Space is pleasantly devoid of butterfly wings and hurricanes.
Unfortunately, that doesn't mean there aren't enough insignificant things to go muck around with larger more important things. Say like this tiny micro-meteorite that came from, well, it doesn't really matter does it. It may be a cooling ember of the Big Bang or the sad remains of a once verdant world destroyed by its own anger.
Or it could be a bit of hardened mucus flung from the quickly opened canopy of a long-haul freighter near Tarus VII.
But let's not focus on that possibility
Suffice to say that this small item was moving at a relatively brisk pace. Granted, in space, where everything is relative, that's a bit redundant, but OW! Ok, ok.
Where was I? Oh, right, the high-speed intergalactic booger. As I was saying, when little bits moving at very high speeds collide with other, larger things, such as this asteroid, they carry a goodish bit of energy, despite their size. Although several ounces of matter being converted into its component atoms is quite impressive to watch, the resulting effect on the larger object struck is usually minimal. But if the errant booger hits the asteroid just so, at just the right time, it could be enough to slightly alter the asteroid's orbit.
Years pass, and suddenly our little asteroid is now hurtling along the gravity well of a very much larger planet, picking up a considerable speed of its own. It narrowly skirts the gas giant's upper atmosphere, reemerging just above escape velocity.
Fortunately, for the one inhabited planet of this solar system, the several megaton asteroid is not on a collision course. Most people won't even notice it.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the automated jamming probe that had, up until that point, been operating in a particular region of space which now found itself full of asteroid.
It's amazing, really. Design something that can withstand the rigors of space and most any form of energy attack, and it just crumples when you hit it with a hypersonic mass the size of New Jersey.
Still more amazingly, that was not the worst of it.
Nor was it even close to the worst, when a faint signal from a distant star found its way through now unjammed space and into the Earth's SETI relay system. Once the hole was detected, various members of SETI quickly took down the [email protected] network, lest a large number of unwanted positives begin to appear on people's screen savers. The last thing that "Save Earth from The Invaders" would want to do is spark panic among the population.
It was getting a bit warmer when Michel Delving, working one very late morning for his doctorate in Music Videography, pumped a few idle packets from SETI through his video processor and discovered something both alarming, and a bit disturbing.
Disaster was starting to hot up rather nicely when Mr. Delving decided that the only way this could be truly appreciated would be to create a website displaying the results of his remarkable find.
Planet Shattering Terror has many faces, and is always willing to appear in yet another form. In this case it appeared as Roger, nearly breathless from laughter, staggering into the Galactic Customs mess, and after several fits of near hysterics, finally blurted out, "Rhino, you have GOT to come see this..."
"Where did you find this?" Rhino asked.
Roger had regained enough composure to speak. "I was checking out some of the news groups and reading one called alt.what.the. They post up all sorts of unusual things, and this link was one of them. There, it's loaded again."
The image was small, about three inches by three inches, and bits of it were black due to signal loss. But enough of it was there to make out a small girl, dressed in a frilly dress accentuated with delightful pink metal spikes. She was all ribbons, curls and chain mesh as she smiled, sang and danced a few little steps.
"I can't make out what she's saying, turn up the volume." Rhino said.
Roger slid the control higher.
"On the go-oo-ood ship, Con-tu-sion
It's a swe-ee-eet place, to bruise some-one
Where num-chuks play,
And beat folks senseless all day..."
Playback stopped, not because it was the end of the video, but because a very large wrench now protruded from the middle of the screen. Rhino and Roger peeked out of their respective hiding places to see a very traumatized Philoxia Unpronounceable pointing to where the screen once was. Her arm was shaking.
"Wh- WH- WHERE DID YOU GET THAT!!"
Without waiting for an answer, she turned and ran out of the room and down the main hall. Somewhere a door slammed violently shut. Which was particularly noteworthy as all the doors on this level of the GC complex slid open and closed silently.
Roger and Rhino looked at each other, in equal parts perplexed and confused.
Did I mention that some catastrophes occur on a very personal level?
Carla knocked quietly at the bulkhead. "Phil? Honey? It's me. Carla."
"Go Away," came the muffled response.
"No, Phil. C'mon we're friends, right?"
There was a pause. "Yeah."
"And friends talk, right?"
"You're not going to embarrass me, are you?" Phil asked in a tender voice. It surprised Carla. Phil was always the self-assured one. To put it mildy.
