The joy of not knowing what you’re doing

This time in Scumbug Scrambag Julia defeats Lady Mantis and her sisters by teaching their brood about spaghetti.

I hope it’s abundantly clear that I’m just making stuff up as I go. That’s how fiction works, in my opinion. I started with just a short note for each chapter, like “the Scumbug gets an assassin eaten by their kids.” Everything else is sort of improvised.

I say “sort of” improvised because I’m not like a comedian doing improv onstage. Once I’ve improvised something, I get to erase it and replace it or edit it. Even though the actual process of writing is improv every step of the way, the “final” product is the latest selection and ordering of improvisations.

I say “final” in quotes because I’d like to revisit some/all of these stories at some point and spruce them up. Edit them, rethink them, maybe rewrite them bottom to top. I think some of my favorite writing has come from combining half-baked ideas into one complete narrative, so even if a story doesn’t turn out how I want, it can be recycled or made into fertilizer.

At the moment I think Scumbug Scrambag holds up okay. The plots and counterplots don’t quite make sense, I think, but it’s hard to write political intrigues, even tongue-in-cheek ones about alien oozes and evil ambassadaddies. And yet I was able to write it anyway, and it’ll be easier to make it right now that it’s written. That’s the joy of not knowing what you’re doing.

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The Little Prince

The Scumbug has taken Julia to a tiny planet in the Big Empty, the space between galaxies infested with Easy Cheese, whatever that means.

I read The Little Prince for the first time just a few weeks ago. It’s a novella, and there are pictures, so I wonder why I never bothered reading it before. I guess it was just time for me to read it now, while I’m writing Scumbug Scrambag, because I think I want to hit some of the same notes. Besides Julia now living on a small planet, I think the rest of Scumbug Scrambag should present a Little Prince-style message about what it means to be a kid, an adult, or a mortal in general.

Most characters in The Little Prince never interact with any other characters except the Prince as he visits them on their isolated space-rocks. Meanwhile, on The Little Prince’s Earth, adults interact only via a rigid, empty worldview and are therefore might as well be on isolated space-rocks.

I suppose Scumbug Scrambag is something like Leon the Professional told in the style of The Little Prince. We only meet two humans:

  1. Earth’s ambassador, a morally bankrupt but thus financially successful tech-CEO
  2. and Julia, a little girl who’s grown up coping with a world run by people like the ambassador.

Oh, also a bodyguard who got beat-up in chapter one, and all the ambassador’s bodyguards, but they only exist to be killed by evil alien hit-men, so they don’t really count. It’s the fact they don’t count that counts.

Aside from humans we meet aliens who, as the Scumbug suggests, fit into one of two categories: those who eat their parents, and those who eat their offspring. That relationship continues a cycle called the Big Cheese.

Flaybos wouldn’t dare eat their jeorbs. Flaybos exist to be eaten by jeorbs who continue to tell their story! That’s all a flaybo is! Eating their jeorbs would be like eating themselves.

The seahorse protects his children and sends his salary back to his home-planet. Metaphorically, he lives his life for them and they therefore “consume” him.

Germa the Gerbil knows his momma could’ve snapped him up with the rest of his clutch.

In the next chapter, maybe we’ll see how Lady Mantoid’s species works—but I’d say we’re due to see another alien eat the hand that feeds it.

And how does the Scumbug fit in? It claims to have eaten its kids, but what could it’s parents even beBigger sludge with bigger lumps?

And… us? Where do we fit in? Are we doomed to be like the ambassador? I hope not.

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On Language

A while ago one of my cats caught a lizard, but the lizard’s tail popped off. The cat was so confused the lizard managed to escape.

I tried to catch lizards when I was a kid. My friends warned me “hey, the tail might pop off and the lizard will escape.” Eventually I caught a lizard and held it in my hands long enough to show it off to my parents and toss it back into wild suburbia. I knew the trick to catching lizards before I had the chance to fail like my cat.

I wish I could’ve told my cat “hey, the tail might pop off and the lizard will escape.” I guess the lizard is glad I can’t spill the secret across the species-barrier. Worse still, my cat can’t tell other cats. My cat might see another cat chasing lizards and remember that the tails pop off, but he can’t warn them about it.

I wanted to tell this story because my mom and I had a vacation in Japan. In Hokkaido I have a host-family I visit every few years and I was glad to introduce my host-mother to my biological-mother.

The host-family cooked takoyaki, balls of octopus-pastry. My mother bravely served herself a few.

Atsui,” said the host-mother, meaning “it’s hot.” I nodded as I served myself.

Atsui,” said the host-mother’s daughter-in-law. I nodded again. The octopus-balls must have been super hot.

Atsui!” said the host-mother again, with increasing urgency.

I nodded again. They were hot. I got it.

“Ow!” My mom spat octopus-ball. “These are hot.

I face-palmed. My mom didn’t speak Japanese.

Translating had challenges I hadn’t anticipated. I’m fluent in English on a good day and I understand Japanese like a trained chimp, but translating from English to Japanese and back sometimes broke me. Aside from the usual issue of ‘not knowing what the heck someone just said,’ I would absentmindedly translate my host-family’s Japanese into simpler Japanese to my blank-faced mother who couldn’t understand it any better coming from me.

I think there’s a Thinkstr video in here somewhere about how language creates understanding which exists in a bubble with a semipermeable membrane. Since I can speak roughly two languages I can access meaning on either side of English and Japanese—but the language-barrier messed with my theory of mind, causing me to misinterpret how other people viewed the world. Like a toddler who hasn’t realized other people have their own perspective, I thought my mom had information because had that information.

Properly translating would require understanding my host-family and repeating the information in English. I could barely do the first of those, and that occasionally led me to forgetting the second.

Have you ever had any funny problems with language-barriers, maybe involving cats? I’d like to hear about them!

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PS. The latest Thinkstr is about Godel Escher Bach, a treatise on formal logic, and Rick and Morty, which features a character named Mr. Poopybutthole. Give it a watch!

Leon the Professional

In part two of Scumbug Scrambag Julia and the Scumbug retrieve a spaceship while humanity cuts a deal with Germa the Gerbil.

When I described the idea for this story, someone mentioned Leon the Professional, a movie about a hitman protecting a twelve-year-old girl. I watched it. Let’s talk about it!

First of all, wow is the little girl in that movie sexualized. Leon’s love for Natalie Portman is fatherly, but she busts out singing Like a Virgin and Happy Birthday Mister President dressed as Madonna and Marilyn Monroe. It’s seriously off-putting, like, wow. She’s meant to be 12.

Second of all, I like little Mathilda deciding she wants to be a hitman. The evil guys who killed her brother are the final villains of the movie, and she initiates those confrontations by venturing out to them herself. Its narrative is efficient—no lose ends, and the beginning causes the end.

