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Dangers of Dangling

Jez Patterson is a teacher and writer currently based in Madrid. Links to his recent and collected fiction can be found at: jezpatterson.wordpress.com.

"Because angling makes men peculiarly obtuse," Percina remarked, having spent about an hour working out the line. As it were.
Martin carried on setting out the fishing equipment.
They were carrying a party of eight anglers who'd spent the entire voyage to the Wowen Cluster drinking and boasting of their biggest catches. Space fishing was limited by the cost of equipping a ship and getting to the far-flung location--and the fact there were very few things that actually swam in Space.
Although she'd sworn she wouldn't accept any more captaining jobs which were welcoming wallies and wastrels on whacky ways to whittle away their wealth, Captain Percina Saunders no longer had that luxury. Since learning she was expecting a child, she and Martin needed the money.
"Motherhood is more like Robin Hood," her mother had told her. "A quick transference from rich to poor, a constant feeling you're wearing ill-fitting tights, and sharing your life with a preachy, balding fat man."
It wasn't one of her mother's better lines. Martin, following all the enhancements Percina had paid for prior, and as a prerequisite, to marry him, bore no resemblance to Friar Tuck. She did, however, have a party of men far too merry for her liking.
"There they are," Martin said, as a shoal of gold and silver things swam by. Percina pressed the ship's intercom and informed their party that the fishing fun could commence. She put her face to the window.
"What actually are they?" she asked.
Martin shrugged.
After enhancements that had given Martin the mental capabilities of several small but irritatingly well-informed computers, that should have been the first warning signal.
And that should have been the second.
The Wowen fish provided what the anglers described as "great sport."
As this involved the fish getting snagged on their lines and then dragging the ship about like a badly balanced water-skier, Percina was unable to match the precise sport they had in mind. Not one of them had actually managed to land a fish, and had the ship been made of rubber they would currently be stretched into a mutated star-shape.
As the fishermen stubbornly held onto their lines and their lunches, Percina switched off the engines. They were pinned out like a Native American buffalo hide drying in the sun, anyway.
From the dawn of time, men were supposed to have an inbuilt hunting instinct. They had mistakenly believed that this meant their womenfolk came with the instinct to cut up the dead meat they brought back and to clean and sew. Women had apparently been earmarked as morticians.
There were desultory cheers as one of the anglers hooked a dead fish as it drifted by and Martin went down to help him drag it in for a photo.
"The 'fish' is not a living thing," Martin told her. "It's a construct."
"And what built it?"
"I can't name the creature, but I can name its hobby," Martin said and when Percina looked at him blankly, he added: "I think the 'fish' are bait."
Which made her ship the catch of the day.
"Cut the lines! We're getting out of here!"
Percina intended to be the one that got away.
Getting an angler to cut his line was difficult enough. Getting a drunken, belligerent angler to toss his whole rod and reel overboard was another.
But then so was facing down an irate, pregnant, Captain Percina Saunders.
As she turned the released ship around, a net materialized out of the darkness of Space and smothered them.
The only "weaponry" they had on board were some rods to stun whatever the anglers caught and which Percina was now considering using on their panicking passengers.
The ship tilted as the net was gathered, and they were dragged upwards for whatever had caught them to get a better look.
Sure enough, a huge, veined eyeball, dangling from various optical nerves like a rather macabre passenger balloon, pressed up close to their ship.
When the net turned them upside down and shook them out, Percina felt oddly insulted.
It was useful for a wife to read a husband's different silences.
"Go on then," Percina said. "Tell me why it threw us back...."
"It's the code of the angler," Martin said. "You don't keep a tiddler... and nor do you keep one that's about to spawn."
Percina stared at him as her hands went to the tiny cell division going on in her belly.
Despite Martin's fear that she would be livid that her current state was what had saved them, Percina felt ridiculously proud of her unborn child.
He or she--or however her child chose to define itself--had just saved the ship and its passengers' lives.
It wasn't just a hero.
It was a Saunders.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Author Comments

I had an idea for a sketch featuring two people stuck, and bickering, in quicksand. Percina and Martin were created on the spur of the moment, merely to give the characters names and a reason for being there. I really didn't expect to see or hear from them again. When I was submitting the story to DSF, I was reminded that they also considered series of stories and was drawn to the challenge. All the ideas I came up with, however, either called for stories that would be too long or off-genre. Sheepishly, I went back to Percina to enquire if, by any chance, she'd experienced any other "incidents" she might care to relate. I was surprised, but delighted, to find she had more to say, and honored that DSF accepted them for publication. Thank you.

- Jez Patterson
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