Galaxy Cruise: Many Happy Returns
Have your cake and repeat it too…
Thirteen months into his seven-day cruise, all Captain Leo MacGavin wants for his birthday is to finally go home. And when his crew gives him the gift of a fully functional starship transporter, his wish comes true. Sort of.
As soon as the WTF Americano Grande returns to its home galaxy, things start to go awry. Leo’s relationship status becomes “more than complicated” as he’s torn between his holographic sweetheart, the woman she was based on, and an old crush who sashays back into his life. Meanwhile Kellybean flames out while introducing her garbagepunk girlfriend to her straitlaced parents, Dilly gets enlisted in the Ba’luxi Prime Imperial Navy, and Doctor Waverlee miffs off the mafia.
Just when things can’t get worse, the crew wakes up to find themselves repeating the same horrible day again. And again. And again. Can Leo fix the spacetime screw-up and stop this broken-record birthday, or will he spend the rest of eternity making many happy returns?
Groundhog Day meets Everything Everywhere All at Once in the madcap, time-looping, multiverse-hopping conclusion to the Galaxy Cruise saga!
Release date: September 22, 2022
Publisher: Canaby Press, LLC
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Galaxy Cruise: Many Happy Returns
Marcus Alexander Hart
“Happy birthday, Caaaaptain Leooooo… Happy birthday to you!”
Leo smiled over the café table at Lieutenant Varlowe J. Varlowe. Or “VJ,” as she now preferred to be addressed. The hologram’s singing voice was absolutely terrible, but her enthusiasm more than made up for it.
She was perched on a stool, looking chic in her white WTF Cruises uniform. Her simulated clothing was fitted to her slim body with a perfection no tailor working in the crude medium of fabric could match. The jacket pinched in at her waist and hugged her narrow hips at the bottom. At the top, its collar casually hung open just enough to give Leo an inviting glimpse of her smooth orange sternum.
His mind raced to lascivious places, and he quickly turned his eyes to the table. His breakfast dish was speckled with crumbs and a smear of jelly, but hers was spotless. Not because she had cleaned her plate, but because she hadn’t eaten at all. She didn’t have to. In fact, she couldn’t if she tried.
Leo laid his arm on the table, hand flat and palm up. “Thanks for remembering my birthday, VJ.”
“Well, I am pretty much the coolest, freshest, most thoughtful person you know.” The hologram grinned and rested her hand on Leo’s. Her light matrix penetrated his physical body like a ghost, and they both closed their fingers. Their balled fists occupied the same space, overlapping, but not truly touching. VJ tipped her head toward a cupcake that sat on the table between them. “All right, time to make your super awesome birthday wish.” With a snap of her fingers, she summoned a small holographic candle stuck in the sugary pink icing. “You only get one of these a year, so make it count.”
Leo turned his head toward the simulated flame, but his eyes lingered on the simulated girl. There was an undeniable chemistry between them. But now that VJ had joined the crew, she was officially Leo’s subordinate on the ship. Not to mention the fact that she also technically was the ship. Things were complicated enough without trying to assign a relationship status. So they didn’t.
Still, as Leo glanced at their superimposed fingers, he wished she weren’t non-corporeal. He wished he could feel the softness of her palm and the warmth of her skin against his. He wished he could touch her. For real.
And not just her hand.
Leo closed his eyes, focused on his birthday wish, and blew on the cupcake. The candle’s simulation registered the air turbulence and the projected flame flickered out with a thin stream of odorless smoke. When he opened his eyes, VJ’s hand still rested inside of his, ethereal as ever. Leo wasn’t surprised, but just a little bit disappointed.
“Did you get what you wanted?” VJ asked.
“Sadly, I did not.”
“Don’t worry. You will.”
“Oh really? How can you be so sure?”
“Because I know exactly what you wished for.”
A blush prickled Leo’s cheeks. “You do?”
“I do.” Varlowe J. Varlowe leaned across the table and lowered her voice. “So come with me and I’ll make your birthday wish come true.”
Leo followed his holographic sweetheart down a broad concourse, his pulse and mind both racing. She was going to make his wish come true. But how?
After their encounter with the Guardians of Rittavious, Leo knew it was possible for a hologram to touch the physical world. The technology existed, but it required a million times more power than the cruise starship Americano Grande was capable of producing, even if it were running at peak efficiency.
And it was definitely not running at peak efficiency.