Scumbug Scrambag should be very different even if it steals inspiration.

First, eight-year-old Julia shouldn’t have such a Lolita thing going on. I think her calling the Scumbug “Scumdaddy” will be the beginning and end of the sexual tension. While that explicit tension is played for laughs, implicit themes about child-trafficking dominate the plot.

Second, I don’t think Julia wants to be a hitman, even if her backstory is hilariously tragically dark. I’m not sure what her deal is, but I do think, like Mathilda, Julia will initiate the final confrontations by setting out on her own. The Scumbug has serious misconceptions about how the universe works, and Julia will have to set them straight.

Overall, I’m glad I watched the movie. It’s always nice to see what’s been done with the story-elements I’m playing with, and it makes me consider how I want to approach tropes I’ll inevitably butt against. But wow it’s uncomfortable watching Natalie Portman telling Jean Reno she loves him. Phoo boy.

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The Latest Thingie I’m Doing

I just posted the first chapter of Scumbug Scrambag today! It’s about an alien ooze who works as a hit-man for an intergalactic crime-family, but now goes on the lam to protect an eight-year-old human girl.

This is the latest in a series of thingies I’ve done. I think doing thingies is good for me. I enjoy feeling productive and making thingies to show people. I guess that’s why I’m making pictures again, too. People like pictures. I do, at least.

I think Scumbug Scrambag will be under 40,000 words, a short novella. Unlike a lot of stories I’ve written here, I’m not really sure where it’s going? I’m trusting my idea of a virtue-wheel to buoy me and named the chapters after things which I think should happen one way or another. The Scumbug has a strict notion of morality and it’ll be tested in the coming chapters. Is it true that every life-form either eats its parents or its kids? Even if it is true, is it any sort of thing to teach an impressionable young child like Julia?

And which side does humanity fall on? This first chapter paints the ambassador representing Earth as kind of a dickhead. He was apparently willing to kill an orphan for political points against the mysterious Big Cheese—the ambassador is the kind of life-form who eats his kids. But is that ruthlessness really what humanity needs right now? We’d better hope Julia eats him first.

And what about Germa the Gerbil and Lady Mantoid? Where on the spectrum will the Scumbug settle? Who knows? Certainly not me.

I think I’ll post a new chapter every two to three weeks, but no promises. I’m running a marathon in Japan, soon, so my schedule’s a bit up-in-the-air.

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Home to Roost

(This is part four of a story starting here.)


“Tada!” The Scumbug’s one lump scooped enough gray sandy dust from the tiny planet to reveal a body of water the volume of a koi-pond. “Meet your new friend Sasha!

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“Um.” Julia squinted skeptically at a seahorse the size of a large dog. “She’s a little… wet?”

“And you’re a little dry,” said the seahorse.

“I found Sasha after running a job on a water-planet,” said the Scumbug. “She’s an orphan like you, Julia. I adopted her to try keeping someone alive out here in the Big Empty.”

“Hi.” Sasha the seahorse splashed Julia. Julia wiped her dress. “The Scumbug says you’re worth two trillion units.”

“That’s why aliens keep coming to kidnap me,” said Julia.

“Well, no aliens out here.” The seahorse waved her little appendages at the empty sky. “We’re totally safe.”

The sky in the Big Empty irked Julia. The Milky Way was so distant it looked like a single star. “Safe and bored. What’s the wifi password, Scumdaddy? I wanna text my friends.”

“Julia, shouldn’t you get to know your new friend, Sasha?”

“My old earth-friends will wanna meet my new seahorse-friend. You promised me wifi, Scumdaddy.”

“I did not. Your earth-friends are Cheesy. Sasha here was raised in the Big Empty so she’s nice and fresh.”

Julia stood up and walked away. In ten steps she was on the planet’s antipode where she sat with her legs crossed.

“Um.” The Scumbug’s lump rolled to her. “Julia, work with me here. I thought you’d be happy to meet someone relatively your age.”

“Why’d you kidnap me if you’ve got a sea-daughter already?”

The lump’s thin blob bubbled. “I could adopt as many kids as I want. It wouldn’t be too hard to fill a whole flaybo-planet with seahorse-orphans. But you’ve got a bounty, Julia. Saving you from the Big Cheese really means something.”

“So I’m a trophy, then?”

The Scumbug sighed and rolled away. It said something to Sasha the seahorse, who sank into the tiny planet and poked up through the sand next to Julia. “What’s wifi?”

Julia crossed her arms. “It’s how I talk to my friends on Earth. We fought our adopted daddies together. They were like my siblings.”

“Oh. I used to have friends and siblings.” Sasha brushed sand from her flesh-frills. “We seahorses are born by our fathers in clutches of thousands.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen that happen.”

“My parents died, so my clutch had to work together to survive. It’s not easy out there for a bunch of little seahorse-babies.”

“I bet.”

“My siblings died, or got separated from the clutch. Eventually I was all on my own. The Scumbug took me here where it’s safe. Come join my clutch, little sis.”

For the first time since she’d entered outer space, Julia smiled. “Maybe we can make this work.”

“I’m glad you girls are getting along,” said the Scumbug. “Now Julia, let’s see if I can get something like wifi running.”


On the border of the galaxy, on the edge of the Big Empty, eighteen of the Scumbug’s lumps waged combat against the mantis-ship. The ship fired lasers which boiled the Scumbug’s blob. The Scumbug blorped up asteroids and flung them back.

The Scumbug vibrated some lumps to send a message to the ship’s pilot. “Are you one of Lady Mantoid’s sisters?”

“I am,” she beamed back alongside a volley of lasers. “You can’t protect Julia forever. We mantoids have always lived near the Big Empty. We’re not afraid of Easy Cheese. We’ll find her in there.”

“Are you really so desperate for two trillion units?”

“It’s up to two-point-five,” said the mantoid, “and there’s a bottomless ocean of units behind that.” The mantis-ship opened some hatches and vicious bugs poured out into space. “You want a piece of that pie? You’ve already got the girl.”

The Scumbug blorped up the bugs and digested them in its blob. A few of the bugs survived long enough to grab at the Scumbug’s lumps before they disintegrated. “No one gets Julia’s pie. Not while I have anything to say about it.”

“Have it your way.” So many bugs poured from the ship that the Scumbug couldn’t digest them all fast enough. The bugs linked like army ants to rip the Scumbug’s lumps out of its blob. The bugs dragged the lumps into the mantis-ship.

