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The Trouble with Covisian Sponges

Oliver Crunk hunched over the video table. The virtual chess pieces yawned, as bored as he was waiting for his opponent to make a move.

“Wake up, Tully.” He jabbed his cane on the toe of his friend’s orthopedic shoe.

The man snorted awake. “I’m awake, I’m awake, keep your phaser off.”

Oliver had known Virgil Tullerson (Tully to anyone who wanted to walk away with all their limbs in place) for six decades. They were soldiers together during the First Parthageon Uprising, fought alongside each other in the Battle of Centuri, and both commanded ships that were called to save the people of Vega. Now, they fought the final battle of their lives. The battle against old age.

The Borealis nursing home was the perfect place for old intergalactic adventurers to spend their well-earned retirement. Not too warm, no humidity, plenty of sunshine, everything needed to keep weary joints happy.

Tully stretched a gnarled finger, about to move his Queen when a scream echoed from the corridor.

The men looked at each other. Oliver clicked his dentures.

The scream came again, this time shriller with a muffled mewl at the end.

“What’s that saying?” Oliver said. “One scream, probably a dream.”

“Two screams…” His friend furrowed his bushy brows together. “What the hell, let’s go see what’s going on.”

Tully backed out of the video table, his wheelchair whirring like an Azophian mosquito.

Oliver pushed to standing, taking a moment to make sure his feet were ready to respond. A good face-first fall was all it took to remind him he didn’t move like a young man anymore.

He followed Tully to the sterile hallway. All seemed quiet.

Oliver narrowed his eyes, wishing he could will away cataracts to see if anything moved.

Another scream to the left was followed by a garbled, “Help me!”

“That’s Violet O’Brian,” Tully nudged his chair in the direction of the nursing home vixen. “She could just be trying to lure us into her lair.”

Oliver harrumphed. “Since when were you scared of little old ladies?”

“Only those with all their own teeth.”

The woman’s automatic door sat open. Blue sunlight streamed in as if nothing were amiss. Violet stood backed in a corner opposite the door. A large, yellow blob grew on her vanity, like a balloon filling with air. It was porous, and in the concave indentions, sharp, snapping teeth spawned.

“Howdy, Violet,” Tully called out. “Whatcha growin’ there?”

“Virgil, stop your small talk and do something.”

The man grumbled next to him. She was the only one who’d ever gotten away with calling him Virgil. Maybe it had something to do with her smooth skin, her bright blue eyes and… wait. Smooth skin? Violet was older than they were by at least several years.

I swear just last week her forehead was as wrinkly as a tired soldier’s uniform.

Oliver narrowed his eyes and leaned forward. “Notice anything different about Violet?”

“You mean aside from the giant, carnivorous sponge growing in her room?” Tully leaned forward in his chair. “Yeah, she looks like she might enter the Miss Galaxy Pageant.”

The colossal sponge heaved toward the woman. She yelped and pushed herself tighter against the wall. “You old fools, stop yapping and do something.”

Oliver leaned against the doorjamb. “We gotta know what we’re working with.”

“I don’t know,” she screeched.

“I think you do.”

The monstrosity swelled, this time an air pocket popped, expelling a fume more noxious than Tully’s flatulence.

“Ugh,” Violet clapped an unblemished hand over her mouth. “Okay, fine, I spilled something and used a sponge to clean it up.”

Oliver rubbed his grizzled chin. “That’s not any old sponge, it’s a Covisian sponge.” He looked down at his friend. “Remember when we came across those on Acrian? What was it about them?”

A sly smile crossed Tully’s face. “Extremely porous, soaks up water in no time. Water keeps them alive, but dormant. The only thing that wakes them up is Salarian Acid.”

“Which is the main ingredient in Promethian Youth Serum.”

Tully cocked an eyebrow. “Isn’t that stuff outlawed in ten solar systems?”

“Twelve,” Oliver shuffled forward, close enough to lean over and study the spongy blob. One set of tiny teeth snapped out him. “Including this one. Tully, what does Salarian Acid do to these guys?”

“Besides make them mean as hell? Hungry. It’s their potato chips. Can’t have just one.”

Oliver glanced over his shoulder and nodded to his friend.

Tully lifted his chin in agreement and backed out of the room, his chair beeping in reverse. Years of friendship and fighting together rendered words pointless.

“Where’s he going?” Violet’s wild gaze followed him.

“Keep your girdle on, he’ll be back.” Oliver sat on the edge of her bed, wincing as the old war injury in his hip shot pain down his leg.

The beast surged again, getting within a couple of meters of the woman. She whimpered and squeezed her eyes shut. “Why is it coming for me?”

Tully whizzed back, a box in his lap.

“How long have you been using it?” Oliver asked, taking the mineral from his friend.

“Wh-what?” Violet’s shoulders sunk. “A week. Don’t you just want to be young again?”

Oliver opened the box of salt and stood over the chest-high sponge. He emptied the contents over the creature.

In less time it took to shoot into warp drive, the angry sponge snapped back into a fist-sized docile household item.

“Salt?” Violet said. “That’s all I needed?”

“It neutralizes the acid and sends the sponge back to sleep. Come on Oliver, let’s finish the game before ‘Wheel of Fortuna’ comes on.”

Oliver tipped an imaginary hat and followed his friend. “I haven’t had this much fun in a Triton year.” An idea tickled his brain, a feeling he hadn’t had in so long he laughed.

“Whaddya think about stealing a ship and finding some trouble?”

Tully grunted and waved him off. “After dinner. It’s Plumerian pudding night.”

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