Sunday, June 13, 2010


There are limits to the use of growth treatments, and Bill had certainly found it. His body bubbled with giant, tumors of muscle. His frame was huge to begin with - large bones, great height - but with these growths of pure strength, he was a titan. A titan with a door problem.

You see, we hired Bill for his height and strength - ever ship needs a strong man - but we had no idea that he was in the middle of his treatments. I mean, he barely fit through the bulkhead doors when he came aboard. With all that extra mass, he'd get stuck on a frequent basis.

That was just one reason we went through a lot of cooking oil on my boat. Bill also ate - and ate. Not surprising, really, while his body seems to be metastasizing. First, there's the fuel needed while growing. Then more fuel needed just to support all  new mass. We're talking about the three to four adult-sized portions per meal.

The meal count did very, though. While on that particular growth treatment, frequent side-effects include depression, particularly around one's appearance. Growing muscle is great, if you can afford the targeted treatments. That requires clinic visits, close growth measurements, targeted carcinogen injections. Do it right, and you look like Greek statuary, only with four times the muscle, and twice the perfection.

Do it yourself, and you look like Bill. You know, you've got quite a few muscles in your face, fifty-two of them, in fact. Let those grow four or five times as big, and without any shaping, then you've got cauliflower face. You sure as hell aren't going to be the muscle bound hulk on the beach, getting the pretty girl in the tiny bikini.

Bill had personality, though, so maybe, just maybe he could. If he could find a girl who likes guns, grenades, beating a man about the head, and, occasionally - when the conditions are right - maybe ripping a guy's arm off.

We had a quiet couple of months, floating out there on the outer rim. We made a few solid shipments, a few dubious ones, and one passenger delivery - a legit one, too: we don't deal with slave trading on my ship. The only real action those muscles had seen was moving crates and shoveling spoonfuls of protein.

We were in port, and along comes this deal: we just need to deliver a girl one system over. The one catch being that we have to take the slow route - she's horrible sensitive to hyperspace. I had heard about a case or two of this - from very reliable sources, I swear - so I had no reason to doubt the story. We verified her papers - no slave trade - the money's was good, so we took it. Brought her on board, gave her a berth and we were off into the Dark.

Now, I must admit, we don't do the most thorough job of checking papers. The man who brought her along said he was her uncle, and was sending her back to her father. Her papers looked fine, his papers looked fine. But papers, being papers, can be bought, sold, copied, manipulated, what have you. These papers fell into that later category.

We were just a couple days out of port, past the moons, into the outer orbits, when we get hailed. Big ship, black, sleek, something that can cut through the Dark as a laser does. There was an very angry man, with a very loud and angry voice on the other end of the comm. He's says, we've got something that belongs to him, and we should just go ahead and give it back.

I asked my new angry friend what we could possibly have that is his, and he respond that it's the girl. He replies that he's her father, and he wants her back. He continues with the accusation of us slave-trading, for starters, and follows up with a more charges of less-than-reputable dealings.

Well, as captain who's trying to protect the reputation of the ship as one of a proper transport, I told him how sorry I am about the misunderstanding, that every thing looked legitimate, and that we can raft up to make the transfer.

All the while - I admit, I was more preoccupied with ship-goings-ons then really paying attention to the emotional well-being of my crew[1] - Bill had taken a shine to this girl, and she seemed to be fascinated by him. I can only assume that she did not grow up around the ports, where giants of Bill's nature are plentiful. Of course, giants aren't generally welcome in polite society either. Less because of their looks, and more due to their use of profanities, and lack of door-fitting-through-ness.

The girl talked to Bill, all the time. Asked him questions about his muscles, the treatments. What it was like in vacuum? How'd they get a suit big enough[2]? What was his favorite thing about being on this ship? Bill ate it up. Looking back on it, I do remember seeing him smiling a lot more. It's sometimes hard to tell on first glance, given his face, but he happier.

We had rafted up with this black shark and had linked up for the transfer. Angry man, and a couple of very unpleasant looking thugs came on board to collect. I met them there, and was going to take them over to the passenger berths, when along comes Bill with the girl right behind him.

