Marc clanged down the hallway in his powered armor, looking for Covalent Blonde.
The first time that Balls had made him wear the armor, he was annoyed. He’d argued that Otto didn’t have to wear any armor, but of course Otto was a brain encased in a globe that had, so far, proven to be invulnerable to any type of physical harm. Heck, one time they’d even gotten really high and shot him out of one of the Gran Huevo de la Muerte’s space cannons. Otto had bounced off of several asteroids and blasted a small hole through a space yacht and come back without a scratch.
They’d had to pay to repair the space yacht, though, and Covalent Blonde had banned them from using the cannons.
Covalent Blonde never wore armor either, but that was because she was basically what would have happened if Jet Li and Cynthia Rothrock had had a baby, and that baby had grown up and kicked Chuck Norris’s ass every day forever.
Balls had tried on the armor once, but he claimed that it chafed his nipples. He said that about everything, though, even after getting them replaced with chrome implants. Marc thought that he just hated wearing a shirt.
So it was Marc that got the armor, and he was unhappy about it at first. Then he figured out that being encased in an armored suit was basically like having a one-man hot box. It had happened accidentally, when Marc forgot that he was smoking a joint and put on the armor anyway. The armor filled with smoke, Marc got totally blazed, and a small city on some backwater planet was accidentally eradicated. That got the mini-nukes removed from the armor, but it was worth it.
Of course, smoking a joint inside the armor led to other problems, since Marc didn’t have anywhere to flick the ash and he ended up with a disgusting roach just smoldering in his helmet. So he made a few adjustments to the armor. Since the mini-nukes were gone he used the space to install a series of vials, tubes and chambers, and became the first person in the known galaxy to turn a suit of military-grade powered armor into a walking bong. He had refined the design several times over the years, and now had a variety of marijuana strains to call upon with the simple push of a button that was installed in his armor’s gauntlet.
Marc hit the button as he walked down the hall and let the dankness in. He had gotten high earlier, before boarding the pirate ship, but that was wearing off. Marc was fairly non-confrontational, so he generally preferred to turn on the armor’s automatic defense system when possible, and then get baked and watch the fireworks. The defense system only responded to direct attacks, and quite often just the presence of the armor was enough to inhibit any aggressive actions anyway.
That had not been the case here. Every pirate Marc had come across had attacked with lasers or blades or, in one case, a rolled-up magazine. The armor had dealt with them all in similar, violent fashion, and Marc had waded through the carnage in a smoky haze. He hadn’t seen a pirate in several minutes, so now he was just looking for Covalent Blonde. He had last seen her, sword in hand, dueling a four-armed insectoid. Then he had taken a Molotov right in the faceplate and the armor had gone full aggro. Marc looked down at the bloodstains and gore coating the metal and decided a full cleaning was in order once they got back to the Gran Huevo de la Muerte.
Marc turned a corner and found a massive pirate lying in a heap on the floor. His right arm, bigger than one of Marc’s legs, hung limply at his side while the left was missing, torn off at the shoulder.
“Gross, man,” Marc mumbled as he bent down to get a closer look. There was blood everywhere and Marc thought at first that the big pirate was dead, but then one of his eyes blinked open.
“Dude!” Marc exclaimed. “Like, have you seen a blonde chick, man? She’s about this tall…”
Marc stood up and held his armored hand about five and a half feet from the floor. The pirate stared at him and gestured weakly with his dislocated arm at a closed hatchway set into the outer wall. Marc saw blood all around it and guessed how the pirate lost his arm.
“Bummer, man,” he said as he went over to the hatch. Marc saw the markings on it, and knew it led to an escape pod. A pod which was missing.
“Dude” he mumbled. “Like, there’s no way that she would have just left us, man. Like, tonight’s taco night.”
Marc turned back to the pirate, but his single open eye now stared blankly into the abyss. Marc hit the button on his armored gauntlet and breathed in more smoke. Then he turned and continued down the hall.
* * *
Gribbl was in his captain’s cabin, arms raised high over his head. He wasn’t sure what was going to happen to him, but he was certain that he didn’t want to end up a charred heap of meat and bones like his former first-mate Kell. The strange brain-in-a-globe, who was apparently named Otto, rolled over to Gribbl.
