Bewildering Stories

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The Curse of the Dog-Faced Mummy

part 1

by Danielle L. Parker

“Loot,” whistled Ooglia, flicking his long, forked, purple-tinged double tongues ecstatically over his set of 108 serrated teeth. “Loot, Captain, beyond our wildest dreams!”

The big man so addressed greeted this assertion with a skeptical grunt, but all the same, Jim Blunt, Captain of the less than reputable starship Pig’s Eye, had to admit he was impressed. Big Ugly was First Mate of this also less than reputable crew for one reason: the alien had an insatiable lust for loot in any marketable form. And since Captain Blunt nursed some wild dreams of his own along those lines, the relationship between the ex-Earther-on-the-lam and the two meter tall purple bag on six limbs known as Ooglia had proven quite satisfactory, on the whole. Blunt had to admit, when Ooglia’s eyestalks oscillated as wildly as a deep spacer’s on shore leave, the loot must be pretty spectacular.

“What kind of loot?” he growled. “Those baubles you picked up on Ord’s World weren’t worth loading into cargo. You ain’t been batting 100% lately, Ugly.”

“It’s a tomb, Captain,” Ooglia fluted, clacking his upper set of claws in a fever of pecuniary emotions. “An untouched alien tomb. Gold! Artifacts! Jewels! We’re rich, Captain. Rich!

A tomb. Even as his heart accelerated to its own lustful rhythms, Captain Blunt could see the chilling effect of the words on his second crew member. Old Andy Locke, the wizened technician who had spent most of the last five years patching Pig’s Eye together from his junkyard of spare parts in Cargo Bay D, looked immediately stricken.

“Bad business to disturb the dead, Cap’n,” he muttered, shaking his gray head uneasily. “Ain’t good luck to rob a grave. What I’d like to know is, what did it die of?”

“Gross bipedal superstition,” hissed the First Mate, looming over the little man so threateningly that Andy Locke shrank back in his seat. “It died of old age, I presume. Its body is in a gold coffin it can do quite well without. If you’d like to forgo your share-“

“That’s enough, Ooglia,” warned Captain Blunt, touching the stun rod clipped to his belt pointedly. “Quit clacking your claws at old Andy. Gold coffin, you said?” His bright blue eyes, striking in the deep tan of his hard face, gleamed. He rubbed his slightly bristly chin thoughtfully. “Figure we could get something for the body too,” he said after a moment. “Back on Earth, I could probably sell it to some xenobiologists... think I know a fence who could do it. Hmm.”

He got to his feet suddenly. The bridge of the Pig’s Eye was not large, and between Captain Blunt’s towering sinew and massive shoulders and the First Mate’s rotund bulk, the little engineer felt it prudent to squeeze even deeper into his seat. Captain Blunt, rubbing his shovel-sized hands together eagerly, paid him no heed.

“But we’d better be quick about getting it on board,” the captain continued. “I think that Delosian you cheated, Ugly, lost us at our last Fold, but there’s no need to be foolish. It might show up with the law in tow anytime.” He fixed the First Mate with a glittering eye. “How much stuff did you estimate we could load on board, Ugly?”

The alien’s upper claws were already dancing over Pig’s Eye’s keyboards. “We’ll have to dump Cargo Bays B and D, Captain” (“My spare parts!” bleated Andy Locke) “But I think we can do it in a couple of days, if we fly both shuttles concurrently.”

Captain Blunt, with a nod and a touch of his finger, brutally ejected the contents of Cargo Bays B and D into space. “Load of junk anyway,” he muttered. “Been slim pickings since we bolted from Delos.” He ignored the heartbroken sniffles from his engineer. “You detected no life signs on your trial run, Ooglia?”

“Not a bleep on the scanner,” replied the First Mate jubilantly. “Nothing but rock and dirt. You’ll have to suit up, though. It’s a thin atmosphere down there.” The alien clicked his claws complacently. “I, of course, am much more durable than you thin-skinned bipeds. I shall not require artificial support.”

“Good thing,” sneered Captain Blunt. “I don’t think they make a suit to fit Blob Size Twenty.” He turned to his engineer. “Andy, load the second shuttle with cutting tools, grav lifts, grapples and cargo nets on the double. We’ll leave you to hold down the bridge.” He stabbed a finger warningly. “And don’t fall asleep. You need to keep any eye out for that Delosian and its friends. I never knew a fly-eye could hold such a grudge.”

The First Mate snickered. In a Gargantuan, this was an alarming expression that swelled his two-meter purple bag of a body like a vacuum cleaner trying to suck up a rug. “One hundred and eighty percent profit, Captain,” he fluted. “It might have had 360 sets of eyes, but none of ‘em were sharp. Too bad the shipment rotted so fast. I thought it would last at least until we were out of their system.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t figure we’ll ever buy an aging crop of Pulk fruit again. What a stink.” Captain Blunt sighed. “You really hosed up Cargo Bay A, Ugly. When we’re space bound again you’re on cleaning detail. You just reminded me.”

