When the Grobinkian ship dropped them off at the space station, Nate was momentarily blinded by incomprehension. Uncountable aliens with unfathomable features filled the depot. The place teamed with mixes of variously sized tentacles, orifices, eyes, flaps, spikes, and appendages, all attached to every possible body shape. The swirl of colors and structures bewildered all of them.
It was difficult for Nate to spot any alien species that any of them had encountered before, though the familiar translators were dispersed around the place, their bladders pulsing, lights flashing through their fibers, and their apertures tooting and vibrating.
“This is wild,” said Tim.
“It ain’t Grand Central Station,” said Nate.
An alien off to the side excreted a pile of slime, then extended a tube to suck it back up.
“It’s pretty close,” said Tim.
“Holy cow,” said Jack. “I hope we can find the wormhole ferry.”
“Charlie Sheen’s party was a lot like this,” said Bradley. As much as they’d hammered Bradley about his fantasies and the whoppers he kept telling on this trip, Nate almost respected him for never slowing down. If nothing else, the boy was committed. Or at least he should be.
“That’s one delusion you might not want to admit to,” said Tim.
“If you’d ignore the yellow press, you’d learn that his parties are popular and well respected,” Bradley said.
“Over there.” Jack pointed at a portal shaped like the top of an unevenly pronged triton, aliens of varied shapes maneuvering through it. “That’s the way the Grobinks told us to go.”
“Hit it,” said Tim. He waded through aliens, and the others followed.
“Hold up, Tim. Don’t piss off any more aliens,” said Jack.
“I’m not,” he called back. Then he pinched a tentacle that an alien waved to the side of him.
“Tim!” Nate and Jack both yelled at him.
“All right. All right.”
The portal led to a gigantic gallery, more portals on each side, a much larger one at the end.
“This is great workmanship,” said Bradley. “Almost as good as the work I did on the World Trade Center Mall.”
“That’s nice, Bradley,” said Jack. “But does it help us find the right portal for the wormhole?”
“That’s easy,” said Bradley. “It’s the big one on the end.”
“How do you know?” asked Nate.
“This is a depot made for flights coming to hook up with the wormhole. The most important connection will have the most important and biggest door.”
“He’s actually making sense,” said Tim.
They wound their way toward the other end.
Bradley grinned with vacant expression. “After all, I studied under I. M. Pei, and assisted him with the Bank of China Tower.”
Nate laughed. “That’s pretty impressive, but I helped Frank Lloyd Wright build the Fallingwater house.”
“Boom.” said Jack. Several aliens seemed to react with excitement, but calmed after a few moments.
“That was cool,” said Tim. “Boom!” he yelled. Lots of chittering, twirling, and shaking waved through the crowd, and they moved farther away from them. “Hah. Even better.”
Bradley’s grin tightened. From long experience Nate knew this meant he was going to try to school him.
“How old are you, Nate?” asked Bradley.
“I see. Then how is it that you helped build a house that was finished in nineteen sixty-four?”
“Time machine, silly,” said Nate.
Jack hissed a laugh.
Bradley’s grin relaxed. “Nice,” he said. “I. M. Pei is still better.”
Bradley turned bleach white.
“What’s the matter?” asked Jack.
Bradley pointed to a creature shaped like a squat whisk broom. Spindly appendages supported it’s body’s wide base, and flaps covered a stalk in the middle, a bulge oscillating up and down it. Red, orange, and blue streaks flashed up and down the greenish brown body, becoming intense red at the edges of the flaps.
“Paintbrush,” he said.
Tim grunted. Jack shrugged. Nate passed gas.
“It’s a weird one, all right,” said Jack. “But not any weirder than any other alien we’ve met.
“That…” Bradley gulped. “That’s the alien that abducted me back on earth.”
“What?” asked Jack.
“You’re wacked,” said Tim.
“Huh,” said Nate. “The one that abducted me had antennas and said, ‘Take me to your leader.’”
“Wait a minute. Wait a minute,” said Tim. “He’s serious. When did you get abducted?”
“Yeah, Bradley,” said Jack. “When did this happen?”
“About a year before we took our vacation.”
“So a year and a half ago?” asked Tim. “And this is the first we’re hearing of it?”
“Seriously, Bradley,” said Jack. “Why haven’t you said anything?”
Bradley shrugged, his big front teeth framed in the remnants of his grin. “I didn’t think you’d believe me.”
“Boom,” said Tim.