Our flight was delayed, so we were marooned for an overnight stopover on the Hub Port orbiting Planet Exxen. No private room to settle into, so the spacious lounge area it had to be, with ten dozen other stranded souls. It was tolerable but I found a trio of rounded tables next to one of the huge panorama windows. ‘Settle yourselves here,’ I told my little group, ‘and I’ll fetch you a trolleyful of snacks and drinks.’ I’m like a real mother to them. I expect it’s my feminine charm. ‘There’s a variety of foods from the four main planetary systems hereabouts, and drinks from half-way across the cluster. Now then, any specific preferences? Okoi… okoi… one at a time…’
I took their requests. ‘Back in a couple of shakes of an Obci’s ding-dongs,’ I said, and left them to enjoy the terrific views of the dawn light spreading across Exxen, five hundred kay below.
They were quiet enough when I returned; beautifully-behaved, in fact. Politely helping themselves to the stacked-high treats-trolley, and relaxing calmly in the face of the inevitable. ‘We’ll be gone on the morrow; until then, let’s think of it as being free of care, hmm?’
Others around the lounge were snuggling down, their flights the same – delayed or missed or over-booked. Kids and families, party types on holidays; business groups or a henty party; and singles here and everywhere of all hues, shapes and tentacle counts. From planets dark, or moons so bright they’d burn your eyes; oceans of silver, or airborne clouds, the stranded passengers in this multi-lounge reflected them all. We had a quiet little game of seeing who knew which was who and where from. And how they managed to breed – but I had to put a dampener on that direction after a few minutes.
Just one pack was living it up. ‘Nerves pre-flight,’ I kindly assumed. ‘Ignore them.’ I hid my distaste well, I thought, as the new arrivals drank and smoked. Became louder, more lubricated, some folk edging away from them. They were enjoying the scene they were creating. One in particular was all mouth. All four mouths, actually. Tentacles everywhere, touching up the humans on the far side – the males and females. BigMouths thought it was hilarious, all the shock he was generating. So did his gang of Hulker partiers, all girly giggles and frilly squiggles.
Oh, yes, a right laugh… they egged him on. More hoosh. The bar manager tried to close off the drinks machines. I didn’t hear the threats, but he went white, then green, and backed away – left them to the hoosh and smokes, and us to the mercy of the Hulkers.
‘It’s going to be a long, long night,’ I said to my little lot. ‘So just stay relaxed, hmm?’ But it was going to get worse. All of us in that lounge could see it coming. You only had to gaze around to see it writ on every face, every melancholic mandible, every shivering shellcase and fibrillating pharynx.
Sure enough, free to rampage, the Hulker party-group began fairly gently, but escalated swift as Baldrican with a bare backside – bullying a group to join in with their “singing”, which turned into a compulsory striptease show for their own delight. Not even the same species – they had no idea what it meant to the Jadeans to be naked in front of others.
Or for the Tewdys to be forced to drink alcoolish beverages – it’s downright dangerous for their metabolism. But, it’s not up to us… Heads down, mind our own affairs.
Their attempts to sexually assault a group of Madeni proved to be a mite too much for them, however – the Madeni being, as you know, semi-metallic clone-breeding entities, with the non-metallic half being largely ethereal pseudo-matter.
Someone dared to find their efforts amusing. I imagine they wished they hadn’t, when they found they were paying the bill for the Hulkers’ drink, food and smokes, plus a few additions from the duty-free shop.
We kept our heads well down, my little party and I. I told them to. And they do as their Surro-Mum – as I think of myself – tells them. And they’re my family, as I always call them when we’re travelling – my little boys and girls. This was no occasion for them to be involved in. But BigMouths, lording it over the Hulkers and everyone else, knew a born victim when he saw one – anyone half his size, apparently. Like me. And I’m considered pretty big at home, on Karlik. As well as quite pretty. So, with a certain inevitability, we eventually watched him drunkenly tottering our way in hundred-deci-belch ominousness.