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Inside the mantis-ship the bugs dumped the lumps into a cargo-bay. More bugs rolled the lumps up stairs to the cockpit where an alien operated a hundred levers. She looked much like Lady Mantoid but crimson red. “Tell me, Scumbug. You always say you don’t hurt kids. How can you justify disintegrating my brood like that?”

“If you order them to charge into my blob, it’s not me killing them when they dissolve. You kill your own kids using me as a knife.” The lumps spoke by vibrating. “I’ve never been abducted quite like this.”

The red mantoid laughed. “When I was just one little bug in a great big brood, my mother kidnapped you whole. Do you remember?”

“I remember.”

“I remember too,” said the mantoid, redundantly. “You were impossible to restrain when you still had your blob. You killed my mother and escaped.”

“I remember,” said the Scumbug.

“My brood and I learned that our elders were imperfect. Instead of dying for them we matured and ate them alive.”

“I remember,” said the Scumbug.

“So know this, Scumbug: you are not dealing with my mother who doomed herself. You are dealing with her daughters who have learned from her mistakes.”

“And I learned from mine.” One of the Scumbug’s lumps flipped inside out, expelling a dark pellet. “I made sure you doomed your brood, too.”

“…What the hell is—” The mantoid squealed as the dark pellet consumed the floor of her cockpit. “Easy Cheese!”

“I thought you said you weren’t afraid?”

Everything the dark pellet ate became more dark pellets. The mantoid started eating the pellets, and ordered her brood of bugs to join, but they weren’t fast enough to outrace its hunger. The dark pellets ate the spaceship, and when there was no spaceship left the dark pellets ate the brood. “My sisters will know of this!” said the red mantoid.

“I’m sure.” The Scumbug’s lumps drifted aimlessly. “Here comes my ride.” The nineteenth lump flew from the Big Empty with the scrambag. It rejoined the blob and used it to pluck the other lumps from among the dark pellets.

The red mantoid screamed as the dark pellets ate her legs. As quickly as she ate the pellets, the pellets twice as quickly ate her. “I’ve spread my pheromones a thousand light-years! My siblings are already on their way!”

“I’ll kill them too.” The Scumbug blorped up the red mantoid and crunched her corpse into its lumps.

The Scumbug opened its scrambag and filled it with six lumps and some blob. The remaining lumps chucked the scrambag faster than ever before toward the center of the galaxy.


“This ain’t wifi.”

Julia smeared slime off her phone’s screen, but the Scumbug’s one lump smeared it back. “It’s the best I can do. What’s missing?”

Julia sighed. The Scumbug’s slime was lit up with tiny bio-luminescent pixels to make a screen with excellent resolution, but no meaningful content, just trippy patterns. It looked a little like the Scumbug was imitating the phone-games it had seen Julia play. “There’s a website called ButtBook,” said Julia. “On ButtBook I can see my friends’ latest photos and comment on them. Get me ButtBook. I want to know what’s happened to my friends on Earth.”

The phone’s slime changed color to show a picture of Earth’s ambassador’s bodyguard covered in kittens and puppies and slime. “I saw this on Earth,” said the Scumbug. “There you go.”

“I want pictures from my real friends. I haven’t seen them in months, Scumdaddy.”

“I can’t get you the real ButtBook. That’d be Cheesey.”

“You can’t do anything right!” Julia stormed off again to sit on the antipode. The Scumbug sighed and rolled to Sasha the seahorse, who swam through the planet to Julia.

“Hi,” said Sasha. Julia turned away. “The Scumbug is trying its best. If its whole blob was here it could make you a phone as big as you want.”

“You’ve never used ButtBook in your life.”

“It sounds like a really good internet-thingy. It’d be nice to see photos of my clutch’s other survivors.”

“See? You get it.”

“But Julia, you’re my clutch now! And I don’t need photos of you, you’re right here!” Sasha hugged Julia.

Julia pouted. “My friends and I used ButtBook to conspire against our daddies. If we didn’t stick together, our daddies would’ve abused us more than they already did. Scumdaddy doesn’t want you or me to see anything Cheesy because it’ll show how bad we’ve got it on this tiny dirtball.”

“You wanna go back to the giant dirtball with all those evil daddies?”

“Yeah—because I had friends on that dirtball.”

“You’ve got friends here!”

Julia’s lower lip quivered. “If you’re satisfied keeping me on this dirtball you’re not my friend!”

“Hey! Hey!” The Scumbug’s lone lump rolled over. “Be nice, Julia! Soon you’ll learn how good you’ve got it here!”

Julia kicked the lump so hard it orbited the little planet. “Oh, now you’ve done it,” said Sasha.

“Young lady!” The Scumbug’s lump flailed its thin layer of blob trying to return to the planet’s surface. “When the rest of my lumps get back you’re in time out!

“A time out where? I’m already on a godforsaken rock!

“I made this godforsaken rock for you!

Julia flipped the Scumbug the bird with both hands and blew a raspberry. The Scumbug blew a raspberry back by rippling its blob.

White webs showered from the black sky and draped over the Scumbug’s lump.

A spider the size of a dachshund dropped onto the tiny planet. It took the dangling webs and swung the Scumbug’s lump into deep space like a hammer-throw. The flying lump shouted: “Julia! Sasha! Run!”

Sasha sank into the water. Julia ran, but there was nowhere to hide on the tiny planet. The spider chased her down and showered her in sticky webs. “Hey! Lemme go!”

“I did it!” said the spider. “I got the girl!”

Julia tried breaking free but the spider added more webs. “Are you one of Lady Mantoid’s kids?” she asked. “Or maybe one of her sisters’ kids?”

“Shut up!” The spider webbed her mouth shut. “You’re staying right here until my momma collects us. She sent a whole lotta bugs into the Big Empty, but I’m the one who found you!”

Sasha the seahorse burst from the sand and dragged the spider underwater. The spider bit and scratched with its spiky legs until Sasha released it back onto the surface. “You’re so dead when the Scumbug gets back!” she said to it, nursing bleeding wounds.

“Ugh! I gotta dry off.” The spider splayed out its eight legs. “Your Scumbug is busy fighting my momma and aunties. And I’m not afraid of death anyways! Hundreds of my broodmates have already died searching the Big Empty for Julia, and they died proud!

Sasha squinted but kept her distance. “Really?”

“Mm-hm! And thousands more will come next! If enough bugs flood the Big Empty, we survivors will make a path straight here safe from Easy Cheese.”

“Wow.” Sasha splashed the spider with water. “You’re like Julia, then. Your species is eaten by its parents.”

The spider squirmed away from Sasha’s splashes. “My momma wouldn’t eat me, cuz I’d die for her!”

“That’s what it means for your parents to eat you,” said Sasha. “It’s a metaphor. You live for them.”

