Boccaccio in Outer Space
By Chet Gottfried
CAPTAIN EVEREST CRAG STARED at Angelo Cabot’s newly cloned body, which was lying on a gurney.
“Is it going to work? Angelo’s chest isn’t moving. If he isn’t breathing, your cloning failed, Lavonna, and then we’re really in deep shit.”
The alien Lavonna slowly blinked her eyes.
The captain stared at Lavonna in disbelief.
“You’re not going to hibernate on me, are you? Wake up, damn you!”
Lavonna snapped to attention, her fur bristling, and glared at the captain.
“What do you mean hibernating? Is that another one of your condescending human remarks? For your information, I don’t hibernate. I have a longer cycle than you do. Seventy-two hours on and then twenty-four for sleep. And I’ve been awake working on the cloning design for over ninety hours.”
“But is the cloning going to work?” he asked. “Angelo isn’t breathing.”
Lavonna snapped, “Of course, it isn’t going to work. That’s why I spent all this time—without sleep—designing the machinery and circuits.”
The captain rolled his eyes. Lavonna was so damn sensitive when involved in a ship project. Not that Crag could complain. Lavonna did an excellent job in maintaining their space frigate Rattlesnake, as well as being one of the most attractive alien females he had ever met. Well, perhaps she was somewhat heavy, but Lavonna tended to carry the extra weight in all the right places. However, the captain had no time for pleasantries. Their present situation involved a precise solution, one that only a modified Angelo Cabot could provide.
“Give me a straight answer, you miserable, wretched groundhog.”
Lavonna slammed the gurney and quivered. “Do I go around calling you an ape? Or a lemur? Of course not. So let’s leave my ancestors’ evolution out of the equation.”
“Stop complaining,” the captain roared, “and get to work! I need Angelo. You need him. Admiral Cartwright is depending on us, and Angelo’s the only one who can unlock the boot.”
“Who started this conversation?” Lavonna shot back and stomped in front of the captain.
“What’s that smell?” Crag asked.
“You’re sniffing the aroma of frying circuits.” Lavonna examined the wiring. “For sure, a diode failed to clamp the magnitude of the inverting input voltage. Maybe I should have used more resistors? Or a Schmitt trigger?”
“Speak English,” Crag demanded.
“I told you that cloning Angelo with special features wouldn’t be straightforward. The ICs can’t take the load no matter how I wire the contraption.”
Angelo Cabot moaned, interrupting the argument between the captain and his electronics expert. He opened his eyes, cleared his throat, and coughed.
“Where am I?”
The captain sat next to Angelo, fluffed a pillow, and helped Angelo sit up higher.
“You’re aboard the Rattlesnake. Welcome back, old friend.”
Angelo’s eyes cleared and became large.
“You!” He screamed at the captain. “Stop it! Stop slicing me! No more! I’ve had enough!”
Crag patted Angelo’s shoulder. “There, there, you’re okay now. No one wants to cut you up.”
Angelo pulled the cover up to his chin.
“That’s the last I remember. You were dicing me into pieces with your special blade. You were feeding me to—to—them!”
The captain shrugged. “Well, there’s no denying it happened, but what the hell. It was an emergency, and we had that cargo of zombie warriors to deliver to the admiral. Is it my fault that they became restive, and I needed to find something to feed them, quickly. You were the only person available. I mean, you wouldn’t expect me to feed Lavonna to them? So let’s forget the past, eh? That’s a good fellow. Did I tell you that Earth Fleet awarded you a silver galaxy, posthumously?”
“I remember the knife cutting into me. I feel it!” Angelo screamed again.
The captain squared his enormous shoulders and slapped Angelo across the face.
“Remember who you are! You’re Rear Admiral Angelo Cabot of Earth Fleet. No one is cutting you, although I have to say, the plan worked. We got the zombie warriors quiet and delivered them on schedule.” The captain paused a moment and reconsidered. “Well, you didn’t exactly escape. You were dead, but I saved one of your testicles, and Lavonna cloned you, so for all practical purposes you’re alive and well.”
