By Leonard Pigg
Calamity Jane sat in the cockpit of the Excelsior, Doctor Omega’s space ship. The current configuration of the ship’s exterior was that of a cruise liner. Jane looked out of the viewer screen at outer space, noticing the stars and the eerie landscape of the strange planet they were on. “So, when are we heading off this planet? There ain’t no people to interact with and the air outside smells like rotten eggs. This planet looks like a large meatball.” Jane says, while spinning the chamber of her pistol. She gives a sigh as she re-holsters the gun and adjusts her fringe jacket. Meanwhile, Doctor Omega paces back and forth, punching numbers into his palm-sized device. His white lab coat flaps behind him while wearing his black slacks and turtleneck shirt, he seems almost invisible in the darkened ship. He pauses and says, “My dear, we’ve but another three hours before the planet is supposed to explode. I’ve calibrated the ship to absorb the energy from that explosion, giving us enough energy to recharge the warp drive by absorbing the radioactivity, which will in turn, save the nearby planetoids from contamination. No worries, however. The hull of this ship could withstand the force of two planets exploding, if it had to. Just please continue to keep an eye on the monitors and let me know if you see anything strange.”
Jane chuckles to herself, as she thinks of how strange all of this is. Here she is, a cowgirl from Earth dating an alien that travels through time and space. She’s fought Nazis on the Moon, cybernetic mercenaries, rabid cavemen and all manner of strange beings. None of those things were as stressful for her as playing the waiting game. “You never talk much about where you’re from. I always wondered what it was like. Are you a Martian or something?” Jane asks with a slight smile. Omega pauses and says, “I’m from the same galaxy as you. My planet is directly beneath your sun. We used it to power most of our technology and to obscure ourselves from sight by bending light around the planet. We have what would be considered a ‘Hybrid Culture.’ We borrowed some of the better parts of different civilizations, as our ancestors were all from various worlds. The best and brightest gathered to create a greater society. I guess you could say I’m a mutt, but a blend of good breeds. We are telepathic and able to manipulate our own life force, hence my changing from an elderly man into the younger form before you. However, some of us that grow weary of long life will convert ourselves into energy and join our ancestors that reside in the sun itself.” Jane looks on astonished and says, “I don’t think a day goes by that you tell me something that doesn’t blow my mind, honey. I really love you for that.”
While Omega paced around the room, plugging in calculations and making adjustments to the machinery in the control room, she continued to spin her gun, staring at the monitor. She does a double-take as she notices a pale man with a cane standing on the surface of the planet. He is dressed in a green suit jacket, with matching slacks. His hair stands on end, like a mad scientist. The man’s appearance reminds her of when she first met Doctor Omega. He too, was an older man then, that dressed eccentrically until he finally rejuvenated himself. She whistles to get the Doctor’s attention and he rushes to see what she’s looking at. Omega’s jaw drops, as the man waves at him. “Koschei…” he says, stunned. “Wait here, Jane. I must see what he wants.” She replies, “Hell, if he’s a friend of your… why not let him on the ship?” Omega replies, “I imagine he already has one here. He’s from the same planet as me. Wait here, please.” He rushes out of the room. She watches as Omega strides across the reddish plains to confront Koschei. Jane starts to flip switches and adjusts the controls to get audio of the exchange.
Doctor Omega walks up to the grinning Koschei cautiously, keeping his wits about him. “Long time, no see. Don’t worry, brother. I come in peace, you have my word. My ship is stuck at the core of the planet. I was attempting to get core samples, when the ship got stuck. I was able to teleport to the surface, but the core’s power disrupted the shield, thus my ship is going to reach critical mass,” Koschei says, casually. Omega sighs and says, “So, you’re the cause of the planetary explosion? I should have known. At least this world is uninhabited.” Koschei spins his cane around, pointing it at the Doctor and says, “Is that what brought you here, to watch the planet blow up? That’s pretty morbid, even for you.” Koschei says. Omega pushes the cane away from him and says, “The explosion will irradiate the surrounding planets that actually have life and cause more destruction. I plan on preventing that and also charging my ship in the process. I am curious as to how you plan on leaving here without a ship?” Koschei shrugs and points at the Excelsior with his cane. “I was hoping I could hitch a ride? Besides, I have a gift for you. A surprise of great value to you. Consider it my birthday present to you. This new form suits you, by the way. It’s young and hip. Black and proud. Stylish mad scientist. Anyway, I have information about the Space Cowgirl that travels with you.” Omega pauses a moment, scowls and walks away, “I suppose we have a deal. Do try to act like your housebroken on my ship, Koschei.” He follows the Doctor onto the Excelsior silently.