“Nah, see, momma lives for us! For all her kids!” The spider looked at the black sky in wonder. “She told us that when she was a young little bug in a brood, her momma treated them awful. So they ate their mammas and the brood matured into adult mantoids who would never be cruel to their kids!”

“But your momma sent her brood to die looking for Julia.”

“Mm-hm, and we agreed to because she’d never be cruel to us!”

“But that is the cruel thing.”

“Now you’re talking nonsense.”

Sasha blinked. “Oh.” She looked at Julia. “This is why we need ButtBook.”


At the center of the galaxy, the scrambag joined a light-speed bazaar orbiting a black hole. The six lumps disembarked the scrambag to wander through neon stalls. To be in the bazaar was to be direct contact with the Big Cheese, bartering goods and services with the entire galaxy at once.

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The Scumbug found a digital billboard of jobs. The billboard’s attendant was a broccoli-stalk made of eyes. “Can I help you find anything, sir? Um, ma’am? Um, sludge?”

“My private residence is under siege,” said the Scumbug. “To drive away the infestation I’m gonna need some firepower, maybe two trillion units of it. I’m looking for jobs in, say, assassination, or intimidation. I’ve always been good at those.”

“There’s a kidnapping at 2.6 trillion, but I suspect competition is stiff.”

“I don’t need all two trillion from one errand. Gimme some odd-jobs.”

The eye-broccoli bopped the billboard with its optic nerves. Job-openings swirled front-and-center. The job-descriptions came with photos of aliens: a lizard, a blowfly, a hummingbird. “Here are three ambassadors who need to be assassinated for four hundred billion units apiece.”

“I’ll take those.” The Scumbug grabbed the job-descriptions right off the billboard as glass tablets. Three of its lumps each took some blob and accelerated in different directions. “What else?”

“Here are three life-forms who need to be intimidated or otherwise brutalized for three hundred billion units apiece.”

“That mark is a little young for me.” Two lumps took the other two job-descriptions and absconded. “One more, come on.”

“How do you feel about body-guarding?” A job-opening floated to the Scumbug. The photo was of a familiar-looking seahorse. “Two hundred bi—”

“I’ll take it,” said the Scumbug’s lump. It grabbed the job and left for Earth in the scrambag.


The seahorse sighed with relief at his glass tablet—someone had taken the job. Then he shivered with fright at his glass tablet—a call from Lady Mantoid! “Incoming call, sir.”

“Let’s talk,” said Earth’s ambassador. Lady Mantoid’s face appeared on the tablet. “Looking radiant, ma’am.”

“I’ll have Julia soon,” said Lady Mantoid. “I first enlisted my sister Crimson Mantoid, knowing she would fail. The Scumbug killed her with Easy Cheese. This inspired more of my sisters to join the cause seeking vengeance. They’ll bring Julia straight to me.”

“Glad to hear it,” said the ambassador. “And, um, you won’t let anyone kill us, right? Because then the bounty would be off.”

“Believe me, I’m protecting you and your planet very carefully. Very. Carefully.” Lady Mantoid hung up.

“Phoo.” The ambassador loosened his tie. “It’s always stressful talking to her.” The seahorse just shivered. “What’s Easy Cheese? Any relation to the Big Cheese?”

“Um. It’s a substance which fills the space between galaxies. It actually makes up the bulk of the observable universe, but it’s invisible under most conditions. This makes intergalactic travel basically impossible.”

“How do you kill someone with Easy Cheese?”

“Easy Cheese makes everything it touches into more Easy Cheese.”

“Like a flesh-eating amoeba?”

“On the subatomic level. Lady Mantoid’s species can eat Easy Cheese, but they harvest just a little at a time. The Scumbug must have gotten the drop on her.”

The ambassador smiled. “Let’s remember that’s an option. Just because Lady Mantoid is useful at the moment doesn’t mean we won’t ever want her out of the way.”

“Don’t worry sir,” said the seahorse, “I know exactly what you mean.”


“Wait. So you’re saying seahorse-parents don’t make their clutch fight to the death on their behalf?”

“Nuh-uh,” said Sasha to the spider. “We have errands like collecting algae for dinner.”

“Speaking of which?” Julia gave Sasha an empty stone cup. Sasha descended into the water and brought Julia a fresh cup of algae. “This stuff’s not bad.”

“It’s a family recipe,” said Sasha. “Do you have any family recipes, Mister Spider?”

The spider thought. “We harvest Easy Cheese sometimes. It’s free and there’s plenty to go around, but it tastes awful.”

“Try this.” Julia gave the cup to the spider.

The spider lapped at the algae. “Eh. Better than Easy Cheese.”

“You guys gotta try noodles,” said Julia. “On Earth we have spaghetti with tomato sauce, and fettuccine alfredo.”

“I don’t even know what those words mean,” said Sasha.

Julia smiled. “You will.” She leaned forward and Sasha and the spider leaned in to hear her. “Spider-friend, bring your brood here and we’ll tell them all about ButtBook and spaghetti.”


The Scumbug-lump in the scrambag tapped the seahorse on the glass tablet’s job-description. This initiated a video-call. “Your wanted a bodyguard?”

“Don’t come too close!” said the seahorse. “Lady Mantoid is somewhere in this solar-system. She’s the reason I want protection.”

“Yeah, I detect her on Mars. I’m hiding behind Neptune. The job-description says you’re on Earth’s moon?”

In Earth’s moon, and—hey. You!” The seahorse shrieked. “You’re the Scumbug!”

“Well, part of it. About five percent.”

“Have you come to kill me?”

“I came to be your bodyguard.”

The seahorse looked in all directions. He was in a private office where Earth’s ambassador could not hear—hopefully. “You want to guard the adviser to the guy kidnapping the little girl you adopted? Why should I trust you? You’re planning to kill us all!”

The Scumbug’s lump sighed. “Right now most of my lumps are protecting Julia from a bunch of mantoids. They’re the only species which can explore the Big Empty enough to bother me. I plan to use the body-guarding salary to kill the mantoids. That sounds like all our problems solved at once.”

“There are so many ways you could solve all our problems at once,” said the seahorse. “You could bring Julia to Earth and collect the bounty! Julia would be home and you’d be richer by trillions of units.”

“I don’t want units. I want Julia to be safe. Julia isn’t safe on Earth.”

“Then you could reveal the big secret,” said the seahorse. “You could tell the Big Cheese that Julia isn’t actually important to Earth’s ambassador. The bounty would evaporate and then no one would be after Julia.”

“But then the Big Cheese would be after someone else and I’d have to adopt them,” said the Scumbug. “That’s my whole point here! I want to save a kid from being eaten by the Big Cheese!”

“But… then Julia’s being eaten by the Big Cheese because you choose!