Angelo looked at his covered body.
Lavonna stepped forward. “Is that the thanks I get? Do you appreciate how difficult it was to keep all of you, including your memories, intact?”
Angelo felt his face as if trying to recall all his features. His hands strayed to the top of his head.
“Give me a mirror,” he demanded.
Lavonna found and handed him one.
“I’m bald!” Angelo shrieked.
Crag nodded toward Lavonna. “Ask your favorite groundhog.”
Lavonna adjusted her baseball cap. (Worn backward, naturally. Aliens everywhere agreed that the baseball cap was humanity’s one outright contribution to galactic civilization.)
“Captain, you’re not jealous about my fling with Angelo ... although it was spectacular? That was ages ago, long before I met you. You’re the only one for me now.” Lavonna winked at Crag and wiggled ever so slightly, and the captain couldn’t prevent a foolish grin from appearing across his face. The way she filled her regulation T-shirt was also spectacular.
“Would the two of you stop whining about relationships!” Angelo yelled. “Look at me! I’m bald!”
“Some people,” Lavonna murmured, “would be happy to be alive at this point and not complain about little things like hair loss. Let me tell you, going bald can happen at any time, so why let it bother you?”
“Because I’m bald!”
“Listen, Angelo,” Lavonna said, “we’re in the middle of an emergency, and I didn’t have time to plan how to clone a full head of hair for you, but the follicles are all in place. Let your hair grow out on its own. It will, you know. I was busy with your internal organs. You might not admire a stomach or a pancreas that much, and you can’t see them in a mirror. But if either one were missing, you’d have every right to complain, since you’d be dead in short order. Your hair will grow again. Just give it a chance.”
Angelo looked mournfully at Lavonna.
“I would have thought anyone having as fine a pelt as you would understand the importance of a full head of hair.”
Lavonna waved her fists in the air. “I give up. I honestly give up. Captain, you take over. He’s your friend. I’ll be on the flight deck.”
“Hey!” Crag cried to Lavonna. “Aren’t you going to finish the job? Angelo doesn’t look ready.”
Lavonna paused by the hatchway.
“You finish. All you have to do is dump him on a wheelchair and push him to an airlock. You goddamned apes are more than a girl can take.”
Exiting, Lavonna slammed the hatch closed.
Angelo looked at Crag.
“Is it something I said?”
“No, she’s been moody ever since we got stuck in our present jam.”
“Which is ...?”
“All in good time. I’ll give you a minute to be yourself first. Look, Angelo, I knew that Lavonna was having trouble bringing you back with all your hair, so I made a wig especially for you.” He held up the wig complete with an official Earth Fleet ponytail. “See? It’s blond, just like yours used to be.”
Angelo accepted the wig and carefully put it on. “It’s a little loose.”
“Don’t swivel your head too fast, and you’ll be okay. Concentrate on how much easier the wig will be to shampoo. And Lavonna is right. Your hair will grow back. Give it time. We’ve more important matters to discuss.” Crag broke off a moment. “Why are you grimacing? Did the cloning leave a few kinks, like twitches?”
“I was trying to raise an eyebrow. You know, to simulate interest and curiosity.”
“You don’t have any eyebrows.”
“Don’t remind me! Let’s pretend. Surely you can do that much for me, considering how you diced me up to feed the zombies.”
“That was a different emergency, which we got through,” Crag said. “No one is going to carve you up this time around. We don’t even have any zombies aboard. What I need is someone clever and resourceful, someone who knows how to maneuver an escape.”
“What? We’re imprisoned?”
“Not exactly.” Crag gestured to include everything around him. “The Rattlesnake is locked inside a space garage. I needed a million light-year tuneup, which was long overdue. So we had a quiet moment, and I headed to Grimbald’s, who really has excellent prices for that sort of thing. While the work was being done, it happened.”
