Flash Fiction Contest Winner #36 – “Zapping Critters”

Please note: Flash fiction stories are submitted by members of our Discord server. Many contain adult themes and may be objectionable to some readers.

“Zapping Critters”

“Ever seen a critter before?”
     Gollus snapped out of her trance, staring down from the ceiling’s cramped latticework of pipes and metal. The black visored glare of Lanb stared back.
     Gollus rubbed her eyes, her visor still open. “What? I mean, yeah. They showed us pictures in training.”
     “Pictures.” Lanb tapped her zap-prod against the grimy floor, spitting the word like a piece of old gum. “Management used to give us live demonstrations, and proper target practice. You only get good at zapping critters when you feel your prod dusting them. Now…” Lanb shook her head. “Pictures. Slide shows. Damn management. Damn you soft shelled shinies.”
     Ashamed, Gollus looked down. “Sorry.”
     “You can be sorry by keeping quiet and doing what I say. Put your visor down and get in.”
     Gollus obliged, and the two stepped inside the elevator. With the click of a button, the metal box began its rattling descent into the star freighter’s lower, less trodden levels. The light inside was stronger, reflecting off the dark protective plating of their exosuits. The tips of their zap-prods hummed with energy.
     Lanb nudged their rookie partner. “Do you even know why you’re going down here?”
     “Well, critters need zapping, right?”
     “No!” Lanb banged her prod, and Gollus flinched. “You know why we have to be down here? Why are there even critters at all?”
     Gollus readjusted herself as she considered the question. “No… but some other trainees said they were an experiment gone wrong. Bioweapons, or something.”
     “No.” Lanb chuckled. “That’s an insult to science. They’re just a miracle of the worst kind.”
     Gollus stayed silent.
     Lanb continued. “Hundreds of generations ago, this star freighter, the RCS Eminence, was out near the outer spirals on a star hunt. They rolled up on an eight planet system, with a yellow star about halfway through its lifespan. Reports said no intelligent life, so no moral issues. Jackpot.
     “They start harvesting. About halfway through the harvest, the third planet starts blasting cruddy rockets at Eminence. Apparently, life there knew a thing or two about combustibles. Well, for some reason, the brass up top thought it’d be funny to see the rockets explode off the hull. And for some reason, the rockets didn’t blow up. They burrowed deep.”
     The elevator came to a grinding stop. Lanb placed a hand on Gollus’s shoulder. “These freighters are big as planets. By the time a scouting team got down here, the critters were too spread out and too stuck in, all over the junk levels. We can’t purge them without damaging the ship, cutting into profits. They breed faster than we can dust, and breathe the same air as us. All we can do is make sure they stay down here, where they belong.
     Gollus shivered. “They sound pretty smart. You sure we can’t reason with them?”
     Lanb held her prod towards the elevator door. “Critters only got two goals: spread and survive. That’s all they’re good at. Unfortunately, they’re really good at both.”
The door groaned open, and the sweetly cloying fragrance of rot burst through the cracks. Outwards, the hallway’s electrical lights were out, replaced by the sputtering wall fires that sent wavy shadows along the constricted surfaces.
     Gollus gagged, and Lanb tapped her visor. Two headlamp beams flashed out. “Stay sharp,” she said, and stepped into the hallway.
     Trembling, Gollus squeezed her prod and stepped out of the elevator.
     A piercing scream tore through the air, like the grind of steel meshed with raw meat. A pale, gangly shape leapt down from the pipes above. It passed as a whir, and suddenly, Gollus was on the ground, pressed beneath a set of striking green eyes and gnashing jaws lined with crooked, blunt teeth.
     Lanb spun and drove her prod into the critter’s soft flesh. The critter’s body erupted with blue light, and for a moment Lanb’s face was visible beneath her visor: familiar, bulging black compound eyes on a chitinous, small face, dotted by two small antennas above clacking mandibles. In the next, the light faded, and the critter’s form fell into dust.
     An echoing, meaty bellow rolled from around the hallway corner, followed by the clatter of many footsteps.
     Lanb pulled Gollus to their feet as the elevator closed behind them. Together, the two charged into the dark.