The Scumbug’s lump shook. “No. The Big Cheese makes its own decisions and I just react to them.”

“You are the Big Cheese.”

“I’m fresh. I’m separating Julia from Cheese like I’m separated.”

“But you’re not separated.”

“I will be.” The Scumbug’s lump bubbled its blob. “If I separate Julia I separate myself.”

The seahorse sighed. “You know, I shouldn’t try to correct you. If you’re willing to be my bodyguard, I’m willing to pay you. I’ve made a profit on Julia’s kidnapping and it would be nice to survive long enough to enjoy that profit alongside my kids. I guess I can see where you’re coming from.”

“I am not like you!” said the Scumbug.

“Good, I’m a coward,” said the seahorse. “Hold on, I’m getting a call from Lady Mantoid. I’ll let you listen in so you know what you’re dealing with.” The seahorse carried the tablet to the ambassador’s office. “Incoming call, sir. You know who.”

“Put her on.”

The seahorse touched the tablet and it screamed. “Aaaaaaugh!” screamed Lady Mantoid. “They’re eating me! They’re eating me!”

“Are you alright, ma’am?” asked the ambassador.

In pain, Lady Mantoid flailed and knocked her tablet’s camera to show her dire situation. Her own brood was eating her legs. “Did they learn this from you, Ambassador? You won’t get away with this!”

“Hoo boy,” said the seahorse. He ended the call and hid the tablet in his flesh-flaps. “Well, that’s that.”

“What happened?” asked the ambassador.

“The mantoid species only matures by betraying its elders. The brood which replaces her probably won’t maintain her bargains with us.”

“Damn. Well, we’re still the only people in the galaxy who know the location of the most valuable little girl in the universe. Assassins will keep coming after us and we’ll keep charging them for her location. They’ll go after the Scumbug and die. Or, they actually get Julia and return her to us to split the bounty.”

The seahorse thought. “Maybe we can skip some dangerous steps. If we convince the Scumbug to return Julia, we can split the bounty with it.”

“Can we contact the Scumbug?”

“After Lady Mantoid attacked us I sent out a request for a bodyguard. Who should apply but the Scumbug? I have it on hold right now.”

“The Scumbug wants to kill me. It would’ve if I hadn’t been a robot.”

“That was when it thought Julia had value to Earth. Now the Scumbug knows her value is your illusion. Remember I said the Scumbug had incomprehensible morality? Julia only has value to the Scumbug if she has value to the Big Cheese. It needs you alive.”

The ambassador squinted. “Okay… Yes. Okay! The Scumbug returns Julia to her home-planet, to someone who values her very dearly, and everyone gets some units out of it.”

“Tell it just like that. Maybe you’ll be more convincing than I was.” The seahorse took the glass tablet from its flesh-folds. “Oh. It hung up. Oh! It declined the job-offer! Sorry.”

The ambassador shrugged. “We’ll stick to plan A, then. Any assassins after us?”


The Scumbug’s larger portion with thirteen lumps had fought the mantoid spaceships for so long it lost track of time. It managed to destroy some spaceships by blowing them up with asteroids or throwing Easy Cheese in their exhaust-ports, but the mantoid spaceships boiled the Scumbug’s blob with lasers, evaporating it into useless steam.

“Ah, you’re back.” The thirteen lumps welcomed back five lumps from different directions. The lumps, having completed jobs, returned with mechanical parts worth hundreds of billions of units. “There’s still one lump missing, and it’s got the scrambag. But this should be enough.”

The Scumbug shielded itself with an invisible cloud of Easy Cheese as it put the mechanical parts together. The mechanical parts, combined, were a giant laser.

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The Scumbug prepared to fire its laser, but hesitated and vibrated a message to the spaceships. “I’m assembled a weapon which will disable your engines. I’ll board you and kill all the adult mantoids. I’ll leave your little bugs in a flaybo planet. They’ll take good care of ’em for you.”

But suddenly even the spaceships which weren’t on fire were eerily still.

“Hello?” vibrated the Scumbug to the stationary spaceships. “Is anyone aboard?”

“Hello? Hello?” replied a ship. “Ah, there we go. You just push the little red button, everyone.”

“Oh. Hi!” said another ship.

“You don’t sound like adult mantoids,” said the Scumbug. “Maybe you’re their little broodlings?”

“We’re the mantoids now,” said the bungs. “We’ve eaten our elders.”

“We’re leaving,” said more bugs. “We don’t care about whatever you and the old ones were fighting about.”

The Scumbug watched all the mantoid spaceships move sporadically as the bugs learned their controls. “I can still take you to a flaybo planet,” said the Scumbug. “They’d accept you as jeorbs and tell you a nice story.”

“Why would we want to do that?” asked a broodling.

Said another, “We’ve lived near the edge of the galaxy long enough to know flaybos are boooring.”

“Your elders wouldn’t have told you this,” said the Scumbug. “Mantoids and flaybos are from the same evolutionary branch. You’re controlled by stories just like a jeorb. Your elders told stories which made you into do their bidding. You’ve begun maturing by eating them. You’ll finish maturing by eating each other. The survivors will have their own broods they tell their own stories for their own ends, until they in turn betray you. You’d might as well live as a jeorb.”

The bugs laughed. “We’ve learned from our parents. We’ll be nice to each other, and if we have a brood, we’ll be nice to the brood too.

“I hope you’re right,” said the Scumbug, “but I don’t think you can learn kindness in your endless cycle.”

“We can learn outside that cycle, too,” said the bugs. They pointed their spaceships to the stars. “Julia gave us the idea!”

The spaceships took off faster than light. “…Julia?” The Scumbug drifted into the Big Empty. “…Julia! Sasha!” Faster and faster, it weaved through Easy Cheese.

It finally found the tiny gray planet. Orbiting impotently at great distance was the lump it had left with Julia and Sasha. Reabsorbing that lump, the Scumbug became aware of what it had missed. Julia, Sasha, and a spider were headed to Earth in a mantoid craft.

The Scumbug moved fast as possible—which was not very fast without its scrambag.

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Mother and Son

(This is part three of a story starting here.)


Germa the Gerbil opened his eyes for the first time ever. To his left and right a hundred of his scrawny broodmates were mewling and shivering still wet with afterbirth. Looking left again, half those broodmates were gone. Looking right again, no broodmates remained. Germa was in a dark, earthy cave, alone except for whatever was munching the bones of his litter.

“Hush little gerbil, don’t make a sound.” Germa tensed as the unseen entity approached. “Momma’s decided to keep you around.” Germa’s snout was opened and a nipple pressed against his tongue. “Made the extras into milk.” Germa slurped. It was sweet. “Made their bones as soft as silk.”

