Nate, Jack, Tim, and Bradley had to stay a few months on a planet the translator called Kroki-BAWK-lor-BAWK-leeps before the next hop across the universe. They called it Krowkleeps for short. The primary alien population was ‘Korkoan,’ or something like that. This species looked like a surfboard with eight legs and dozens of worms sticking out of their tops, the tips of some looking like eyeballs and others like feathers.
Nate was downcast like they all were about staying so long, but he was determined to keep positive. At this point the dudes’ experience of the alien economics had been random and enigmatic, but what became clear was that they were required to work. They never had to pay for anything of necessity, but an extended participation in their community meant a certain duty to it.
The translator garbled something about the Korkoans interviewing them for jobs. They waited in a blue, amorphous room, the walls and floor like rubber. Like most aliens, they’d figured out how to light a place with no apparent source.
“I think they can really benefit from us,” said Nate.
“Like how?” asked Tim. “By sharing the industrial secrets of beer-guzzler hats?”
“We can show them the good old American work ethic,” said Nate.
Tim scoffed. “They don’t even understand ‘freedom’ or ‘equality.’ You think ‘work ethic’ is going to mean anything to them?”
A Korkoan scurried in followed by one of the mobile translators, already whistling and burping.
“Hello, we wish to be your friends, Nate, Jack, Bradley, and Tim,” said Nate. For once they’d been around an alien species long enough to learn their etiquette.
“Bedo-BAWK-kino, call me friend,” the alien said.
“Bedokino, I call you,” said Nate, stripping out the BAWK noise from the translator. The Korkoan seemed to accept it. “I’d like to work in a supervisory capacity over the human team.”
Tim pushed him. “What the f—”
Jack caught Tim by the shoulder and held him back. “Seriously, Nate?” he asked. “You’re going to volunteer to be our boss?”
“Come on, guys,” said Nate. “I’m the natural choice for it.”
“You’re a natural butthead,” said Tim.
Bradley laughed. “You must admit he would lead well in that area.”
“Holy shit,” said Jack. “Did Bradley just crack a joke?”
“By gosh, I think he did,” said Tim.
The translator squeaked and clanged. “Supervisor no translate.”
Bedokino shot one of its feathery worms toward Tim, stopping just short of his nose. Tim didn’t flinch, several days on the planet having made them used to this way of communication. “Qualifications?” the alien asked.
“Munitions expert. I spent a lot of time working limestone quarries. I love to blow things up.” He grinned. “Got anything like that, Pinnochio?”
Bedokino’s worms flurried. One thing Nate had figured about these Korkoans is that they had immense calculation and memory abilities. They were extremely advanced, but the only thing even close to a computer that they used was the translator, which was an amalgam of technologies from many different alien species. “Waste removal,” the alien said. It immediately shot another worm toward Jack.
“You can’t be serious,” said Tim. But Bedokino had clearly moved on. Nate chuckled.
“I’ve got decent mechanical skills,” said Jack. “And I like to build things. Out of wood, metal, whatever you want.”
“I bet you could build some of those clatterbat traps,” said Bradley.
“That would be cool,” said Jack.
“Waste removal,” said Bedokino. Jack grimaced, and the alien shot a feathered worm toward Bradley. “Qualifications?”
“Acting like a complete loon,” said Tim.
“Be nice,” said Jack.
“Industrial espionage is my main profession,” said Bradley. He raised his voice to be heard over Tim’s laughing. “However, I’m also a top notch engineer. I’d quite enjoy helping with your spaceship design. Or perhaps I could work on your stargates.”
“Waste removal,” said Bedokino.
“Ha-ha!” said Bradley, smiling broadly.
Another worm shot toward Nate. “Qualifications?”
Nate could have gone on for several minutes about his interests and qualifications, but he chose to stick with his previous strategy. “I work best as a sup—er, as a leader of men. Or aliens. I could lead Korkoans, too.”
“Leader,” said Bedokino.
“Excellent,” said Nate.
“It ain’t fair,” said Tim. “I’m not going to take orders from Nate. Nuh-uh.”
“We’ve got to do our share around here,” said Jack.
“I’m a good boss,” said Nate. “You’ll see.”
“Work starts now,” said the alien.
Tim spat on the floor. “Lead the way, Pinnochio.”
They followed Bedokino to an endless field waste deep in trash and excrement, horridly reeking of sewage. The alien showed them some nine-foot high machines vaguely resembling plows and instructed Tim, Jack, and Bradley how to board and operate them. Nate watched with interest, considering how he would motivate the team. They had to plow the waste from the field into a gigantic pit they had excavated for the purpose. The guys seemed to enjoy knocking the machines around a bit.
When Bedokino finished instructing, he pulled out some rubbery waders from a chest and stretched them out toward Nate on the ends of several of its worms. “Made special for you,” he said.
“What’s this?” asked Nate.
“You lead,” said the alien. “Walk through waste and direct others how to follow you so they do not get stuck.”
Tim guffawed and Jack cackled. Even Bradley snickered.
“Um. I’d like to be a waste remover instead,” said Nate.
“Must have leader,” said Bedokino. “You are most qualified.”