Thomas Novack, our unfortunate hero, is one part private eye, two parts irritable cephalopod and a dash of magic. He runs his P.I. business in the year 2318 out of a shop called The Emerald Eye with his secretary Bob, a robot of war. The shop rests inside the space station The Flying Spade. He may not always be successful, but to keep the paychecks coming, he’ll try his best.
“Stay in your residences, there is something loose on the station,” an electronic voice announced across the ring Novack resided in on the space station.
Thomas Novack glanced upward at the speaker in his office and scowled. This always happened at the most unfortunate times. A tentacle on his face slid down, grabbed a napkin and wiped away residue from the sandwich he was eating. Novack splurged on the food, and it was never as good reheated.
He was considering letting things play without him. Why should he be the one to save the station every time? Why couldn’t he just do his job and eat his damn sandwich? The thought died quickly, as the messaged repeated a second time. Even if it technically wasn’t his job, he would still feel guilt if he could have stopped someone from getting hurt.
Novack stood and slipped his pistol into its holster. He paused at the entranceway of The Emerald Eye, giving one last longing look at his sandwich before leaving. The station was dead quiet. No sound could be heard. This was surprising. When emergencies become the norm, most people begin to ignore the warnings.
He reached the marketplace on his ring, and saw an absolute disaster zone. Stall and shop alike were blown over, items were scattered across the ground. While it looked like a bomb had gone off, he didn’t see any actual damage. As grim a thought as it was, there were no bodies. If there was something bad enough for an emergency warning, there should be something.
He started calmly walking through the disaster looking for some kind of sign for what could be on the loose. No claw marks, nothing burned and nothing glowing. The detective was getting more confused by the second. He paused by a stall that advertised items from Earth. On a table sat an empty wooden cage, one of the bars chewed through.
“Hm,” Novack said, considering the cage.
Live animals were not allowed to be sold in this market. His train of thought was cut short as a blood-curdling scream echoed in the room. He whipped around and ran to where the sound came from. He palmed the weapon as he moved, getting ready for the worst.
Pushed between boxes outside of a warehouse rocked a Critori, a species of insectoid origin. Giant mandibles clicked and clacked in panic, compound eyes reflecting hundreds of little Novacks staring back at himself.
Novack calmly squatted down and moved in front of the Critori.
“I can’t speak Crit, what’s going on?”
Crit was a language that was a mix of pheromones and the clacking of their large pinchers.
“It’s-it’s in the warehouse!” the being eventually got out.
“What? What’s in there?” Novack asked.
“The beast!” the Critori said before shouldering Novack out of the way and running.
“That wasn’t very helpful…” Novack said, shaking his head and walking into the open doorway.
The room expanded. Rows and rows of shelves holding boxes and storage containers of all sizes rose into the air. The ceiling must have been 60 or 70 feet into the air. Almost every box was scrawled with a different language. Novack could only recognize some of the them, the majority making no sense.
The sound of scratching made him whirl around, his gun raised. There was nothing there. Novack felt like an idiot, jumping at every noise. He was trained better, but the circumstances were putting him on edge.
Walking down the aisles, he looked for any signs of where this so-called beast could have gone. There was nothing. Absolutely nothing. Novack sighed before thinking about giving up.
The scratching noise returned. This time, much closer than it was before.
This time, he tried doing something different. Instead of making a snap action, he slowly turned around. All of the details of the day weren’t adding up. This time when he turned, the Beast was there.
He stared open-mouthed at the creature that stood before him. He covered his mouth and began to laugh. A small, furry creature looked up at him. Its two small eyes blinked as it looked up at Novack. A furry tail flicked back and forth.
He’d seen them on a video about Earth before. A gray squirrel. Definitely not a “beast.” The station’s residents could be jumpy sometimes. Novack reached out his hand slowly, in front of the creature. It ran up his arm and nestled in a pocket of his coat. He’d always been good with animals.
Novack reached The Emerald Eye, and shook his head as he walked in, a small chuckle bubbling up. He threw himself into his seat in his office. The squirrel jumped out of his pocket and onto his desk. It sat and ate the remnants of his now cold sandwich.
He huffed, “At least someone can enjoy it now.”
Joshua Rettew is a third-year student majoring in microbiology with a minor in creative writing. JR868511@wcupa.edu