Germa closed his eyes and suckled. He was pick of the litter. The rest had been recycled into nutrients for him and him alone.

Germa woke up. He was in his spaceship headed toward the planet of the flaybos. He left his sleeping-pod and took the controls. “Computer, how long was the trip?”

“Six Earth-weeks,” said the computer.

Germa nodded. Using the sleeping-pod was risky—a bandit robbing the ship could kill him easily as his mother killed his helpless broodmates. But neglecting the sleeping-pod was worse—prolonged space-travel warped your perception of time unless you slept through it. “Prepare for landing,” said Germa. “I heard the Scumbug gloating about hiding its scrambag in this hell-hole.”

His spaceship landed and Germa stepped out onto the exit-ramp.

Instantly the sand churned. A hundred jeorbs emerged squealing and screaming and thrashing their tentacles at him. Germa’s spaceship targeted these jeorbs with laser-canons and disintegrated them. More jeorbs dug up and the spaceship kept zapping them to ash.

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After a few minutes jeorbs ceased to appear. Germa descended the exit-ramp and investigated the holes they’d left in the sand during their assault. The holes went deep into the planet. Germa followed them into the darkness. Germa didn’t mind darkness; he was mostly blind. Behind the odor of jeorbs there was the stench of their flaybo. Germa followed the stench through the labyrinths. Eventually he found a flaybo with no jeorbs. It hissed at him. “Save your screeches for the interrogation,” said Germa.

“You’ll get nothing from me!”

“I’ve killed your jeorbs. You sent them all to die.”

“Psha. I’ve hidden the best ones. If you kill me they’ll eat my corpse and tell my story.”

Germa opened wide. “Not if I eat you first!” The flaybo leapt upon Germa and smacked him with tentacles. Germa ripped open the flaybo’s body and slurped intestines like spaghetti. The flaybo howled and bit Germa, but Germa was more proficient at combat-cannibalism. “The Scumbug! Has it come here?”

“I don’t know what a Scumbug is!

Germa ate more insides. “The Scumbug boasted to me about feeding a flaybo to their own jeorbs to hide a vessel somewhere in this planet. Where is it?”

“I don’t know!”

“Who knows the Scumbug’s secrets?”

“Only the flaybo keeping them!”

“Where are they?”

“I don’t know!”

Germa kept eating. “Who does know?”

“Nobody but the Scumbug!”

“Graah!” Germa ate the flaybo’s beak in frustration. “If you don’t tell me now I’ll eat you whole. Another flaybo will tell their story to your jeorbs. Everything you are will be gone forever.”

The flaybo tried to speak but with no beak, blood just poured from its face.

“Pity.” Germa ate the rest of the flaybo and picked its tendons from his buckteeth. “No wonder the Scumbug stowed its scrambag here. Flaybos can’t scream anything useful.” Germa left the subterranean catacombs and boarded his ship. “Lady Mantoid is probably already on the Scumbug’s trail. Only she and her brood could comb the whole inside of this planet looking for clues.”

The ship’s computer chimed in: “We could comb the exterior from low orbit.”

“Huh?”

“Look,” said the computer. The holes which the jeorbs made during their onslaught hadn’t yet filled with sand. “The surface of this planet is covered in the dandruff of a hundred million jeorbs and flaybos. If the Scumbug left recently perhaps the exit-wound hasn’t filled yet.”

“A-ha.” Germa leaned back in his pilot’s chair. “Liftoff.”


“So what is a scrambag, exactly?” asked Julia. She was glad to play her phone-games next to the power-outlets. “You said it was an egg?”

“Every hit-man has a scrambag,” said the Scumbug. “If you ever need to disappear you’ll want a collection of tools and weapons to abscond with. Not every hit-man has such a useful egg as mine.”

“Who are we disappearing from?”

“Everyone after you.”

“Like Germa the Gerbil?”

“Is he after you?”

“The seahorse said so.”

“Well, Germa’s a chump. I’m not scared of him. But yes, we’re disappearing from the likes of Germa the Gerbil.”

Julia looked through the transparent shell of the scrambag. Stars were rushing by. “How fast are we going?”

“Naked, I can travel through vacuum at about three light-years a week. With the scrambag’s tech we’re booking about thirty a day and still accelerating.”

“How many light-years have we traveled so far?”

“A couple hundred.”

Julia punched some numbers into a calculator on her phone. “We’ve…We’ve been off Earth for months?”

“Uh-huh.”

“But.” Julia shook. “But it hasn’t felt that long at all.”

“That’s normal,” said the Scumbug. “Traveling at relativistic-speeds warps perception of time.”

“I haven’t had a bite to eat since we left Earth and I’m not even hungry.”

“Your stomach perceives time, too. It might be years before you’re hungry.”

“How does that work?”

“Do I look like a physicist?”

Julia folded her arms. “You promised me noodles.”

“I did not.”

“I want noodles!” said Julia. “You adopted me months ago and haven’t made noodles once! You’re awful, Scumdaddy.”

“Okay, okay! Chill.” The scrambag hummed. “You said noodles are starchy, right?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Starches are pretty easy. My scrambag can make them from scratch.” From the ceiling of the orb, one long strand of spaghetti protruded until it coiled on the floor like a rope. “Go wild, kid.”

“I can’t eat that,” said Julia.

“Why not?”

“No tomato-sauce.”

The Scumbug curdled. “What’s a tomato?”

“It’s a vegetable. Actually, wait, maybe it’s a fruit?”

“Starches are easy, Julia. Plants are hard. I can’t make a tomato because I don’t even know what they look like.”

“They’re red but they start green.”

“That doesn’t help. Is there anything else which goes on noodles?”

“Um. Butter? Olive-oil?”

“All that’s gibberish to me except ‘oil.’ I can make oil. Humans eat oil?”

“Yeah, it’s in lots of stuff.”

“Oil bursts into flames, and you eat it?”

“Not that kind of oil!” Julia laughed. “I think olive-oil is made of plant-fats and stuff.”

“Ah. Plant-fats. I can fake that. Still flammable, though.” The scrambag hummed as the Scumbug made oil. “Hold on, it might take a while.”

“How many light-years to go, Scumdaddy?”

“A bunch. We’re going where not even the Big Cheese can hurt you.”

“Where?”

“You know how the Big Cheese is—what’d you call it?—the interconnectedness of all things?” Julia nodded. “Well, we’re going where there’s no things. The Big Empty. The space between galaxies. The only place the Big Cheese fears.”

“…But… if we’re part of the Big Cheese, shouldn’t we also fear the Big Empty?”

“You don’t want to be part of the Big Cheese. No one does! That’s why the Big Cheese happens.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind. We’re going to Neverland, Julia.”