Leo took note of the temporary repairs that had, over time, quietly transitioned into permanent repairs. Access panels were still removed from the walls, revealing components riddled with holes the size of hungry, burrowing potatoes. Floppy, custom-printed patchcake circuits clung to them—sparks crackling from their peeling edges. Unknown fluids of various colors dripped from damaged pipes into cooking pots and ice buckets on the floor.
Fortunately there were no passengers around to complain about the mess. Kellybean and Jassi had insisted, in their official capacities as chief hospitality officer and chief engineer, that the ship could no longer host guests until it could be brought back up to code. But despite their assurances that progress was being made, nothing ever seemed to get fixed. If they didn’t host some paying customers soon, they’d run out of funds before they got to the next tourism hub, let alone all the way back to the Four Prime Systems.
But at this moment, Leo’s anxiety about getting his crew home safely was eclipsed by his pure, giddy anticipation as he followed VJ. As an extension of the ship’s systems, the hologram didn’t need, or have, her own stateroom. But over time, the astrometrics lab had become her de facto quarters. Her own space to do whatever she wanted behind closed doors.
And she was bringing Leo there now.
To grant his wish.
VJ stopped outside the lab’s entrance and raised a hand to the lockpad. A purple spark danced across her horn crown, and the door slid open. She grinned and cocked her head toward the darkened room. “After you, birthday boy.”
Excitement and anticipation sent electric jitters through Leo’s body as he stepped inside. VJ followed him in and closed the door. The glow of her holographic light matrix blotted the rest of the room into inky blackness in Leo’s vision. To him, it was as if nothing existed but her. VJ leaned in and whispered in his ear, soft and quiet and intimately close. “So tell me, Captain… have you been a good boy this year?”
“I… I mean, I’ve done my best.”
“You most definitely have. You’ve gone above and beyond to take care of your crew and your ship. And it’s time for your wish to come true. For our wish to come true.”
She slowly stepped backwards, toward the center of the lab, beckoning Leo to follow with a coy wave of her fingers. Leo’s pulse raced. This was happening. This was really happening! VJ must have somehow adapted the Rittavion holographic tech. She could become tangible! But in that moment, the thrill of her impending physicality was eclipsed by the thrill of her words.
“Our wish?” Leo’s lips trembled. “You mean… you want this as much as I do?”
VJ glanced down at her fidgeting hands. “Well, I admit, it’ll be uncharted territory for me. So I’m a little nervous.” She looked up and met his eyes. “But I want to make you happy, Leo. All of us do.”
Leo’s heart melted. “Oh, VJ. I also want to make you…” He blinked. “Wait, who is ‘all of us’ exactly?”
The hologram gave a cheeky smile as a purple spark arced across her horns. Leo hissed and recoiled as the lights switched on, stomping his photoreceptors into submission. In his throbbing blindness, he heard a cacophony of voices shout “Surprise!”
Leo stumbled back as shapes came into watery focus. A girl made of vines and twigs. A fluffy white cat person. A robot with a tape deck in his chest. All of them doing their best to sing an off-key version of “Happy Birthday.”
Waves of shock and disorientation crashed through Leo’s psyche, extinguishing the flame of his libido. Jassi, Kellybean, and Hax were here, surrounded by colorful balloons and decorations. All three of them cranked noisemakers and blew tiny novelty horns. Reality had suddenly taken a sharp left turn from his expectations.
“Hold on, you brought me here for a surprise party?”
“I sure did!” VJ laughed. “Oh my gosh, you so didn’t see it coming!”
“I did not,” Leo said numbly. “So… you thought this was my birthday wish?”
“Uh, no. Jeez, Leo, I’m not totally oblivious. This isn’t your wish come true. That is.”
VJ made a sweeping gesture toward the opposite wall of the circular lab. Behind a banner reading “Happy birthday, Captain” there sat a towering mass of… stuff. A framework of metal piping extended from floor to ceiling, loaded down with scavenged components. What looked like the guts of a refrigeration unit trailed hoses into a series of frosty valves. Clusters of pistons and cranking camshafts pumped and churned in the machine’s innards, reporting their status to the readouts of a few disassembled engineering consoles. The whole thing was knotted together with tangles of wire studded with blinking indicator lights, like glowing electronic fruit on the vine.
Leo squinted at the machine. “What is it?”
Hax the robot rolled up, his digital eyes smiling. “Why, this is the thing that will make your wish come true!”
“I see.” A blush warmed Leo’s cheeks as he looked away from the gathered crew. “So, you all know about, uh… what I want?”
Jassi snorted. “Uh, yeah. You’re not exactly subtle about it.”
Leo cringed. Sure, he had been spending a lot of time with VJ. And it was obvious there was something special between them. And he was touched that his friends wanted him to be happy. But it was still weird for them to build a custom holo-emitter just so he could get lucky.
