a menial job as a crew member aboard the Alushion. He was in luck. One of the regulars was in an accident and they needed a replacement.

The adventure of it all appealed to Gorm’s endless imagination.

He would write a tell-all book about slavery that would catapult him to fame and wealth. Civilized Gallaxians abhorred slavery, but there was a criminal element that specialized in it.

Every city on Gallax had a problem with residents disappearing. No bodies ever showed up. The authorities seemed unable to do anything about it. There were hints of what was going on, like when one man escaped.

He was blinded and never knew that he was hidden in a building near the International Space Station. But he did hear broken conversations and shared those with authorities.

The slavers were well-organized. How they got their captives off world was a mystery. There were so many possibilities the authorities were stumped. Private ships, military ships, commercial travel ships, cargo ships, and on, and on.

There were literally thousands of possibilities to hide slaves.

The slavers would wait until they had at least 200 captives before transporting them. The captain of the Alushion was a corrupt scoundrel with high government connections. His arrangement with the slavers paid him three times his captain’s salary.

The whole scheme was the brainchild of Lancor Mey, the leader of the biggest underworld gang on Gallax. He partnered up with the ship’s captain, Kanor Olk, and for the past ten years they transported thousands of Gallaxians off world and to other planets that provided eager buyers.

The ship actually had two crews; the one that authorities saw consisting of 32 employees, and the one they didn’t see that consisted of three employees whose only job was to take care of the captives.

This was made possible by having a false hull that was converted into an area where the helpless captives were put in plastic pods that sporadically emitted sleeping gases. They were hooked up to feeder tubes which the small crew was supposed to monitor.

Gorm was so busy for the first three days that he didn’t have time to explore anything. No menial task was below him. On the fourth day he found himself with some free time. He was such a hard worker that some of the crew members were already letting up on him.

He learned that there were three decks and a hold of Galaxian steel and tons of minerals in it. He knew where the captain’s quarters was, the ship’s kitchen, the navigation deck, the crew’s quarters, and where the various supply rooms were.

A week later, Gorm was becoming discouraged. He still hadn’t seen anything suspicious, or heard any juicy conversations that might provide leads to where the slaves were being held.

He was starting to think he was a fool for listening to the tipster. He was stuck on a cargo ship that wouldn’t return to Gallax for three more weeks.

Then a break came.

He got to know all the crew members during his short time aboard, and when he saw a stranger slip out of the kitchen and scurry to a door that led below decks, he followed. He could hear the stranger’s footsteps as he disappeared down into the engine room.

Gorm looked at the small nuclear reactor that was the ship’s source of power. All eight feet of it was sheathed in steel plates with Gallaxian script engraved into them. Gorm was so close to the stranger that he had to duck behind the reactor when he stopped, and started to turn around checking to see if he was being followed.

Then the stranger put his hand on the wall and a hidden door slid open! Gorm cautiously watched where he put his hand. He had no doubt what he’d find if he went into that secret room.

He knew for sure there was one slaver, and more than likely others inside. He had no way of knowing how many of them. Nothing about the situation was good. What should he do?

He couldn’t stay here much longer before someone missed him. He considered telling the captain, but as he walked back to his quarters a growing sense of alarm told him not to. He really couldn’t trust anyone aboard.

After the encounter with the stranger he made a habit of going back to where the secret door was several times a day. His persistence paid off days before they were scheduled to land on Anterrean, Gallax’s main trading partner.

He was hiding behind the reactor which was directly across from the secret door when one of the slavers emerged. He hurried out. Gorm went to the spot and put his hand there.

At first he couldn’t see anything. The room was bathed in a soft blue light that didn’t throw shadows. Gorm saw another slaver slouched over a keyboard in front of a monitor. He was asleep.

As he felt his way around the room he saw another stranger stretched out on a bunk asleep. His luck was holding up. Then he came to a row of pods that held the captives. As he continued to search he found more rows. He stopped in front of one when he noticed a movement.

