Tim Rockwell felt like a giant iguana had spit him up with the morning’s spinach, and it wasn’t far from the truth. Whether it was a creature or some alien bio-tech, it had snatched them without warning off the ‘terrace of free interplace,’ or whatever the translator had called it, and disgorged them, covered in slime and fleshy chunks that smelled like armpit, onto a fuzzy surface. Tim was not feeling the love on the Meklnuck’s homeworld.
Tim landed on his ass. Bradley lay on his back to his left, and Jack was buckled over in front of him, the top of his head in the ground. Nate convulsed back and forth on his knees.
“You’ll tear up the dance clubs with that move.” Tim wiped a few nuggets off his face and tried to stand, but he couldn’t lift himself up, the fuzz clinging to his hands, gluing them to the ground. He started jerking his shoulders back and forth but couldn’t get free.
“You’re the one with the killer shimmy,” said Nate.
“Shit. We’ve been fly-papered,” said Tim.
“This is very oppressive,” said Bradley.
Jack emitted a high-pitched growl. “Get me loose,” he yelled. “It’s in my eyes!”
“Take it easy, Jack,” said Nate. “We’re stuck, too, but I don’t see anything threatening.”
“What the hell isn’t threatening about getting glued to the floor, dumbass?” said Tim.
“Stop arguing and get me loose. I don’t think you appreciate the position I’m in,” said Jack. His rear end swayed back and forth as he tried to pull his head loose.
“Probably more than you realize,” said Tim.
“This is very oppressive,” said Bradley.
The room was small, no edges or corners, but vaguely cubicle, the furry surface covering the walls and ceiling. Three empty tubs affixed to the walls were the only furless areas, one in front, one on the left, and the third behind them.
“Hell. I’ve got—”
The biggest translator they had yet seen, maybe five feet high and seven wide, burst through the furred floor and stood before them. It had all the usual pulsating bladders, flashing screens, clicking levers, orifices, tangled messes of silver filaments, and a bunch of circuitry, but it looked much more complex then previous ones, and it did not appear to be equipped with the usual locomotive devices. The bottoms of the tubs faded and a Meklnuck oozed into each of them, their hard, flat appendages flopping out and clacking on the floor, ribbons of flesh undulating around the tubs’ rims, their eyes extending wide like they did when they prepared to communicate.
“Why did you stop talking? What is it?” asked Jack.
“A big honking translator and three Meklnuck’s just arrived,” said Tim. He never did trust these things. From the moment the guys had landed on their planet, the Meklnucks constantly messed with them, swatting them with their slats, blocking them from going places, and blowing bubbles at them that splooshed amber juice when they popped.
“Dude, tell them to cut me loose. Now!”
The front Meklnuck spoke, a creaky crunching sound like wood being twisted and splintered. The translator sprang into activity, bladders puffing, colors streaking across the screens. An orifice seemed to experiment with a few sounds, “mwuh, chee, po,” then said, “We are evaluators, Tchreek, Berrrorree, and Ntack.” By convention Tim understood that to mean the front one was Berrrorree.
“Why the hell did you bring us here?” said Tim.
“What the hell is an evaluator?” asked Nate.
“Meklnuck captures you for judgement,” said Berrrorree.
This was the clearest sounding translator yet. No ‘bawks’ or ‘gawks’ and apparently no missed words. “What the hell are you talking about?” asked Tim.
“I think he means we’re on trial,” said Nate. “Maybe evaluator means judge?”
“We siphoned you into neutralizing chamber to evaluate existential threats of non-validated orations.”
“Guys,” Jim shrieked. “First things first. Get me the hell loose!”
“Right,” said Tim. “Look, your squishiness, you have no right to constrict us like mice on a glue board.”
“Wrong statement. Constriction with fixative is right statement.”
“No,” said Tim. “Not ‘right’ as in ‘correct,’ but our basic human rights. You know—our protections under the law.”
Nate jumped in. “What he means is we deserve due process. You can’t take away our freedom without lawful cause.”
“‘Law’ is unknown concept,” said Berrrorree. “Freedom not understood.”
“Oh, come on, man,” said Tim. “I thought you were an advanced species. It’s the basic, fundamental right of all good governments.”
“Evaluators are government,” said Berrrorree.
Nate gulped. “So they are judges without law,” he muttered.
“We are free to hold you.”
“What?” said Tim. “You’re missing the point, sludge-bag. Freedom is for the people.”
“Evaluators are the people,” said Berrrorree.
“Well, I guess, yeah, but right now—”
“Just tell them I’m not a damned animal,” screamed Jack.
“Strictly speaking, we are,” said Bradley. “But this is not proper care and feeding of a human being at all. It’s very oppressive.”
All three Meklnuck’s creaked and groaned. The translator was apparently not active because it didn’t repeat anything they said.
“What care is improper?” asked Berrrorree.
Tim couldn’t believe it. They had no clue. What was the word it had used? “A fixative on the body causes extreme duress and harm to a human,” he said.
The Meklnucks consulted, then the one on the left withdrew. A moment later all the fur in the room laid flat and loosened it’s hold on them.
“Gah!” said Jack, raising his head. “About frikking time.” He jumped up and brushed himself off. “What the hell? What is this place?”
“I think this is some kind of courtroom,” said Nate.
Bradley sat up and grinned. “I knew you’d convince them, Tim. Good work.”
“Any other improper care?” asked Berrrorree.
Tim clamped his hand over Nate’s mouth. “Yeah,” he said. “We require cleaning, something about yea-high to sit on,… and something good to drink.”
“Plus a snack,” said Jack. “Something salty.”
Tim grinned. “That ought to do it. Unless you happen to have a cigarette?”
“Care will be provided.”
“Darn right,” said Tim.
“Then we will evaluate,” said Borrroree.
Tim dropped his smile. “Just get our stuff.”