The second stargate Nate, Jack, Tim and Bradley stumbled through put them in some kind of silvery blue super mall of circular floors going up at least a hundred stories and down even further. They peeked out of the gate’s alcove. Clusters of mustard-yellow, cow-sized eggs woven together jostled around on every floor, propelled by fleshy, undulating mantles at their bases, rusty tentacles flowing like hair under water.
Nate was mesmerized by the view. “This is out of this world,” he said.
“You just figuring that out, dumbass,” said Tim.
“I know what you mean.” Tim grimaced. “Shit, it smells like a french brothel next to a Limburger factory,” said Tim.
Jack looked at him, mouth agape. “When did you—”
“Summer of oh-six.”
“I really do have to pee,” said Jack. He danced back and forth.
“It does look like some kind of mall,” said Nate. “Hey. Some of them are separating.” Eggs moved from one cluster to another, their hairlike tentacles grew thicker and spread wide making them look like dreadlocks. But when they joined the other cluster they grew thin again, although Nate noticed the ends take shapes, so they looked like lollipops of many odd shapes. He then observed that solitary eggs were moving between levels and around them in translucent elevators.
“Ah,” said Bradley. “Each egg is a sentient alien.” Hands in pockets, vacant grin, his black-rimmed, coke-bottle glasses made his eyes look freakishly big.
“How can you be sure?” asked Tim.
“If this is a mall, those must be teenager cliques. The ones moving from cluster to cluster are still trying to figure out who they belong to. The cool kids? The jocks?”
“Nerd aliens?” said Jack.
“Hey, look,” said Tim. “There’s Nate.” He pointed to a shriveled looking alien bouncing from cluster to cluster, but it couldn’t seem to get purchase with any of them.
“Ha-hah,” said Nate. “If that were me—”
One of the aliens broke from the nearest cluster on their level and undulated in their direction.
“Shit!” Tim turned to run and ran into Bradley, who fell on his prat, pulling Jack down with him, tangling Jack’s legs up with Tim’s, piling them into a flailing mass that must have looked to the alien like a pack of monkeys fighting over a kumquat.
“Stop goofing off,” said Nate. “It’s probably just as scared of us as we are of it.”
Tim sat up. “Maybe it should be. I’m suddenly craving an omelet.”
“One of us has to talk to it,” said Nate. “Tim, why don’t you give it a try?” The others untangled themselves and stood up.
“Why should I? Why don’t you try?”
“I already made contact with the raisinhead, and I saved us from the earth invasion.”
Tim scoffed. “Yeah. And got us lost in space, who the hell knows where.”
“Would you rather be a pile of ashes?” said Nate.
“Jack could do it,” said Tim.
“Not me,” said Jack. “I saved our asses from that scaly blanket thing from hell.”
Bradley smiled. “I can do this.” Bradley took a few steps toward the egg, which had stopped several paces away and slowly rotated. He held his hand flat, then made a sequence of hand motions.
Jack groaned. “He’s doing the Close Encounters of the Third Kind hand signals again.”
Nate pulled him back. “Good try, Bradley, but I think it’s Tim’s turn.” He glared at Tim. “Unless he’s chicken.”
Tim gritted his teeth and shook his head. “All right. I’ll do it. Hold on.” He stepped up next to them, then inched forward, throwing his wiry shoulders back like he always does when he wants to look tough. “Hello, alien creature being. We come in peace.” He took a few short steps and waited. “Okay. Well, I guess that’s it. The mission—”
Several tentacles shot out from the alien and wrapped around Tim, groping him everywhere. Tim jumped and yelped, falling to the ground.
“Oh, no,” said Nate.
“We’ve got to stop it,” said Jack.
“I saw this once at a Lady Gaga concert,” said Bradley.
“Tim. Are you all right?” asked Jack.
“Stop!” shouted Tim. “Stop! Stop! Holy shit, it’s tickling me,” cried Tim. He caught his breath and laughed with abandon. He pumped his legs to pull away and the alien’s tentacles released with a few pops and a slurp.
“Oh my gosh, that was better than sex,” he said.
“Like you would know,” said Nate.
The alien maneuvered around them and shot its tentacles toward Jack, wrapping him the way it had Tim.
“No! Noooo!” Jack shouted. He thrashed, punched and kicked.
The alien let him go, receding a little. Nate could have sworn it deflated just a little. Jack frantically wiped his ear with his shirt.
Tim laughed. “Travel the universe. Get a wet willie.”
From one of the elevator boxes, an alien came out dragging what looked like a boulder with tumors all over it. It pulled the thing up next to the other one, and quickly undulated away. Our tickle buddy reached out several tentacles to the blob and stroked it with intricate movements. The blob extended its own tentacles and wove around the alien’s.
“Get a room,” said Tim.
Nate and Jack shushed him. Several parts of the blob extended like blowing a bubble, and light streaks flashed across its surface. “GRAWP who GRAWP GRAWP where GRAWP from”
“Look, I really gotta pee,” said Jack. His pee-pee dance was lively enough to win on Dancing with the Stars.
“GRAWP pee GRAWP no translation.”
“It’s a translator,” said Nate. “Oh, wow. They communicate by touch—it was trying to talk to us.” He stepped up to the blob and spoke into it. “What is this place?”
“What GRAWP pee?”
“Uh, yeah.” Nate processed the request. “Pee is liquid body waste.”
The alien flicked and slithered.
“GRAWP pee excrete GRAWP affirm.”
“That’s it!” said Jack. “I’ve gotta excrete, and I’ve gotta excrete now.”
The alien took them into one of the elevator boxes, pulling the translator with it, and they zigzagged around the great cylindrical alien mall.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” said Nate.
“I did this once at a Democrat ‘One Voice for Diversity’ rally,” said Bradley.
“I thought you were a Republican,” said Tim.
“I am many things to many people,” said Bradley.
“Oh, yeah? How much do you charge?”
“Shut up, guys,” said Jack. “I’m going to wet myself.”
The elevator opened, and they spilled out. The alien led them around the level to a portal that went into a large open space. There were hundreds of bizarre creatures milling about. Tentacles, horns, polyps, and spindles—they had every form you could imagine. Round, square, oblong, and amorphous. Some groaned, some crackled, some popped and fizzed. The smell was horrid.
“GRAWP excrete GRAWP.”
“Here?” asked Jack. “Why do I feel like I just got taken to the dog park?” He shrugged and walked off a ways to do his duty. Tim went the other direction to do the same.
Bradley spoke into the translator, asking about the alien practice of vivisection.
“Bradley, no.” Nate pulled him away, then turned back to speak into the translator himself. “Thank you.”
“GRAWP GRAWP GRAWP pee GRAWP GRAWP critical GRAWP diplomacy GRAWP.”
“Yes,” said Nate. “I suppose it is.”