The captive in one pod opened his eyes and moved his head slightly.

“Blink if you can hear me,” Gorm said.

The Gallaxian blinked twice. The horror of the situation made Gorm’s blood run cold. “I’m going to try to help you,” he said.

The Gallaxian blinked again. Then his eyes grew wider!

Gorm didn’t hear anything until too late. A slaver slipped up behind him and put him in a chokehold. Darkness.

When he woke up he was in a room full of captives from planets throughout the solar system. He guessed he was on Anterrean. He felt like a damn fool! What made him think he would get away with going into that room?

He always wanted to experience adventures and to be a writer. Now he was a slave!

A slaver came into the room and roughly grabbed him by his arm, and led him outside to a platform before a group of prospective buyers.

“This pathetic creature,” the auctioneer droned, “...says he’s a writer. Who needs a writer? he asked the group. A couple of low bids were thrown out and the auctioneer acted disgusted, “I might as well slaughter him and sell his meat to the Zarks,” he grouched.

Finally a wealthy female Gallaxian made a bid that was acceptable. The auctioneer gave her the mobile control device that activated the shock collar on Gorm’s neck. It was standard slave issue.

Gorm followed her obediently down a series of well-maintained streets until they came to a big compound. His new master’s name was Illse, and she was the mistress of the large house.

“You’re job here is to tell stories to my children every night. If they like them, I’ll set you free after you tell a hundred consecutive tales.”

“Well… I don’t know…

“Writers are storytellers, are they not?”

“Yes…yes, you could call them that.”

“Good. Then we have an agreement?”

“Sure. By the way, what happens if I run out of stories or your kids don’t like them?”

“You become Zark meat,” she said conversationally.

Gorm gave a sick grin, and said, “When do we start?”

As It Stands, life is about adapting to situations.

Escape from the Slave Planet

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Tortgur was where slaves were sent from the Urbian Empire.

The planet was inhabited by guards and slaves who were used to manufacture items to support the empire’s war machine.

No one had ever escaped from Tortgur. Slaves lived out their lives there laboring for their masters.

Most of the guards were cyborgs from Xlatam. Their supervisors were Jaltian marines from Terrauni, the Empire’s home planet. Their job was to watch over the cyborgs and the slaves.

The heat from the two suns of Tortgur was intense. If exposed to it – without protection – the slaves skin would turn black and sluff off in painful patches within an hour. Anything over eight hours meant sure death.

The workshops – and assembly lines – were housed under climate controlled domes. The slaves worked 15-hour days. It left them with little time for sleeping, and eating. The only time they had to communicate among themselves was while eating, or after the lights went out in their barracks.

Their only break from the mind-numbing routine was when new slaves arrived. They would share what was going on in the solar system.

After the last of the slaves got off the spaceship they were herded towards the domes. That brief exposure to the blazing heat gave them a taste of what they could expect if they tried running away.

Once inside the main dome the slaves were herded to one side. The base commander gave a short speech, and then they were sent off to their barracks.

Ges Yiper was captured when his planet, Ceresium, was invaded by the Urbian Empire’s star fleet. He was the only prisoner taken alive. It was a bitter fight that lasted a year, as the shape shifters of Ceresium fought against overwhelming odds.

The only reason he was alive was the empire’s scientists were interested in him. After two years of experiments and studying his shape shifting power, they turned him over to the Jaltian marines at the Incarceration and Transportation Division.

His ability to shape shift was nullified by a digital metallic ring forged around his neck. The empire never liked to waste manpower, so Ges was sent to Tortgur.

The first night.

After the barrack lights went out a voice asked Ges where he was from? He shared the fate of his planet.

“If everyone was killed why were you spared?” another voice asked.

“They wanted to study my power,” Ges replied.

An excited murmur in the room.

What power is that?” several voices echoed.

“I can look like anyone, if I want. My captors made sure I couldn’t use my power by putting this damn thing on my neck.”

“Do you know what element it is?” a voice asked.