Kellybean looked up from a series of hand-labeled gauges on the machine. “We’ve been working around the clock to get it ready in time for your birthday. Although I admit, this is a pretty selfish gift for us to give.”
“How so?” Leo asked.
Jassi gave him a sly grin. “Because we all want this as badly as you do.”
Leo’s eyes ticked from Jassi, to Kellybean, to VJ, all three women smiling at him in a way that only happened in letters printed in gentlemen’s magazines. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I know it’s hard to believe,” Hax said cheerfully, “but we’ve already managed to build a functioning spacetime distortion truss!”
The technobabble landed in Leo’s head with a thud of understanding. “Wait, is this thing the Volatine tech that you found in the space loop?”
“It sure is!” the robot said. “Well, a recreation of it.”
Leo thought back to the away team’s post-mission report on the planetoid-like Rittavion control station. While attempting to free the Americano Grande from its space prison, they had discovered a lost module from the Volatine transporter. Though they hadn’t been able to retrieve the device, they had made a scan of its operational schematic. It was essentially a guide to rebuild the component from scratch. Which apparently they had done.
Leo turned to Jassi. “But I thought you said that module was the size of a case of beer.”
“It was.” Jassi pinched at the tabloyd on her wrist, pulling out a three-dimensional hologram of a small, gold-colored box fitted with a pair of large gears etched with glyphs. “But I don’t have access to the same components as the most advanced civilization in the history of the universe. So I had to improvise.”
She thumbed over her shoulder at the hulking mass of parts filling half the room. Mismatched coffee pots boiled on scavenged stove burners, percolating colored goo through transparent tubes. Belts wobbled between squeaky flywheels. A churning vat of foaming liquid appeared to be washing a load of delicates. Leo shook his head.
“Well, it’s very… unique.”
“And very complete!” Hax retrieved a cart covered with a drop cloth. “All that’s left to do is hook it up and turn it on!”
He whipped off the cover, revealing the golden bulk of the Volatine transporter. Its three rune-etched gears were silent and stationary, but the sight of it still gave Leo a pang of anxiety. Hax pushed the cart toward the hodge-podge of junk, but Leo hopped into his path and raised a hand.
“Whoa, hold up there. Are you sure we should do this?”
“Of course,” VJ said. “Don’t worry. I helped them safely integrate the Volatine tech into my systems so that you could go home.” Her smile wavered. “Isn’t that what you want?”
“I do, but…” Leo’s brow quirked. “Wait, don’t you want that?”
“Only because you do. The Four Prime Systems aren’t technically my home. I’ve never even been there. Like I said, it’ll be uncharted territory for me. Remember?”
“Yes, but when you said that, I thought you meant…” Leo pinched his eyes. “It doesn’t matter what I thought. My point is, the last time we activated the transporter it nearly destroyed the ship because it was missing critical parts.” He gestured at the groaning machinery. “I really appreciate what you’re trying to do here, but are you sure this is going to work?”
Kellybean gave an enthusiastic nod. “Absolutely. Because I have total faith in Jassi’s engineering skills. She has comprehensive, in-depth knowledge of how Volatine tech works. Isn’t that right, Jass?”
Jassi shrugged. “Eh, more or less.”
“Well, that certainly inspires confidence,” Leo muttered.
“Okay, moment of truth.” Jassi hefted the transporter from the cart and slid it onto a narrow shelf sticking out of her machine. The ancient device’s three golden gears slotted between the teeth of two laser-cut reproductions, interlocking with a sharp, satisfying click. “Bam. Perfect fit. Now let’s say a prayer and switch ’er on.”
“Again, there could be improvements in the confidence level,” Leo noted.
Kellybean flicked a series of switches and the machine slowly roared to life. Arcane patterns flashed across the five interlocked gears, spitting hot sparks as they picked up speed. But despite the chaotic look of the pumping pistons and gushing fluids, the device settled into a pleasant, sleepy whirr.
Jassi tapped her console. “Looks like our new module has successfully interfaced with the original transporter equipment. I’m reading all systems green.”
A rush of hot endorphins flooded Leo’s body, sending a tremble through his knees. “So… we can go home?”
Kellybean double checked her panel and flashed Leo a smile. “Yes, sir. Just as soon as you give the order.”
“This… I…” Leo gaped at the humming machinery, and his eyes went wet. “This is the best birthday present ever.”
VJ grinned and wagged her hairless brows. “I told you I was gonna make your wish come true.”
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...