EXPENDABLE • by Katherine Toran

Captain Balkan strode forward, his semi-transparent shield casting rainbow shadows across the desert sand. Two red-shirted crewmen without shields followed, trying to hide behind him.

As they rounded the sand dune, the captain spotted exposed bone peeking out from under the ground. He ran forward, the other two hastening after him. Upon reaching the bone he cried, “Quickly, Ensign DeViro, the neutron scanner!”

The first red-shirt, barely more than a boy, bent over, panting too hard to speak. The second, a bald dark-skinned man, let his backpack slip off his shoulders and felt through the contents at a leisurely pace. Holding out a silver box, he said, “Ensign DeViro fell in action last week. It’s Ensign Roberts, Captain.” Captain Idiot.

“He was eaten alive by aliens resembling crocodiles. Also while exploring a new planet as part of a three man team,” the first red-shirt said. “I, uh, can’t help thinking that we should get more people, what with all of these large lizard skeletons we keep passing.”

Captain Balkan snatched the box without listening, then yelped as the touch of metal burned his hand. “Be more careful, Ensign!”

“Yes, sir.” I’ll be careful not to overestimate your intelligence when it comes to picking up metal objects baking under the sun.

“Now, the digoxin analyzer. We need to check for any trace of the Tri Horns. Those cowardly scum favor poison.”

Roberts thought, Ah, the smell of casual racism.

“I-I think that’s in mine.” The younger red-shirt found the tubes and remote, but dropped them onto the sand, his hands shaking.

“You look unwell.” Roberts placed a hand on his companion’s forehead. “You’ve got a fever,” he lied. “Captain, this man has sunstroke and should return to the ship.”

The captain glanced behind him. “I need the survey equipment. Do you think you can carry his share, uh…?”

“Still Ensign Roberts, sir. It’s no trouble.”

The other red-shirt asked, “Are you sure?” looking down at his bulging backpack.

Roberts said, “Just get yourself back to the ship, Will.”

Will left, shooting frightened glances behind him. Past the first dune, he broke into a run.

Captain Balkan pointed. “You! I’m going to check readings. Can you work on clearing away this sand so I can get a better look at the bone?”

“Yes, sir.” Yes, I have hands. And a name. So I can help you, but will I? Probably not, Sir Idiot. Ensign Roberts made a few sand-brushing motions. As soon as his captain’s back was turned, he went back to covertly playing a hand-held game that involved jumping through hoops to collect trophies.

Just when he’d reached the last level, a squad of emerald-scaled aliens with tiny horns on their heads sprang out from behind the sand dunes. He went down with a smoking hole in his side.

A second blast bounced off Captain Balkan’s shield, leaving him unharmed. “Ensign! No!” he screamed, drawing his pistol.

A laser beam blasted a rock at his feet. The captain took cover behind the skeleton and returned fire.

In a gravelly voice the alien commander barked, “Your discovery of our bioweapons experiments has necessitated your demise, Captain Balkan.”

“You’re too late! As soon as I saw the unusual readings on the neutron scanner, I sent information back to my ship, and—”

Captain Balkan was still talking when Roberts stood up behind him and karate-chopped him in the back of the neck.

The alien commander peered out from behind a cactus. “Is that Android AX002 again?”

“I like to think of myself as a metal person,” Roberts said. He shoved some wires back into the hole in his side and closed it with a screwdriver.

“AX002, I’ll give you one last chance to resume your spying mission on the Milky Way Forces or be terminated as defective hardware. We spent billions on your creation!”

It’s not like you paid any of that money to me, though. “Too late — the lower-level crew all know about me. And they hid me and treated me much better than you ever did.”

The commander ordered, “Turn it into scrap metal!”

Ensign Roberts pocketed his screwdriver and fell upon the aliens.

He grabbed one by the arm and spun him in a circle, using him to knock several more aliens down. Darting around laser fire faster than the eye could see, he smashed a few pistols, dislocated several limbs, and kicked a cactus into the head of the screaming commander.

Their leader downed and their weapons useless, the aliens grabbed their wounded and fled. Well, I for one don’t care enough to chase them, Roberts thought as he watched them go. He walked back to the captain and knelt by his body. “Sir? Are you all right?”

Captain Balkan stirred, his hand going for his gun, then yelped as the metal burned his fingers. “What happened?”

No learning curve for this one. “You chased away the Tri Horns, Captain, but you were injured and fell unconscious. I’m here to bring you back to the ship.”

“Who are you?”

“Ensign Smith, sir.”

“Help me up. Poor Ensign Roberts is gone. You can carry his equipment.”

Captain Balkan was an idiot, but the android was glad of it, as he was in real trouble if the captain ever started recognizing his crew’s faces. This was the sixth time he’d “died” this month.

Katherine Toran is an economics PhD student at the University of Kentucky. She has coauthored eight nonfiction research papers, and writes fiction as a relief from the endless math jargon. Her fiction has been published in Short-Story.Me, Short Fiction Break, and the Whortleberry Press anthology Strange Changes, and she has a story forthcoming in Abyss & Apex Magazine. This flash fiction is based off her lifelong love of Star Trek.

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