Tentacles stretching threateningly over all our heads, and frills erect – the randy toe-breakers – he and his Hulker cronies half-surrounded us in our little space by the vista windows. The night view of the occasional twinkling cities below was to have been our last view of the planet – probably still would be.
My little group of ladies and gentlemen – all from Susuu – it’s only me who’s from Karlik – stayed beautifully, obediently quiet and subdued. ‘You are good little souls,’ I told them. ‘Despite everything.’
A probing tentacle came seeking down at Lolly, my dainty little one with such blue eyes. I could not permit this to happen. ‘Please desist,’ I asked BigMouths. ‘They are my responsibility. More than that: I am totally responsible for them. Kindly cease doing that.’
As BigMouths took growing courage from dominating a family group of quarter-his-size Susuus, I considered the situation. I’m responsible for their welfare and safety: I know it, and they know it. They look to me for support – Lady-Mack Bethy, as they call me.
I mean – my Susuus are squidgy little things, wouldn’t harm a fleeg, or say “Boo” to a goonberry tart. Totally harmless – couldn’t possibly offend anyone. Why on Buzzock would BigMouths, Gropicles and Droopy-frill want to pick on my harmless little group – and me?
This was not something I could understand; or allow. I stood, and he laughed. ‘Mini-Squidge,’ he called me. Me! That is even more not-on. Even more not-on than picking up two of my tiny charges and rubbing them together like he was trying to mate them, or make them burst into flames.
So. I simply had to act, before this all got out of tentacle. You know how it is – they’re My Charges. My little Susuus. Out of several corners of my eyes, I could see others around the lounge watching. Probably certain they were going to see us all dipped in the shampy fountain and nibbled on. ‘My friends,’ I began to address BigMouths and Riot-Party, ‘let us not be hasty. Please put down my young companions. They do you no harm. You’re drunk and know not what you do.’ I like to quote the Kuck of Bells: it shows I’m an educated girl.
But would he have it? Or any of them? No, they wouldn’t. Grabbing Milly and Pensivalle and sucking at them – they’re all slime and slobber, you know, these Hulkers. ‘Okoi. If you won’t listen – Coo-ee! Suzies!’ That’s my call sign for them to pay close attention. ‘Effective immediately, twenty years off all your sentences if you find a Hulker to exchange identities with. I’m switching your restraints off… Now!’.
My lovely little Susuus heard that alright, though BigMouths’ gang wasn’t listening to anything.
It must have been a wonder to behold if you’ve never seen vids of Susuus in action before.
In three minutes flat – staggering, limping, sagging and seated, as well as flat – the exchange had taken place. Pits! They are something, my Susuu Convicts. Little jewels. Fast? They could rip the tentacles, mandibles, palps and proboscises off an elefundrum in ten seconds: they really could. The Hulkers didn’t stand a chance.
So here we are, basically. Still waiting for the connection and deciding to have a little drink. My former-prisoner-Susuus are very quietly celebrating with a single drink each. Showing off their new identities as neoteric Hulker holidaymakers with Fun_Stars.orb. They seem to be quite proud of their huge ID discs and docs. Each has a sample of Hulker DNA as their ID proof – mostly a tentacle-tip or a pedium, but I think blue-eyed Lolly has BigMouths’ gonads.
No-one in the lounge has said anything about a dozen vicious Susuus being freed, with Hulker passports and free transport to Modrigau. No-one else is travelling to Modrigau, so nobody really cares what they get up to there.
Nor does anyone appear to be upset about a dozen newly-inducted Susuus sitting silently with me, each supremely obedient to the call-signs I control them with. I don’t imagine the prison camp on Vlaudox Two will care that the batch I deliver to them isn’t exactly what they were expecting. They probably can’t tell the difference between one way-out prisoner-group and another – Susuus or Hulkers? Who knows? Who cares?
As long as they do their twenty years with good behaviour.