“My last,” whistled the First Mate, following his captain down the ship’s central tube. “I shall be able to return to Gargantua, Captain, and buy twelve bodacious females to groom my eyestalks. We’re rich, Captain!”

“Don’t count your chicks until you’ve got the cash in your claws,” his companion replied amiably. “Take Shuttle A, Ooglia. I’ll follow you down in a few minutes.”

He watched with a sardonic smile as the alien obediently disappeared into the open hatch. Waiting until the small vessel had ejected, he walked over to touch the ship intercom on the wall.

“I’ll be right down, Captain!” the engineer’s voice called hastily out of the panel. “Just setting the sensors for full scans, sir!”

“Never mind, Andy,” his captain replied. “I’ll load the shuttle myself after all. You’re to stay on the bridge and seal it off until I get back.” He cleared his throat significantly. “Ever seen a Gargantuan in a really bad fever of greed before? If there were two less of this crew there’d be more of someone else’s share. Get it?”

The voice out of the panel was sober. “Aye, Captain. I’ll break out another stun rod and keep it handy. Watch your back.”

Captain Blunt was no fool. Landing his shuttle, he steered clear of the immediate vicinity of his predecessor and settled on the opposite edge of the tomb complex. Donning his low-atmosphere protection and attaching his tools to his belt, he seized the handle of his anti-grav cart and stepped briskly outside.

The unnamed rock they orbited had looked bleak even from outer space, and from his closer vantage, the view was not improved. The dull, huge sun shone red in the dust-darkened sky. Dry rock and rusty red dirt stretched to the clouded horizon. It seemed the only structure on the entire small planet was the tomb itself. That, as Captain Blunt stared at it critically, proved to be a low, featureless dome rising just out of the ground. Before him a long sloping tunnel plunged into obdurate darkness.

It was not a comforting sight. Captain Blunt drew a deep breath and fingered his stun rod. Andy Locke’s superstitious drivel echoed uneasily in his mind. One could imagine such a night-black shaft leading straight down into Hades... but it was sheer foolishness to picture a three-headed dog waiting below with its fangs bared in triplet snarls. He scowled suddenly. No pop-eyed mobile grape was going to get the better of him... He started down the shaft with narrow-eyed determination.

The atmospheric pressure increased as he progressed downwards, but the smell of the long undisturbed air was unpleasant. Not even Pig’s Eye’s recycled air smelled so musty. Playing his light upon the walls, Captain Blunt viewed dog-headed painted figures enjoying what must have been the activities of their former lives. The paint was peeling with the passage of untold time, but the pictures were not comforting. The departed appeared to be equipped with sizable canine teeth and feverish red eyes, and judging by the murals, dinner on newly deceased life forms seemed to be an important aspect of their lives. Captain Blunt loosened the stun rod in his belt and walked as softly as a cat.

The slope of the tunnel was quite steep, and by the time the shaft terminated in a massive portal, Blunt estimated he was already almost fifty meters below ground. Tall dog-like guardians in gleaming gold collars stood with barring the way, their jeweled red eyes glaring back in the captain’s small beam of light. The captain studied them thoughtfully.

“First job of the day,” he decided. “That’s gold plating or I’m a Franciscan friar.” He smiled hungrily.

During the next few days, the crew of the Pig’s Eye worked feverishly. Cargo Bays B and D were filled; Ooglia, with a mad gleam in his stalky eyes, emptied Cargo Bay C of its potentially marketable singing crystals himself. Captain Blunt, passing through crew quarters on one of his own rare periods of rest, noticed that the Gargantuan’s door would not slide completely closed. A brief glance inside revealed just what he expected. Every centimeter of space was filled with dusty spoils of the alien tomb. He shook his head grimly.

“If it’s going to happen, it’ll be today,” he warned the little engineer privately. “We’ve about cleaned it out. There’s not much left but the mummy itself.”

Andy Locke shuddered. “I don’t suppose you’ll heed an old man,” he said mournfully. “But I’d rather we didn’t have any dog-faced mummy on board. It’s bad karma, Captain, bad, I tell you...”

“Stuff it, Andy,” replied his commanding officer meaningfully. “If my old Granny had gone to her grave with enough gold fillings, I’d probably have disinterred her myself. Stay sealed on the bridge and don’t fall asleep. Got it?”

“Aye, sir.” The little man settled morosely into the command chair. Captain Blunt, observing the engineer’s knobby fingers working furtively, craned his neck... he scowled. It was a nearly hairless rabbit’s foot. Shaking his head, he went below.

The First Mate was just finishing unloading Shuttle A. “Oh, Captain,” he fluted melodiously. “I’ll need some help on this trip, sir. We’ve got to get the mummy on board.”

“Why certainly,” smiled Captain Blunt. “Amazing, it is our very last trip. A very fine job, Mr. Ooglia, a very fine job.” He stood back politely. “After you, sir, after you.”

Proceed to the conclusion...

Copyright © 2004 by Danielle L. Parker

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