Captain Everest Crag groaned long and heartily. “Admiral Cartwright gave us an assignment to mine the space lanes between Deltoid4 and the Minimotta Cluster, so that the Neblungers couldn’t reinforce their troops. Deltoid4 is the key! We had finished the mining and headed for Grimbald’s. The tuneup was completed, but they caught us before we could take off.”
It was Angelo’s turn to groan. The Zeitungs were the busybodies of the galaxy and had laws about right and wrong, inasmuch as the Zeitungs were always right and everyone else was always wrong.
“They booted you?” Angelo asked.
The captain nodded sadly. “Apparently, the Minimotta Cluster is in Zeitung space, and they have a couple of laws against mining it. A Zeitung patrol ship tracked us to Grimbald’s. They didn’t dare take us on one-to-one, so they put a boot on the Rattlesnake. We’re trapped inside. The Zeitungs are bound to return with capital ships, so we have to get free before then. We’ve already spent far too long here.”
“Can’t Grimbald do anything?”
“No, he has a fleet contract with the Zeitungs, so he claims to be an innocent bystander.”
“What about blasting your way out?”
“I’ve tried, but the boot absorbs particle weapons. Shooting only makes it stronger.”
Rear Admiral Angelo Cabot squared his shoulders.
“Obviously the situation required a suitable intellect, one that only a rear admiral like myself could provide. Where are the blueprints?”
“We don’t need blueprints, only you. You’re the key. Literally.”
“Me? A literal key? You’re going to insert me into a lock?”
“You’re trying to raise your eyebrows again, Angelo, aren’t you?”
Angelo shrugged. “It’s a habit. Anyway, is that why you had Lavonna clone me?”
“Just to unlock a boot?”
Captain Crag could tell that the reason for being revived pissed off his friend. Angelo needed more of a challenge, and the captain quickly added one: “A crack squad of Neblunger commandos discovered our predicament and have taken over the garage. You’re going to have to dodge small arms fire as well as unlock the doors. Lavonna and I can provide covering fire, but it will take skill and agility of the utmost sort for you to come through this mission.”
Angelo drummed his fingers along the edge of the gurney. “But you’ll need to stay aboard to fly the Rattlesnake as soon as you’re free. No, I’ll have to go it alone.”
“It’s almost a suicide mission.”
Angelo snapped his fingers. “It’ll take more than a bunch of Neblunger thugs to stop me.”
Angelo jumped off the gurney and crumbled to the floor. He stared at what should have been his legs and screamed.
“Now, now, Angelo, it isn’t so bad. I can explain everything.”
“They’re not my legs!”
“I asked Lavonna to replace them with something better, something way better.”
“These legs don’t have any bones. They’re limp—useless!”
“Hardly useless, old friend. You’ve something every man wished he had if he had any sense. Instead of legs, you’ve two powerful tentacles, you lucky devil. Look at all those suckers on them! What fellow wouldn’t dream of tentacles? You’ll be the envy of ...” Captain Crag bent over and clapped Angelo on the shoulder. “Angelo ... Angelo? Oh shit.”
“Lavonna!” Captain Crag roared. “Get your furry ass down here!”
Angelo had fainted.
* * *
Captain Crag and Lavonna sat on opposite sides of the gurney on which the unconscious Angelo tossed and turned.
Lavonna shook her head.
“I told you to be subtle. Bring it up gently, but no, you had to go barge in as if blasting a bunch of Neblungers.”
“We don’t have time for recriminations, Lavonna. Don’t you have any ideas? I’ve already tried slapping Angelo around, but he seems to have slipped into a coma.”
“Hmm. His enhanced tentacles might be drawing too much blood, diminishing the flow to his brain, explaining why he became unconscious. However, I dealt with that by designing Angelo an enormous ass, which is actually a blood reservoir. One of those little touches I excel at, like his navel. Have you noticed?” Lavonna licked her lips. “I’ve given Angelo a deeper navel, along with extra muscle control. Just like what you have.”
