Part One: The Fate of Invincible VII

Part One: The Fate of Invincible VII

        Around the Sqishy Galaxy, the denizens of a hundred thousand worlds gathered, unified as one. Families on Rigel V huddled around antiquated television sets. The Bug-men of Osmosia tuned in their holo-screens. The Sand Nomads of Falloopia gazed into their state-of-the-art Gogglebox Glasses. Most avidly of all, the noble men and women of Stone Masoon, greatest city in the sector, switched on their vid-systems and watched, waiting with baited breath. The music began to play, the graphics swirled. Billions of citizens of a far-flung galaxy could barely contain their excitement…

        “Welcome to the B.O.I.N.G exclusive coverage of the Pan-Galactic Cribbage Cup. I’m Sissy Sputnik, and I’m here on board the GSS Invincible VII, where the crew are battling it out to find their champion for the tournament. We’re with the intrepid Captain Spoddy Shlumbuck Jr., reigning champion, holder of the PGC Cup, and hot favourite to win this year’s event.”

        Captain Shlumbuck turned to the beautiful, green-skinned reporter, and shot her the winning smile that had made him the people’s champion.

        “Why, hello there, lovely lady. You said ‘hot’ favourite, right?”

        “Ahem,” said Sissy, fluttering her long purple eyelashes and trying to compose herself. “It must be a great honour to host the first heat of the Cribbage Cup. What would you like to say to your Stone Masoonian fans watching down on the planet?”

        Captain Shlumbuck shot a steely eyed glance to the camera, and raised an eyebrow (a gesture that made a million ladies from fourteen species around the galaxy swoon) and said: “Work hard, eat your greens, and you can grow up to be a big, strong, cribbage champion. Like me.”

        “Captain,” Sissy continued, only slightly distracted by the Captain’s astonishing good looks and sophistication, “I have to ask – with so many of the crew playing in the tournament, is the ship safe?”

        “Of course. They don’t call this baby the Invincible for nothing.”

        “Isn’t it the Invincible VII?”

        “Look, Miss Sugarlips—“

        “It’s Sputnik.”

        “Whatever. When Chief Engineer Lucky McDougal designed this baby, he swore that he’d ironed out all the wrinkles. This ship is un-crashable. Nothing can possibly go wrong.”

        “I see. And where is the famous Lucky McDougal now? I bet he’s using his renowned intellect to clean up in the tournament, right?”

        “Renowned intellect?” Captain Shlumbuck waved a dismissive hand at the reporter. “He only got this gig because his father is on the board at GalactiCorps. No; he’s terrible at cribbage. The only thing he’s cleaning up now is the Spoccle Hold.” 

        “Oh… Tell me, Captain – why exactly do you have a Spoccle Hold on a GalactiCorps starship? I mean, isn’t that a little weird, not to mention unhygienic?”

        Captain Shlumbuck sighed as he recalled the incompetence of the apathetic Lucky McDougal.

        “Because, Sissy, our illustrious engineer forgot to design a garbage disposal unit for this ship. But, thanks to my quick thinking and prodigious skills as a Spoccle-wrangler, no-one has to worry about piles of garbage around here!”

        “So he didn’t iron out all the wrinkles then?”

        Before the Captain could respond, a monitor crackled to life behind him, and Lucky McDougal’s freckled face loomed large on the screen. Behind him, there was some kind of commotion, and the Captain eyed the screen suspiciously.

        “Captain! Captain!” cried McDougal, the panic evident in his voice.

        “What is it now, Lucky? Can’t you see I’m… busy.” He turned to Sissy Sputnik as he said it, giving her a wink that could melt the heart of even the most resolute Frost-Maiden of Anthracon. But Lucky McDougal was never one to take a hint.

        “But Captain, it’s the Spoccles. They’ve escaped!”

        “What? How?” asked the Captain, panic creeping into his voice.

        Before he could answer, Lucky McDougal was near drowned under a sea of bouncing Spoccles. The next minute, the automatic doors to the gaming hall opened and a horde of the green, verminous blighters entered, sending cribbage boards flying. Within moments, the gentile competition so beloved of the Sqishy Galaxy’s citizens was plunged into chaos. The voracious Spoccles devoured everything in sight, chomping on cribbage boards mid-game, eating crewmen’s trousers as they tried to flee, and even munching on vital power cables.

        Captain Shlumbuck staggered to his feet.

        “B.A.B.S, status report,” he demanded. Upon his command, the ship’s computer blinked to life.

        +++I’m sorry Captain. I was not paying attention.+++

        “What? Why not?”

        +++I was keeping score of the tournament, like you asked. The number of permutations is quite a drain on my resources.+++ There was a pause and a whirring sound as B.A.B.S processed some new information. +++Oh dear…+++

        “What does she mean ‘oh dear’?” asked Sissy, frantically dodging a rampaging Spoccle.

        +++It appears we’re heading into the Dunromin asteroid belt. Impact imminent.+++

        “No!” cried Captain Shlumbuck. “That’s not possible! Where’s the pilot?”

        +++You are the pilot, Sir.+++

        “Not me, you idiot—I’m obviously busy defending my title. I meant Buckfast.”

        +++Ensign Buckfast is also playing in the qualifiers, Sir. He was just about to win by a double skunk when…+++

        “I don’t care what his score was! Darn it, this isn’t fair—I haven’t even had my turn yet! BABS, engage autopilot. BABS, engage autopilot; take evasive action!”

        +++I’m afraid it’s too late for that, Sir. WARNING, WARNING. IMPACT IMMINENT. ABANDON SHIP.+++

        With a ship-shattering impact, the first asteroid crashed into the Invincible VII, sending men, women and Spoccles alike scattering like ninepins. A frightened Spoccle leapt into the Captain’s arms and immediately began trying to eat his uniform. Tossing it aside, he immediately sprung to action as things began to explode all around him.

        “Everyone to the lifepods. Abandon ship!”

        “But Captain,” cried Sissy, “what about you?”

        Captain Shlumbuck stared into the camera, addressing the trillions of spectators as much as the plucky reporter in front of him. His eyes sparkled, and his square, heroically dimpled jaw was set with determination.

        “Someone has to salvage this tournament. The hopes and dreams of the entire galaxy rest on that Cribbage Cup, and I’m not leaving without it. Now go—save yourself. I’ll be seeing you later, or my name’s not Spoddy Shlumbuck Jnr!” With one last wink, Captain Shlumbuck dashed back into the hall, disappearing into the mass of billowing smoke, roaring flames and hyperactive Spoccles. Sissy Sputnik gazed after the hero of the hour with her heart in her mouth, until finally the documentary crew yanked her away to the lifepods.

        Minutes later, a hundred lifepods ejected from the stricken ship, as Invincible VII ricocheted off a gigantic asteroid, before corkscrewing into the atmosphere of the planet Dunromin. On the planet’s surface below, the citizens of Stone Masoon held their collective breath as their screens went black. And then suddenly, almost beyond hope, the cameras kicked in again. On screens across the galaxy, Sissy Sputnik began her sign-off, squeezed into a tiny lifepod with her team, two GalactiCorps crewmen, and a confused-looking Spoccle.

        “We apologise for the break in transmission. Rest assured, thanks to the brave actions of Captain Shlumbuck, the show will go on. People of Stone Masoon—you might want to stay indoors for now. Who knows where the Invincible VII will come down. Stay tuned for more news as it happens. For now, this is Sissy Sputnik for B.O.I.N.G, signing off.”