BONUS SECTION: In this fan-fiction-style feature, Goons create content for their peers' proposed novels.
All Hat No Cattle's prologue for Call Your Grandma's Skeleton Crew (as seen on page two of this Goldmine):
Captain Mort Varitek had performed dozens of EVAs, and the only three things he could always count on were the sound of his heartbeat, the soft breeze of his own breathing circulating in his space suit, and danger.
Only one was his companion now.
He had been floating against the hull of the USS Egeria, performing a repair to a heat shield, when all of the sudden there'd been a flash of green light, a split second before the pain had hit. It couldn't have lasted more than a half-second, but it was fierce, like a fire suddenly bursting inside every cell and muscle at once, and reverberated strongly in his memory. Then came the thirst, the sensation of dessication that normally comes slowly, one step through a burning desert at a time, but instead came within thirty seconds. If the pain was excrutiating, the thirst was maddening. He was struck dumb by it, unable to speak into his suit-to-ship com, or even hit the panic button strapped to his wrist.
And then it faded.
And then it was gone.
And so was everything else. No sound. No light. No taste, no smell, no sense of hot or cold. This must be death, he thought. I thought there'd be angels.
Mort Varitek doesn't know how long he hovered limply in the vacuum of space, still tethered to the Egeria by a thin cord. An hour. A day. A year.
And within the suit, it was completely silent.
Well. Being dead is pretty boring.
Then it came. Not as a pinprick, but as a dull glow, the kind you can mistake for the patterns that form behind your eyelids when you close your eyes. He watched it begin to take form, a simple round shape, that began to burn brighter and brighter, coalescing into a still, silvery orb. It was all he could see.
That must be the tunnel they talk about.
He gazed at it a long time, listening for God or Satan or Buddha or whoever. Maybe his grandfather's voice. He waited for it to come closer and meet him, but it didn't.
Why isn't it getting any closer?
Then something else floated into his line of vision, something white and rounded, but not another sphere. It was heavily blurred. He tried to blink his eyes but failed, tried to screw his face up into a squint but found it paralyzed. It took several minutes, but finally, he brought his vision into focus. When he saw what it was, his heart would've stopped if it was still beating.
It was the toe of his boot.
If he had had lungs Captain Mort Varitek would have gasped.
With his newly improved vision, he looked past his foot and realized why the tunnel wasn't coming any closer. It wasn't a portal to heaven or hell or a chariot of angels, it was something much more mundane: the moon. They'd been due to cross close to it today, he recalled. And here it was. That let him estimate that he'd been "dead" for about two hours.
The moon had long passed them by the time Mort managed to regain control of his body enough to reel himself back to the ship, one hand over the other on the rope. He'd tried to raise the crew to get damage and casualty reports, but whatever happened must have fried his communications unit. He spent more time questioning his lack of sensation than he did his lack of breathing. No breath, no heartbeat, those are scary things, ones he couldn't explain and his brain didn't want him to. But no sensation, that might have an explanation. There was rationality in it. Or the hope for rationality.
At long last, he pulled himself into the tiny hatch, curled up, hearing his suit making an odd clacking sound as he did. God dammit. Must have been damaged in -- whatever the hell that was. Air hissed around him as he sealed the hatch and decompressed the chamber, and when the red light turned green, he undid his helmet seal with numb fingers and shook a gloved hand through his hair. He turned to the other hatch door that would let him access the rest of his ship, and saw a horrific image in the viewport--a skull, mouth ajar, eye sockets deep and empty and soulless, staring at him through the viewport.
And the skull screamed back.
50 Foot Ant's interpretation of Skeleton Crew, chapter two:
Captain Varitek looked at the rest of crew, still dressed in their shipboard uniforms but only distinguishable due to their nametags, and shook his bare skull. The ship's AI had finally been shut down, unwilling to recognize this crew of animated skeletons. They had rescued Lance Corporal Venshizu from where she had been locked in the bathroom, her skeletal hand no longer able to operate the thumbprint scanner, and now the meager 30 members of the crew were all gathered on the bridge.
"We can't put it off, Captain. We've got to let them know we're alive up here before they send a rescue crew and they get exposed to whatever it was that did this to us," said Major Thomm. Varitek caught himself trying to smile at the fact that despite having no vocal cords or lungs, Thomm's voice was still as dry and bland as the bare bones that made up the Chief Medical Officer.
"All right, I'll put in the call." He looked down at the panel in front of him. It was such a simple thing, the com request. He had made many during his 15 years of service in the United Sol Space Force, and even though it had been nearly a decade since he had done it, he had not forgotten how.
"Are you sure about this? I mean, what if they try to blow up the ship or shoot us down or something?" Doctor Reaves asked, his voice no less fussy for not using air.
"Corporal Venshizu disabled the remote access platforms as well as the scuttling charges." Master Gunnery Sergeant Ngo assured the civilian scientist. "She had to in order to make sure A.M.I. didn't decide to scuttle the vessel."
"If you're sure." The doctor replied, his jaws clicking shut at Veritek's motion.
"Egeria, damn glad to see you guys." Stromboli's face appeared on the com-unit. "We detected an energy flare near you right before you went off the air. We thought we'd lost you guys."
"We're still here, sir." Veritek answered.
"It looks like we aren't getting a video feed, son. Any idea what's going on?" Strombili's brow furrowed.
"We've got a radiation leak, it's affecting our communication systems. Right now video is down, sorry, sir." Veritek replied.
"Radiation leak? The USS Tokyo is only a few hours away. If you can't get to the ISS, I'll send them to give assistance." Stromboli made a motion to someone off-camera.
"Ummm, that isn't necessary, sir. Doctor Henchala-Horst just signaled me that it's locked down." Veritek shot back, looking up at everyone else. Despite the lack of features, he could feel the tension rolling off of the crew and the scientists gathered on the bridge.
"We'll send the USS Tokyo anyway to help you guys get a handle on it. Our remotes are showing that your onboard AI failed and it looks like several critical systems are down, including life support."
Life support? Oh crap. They had not even considered that while they had worked to make sure everyone was alive, uhhh reanimated, whatever. Veritek silently cursed himself for forgetting. Houston could read every system aboard the ship.
"Umm, we're having power fluctuations, it looks like I'm going to..." Veritek cut off the call, jabbing the audio mute key several times and scraping the exposed tips of his fingerbones across the microphone.
There was silence for a long moment before Doctor Sharmee broke it.
"When they board us, there's no way they're going to miss our condition."
"Can we avoid them?" Major Thomm asked MGS Ngo.
"No way. The energy surge discharged the drive capacitors and it'll take at least twelve hours before we can refire the engines." The Marine said, his frame still as massive as it had been when he was flesh.
"Well, we better figure something out." Veritek said.
"We could play dead." Hanchala-Horst said.
For the first time since everyone woke up after the energy blast to discover that they were alive even though they were skeletons, everyone laughed.
Despite the unnatural appearance, the natural feeling of the laughter made Veritek feel better about everything.
Our new drone will follow behind you in an extremely friendly manner and capture 4K video of your adventures, your friends, your time in the bathroom, and your heartbeat as you sleep.
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