The captain pounded the gurney, causing Angelo to bounce up and down.
“Can’t you forget your perversions until we get out of here?”
Lavonna lashed her tail. “That’s not what you said when I was licking your navel.”
“Wake Angelo up!” Crag roared.
“Well, if that’s all you want.” Lavonna bit Angelo’s index finger. Hard.
“Ouch!” Angelo opened his eyes, sat up, shook his hand, and glared at the captain and Lavonna in turn. “Was that necessary? Well, maybe it was. I was having a nightmare. First being devoured by zombies and then losing my legs.” He chuckled. “You told me that you turned my legs into tentacles.” He looked anxiously at Lavonna and Crag. “Please tell me it isn’t true.”
“It isn’t true,” Lavonna said.
“The little rodent is lying,” Crag stated. “Look, Angelo, we don’t have time to lie. I told you we need you to unlock the space boot—now.”
“I can’t even walk,” Angelo moaned.
“That’s why we brought you a wheelchair. And once you’re outside in zero-G, your jetpack will zoom you to the boot. You don’t need legs. You need super tentacles to open the locks.”
“What kind of locks are you two talking about?”
Lavonna took a deep breath and sighed, sticking out her chest, to the admiration of both men. “Zeitung boot tech, and remarkably clever, or so they thought. A Zeitung boot has two keyholes and requires simultaneous key insertion and turning. That’s tough enough with keys, which we don’t have. Now you know why your tentacles have sensitive (and delightful) tiny suckers. You have to jiggle the tumblers to trigger the release and unfasten the boot, which also opens the space doors.”
Angelo scratched his head. “What’s the big deal about lock picking? Even if it does call for a little coordination. That’s standard training, not to mention the Earth Fleet Step Dancing Competition of ’97.” Out of the entire culture of the 21st century, only Irish Step Dancing, reality TV shows, and Mother’s Day had survived. Space Fleet favored step dancing for developing eye-foot coordination. “Remember? Crag had the best record. Let’s see. He scored ...?”
“Nine-point-seven,” Crag snapped. “How could you forget? I beat you by five-tenths of a point.”
“This is different,” Lavonna explained. “It’s more than coordination. The locks are two meters apart and have sensors to determine whether the tumblers are tripped in the proper sequence.”
“I tried,” Crag admitted. “I couldn’t reach across the locks and insert my hands deep enough to do anything.” He blushed. “Embarrassing, isn’t it?”
“What makes you think I could do any better?” Angelo asked.
“I gave you three-meter-long tentacles. They’re not only long, powerful, and sensitive but also have the same neural pathways. What you do with one, you achieve automatically with the other. See? Your suckers will give you feedback to find the correct combination.”
“What kind of feedback?”
“A gentle, little sting if you make a mistake.”
Angelo appeared apprehensive. “How little?”
“You’ll hardly notice,” Lavonna assured him.
“What’s a little pain to an officer of Space Fleet,” the captain roared. “Lavonna, you’re too soft. I told you that if it doesn’t feel like his tentacle is burning off, he’ll never notice.”
Angelo nodded weakly.
Lavonna turned to an instrument panel and made a few adjustments. And then she faced the two men and smiled.
“He’ll notice now.”
“We’re talking about boot locks,” Angelo stated. “That’s cold metal in colder space, which is hardly an inspiration.”
“Hey!” Lavonna cried. “Who’s the engineer? You or me? I’ve installed heat packs next to the locks, so that the interior temperature of each is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Unless you prefer Celsius? You humans can be so confusing at times. OK, that’s 37 degrees. Happy now?”
“Lubricant? I wouldn’t want to get any friction sores.”
“No problem. Your tentacles have a built-in slime factor. Scratch your left armpit, and the pores I bioengineered will start oozing.”
Angelo threw the covers off himself and pointed at his tentacles.
“Look at me. They’re long and maybe strong, but they haven’t been properly warmed up. I couldn’t stand on them, and I can hardly move them. How am I supposed to manage?”