No. I’m afraid not. Whatever it’s made from we don’t have it where I come from.”

The conversation went on for nearly an hour.

From day one, Ges was determined to escape. The other slaves told him all they knew about life on Tortgur. They also told him no one had ever escaped from the planet.

He kept his escape planning to himself, not trusting anyone. It was apparent they all accepted their miserable existence and had long ago given up hope.

Ges was put to work on an assembly line making parts for the empire’s star fleet. He was on a line that produced control panels. The work was tedious. He had to slip memory cards into four places on each panel in a minute, before the next panel arrived.

At the midday meal Ges was feeling discouraged when a voice behind him asked “Would you like to get rid of that collar?” 

It was the same voice that asked him what element his collar was made out of. He turned and saw a tall Ilerian from Kuubs staring at him.

My name is Voltex,” he said. “I work in the metals department. Let’s talk more tonight.”

The lights went out.

A tap on Ges’s shoulder. “Follow me.”

Voltex led him to the end of the barracks and then opened a door.

“In here.”

Ges followed, and the door quietly closed.

“Be careful, there’s not much room in here. It’s a supply room. We must keep our voices low.” 

“Do you think you could get my collar off?” Ges asked.

“Soon enough, my friend. I want to escape from this hell hole too. If I’m able to cut through your collar, you have to return the favor and help me escape with you.”

“How do you know I’m planning to escape?”

A slight chuckle. Of course you are! Everyone who first gets here can think of nothing else. After a time that passes and hope is a ghost. Are we agreed?”

“Yes. Where do we start?”

“The plan should be for you to shape shift and look like the base commander. You saw him when you first arrived. Kill him. Then make a story up about you having to bring me to Terrauni for a special project.”

“Sounds like you really thought this through.”

It’s called survival. Let me examine you collar up close.” 

Vortex pulled out a small penlight from his overalls and held it up to Ges’s neck.

He studied the collar for several minutes. Taking a small file from another pocket, he drew it across the collar. Back and forth. Then stopped.

“I know what it’s made from. Metotriat metal from Luna II. I’ve got to figure out how to smuggle out a plasma cutter to do the job. Let’s shoot for tomorrow.”

Lights out.

“I’ve got it.”

Ges followed Vortex to the supply room.

“This will hurt like hell. Can you keep from screaming out?”

“Yes. I have a high tolerance to pain. Do it.”

Five minutes later.

The collar was off. Ges closed his eyes. When he opened them again he looked exactly like the base commander.

“Where did you say his office was again?” Ges asked.

A cyborg was startled to see Commander Gafer walking through the now silent manufacturing area in the middle of the night. He watched him head towards his office, and then lost interest.

The door was unlocked. It opened easily. Ges slipped inside silently. Then he went out the back door, and slunk along a pathway leading up to a little house. That door was also unlocked.

He found the commander asleep in his bed and strangled him. It took him two hours to find a place to dispose of the body. He settled for a room full of large metallic crates and trophies lining the walls.

Lucky for Ges, the commander’s job mainly consisted of greeting new slaves and listening to his guards report about infractions among the slaves. There was no daily duties to perform.

Following Voltex’s instructions, Ges went to the Department of Transportation to see when the next ship was leaving for Terrauni. His luck held when the Chief Transportation officer said, “…in two hours.” 

Voltex was called into the commanders office within an hour.

The assistant Chief of Transportation was surprised to see the base commander and a slave booking passage home. No one had told him the news. It was a big deal. The base commander was supposed to serve a ten-year term on Tortgur and he’d only been there five years.

It nagged at his bureaucratic mind.

Once they were in space, Ges and Voltex relaxed. Neither knew what the future held, but it had to be better than being a slave.

The attendant got to their seats and smiled.

Instead of asking them if they wanted something to eat or drink, she held out a small box and pulled two swabs out of it.

Sorry. Regulations. DNA is the only real way to confirm who you are.”

As It Stands, the best laid plans of slaves and aliens oft go astray!