Joke's On You

By Celeste Harte

 

Sensors — calibrated. Area — cleared. R’duni — totally unsuspecting. Aleila checked the messages on her communicator, then smirked.

From her hiding place behind an asteroid, she could see R’duni’s flyer slowly tread past the limits of the Badlands. Always the cautious one.

As anticipated, a message soon appeared on Aleila’s communicator.

Are you there?

Aleila, you know I don’t like coming here, there are all kinds of unknown lifeforms wandering around all the time. Now come on out. What did you want to talk about, anyway?

Aleila, of course, completely ignored them all, laughing as finally an audio transmission came through, R’duni’s voice on the other end.

“Aleila? Are you there? If this is a joke, it isn’t funny. You know we’re not supposed to be here. Quit fooling around, there’s been reports of an influx of Dgalian raiders, we’ll both be toast if they find us outside of the safe zones.”

Actually, Aleila was glad R’duni brought up those reports. It would make the next part all the more believable.

The Dgalia star system was full of all kinds of gas giants. The raider ships coming from there always had traces of those gases coming off their ships wherever they went — the first sign of their approach.

So, Aleila, being the chem major that she was…

Flipping a couple switches and initiating a few controlled gas leaks, she coated her ship in the “stink” of the raider people. None too soon, because R’duni was now close enough to pick Aleila’s ship up on her sensors. But Aleila was fast enough to start working on scrambling the signals her ship gave off, so R’duni wouldn’t recognize the ship as hers unless she outright saw it with her own eyes.

Another audio transmission.

Even stoic R’duni had a little panic in her voice now. “Aleila, if you’re there, we have to get out of here. I think a Dgalian ship is nearby. Answer me!”

Once the transmission ended, Aleila had to hold in the laughter as she started an encrypted transmission of her own, the new voice-warping technology she bought working perfectly to mimic the gruff voices of the Dgalians. “I am…” Aleila scrambled for a name. It would be just her luck to plan everything out only to trip up at the name. “Ferusof the Great, and you will surrender your ship.”

As soon as the message was sent, Aleila broke into a fit of cackles.

“This is R’duni Chartamo of the AF3 star region, I don’t mean any trouble. If you scan my ship, you’ll see I don’t have hardly anything aboard, I’m just looking for my friend.”

Aleila leaned forward. “Oh really? I don’t believe you. People of the AF3 star region are known for their superior camouflage technology. You could be hiding all kinds of valuable finds. So I suggest your immediate surrender!”

Messing with some more controls, Aleila spread the gases so that R’duni would assume the “Dgalian” ship was getting backup.

“Aleila, wherever you are, you have to get the hell out of here, a raider ship is here, and I’m detecting possibly more — oh no.”

Aleila frowned at that last part.

“Shit. Aleila, please come out, we’ve got even bigger problems now.”

Aleila watched as R’duni’s ship powered up turbo engines — she was getting ready to book it. Confused, Aleila looked at her own sensors, having completely ignored them once R’duni’s ship appeared. Dread slid down her throat.

They were no longer alone in this little asteroid field in the badlands.

The joke wasn’t funny anymore. This wasn’t what Aleila wanted at all. All those times she ignored the warnings and came here before — nothing like this ever happened to her. She’d come to ignore the warnings and turn them into legends.

 

And now they weren’t.

She came out from behind the asteroid and started her own turbo engines, then flipped on the communicator — no tricks this time. “R’duni, run!”

“Aleila? What have you—”

But they were too late.

Faster than either of them could react to, one of the unknown lifeforms R’duni warned about emerged from the depths of space; a Silencing Creature. And Aleila soon discovered how it got its name.

First, you saw it. Gaping jaw, teeth lining its mouth, wriggling its huge, pale form as it squirmed its way through space and towards you. A sea creature of the stars.

Then you didn’t. A blur of motion that Aleila had to watch tearing through R’duni’s ship and reducing it to shrapnel in seconds, metal and glass floating away and littering space in its wake.

Then it came for you, and you screamed, desperately wishing you had turned back while you still could.

And finally, in a mess of teeth, roaring, and metal, you were silenced.

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