The captain looked at Lavonna, and Lavonna looked at the captain.
“The rear admiral needs a massage,” Lavonna said. “Let’s get his blood flowing.”
Captain Crag worked on the left tentacle while Lavonna handled the right.
“Ahhhhhh,” Angelo sighed. “This is what Earth Fleet is all about.” He surveyed their work with satisfaction and waggled his tentacles. “I’m an iron man!”
“Great!” Crag picked up Angelo and dumped him onto the wheelchair. “We need you outside.”
Angelo looked at him in disbelief. “You’re not stopping the massage already? That’s not fair.” He curled a tentacle. “See? My circulation is slowing down, and my left tentacle is beginning to lose flexibility. Maybe Lavonna can do something more?”
The captain began pushing the wheelchair forward. “Follow us,” he yelled to Lavonna. “I need you to help suit him up.” He wheeled Angelo along the central gangway.
“You’re not listening,” Angelo complained. “I’ll never be able to get enough blood in them to stay agile.”
“I already thought of that,” the captain panted. “I installed a video to play on the visor of your spacesuit. Remember when Lavonna won the Earth Fleet Wet T-shirt contest?”
“I remember.” Angelo smiled dreamily. “They put her on the calendar that year—in 3-D. What about a dramatic reenactment?”
“Why me?” Lavonna pouted. “Surely you can do better? Hey! What about the video of you getting high, Captain? You reversed the gravity and had us stuck on the ceiling for an hour.”
“Be serious, Lavonna. We don’t need laughs. We need warmth, and nothing like a hot female to inspire a man. That’s what we always say in Earth Fleet.”
“You won’t forget to pick me up afterward?” Angelo asked.
“Of course not,” the captain grunted. “What do you think I am? Earth Fleet never leaves anyone behind.”
“I’m getting muscle cramps,” Angelo observed.
Lavonna jumped onto the wheelchair and began a lap dance to stimulate Angelo while Crag kept pushing.
“Hey!” Crag said. “Lavonna, you’re supposed to be inspiring his tentacles, not his other parts.”
“Relax,” she cried, “I know what I’m doing.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“What about the covering fire?” Angelo asked. “Is Lavonna coming outside with me?”
“I lied about that,” the captain admitted. “There aren’t any Neblunger commandos.”
“No commandos? You know how disappointing that—” but Angelo didn’t finish because Lavonna pulled her T-shirt off. “That’s it,” he screamed. “I’m ready, more than ready!”
Crag pushed, Lavonna danced, and Angelo flexed his tentacles.
“Almost there ...!”
* * *
“Should we have told him?” Lavonna asked.
The captain shook his head. “Naw. Why spoil his fun?”
They were both in their chairs on the flight deck after having sent Angelo Cabot on his way to the boot.
“He assumed the space boot had clamps along one side,” Lavonna said, “and the device would uncouple up or down, left or right. It never occurred to Angelo that the boot splits off down the middle, both halves opening in opposite directions. With Angelo inserted all the way, the powerful release would tear him apart.”
Although the Rattlesnake was as soundproof as any space frigate in Earth Fleet, the captain and Lavonna heard the horrendous scream of Angelo being rent in half.
“I guess he got the boot off.”
Captain Everest Crag punched the ignition button and switched his ship into low gear. “Did you keep any cells in order to clone another Angelo?”
“Yeah. We could make another. How many tentacles would you like next time?”
“His suckers were interesting,” Crag admitted, “but maybe we should stick with legs.”
“Are you sure?” Lavonna asked.
“Not really, but let’s wait a little before deciding.” The Rattlesnake put-putted out of the space garage. “We’ll wait and see what sort of mission Admiral Cartwright has in store for us first.”
Chet Gottfried has been a freelancer for forty years, writing fantasy, science fiction, and horror. He’s an active member of SFWA. He has a novel, “The Steel Eye,” published by Space & Time. His website features wildlife photos, cartoons, and games.