"No," Carla said firmly. "I just want to talk to you, and find out what's wrong."
After a few seconds, the door's pressure seal released. Carla hefted the door out of the way and went into the dark room. She had never been in Phil's room before and didn't really know what to expect. It was dark, so she gave her eyes a chance to adjust to the minimal lighting.
Carla had expected Phil's room to look much like the hanger where she spent most of her time. There should have been grease smeared clothes strewn over stark metal chairs, tables weighed down with spare parts, and huge dents in the wall where Phil's temper had gotten the better of her.
She couldn't have been more wrong.
Phil's room was decorated in stuffed toys, dolls and various other "pretty" things. Ok, so some of the cuddly furry toys had huge fangs and bulging muscles, and the posters on her wall featured the covers to some of her favorite sado-romance novels like "Welts in the Summer Rain" and "True Concussions" but if you ignored that... ok, if you really really tried to ignore the fact that there was a bare chested muscular man being beaten with a metal bar by a woman in a flowing, diaphanous gown... and the cute cuddly what-the-heck-is-that and is that felt gore stuck to it's teeth?... Focus Carla, Focus! Anyway if you IGNORED all of that, it was the room you expected any young woman far away from home to have.
Phil lay curled up on her bed clutching her pillow close to her face. Occaisionally a muffled sob leaked through. Carla sat on the bed next to her and let her compose herself a bit. Okay, let both of them compose themselves a bit...
"You think you've put it all behind you...," Phil sobbed.
"Leave what behind?"
Phil looked up with tear-stained eyes. She had smudges around her eyes which Carla almost took for mascara, until she remembered Phil had spent the morning up to her neck in water-soluble grease working on the transport.
"Oh, Phil," Carla said as she could feel her heart go out to the woman, "C'mon, you need to talk this out. I promise I won't tell anyone outside this room... Look, would it help if I told you something embarrassing about myself?"
"No, you don't have to.."
"I think maybe it will. When I was in high school, I got a part as a dancer in our high school play. We were doing a production of 'Grease', which meant I had to do a ton of routines. Well, it was my first real time on stage and I had been practicing really, really hard getting everything right. Mostly because the routines required a lot of timing. I had to do all these flips and pirouettes, I even had to do a couple of hand springs across the stage, I mean it was really involved stuff. Best of all, I got to dance with Enrique Marsala who was, well, a major babe. So along comes opening night and I'm out there trying my absolute best to be perfect, I do my first number and the crowd went wild. They were whistling and clapping and a few were even standing. I was incredibly pumped, I was floating on air. Of course, then came the second number and I had to go out again. Folks were absolutely loving it, even Enrique stopped to just watch me. I wrapped up, and even did a little curtsey before I left the stage. It was fantastic, right up until Maria Sanchez told me that I had forgotten to wear any pants under my skirt."
Phil's eyes grew huge before she burst out laughing. Carla just shrugged.
"You realize that if you tell anyone here about that, I will have to kill you."
Phil and Carla laughed a bit more. "Now, Phil, what do you have that's worse than that?"
Phil wiped away the tears. "I.. I guess it's kinda silly. Hang on a second." Phil got up and walked over to her closet. She unlocked a floor safe and pulled out a dusty album. It was packed with newspaper clippings."
She stood in front of Carla with the album and looked at her. "You promise not to tell anyone else?" Phil said, still not fully trusting.
Carla looked at Phil with a light-hearted stern look. "So long as you don't blab about 'Sweet-Cheeks Scot.'"
Phil smiled and sat down next to Carla again. She opened the album. In it were pictures of a little girl in big curls. If Carla had seen the video, she would have instantly recognized the girl.
"When I was growing up," Phil started, "I was in show business. Only it really wasn't show business... Here, watch this." Phil touched a spot on the edge of one of the "photographs", and it started to play like a video. The little girl was singing in front of a small, seated crowd of people. A few started smiling as the little girl sang and danced.
"Oh, that's so cute!"
Phil sighed. "Oh Maker, I know. I was such a failure."
Carla looked at Phil in surprise. "What? No, no you weren't! Look, those people are happy, they like you!"
Phil rolled her eyes. "Carla, on my world, we used to torture criminals by having little girls sing like this. Eventually it was banned in favor of a simple trepanning, but for a while, it was all the rage. I was the worst K-Girl they had."
