Jack watched the planet Mbi shrink away as their space cruiser headed out of the solar system. This trip was the first opportunity since the day they got lost in the universe that they were able to just stop and rest without any worries for the next day. It was a last minute booking, so they waited in a reception room for quarters to be assigned. This far away from earth, they were sure not to be designed for humans.
Jack’s friends had been worthy companions so far, each getting them through one hairy alien mess or another. The amazing part was that they didn’t kill each other in the process. He never knew when Bradley was going to get stubborn with one of his delusions, or when Tim was going to fly off the handle at an alien, or when Nate was going to lord it over the rest of them, but somehow they managed to time things where the rest of them were at their best when one of them lost it.
If they were all going to freak out at once, now would probably be the best time for it.
The Mbi were no more and no less strange than every other alien they’d come across. When they moved fast, they looked like a tuning fork stuck into a waffle cone set into a white, upside-down sea urchin. When they moved slow, the spikes of the sea urchin went flaccid and slithered across the ground. The translator handled getting their language into English a little better than average, which was to say they’d get one or two ‘bawks’ every sentence or so signifying something didn’t go through.
A Mbi joined them. “Follow my person.” The Mbi weren’t very good with names.
“‘Bout freakin’ time,” said Tim. “I need a nap.”
They followed him through several corridors that were more like hallways than most, but on this ship they had rounded edges and never turned too sharply.
“The ship I got from the Droo-McDonalds had much more efficient passageways,” said Bradley. He meant the Droomigdalinoblooans, but Jack, who always had a nickname ready, changed it to Droo-McDonalds.
“I’m sure it blew gold dust for exhaust, too,” said Tim.
“Oh, no,” said Nate. “Platinum for sure.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Bradley. “The spanker drive doesn’t have exhaust.” ‘Spanker’ was another of Jack’s inventions, and he didn’t remember the real name.
The Mbi brought them to a section with dark green mottled walls and indicated four portals. “Best rooms,” he said. He left them each an item like a poker chip and indicated how to bend it to summon assistance.
“Don’t wake me unless you die,” said Tim.
“Me, too,” said Nate. “How long is this trip? Eight months we figured? I can sleep that.”
“You guys promised to play Backgammon!” said Bradley.
“They’re exaggerating,” said Jack. “Don’t panic.”
Each of them took a room. Jack’s was about twenty feet square with lots of room to move around. Inside was also mottled green. There was no bed and there was no off room for bathroom ablutions. A trough shaped like an elongated clam shell opened a few inches might have served for number one, but he couldn’t find anything for number two. He’d have to explore and inquire when the time came.
The room was dim, apparently accommodating sleep, unless there was a way to adjust the unseen light source. They had yet to figure out how to adjust lights with any of the alien technology.
There were no blankets or linens or towels, just a bowl shaped object about two beanbag chairs in size. It was the only possible place one might sleep other than the floor.
He curled up inside, sinking into the gelatinous surface, like a waterbed, but less fluid. It was quite comfortable, so he curled up and very soon drifted toward sleep.
Somebody screamed. Somewhat muffled, sounded like Tim. The bowl closed around the top and extremely cold, oily liquid flooded Jack, ropy strands of something wrapping around him. Completely submersed in the oil, Jack thrashed, punched and pushed until the top reopened and he flopped over the side onto the floor. He gasped, dripping with fishy slime, fleshy chunks of something sticking to him.
He went into the hallway where Tim was cursing and trying to scrape the filth off.
“What the hell are they trying to do to us?” Tim yelled.
Nate groaned and came out, also covered in muck.
Bradley peeked his head out. “What’s going on?” He was perfectly dry.
“Didn’t your bowl thing try to drown you in dog vomit?” asked Tim.
“The bowl thing? I thought that was a decoration. I squeezed into the clam shell thingy.”
They activated the chips and a Mbi joined them. A different one than before.
“We need something with a bed to sleep on,” Nate said to him. “Something soft and warm.”
They did their best to describe a bed to him.
“We have regrets,” said the Mbi. “Come with me to BAAWK!”
They followed him to another section, this time with metallic walls. They peeked into the rooms and saw that they did have some palettes, so they checked one out and it was firm but soft. Unfortunately, the Mbi didn’t understand the word for blanket. The lighting was extremely bright.
“Can you adjust the lights?” asked Nate. He quickly added, “Make them dimmer?”
The Mbi didn’t move for a minute.
“Did he go dormant?” asked Tim.
The lights dimmed on their own. “Summon us with chips for assistance,” the alien said, and he whisked away.
A little more tentative this time, they each took a room. Jack was asleep on the palette within a minute.
He woke to a roar. The surface of the bed had become a grid and scorching air blew from beneath. Jack screamed and sprang out of bed, his arms, legs and neck stinging badly.
Three more screams later they were all in the hallway again, summoning the Mbi.
“The bastards are trying to kill us,” said Tim.
“I really think they’re trying to accommodate us,” said Nate. “They just don’t know our needs.”
“What needs are you talking about, perv?” said Tim.
Bradley laughed. “They remind me of some friends I made at an Elton John concert.”
“Well, they’re going to accommodate us to charred ashes the way they’re going,” said Jack. “We’ve got to get through to them.”
When the Mbi showed up, they explained and reexplained.
Jack turned on his Mister Rogers voice. “Hello there, Mr. Mbi alien creature. I’m happy to be in your little spaceship here, but, you see, the first rooms were too cold. Plus we don’t like to get eaten by our beds. The second one was way too hot. We need something in between, if you please.”
The Mbi turned and swayed. Eventually it stopped and through the translator it said, “Come with me.”
They went to another section, this one with tan walls, the light at a happy medium. Inside the room Jack was pleasantly surprised to find a round, flat platform covered with some kind of very soft, white fur, and it was fairly easy to pull the fur around.
Again, the Mbi reminded them about the chip, then left.
“What the hell was that for?” asked Nate.
“Just saving time,” said Tim.
In the room, Jack wrapped himself up in the fur. It was extremely comfortable, and he would have conked out easily except that he was afraid something was going to happen. Eventually he fell into a deep and peaceful sleep.
When Jack awoke, he didn’t want to disturb the others so he wandered the halls alone and eventually summoned a Mbi to guide him somewhere to eat. The Mbi seemed to spin a lot as he took Jack to a large room with lots of Mbi lounging around, appendages coming out of their cones and lapping a syrupy orange substance off mats on the floor. They all seemed to stop as he went in, and many of them started to twirl like his guide.
He spotted the universal species food dispenser on the far wall and headed that way.
One of the Mbi stopped him, twirling and shaking. He thought he recognized this one as the first Mbi from the night before.
“How was your BAAAWK?” the Mbi asked.
“My what?” asked Jack.
“I don’t understand. And why are all the Mbi twirling around this morning.”
The Mbi worked with his translator for a few minutes, then finally it came out with, “Laughter.”
“Laughter? What are they laughing at?”
“You earthlings are BAAWK,” said the alien. “Like little babies.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” asked Jack.
“You sleep in… incubators,” the Mbi said. “You are hatchling.” The Mbi twirled and wriggled, sending the rest of the Mbi twirling as well.
“Your sense of humor is bizarre,” Jack said.
Jack laughed in spite of himself. After all, it’s not often you learn what it feels like to be the laughing stock of a completely alien species.