My first thought was, I better be sure to give him the nicer protein meals tonight, as this unexpectedly voluntary of him. Second glances told otherwise: Bill was armored, oiled up, and armed to the teeth.

Given that it's not such a big boat, word must have gottten back to our passenger that she was going to be transferred off. She then must have followed up said knowledge and told Bill all about it. As a result, here he was, standing in front of her, playing big, protective bear.

The transfer room, where our side port is located is small. It's only meant for small, in-flight exchanges, like people or small payloads. Anything big should go through the main cargo bay. Bill filled the space of the door when he was in a T-shirt, but with armor, he seemed to fill the whole room.

I did not like being in between those thugs and Bill, since I was quite sure there was going to be some serious unpleasantness about to unfold. Especially since one of the thugs looked quite twitchy, with a lot of twitchy glances down to his side arm.

Bill knows well one of my main rules on the boat: no guns. There's not much between us and the Dark, and punching holes in the hull was something I really wanted to avoid. Bill does not like to arrive unarmed to a fight, though so he has a series of weapons just for such on-ship engagements.

The thug twitched: he went for his side arm, and was impaled by a lightning jab of Bill's make-shift spear. The thug's hand snapped instead to the spear's shaft protruding from his belly.

The second thug was able to draw and fire, hitting Bill dead center in the chest. The echo of the gunshot was deafening in the small compartment, and the sound of the girl's scream was muffled in my ears.

Bill didn't even glance down at the bullet peaking out from his armor. One advantage of all that growth, it was pretty hard to feel a thing, when the bullet doesn't even penetrate skin. The other, he couldn't fall down easily, being wedged in that doorway. 

Given his spear was occupied, Bill just snaked his hand out and grabbed the thug by the gun hand. He twisted, and pulled in one swift motion. The popping sound was, thankfully, also muffled. Still holding the now dislocated arm, he pulled the thug into and embrace. More cracks and pops and the thug fell like a rag doll.

The first thug had stopped fingering the spear protruding from his belly and finally pulled his gun. Not being one to sit idly by while someone needlessly fires bullets at my bulkhead or my crew, I just dropped down on the spear shaft. The thug screamed and then stopped with the sound of a wet smack, as Bill had stepped forward and given him one solid punch.

Angry man had run back into his ship, and Bill pursued. There followed yet another cracking sound, only this time it was the ship. They were pulling away from the transfer joint. I had only time dive from the room, and seal the emergency bulkhead.

This left Bill over on that black shark, which, frankly, was not good for her crew. I headed back up to the bridge to assess the damage on our end, and finally hail the other ship. It took quite while, but I finally got an answer. It went a little something like this:

"Call off your dog! Call of your dog!"

Sound of gunfire.

Static sizzle.

I was pretty sure that Bill had taken care things and would be ready come home when a large portion of the port bulkhead on that black shark blew out. The ship listed off in the opposite direction in response. My only guess: Bill's penchant for grenades.

I hailed over again, trying to get Bill. He finally answered, breathing heavily.

"Looks like I screwed up, Cap."

"You went a bit crazy there, Bill, but we'll try to get you home."

"Nah, Cap, this piece of crap is venting air pretty fast. Not much time. Just get the girl home, OK?"

"Sure thing, Bill. You did good, Bill."

"Thanks, Cap. Sorry about the transfer port."

With that, he hung up. Not much for words, our poor titan. Not like his captain, at least.

Turned out, the girl was a slave, and the angry guy on the black shark was her owner. Her real family had spent a tidy sum to get her away and back home. The business about her being sensitive to hyperspace was just to keep us off the radar and out of the jump gate computers.

Thanks to that giant, we got her home.

[1] Not to say that I don't pay attention to my crew, I'm just more attentive when they're down. A clean-running ship has need of a clean-running crew.

Do you think we'd still have Bill, if I hadn't stepped in during one of his depressive episodes, and suited up, walked out into the Dark, and tried to eat our one defensive canon? Poor bastard didn't think about the fact that he couldn't fire the thing from outside, but we still had to talk him back on board.

[2] It took two suits and a special helmet that we bought for emergencies when transporting live animals.

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