"K-Girl?" Carla asked.
"Kawaii-Girl. We borrowed the concept from your planet's Japanese torture films. The graphic films with the large-eyed humanoinds with blue and pink hair. We had to tone them down, of course. The first one was considered far too cruel. The survival ratio was nearly nonexistent."
"Of course, my Mother figured that if she couldn't make a profit at home, she could try off-planet, so I was packed up and did the show circuit for ten years as 'Little Suzy Church'," Phil flipped through more press clippings and showbills in languages Carla had no idea how to read. "I guess I did pretty well, but it was humiliating to go on stage and not even get a whimper."
Phil closed the album. "Eventually, I could no longer be called 'Little'. That didn't stop Mom from trying, though." The pictures near the end of the album showed a much older girl, in many respects still in the same short cute outfit. "My audience consisted of little old females and pedophiles. As soon as I could, I got out of there and I joined GC. When they asked if I had a preference about where they'd send me, I said, 'As far away from here as I can.' And here I am."
"And if you tell ANYONE that, you're dead."
Carla looked at Phil with a squinted eye, then spat in her palm and held it out, "Deal."
Phil looked at Carla's hand, then cautiously spat in her own palm and shook Carla's. Carla smiled broadly, "You know, I always wanted to do that. I saw them do this in old westerns, and you know something?"
"It's really gross."
"Is this the house?" Roger asked.
"1104 Seaton. Yeah, that's it, all right," Jack said.
"Well, I suppose that we should get this over with. I still don't understand what the big deal is..."
Suddenly, they heard a surprised yelp. Jack and Roger turned toward the house and saw someone, presumably Mr. Delving, land with an uncomfortably hard-sounding thud in the middle of the yard as Phil strode inside. Delving quickly (well, relatively quickly, considering his girth) got to his feet and began complaining loudly that whoever Phil was, she was not invited in. Moments later Phil reappeared with a CPU in her hand. Delving's complaints increased forecfully when he saw her standing in the doorway holding the large metal box.
He stopped complaining, however, when she punched her bare fist through the thin sheet metal and ripped the hard drive out.
"Mr. Delving? I'm from the RIAA. Is this the only copy of the copyrighted video you possess?"
"What do you thing you're AAAHH!"
This last complaint became a howl when Phil began wadding up the drive like a flimsy yoghurt container.
Roger dove for the door handle in a desperate attempt to salvage the situation. Jack put his hand Roger's shoulder. "No Roger, I think it's best to leave this one to Phil."
"Are you insane? Jack, this is hardly the quiet, planned disk failure we had in mind. I know we need to remove the data, but Phil's..."
"She's doing fine, Roger. Oh, and I'd recommend that you forget everything you saw as well."
Delving was screaming, almost hysterically. "You can't DO that! That's personal property!"
"Yes, and the copyright holder requested that we see to it that you no longer distribute copies of it." Phil replied
Delving crossed his arms in defiance. "And just who is the copyright holder?"
Phil stepped over to him, grabbed him by the front of his "Fark" T-shirt, and easily lifted Delving two inches off the ground.
"I am. Now, I'm going to ask you again. Is that the only copy you had... or are you going to make me angry?"
Delving nodded fiercely. Had his head been larger, it probably would have fallen off.
"Good. I appreciate your assistance." Phil said. She dropped Delving and walked back towards the van.
Roger gulped. "Jack?"
"I have no idea what video you're talking about. I've never seen any video! I'm not even sure I know what the word video means!!" Roger grew increasingly frantic as Phil drew closer to the van. She was walking very calmly, which was several orders of magnitude more frightening than when she was storming around like an angry polar bear.
"HIDE ME!!!" Roger pleaded and scrambled into the glovebox.
Phil opened the door to the van and got inside. She leaned back heavily into the seat as she put her hands behind her head and rested her foot against the dashboard. Roger let out a muffled groan as the glovebox lid pressed in slightly.
Phil smiled. "Thanks, Jack. I needed that."
Jack smiled and started the engine. The van pulled away from the whimpering Delving, who was desperately trying to straighten the twisted metal ball back into a hard drive.
"Say, Jack? Where's Roger?"
A faint whimper came from inside the glovebox.
"In total denial."
Phil smiled again. "Good."