“Is there reception in Neverland? Your egg doesn’t have wifi.”

“Aren’t you listening to me? No wifi! No reception!”

“But my friends—”

“I can adopt your friends next if it turns out you really need them for your survival. Until then, no Cheese!”

“You want me to threaten suicide? I’m no stranger to that game!”

The Scumbug’s lumps jittered. “…Julia?”

“I was born playing that game. When I was popping out, the doctor said it was either kill me or kill my mum. Mum selflessly squirt me into the world and choked. Daddy number one didn’t want me after that. Daddy number two adopted me and a bunch of other kids to dodge taxes by claiming us as dependents but keeping us in squalor. I said I’d kill myself if he doesn’t give us half the cut. He surrendered me to Daddy number three and I’ve been fighting my way up ever since. You don’t scare me!”

“See, I’m tellin’ ya, this is exactly the kind of Cheese I want to keep you away from.”

“If the Big Empty doesn’t even have wifi I’m gonna off myself and you won’t get whatever kind of tax-dodge you’re after. Just send me to Daddy number nine!”

“Hey! Hey! No talking like that! Let’s make a deal.” The Scumbug’s scrambag drizzled oily substance on the long strand of spaghetti. “I’ll tell you what it’s like where we’re going. Then you tell me what wifi is and I’ll do my best to make some for you.”

Julia munched the spaghetti. It was bleh, but she ate anyway.

“I’ve made a tiny planet hidden way out in the Big Empty. You’ll be able to grow up with no Cheese—just you, air, water, and all the oily noodles you want. You’ll be totally safe because the Big Empty is filled with Easy Cheese, and the Big Cheese can’t stand Easy Cheese. It won’t come anywhere near you.”

“…Easy Cheese? You’re making this up.”

“I’m not! Easy Cheese is the biggest part of the Big Cheese. That’s why the Big Cheese is so scared of it!”

“Maybe Daddy number nine will tell me what really going on.” Julia pointed outside the translucent scrambag at an approaching spaceship. “Maybe that’s him now.”


The ambassador’s newest office was at the core of the moon. “Wow. So this is what a trillion units can buy?”

“Half a trillion,” said the seahorse. He showed the ambassador expenditure-charts on his glass tablet. “We’ve got another half-trillion to play with before we inevitably tailspin.”

“I’m feeling flight-worthy,” said the ambassador. He was flanked by eight armed guards on either side. “Germa the Gerbil left weeks ago and Lady Mantoid is chasing his tail. Earth’s foray into the cosmos has been nothing but profit!”

“Lemme skim my salary off the top, then.” The seahorse used the glass tablet to wire units to his home-planet. “What will you do with almost half a trillion units? Revolutionize Earth’s something-or-other?”

“Shh, shh.” The ambassador tutted disapprovingly. “Earth doesn’t know about these units. Remember, nothing in this office leaves the office.”

“Seriously?”

“You deal with me. I deal with Earth. The story they’re hearing is that we’re working our tails off trying to get Julia back from an alien hit-man. That’s good media. We got these units chucking Julia under the bus to make a deal with an alien hit-man. That’s bad media.”

The seahorse turned off his glass tablet at tucked it into his skin-flap. “There’s a reason you’re the Big Cheese, sir. Truly I’m just riding your coattails. I couldn’t bring myself to make good decisions like you.”

“Julia’s kidnapping has driven my Earthly profits through the roof,” said the ambassador. “Poor people are donating to me out of pity. What’s the exchange rate from American dollars to space-units?”

“There is none. Your money is worthless in the galactic theater.”

“Perfect. I’ll pocket the donations and we’ll tell Earth their generosity exchanged for half a trillion units. We’ll spend the units on more publicity-stunts—gosh, maybe we’ll actually rescue Julia after all! Or pretend we’re trying, anyway.”

“What can you buy with your human-money?”

“Oh, human-stuff,” said the ambassador. “Mostly fancy offices in interesting locations. I had a few albino tigers back in my heyday. Maybe I’ll have some shipped to the moon.”

“Huh.” The seahorse chuckled. “You know, the Big Cheese does stuff like that. Hoarding dangerous animals.”

“The tigers wouldn’t be dangerous. They’d be declawed and defanged.”

“Neutralizing animals is the reason you hoard them in the first place, isn’t it? I couldn’t tell you, I’ve never had the fascination myself.”

The ambassador shrugged. “Where does Germa the Gerbil think the Scumbug is going?”

“Remember I said the Scumbug fed a flaybo to its own jeorbs?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Flaybo-planets are scattered along the galaxies’ outer rim. They’re made of the excretions of jeorbs and flaybos who live inside them. The Scumbug hid its scrambag in a planet like that, like stashing a getaway-motorcycle in a septic-tank on the bad side of town. If Germa knows which planet, he might be headed there.”

The ambassador drummed his knuckles. “Let’s assume Julia is dead. For her honor, we hire an assassin to kill Germa, or maybe the Scumbug. Earth makes a strong first impression on the Big Cheese and as ambassador I’ll give myself a shiny medal.”

“Better seek vengeance on the gerbil,” said the seahorse. “With its scrambag the Scumbug might be impossible for anyone to catch. Julia’s long gone.”

“What is a scrambag, anyway?”

“It’s what the Scumbug calls its escape-pod. Hit-men sometimes feel an urgent need to become distant and undetectable. Um. Speaking of which.” The seahorse looked around the office. “We’ve got escape-pods, don’t we?”

“Yeah, why?”

“I just feel a sudden sense of impending dooOH HOLY CRAP!” The ambassador’s sixteen armed guards exploded into fountains of bugs the size of chihuahuas. “Open the escape-pods!”

“Bleh.” The ambassador wiped entrails and bug-goop from his suit and pressed a button under his desk to open the escape-pods. More bugs spilled from the pods and crawled all over the seahorse and the ambassador. “What the hell is this!”

The seahorse hesitated to speak because the bugs were swarming around its face. “The spawn of Lady Mantoid!”

“That’s right!” She crawled from an escape-pod onto the ceiling of the office. Lady Mantoid was like a praying mantis with a giggling geisha’s make-up. She was as long as the office was wide. “Darlings! Rejoice! If I wanted you dead, you’d be dead!”

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The ambassador swatted bugs from his face, but they just kept coming. “What do you want!”

“How much did Germa the Gerbil pay to hear that the Scumbug had captured your daughter?”

“How did you know—” began the seahorse, but the ambassador interrupted.

“A trillion units!”

“I’ll take that, thank you very much, in return for your lives.”

“We spent half already!”

“Pity. I’ll kill just one of you in exchange for the other half.”