“You can put your arms down,” Otto said. “Trust me, we’re not in the mood for frog legs.”
Gribbl visibly blanched, but kept his arms high. He looked at the cyborg who had identified himself as Steel.
“Are you really Captain Steel?” Gribbl asked. He’d heard of the interstellar adventurer, of course, but never imagined actually coming face to face with the man.
Steel shot Gribbl a finger gun with his real hand. It didn’t shoot flame, like the cybernetic one did, but Gribbl flinched nonetheless.
“The one and only,” Steel said. “And you are…?”
“Gribbl,” replied the frog. “Captain Gribbl, really, but I’m not sure you’ve left me much of a ship. Or a crew.”
“Sorry about that,” Steel said, taking a drag from his joint. “You surprised us when you popped into the system like that. We knew your ship had the princess but we really didn’t expect you to return to the scene of the crime.”
“Yeah,” Otto agreed. “What, were you hoping she had a sister or something? Maybe you could make it a double-header?”
“No, I…,” Gribbl began. He lowered his arms tentatively.
“Relax, Gribbl,” Steel said. “I torched your buddy there because he was being a real tool.”
“He wasn’t my buddy,” Gribbl said. “He was my first mate. And we returned to this system because I wanted to drop the princess back onto that sordid cesspool of a planet before she could destroy my crew.”
“Good plan,” Otto said. “You’re much better off with us destroying your crew.”
“Maybe I am,” Gribbl sighed. “I was never cut out to be a pirate captain anyway. So, what are you going to do with me now? Turn me over to the princess’s father?”
Otto nodded, a strange motion that was basically rocking in place. Steel glared at him and gave him a kick, sending the globe rolling across the room.
“Hey! Dick move,” Otto complained as he rolled back to Steel. “I thought Daddy Big Bucks was going to give us a bonus for any pirates we brought back alive.”
“Forget it,” Steel said, shaking his head. “I am not going to turn Gribbl here over to that psycho. He’d just end up stuffed and mounted, gathering dust in a corner somewhere.”
Gribbl felt physically ill, and sat down on the floor.
“I’d really rather not do that,” he said.
“Aw, it wouldn’t be so bad,” said Otto, rolling up next to him. “A pretty little maid in fishnets would probably come by at least once a week and clean you off with a feather duster.”
“Shut up, Otto,” said Steel. “Look, Gribbl, trust me. I am not going to let you become someone’s taxidermy project. We just want to to rescue the princess and be on our way.”
“The princess?” Gribbl looked up at Steel. “She ran off with the key to the escape pod!”
“Well, that sucks,” said Otto. “If she’s back on Zaladon IV, we’re going to have a tough time finding her.”
Steel shook his head.
“Shit,” he said. “I didn’t even know this rust bucket had an escape pod.”
There was the sound of metal clanging on metal from the hallway. All three turned to look as Marc entered the room. His powered armor was covered in the liquid remains of the pirate crew. Gribbl backed away from him, but Otto gave the frog a nudge.
“It’s fine,” Otto told him. “He’s with us.”
Marc lifted the faceplate on his armor and smoke poured out. Through the haze they could see his wide grin.
“Dudes,” he said happily. “Like, I finally found you, man. Hey, did I hear you guys talking about the escape pod?”
“Yeah,” said Otto. “Looks like the princess took a powder on us, Marc.”
“Whoa,” Marc said. “She must have kidnapped Covalent Blonde, man! Like, this dead pirate told me she was in the escape pod, too!”
“It looks like we’re going to have to take a trip to Zaladon IV, guys,” he said.
“Whoo! Road trip!” Marc ran out of the captain’s cabin and clanged down the hall. Otto rolled out the door after him. Steel followed, but paused in the doorway and looked at Gribbl.
“Are you coming, or do you want to captain a ghost ship?”
Gribbl hopped up and followed Steel out into the hallway, leaving the cabin empty save for the smoldering form of Kell.
A minute passed, and then another.
Then, unseen by anyone, one of Kell’s charred fingers twitched.