As the two enter the lounge of the ship, Calamity Jane steps out with both pistols pointed at Koschei. “I don’t reckon you’ll be makin’ any trouble on this here ship or you’ll be answerin’ to me. Understand?” Koschei smiles and nods, “Of course not, Janie. You don’t recognize me, do you?” Jane cocks back the hammers on the guns and says, “I ain’t a big fan of games or gossip.” Doctor Omega steps in between the two and gives Jane a stern look. “Jane, this is Koschei. He is a-” Omega is interrupted by Koschei who says, “I was his best friend. We were practically brothers. We grew up in same region together. Like Omega here, I am also a renegade amongst our people. If you ever heard anything about me, it’s probably true. However, I have paid for my crimes and have been released for good behavior, so here I am on a path of redemption.” Jane puts her guns away and walks into the other room. A moment later she comes in and says, “I made some stew if you fellas are hungry. There’s some coffee brewing, too. I’ll be in my room. Sorry about earlier, Koschei.” He smiles and takes a bow. “No worries. Any friend of Omega’s is a friend of mine. He and I have been friends longer than we have been enemies and I’m grateful for the ride off this planet.” Omega pours himself a cup of tea. “I’ll have some tea, instead. Coffee makes me a bit jittery. Would you like some, Koschei?” Koschei reaches for an empty cup, holding it out for Omega to fill it. The two sit in comfy chairs next to a fireplace and sip tea silently. Given the telepathic nature of their people, the two end up exchanging information while the only noise is the hum of the ship and the crackle of the fireplace. Both men looked into each other’s minds, like a psychic show and tell.
Koschei sends Omega the images of his being tried by the High Council for breaking the laws of time and space. It was revealed to him that the tapestry of time had come unwoven in places and had to be repaired by Doctor Omega and other intergalactic travelers. Instead of the usual banishment from the galaxy to a pocket dimension, they devised a fate worse than death. Koschei was instead turned human and confined to a mental hospital in America, only able to use a fraction of his intellect and none of his psychic abilities. He languished there in the early 1900’s, being tortured by hospital staff and recalls being periodically visited by Doctor Omega, who wore a different form then and wielded false credentials to access the hospital. He would provide Koschei words of encouragement, bring him treats and helped to make his penance less painful. They would sit and play chess in the break room and Omega would tell him about some of his space faring adventures and how he had became lonely over time. Decades later, the High Council that sentenced Koschei released him and Doctor Omega was the one to come and take him away from Earth. He remembers being taken onto a ship and placed into a Rebirthing Matrix to strip away the shackles of humanity and returning Koschei to his former, more alien state. Since then, he has traveled around the galaxy in an effort to find his place and tries to fight the baser part of his nature. Koschei traveled to the Wild West and ran into Calamity Jane in the middle of a saloon in Wyoming. He saw in her, the kind of traits that could possibly make a suitable companion for Doctor Omega. A strong-willed woman, that is quick-witted and has a dangerous edge. Koschei hung around the dusty old town and eventually, captured Jane and cloned her. He then released the clone on an abandoned ranch he had charged with a dynamic chronal energy pattern, which would draw the attention of any time traveler in the area. He then sat back at a distance and waited for Doctor Omega to approach. When he and Jane met, sparks flew and they had been fast companions ever since. Koschei had been watching from afar, admiring his handiwork ever since.
With that revelation, the enraged Doctor Omega snaps out of the psychic link so abruptly and forcefully, that Koschei falls to the ground in pain from the resulting backlash. Omega sprints out of the lounge into the control room and begins looking at a temporal viewer, to verify the validity of what Koschei had told him. He tunes the device to find what would be Calamity Jane’s timeline and sees that she is still on Earth and is with Wild Bill Hickok. He goes back further and sees Koschei cloned the woman and gave her a ranch to stay on, then used his powers of mesmerism to make her forget that he was ever there. He tunes the device even further and there are no temporal anomalies around her, which would imply the real Jane never left with him. He then realized that he had fallen in love with a clone. “Omega, you are my true friend and I just wanted you to be happy. The times you visited me in the asylum, kept me going. I changed history for you, my friend. I saw that when you took the real Calamity Jane with you that she would have died and the outcome would have changed how the Wild West was won, so to speak. So my going back was for the greater good! Think of all the good the two of you have done together! I’m ready to join Team Omega, my friend.” Koschei says to the Doctor. At that moment, the ship shakes violently as an explosion underground rocks the ground. The two are knocked off their feet from the shock. Tremors continue to shake the ship, then the sound of gunfire erupts from outside.
Doctor Omega and Koschei rush outside the ship and see Calamity Jane firing her pistols at a dozen biped octopus-like creatures coming towards the ship. There are already four on the ground, bleeding out. “Glad you boys could make it! These damn things came out of nowhere and were trying to surround the ship!” Jane says as she holsters the pistols and whips out a laser gun. “Cthulians!” Koschei says. He points his cane at one, firing a beam of energy at it. It sends it flying back into the others, as Jane continues to shoot them down. “Why are they here!?” Omega asks, as he takes out his wand. He adjusts the setting on it and holds it in the air, emitting a high-pitched frequency. The noise causes the remaining Cthulians to flee. As they run away, Koschei keeps firing at them, killing a couple more. Doctor Omega smacks the cane out of his hand and says, “They were fleeing! That wasn’t necessary.” Koschei glares at him hurt, takes a breath and calms himself. He picks up the cane and another set of tremors shake the planet. “Back to the ship, now!” Omega says and the trio get back on board. Just as they get inside, lava spurts from a fissure in the ground and splashes onto the side of the ship.