The seahorse blinked. “Okay!” He fished the glass tablet from his flap.

“Hey!” The ambassador tackled the seahorse, squashing bugs between them. “Those units aren’t yours to spend!”

“I wanna live! I’ve got a family!”

The ambassador wrestled the tablet from him and clutched it to his chest as the bugs swarmed. “Mantoid!”

Lady Mantoid!” she said.

Lady Mantoid! How’d you know the Scumbug got Julia?”

“I followed Germa for a while,” said Lady Mantoid. “He was in a sleeping-pod so he couldn’t notice me trailing him. I realized he was headed toward a flaybo-planet where the Scumbug boasted about hiding its scrambag. If the Scumbug has Julia and Germa hasn’t bothered eating you yet, you must have tricked him somehow. Or maybe… you’re letting him think he’s tricking the Big Cheese?”

“You got it!” said the ambassador. “We’re letting Germa cash Julia’s bounty before the Big Cheese realizes she’s worthless to us. You could beat him to it and make two trillion units, but only if we’re alive!”

“That sounds complicated,” said Lady Mantoid. “Give me your half-trillion units and I’ll feed your seahorse to my limitless spawn.”

The bugs were already munching the screaming seahorse. The ambassador tapped the tablet and used it to bat away bugs. “I just spent the rest of it!”

“Ooh. My bugs will eat you too then.”

“I invested it.” The ambassador showed her the tablet. “I raised Julia’s bounty to two and a half trillion. That simplifies things, doesn’t it? Not so complicated anymore?”

The seahorse screamed and screamed even as the bugs pulled away from him and the ambassador. When the seahorse composed himself he saw Lady Mantoid and the ambassador staring eye-to-eye. “You’ve got moxie,” she said. “You’re Easy Cheese. And I like Easy Cheese!”

The seahorse shook. “This is so simple I think you’re gonna have to explain it to me.”

“Charlie,” said the ambassador, “how much has your retirement-fund invested in Julia’s kidnapping?”

“About ten-billion units of my assets are invested in kidnapping newcomers.”

“Julia specifically?”

“No way for me to know, but it’s spread pretty thin. Maybe a few hundred units?”

“Exactly. I put half a trillion units on Julia’s head, so I reckon I’m the lead stakeholder on the bounty!”

“So when I capture Julia and return her to you,” said Lady Mantoid, “I’ll get the whole bounty to myself and Earth will appear subjugated by the Big Cheese while the supposed hostage is safe and sound!” Lady Mantoid and her army of bugs packed into the escape-pods. “Pleasure doing business, Ambassador.”

The ambassador caught his breath and loosened his tie while the escape-pods took off. The seahorse wept and hit the floor. “What the hell was that!”

“We’re scamming the Big Cheese,” said the ambassador. “Lady Mantoid will claim the bounty by returning Julia to us under the pretense that we’re one of the evil space-monsters capitalizing on Julia’s capture. We might even be in position to make some units after the dust settles.”

The seahorse shook his head. “You can’t outsmart Lady Mantoid. If you survive this it’s because she thinks she’ll have leverage over you.”

“And she’ll be right!” said the ambassador. He wiped bug-juice off his suit. “She’s got secrets we need her to keep and she’ll make us pay through the nose. But if an assassin like Lady Mantoid think’s you’re valuable enough to keep around, you stick around.”


“Oh, that’s just Germa,” said the Scumbug. “I’m not worried about him. Hey, can you see that? That’s your new home-planet.”

Julia looked where the Scumbug pointed with a pseudopod, but couldn’t see anything but empty black space. They can just entered the Big Empty. “How do you even see things, Scumdaddy?”

“Vibration-detectors in my lumps.”

“Vibrations? In the vacuum of space?”

“Lotsa things vibrate through the vacuum of space. Like Easy Cheese. I can sense Easy Cheese better than anyone. That’s why I’m not scared of the Big Empty.”

Julia looked back at Germa’s spaceship. “Germa’s ship is vibrating. It looks like it’s charging a laser.”

“He’s bluffing. If he vaporized you he wouldn’t get the bounty.”

Germa’s ship fired a laser and missed Julia but clipped the Scumbug. Julia felt the scrambag heat up a few degrees by proximity to the blast. “You’re awful confident, Scumdaddy. What makes you think Germa’s such a pushover?”

“He’s the kind of life-form who gets eaten by their parents.”

“You think Germa’s mommy is gonna come put a boot up his butt?”

“No, no. I’ve never met Germa’s mother personally. I’m sure she’s a fine old gerbil-lady and the fact she probably eats her kids is the origin of the idiom but not the only meaning. I mean Germa’s the kind of alien who’s betrayed by everyone all the time because he’s not clever enough to do the betraying himself.”

Germa’s spaceship exploded into a billion pieces when another spaceship flew out of nowhere and blew it up.

“See? Now there’s someone I’m worried about.”

Julia gawked at the ship. It looked like the head of a praying mantis. “Is that Lady Mantoid?”

“Probably a sibling of hers. When a brood gets the chance to mature it’s pretty tight-knit.” The Scumbug’s twenty lumps separated. “I’m splitting up. Julia, you’re taking the scrambag.” Like a dividing cell, the Scumbug split into two blobs. One blob was large and contained eighteen lumps. The other blob was small and contained two lumps and Julia in the scrambag. “You’re coming with me,” said the lumps.

“So there are two Scumbugs now?”

“Still just the one. I’m split up.” The scrambag accelerated far faster carrying so much less mass. The rest of the Scumbug lagged behind to engage the mantis-ship. “I’m gonna drop you off on your new home-planet, then send a lump back to the main mass with most of the blob.”

Julia watched the Scumbug’s larger portion blorb up the mantis-ship and attempt to digest it as they disappeared into the black distance. “So… Can you see things from the other lumps? Can you sense their vibrations, I mean?”

“Your hands can feel each other, right? But if you chopped off a hand, you could feel it, but not feel from it. I can just put myself back together after I chop myself up. Anyway, welcome home.”

No wonder Julia hadn’t seen it in the vast emptiness of space: the new planet was the size of a mobile-home. The Scumbug’s smaller portion landed on it’s gray dusty surface. The scrambag opened and Julia walked out. “It’s a little small. A lot small, actually.”

“I pumped up the gravity by injecting some neutron-star matter.” The scrambag shut and left the planet, leaving only one lump beside Julia.

“Hey!” Julia waved her arms at the departing scrambag. “Come back!”

“I’m still here, Julia,” said the remaining lump.

“But I need power-outlets!”

“We’ll try to make do here.”

“There isn’t any here. This is nowhere.

“That’s why you’re safe!” The Scumbug started to dig. “Lemme introduce you to your new friend.”

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