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Nana’s Hog was a ship that looked like it belonged squalling in a mud pit rather than careening through space on low-level transport jobs. All ships were unique, each showing the owner’s sense of style and priority, but Nana’s Hog was a statement. Bulky, and slapped together from seven distinct kinds of hardened metal, it moved like a beast of burden at the speed of an apex predator. Its body was round, swollen even, created for carrying cargo in mass quantities rather than comfort. Two massive metal tusks were attached to the front, just below an oblong cockpit viewport, completing the image that it was indeed the fabled, flying swine.
Pilsen sat against the interior of Hog’s curved underbelly, wondering just where the hell he had gone wrong to deserve such a fate. It was a rhetorical thought. He knew where he had gone wrong, he just couldn’t put a finger on why. All through his life, Pilsen had studied at the best universities, clerked for promising political figures, and eventually run the strategic campaign that should have put him adjacent to the highest seat of political power in the galaxy. The trouble was, he backed the wrong horse.
Samuel Prog came from a good background, had been in all the right secret societies through college, and had even started several foundations. In short, he was the perfect candidate. The people had even liked him, for a time. But that was the problem with scandal, it never came where it was expected. Scandal was a force of chaos and careened out of the shadows when it damned well pleased and not a moment earlier. So, when it was revealed that one of the aforementioned secret societies had seen Samuel Prog having an unfortunate relation with the smiling mouth of a dead pig – well, it stopped the campaign’s momentum to say the least.
A month later, Lucretia LaVain, Prog’s opponent, was elected to sit in the big chair, and Pilsen was left holding the bag. That bag of course being a nagging sense of job insecurity. As it turned out, security was the wrong comfort to look for. Pilsen’s job wasn’t going anywhere, but the nature of it was. No more cocktail parties, no more entertaining the who’s who of the galaxy before important luncheons, no more private office. Lucretia had a new structure envisioned for the government and had put one of its ‘central tasks’ into Pilsen’s ultimately capable hands.
“Crabs,” muttered Pilsen. “From dinner to duty.” He wanted to weep, wanted to put his head in his hands and imagine that he was anywhere but in the belly of an interstellar hog. Closing his eyes, Pilsen took a deep breath and counted to four. Upon releasing, he opened them again. “Damn.” He was still in the cargo hold, and still staring at a thousand crates of the finest dried fish flakes the United Commission of Planets could muster. It smelled.
Hoping to distract himself with work, Pilsen turned on his tablet and began paging through what little briefing the High Office had given him on Crustacea. The origin of the planet was about as strange as they came. At the beginning of humanity’s great interstellar race, a few centuries ago, there had been a land grab. The advent of cheap, comfortable warp technology sent humanity scattering from Earth like rats off a sinking ship they had poked the holes in. Most looked for Goldilocks planets to start new colonies, form societies, and ultimately make it rich, but not all of humanity had the same priorities.
Elias Ventner, grandson of a notable occultist, spotted a planet comprised primarily of a deep sea, and with it, an opportunity. Spending what remained of his life savings, Elias built a specialty vessel for transporting marine specimens. Among many esoteric dissertations, Elias had one in particular that showed a fondness for crustaceans. ‘Humanity can never escape what was nature’s best idea, the crab. One day, we will all either become them, or be dead by their hands.’ So, naturally, Elias loaded his newly minted ship full of lobsters, crabs, and shrimp, and took off towards his blue planet.
A few days later, he dropped the lot of them in the new ocean, left a few observational materials, and named the planet Crustacea. What Elias didn’t know, is that he had just located one of the galaxy’s first recorded instances of a psychic ocean. Through a mix of radiation, cosmic energy, and what scientists could only call ‘the right vibes’, the crabs seized on their new home and grew into something extraordinary.
Fifty years after they were first dropped on the planet, the crabs used Elias’s observational technology to send a message back to the colony worlds. The message was simple: ‘We have emerged, we are the pinnacle of evolution, and we would like a seat at the table’.
Pilsen laughed to himself thinking about the audacity of a crab asking to join the UCP. Thankfully, the first president was tempered and rational. Initial calls for boiling the crabs with nukes from orbit were dismissed as reactionary, and far too costly for a new governing body. So, for the next hundred or so years, the crabs were ignored. Messages were catalogued every few months from the planet, gradually escalating to threats, but the creatures weren’t space-capable, so they were ignored.
Enter Lucretia LaVain and Pilsen’s unfortunate current position. Whether it was a joke, an assassination attempt disguised as political duty, or a passing fancy, Pilsen was on his way to Crustacea. He would be the first human ambassador sent to the planet, and the crates surrounding him were meant to be some kind of grand offering. Allegedly, the Crustaceans, so named for their planet of origin, rather than taxonomy, had responded with surprise and delight to the UCP’s offer of an ambassador. This brought Pilsen small comfort, but it was miniscule in comparison to the shame of his assignment.