“Any idea why those things would come to an uninhabited planet, Koschei?” Omega asks, grabbing him by the collar. “The ship I was using was one of their fleet ships. I stole it and when it malfunctioned towards the core of this planet, I was stuck. I’m sorry, Doctor. I’m trying to be a better man.” Omega lets go of him and says, “If you’re on my ship, you’re following my lead. Anything else and I’ll drop you off on the nearest planet. Do you understand?” Koschei adjusts his shirt and says, “I will follow your lead, Doctor. It’s really all for you. I know we could never be together, so I made somebody for you.” Jane asks, “What the hell are you talkin’ about, man?”
Koschei looks at the Doctor, who waits to see what he says. Koschei says to Jane in a serious tone, “I’ve always admired your Doctor, but I knew the feelings I had for him weren’t the kind he could reciprocate to me. That’s part of the reason I became his enemy and tried to hurt him. He had unintentionally hurt me and I had been lashing out ever since. Despite all that, he still came to me at my worst and was a friend. In my efforts at redemption, I decided to make up for it by creating you from the original Calamity Jane. You are a clone. A genetic duplicate of her. However, you aren’t tethered to her timeline and don’t have to go back to Earth ever. We can all travel around the universe together, like a family.” Another tremor starts, this time sending the trio tumbling across the ground.
As the trio get their bearings, Jane grabs Koschei and puts her gun to his head. “A damn clone? You trying to tell me I ain’t real, man?!” Jane says glaring into his eyes, angrily. Omega starts to go to her and Koschei holds up his hand to him in a stopping gesture. “Jane, you are as real as he and I. I promise you that. Think of it like this; you are Calamity Jane and the one on Earth is your twin sister. You two are the same, except you have the privilege of traveling through time and space. Honestly, you got the better end of the deal. You get to make your own history without her baggage. You never have to return to Earth, if you don’t want to. If not for my actions, neither of you would have met. None of this would have happened. If you truly feel that makes me a monster, then by all means, pull the trigger.” Koschei says to her with a sincerity in his eyes that Omega hasn’t seen since they were kids on their home world. Jane sighs and holsters the gun, hugging Koschei. He seems surprised by the gesture and reciprocates, crying slightly. Omega wipes the sweat from his brow, then looks over at the control console and rushes to it. He begins flipping switches and adjusting knobs. “I’m scanning the core of the planet and it is still quite unstable. From the looks of it, the Cthulians have used a tractor beam to pull the wrecked ship from the core.” He says, looking back at Koschei and Jane. Koschei smiles and says, “Prepare for impact, then. I set that ship to self-destruct if it reached the surface. Let’s make sure your shields are prepared for this!”
Omega gives him a glare, then nods. The two sit in the cockpit of the Excelsior, making adjustments as they see the radar of the planet core starting to erupt when the ship is pulled to the surface. “Calibrated shields for absorption, Omega. We all might want to strap in, it’s about to get even bumpier.” The Cthulian ship pulls the lost ship to the surface and energy from the planet’s core sprays out. The wrecked ship explodes, causing a chain reaction with the Cthulian rescue cruiser. The resulting energy creates a cascade effect, blasting away chunks of the planet in waves. As the hyperkinetic release washes over the shields of the Excelsior, the crew brace themselves. The ship begins charging as the entire construct vibrates. The entire planet goes white and from a distance, it looks like a star burning out. On the nearby planetoids, the residents look on in wonder, not realizing that they have been saved from certain doom by Doctor Omega’s actions. From the dwindling explosion, the Excelsior shoots off into space fully charged. “Welcome to the Excelsior, Koschei. I hope to help you on your path to redemption. By the way, thank you for the birthday present.” Doctor Omega says holding out his hand to Koschei. Teary eyed, Koschei shakes it and says, “No Doctor, thank you for believing in me.” Jane says, “Welcome aboard, Koschei. Here’s to even greater adventures, partner!” She whips out a flask, takes a sip and then passes it to Koschei. He takes a swing and shudders, then passes it to Omega. He takes an even bigger sip and thinks to himself, “I hope I’m right about this. He was once one of the greatest threats to the galaxy, but he has served his time and he seems to have changed. If not, I just might have to kill one of my oldest friends.” Omega smiles, passing the flask back to Jane and says, “I probably shouldn’t drink and drive, but I don’t think one sip will hurt.” The three laugh as they streak through outer space, seeking even greater adventures.