Tim wouldn’t admit it, but he was stoked for the opportunity to take a ride through a wormhole. The wormhole ferry looked more like a bullet than a ship, elongated windows along the side, shorter, triangular ones in the nose where he could see the pilot cabin. Cool.
An alien squatted at the controls, it’s round base flat on the floor with three slug-like ‘feet’ extending like roots of a tree. It’s upper half formed a kind of lampshade on a stalk, mops hanging out on each side, plus a beer-bottle where the finial would be. Appendages occasionally appeared out of the base and made an adjustment to the controls.
“What shall we call this one?” asked Bradley, his stupid grin taking up half his face. His eyes seemed to bug out behind his thick glasses.
“Doesn’t look like anything in particular,” said Jack. “How about ‘Mops.’”
“Holy cow,” said Nate. “It looks like he’s got two eyes, a nose, and a mouth.”
“Shit, monkey-boy, you’re right,” said Tim. “It’s about the most human thing we’ve seen so far.”
“Raisinhead,” said Jack.
Tim scoffed and shook his head. “Raisinhead had a billion eyes and no nose. Plus his mouth looked like a colon.”
“Shut up,” said Nate.
“You shut up,” said Tim. “I’m going to check him out.”
They bustled over a ramp into the ferry. The vessel looked too small for the crowd that had gathered.
“What’s the capacity of this ship?” asked Bradley.
Jack put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s not an actual ferry. It’s not going to capsize.”
The pilot cabin was open. Tim braced himself on each side of the doorway and yelled. “Hey, Mops. How’s it feel to have the biggest ass on the ferry?”
The translator by Mop’s side tooted, scraped, and sizzled, then Mops responded with similar noises. “Superb. Every BAAAWK should BAAAWK like mine,” said the translator. Great. They were going to lose most words in the rendition. “What’s it like to stink like BAAAWK of ductrat?”
“What?” asked Tim. He grinned and choked a laugh. “Did you guys hear that? An alien just busted my balls!”
“How nice for you,” said Nate.
“Ask him if he mops the deck with his… whatever those are,” said Jack.
“Alien dude,” said Tim. “What are those stringy things on each side of you? Swab some decks with them, do you?”
The response was immediate. “I stuff BAAAWK into communication orifices to BAAAWK them quiet. I’ve never seen your species. Where are you buttholes from?”
Tim busted out laughing, grabbed his stomach, and fell to the floor. “Buttholes! He called us—”
“We’re from a place called Earth,” Jack said. He smiled tentatively. “Shit for brains.”
Mops turned one way then the other, swinging his mop heads back and forth, much like that twirl most radial aliens used to display laughter.
Tim sat against one side of the door jamb, while Jack leaned on the other side. Bradley and Nate each took a slot on the left side—slots that provided several adjustments to accommodate many kinds of aliens. “I like this guy,” said Tim. “He’s got personality.”
“I had a conversation with a mime in Seattle like this once,” said Bradley.
“Mimes don’t talk,” said Tim.
“He talked to me.”
Tim chuckled at Bradley’s serious tone. No doubt he now felt superior to anyone who hadn’t been spoken to by a mime.
Mops pulled a lever and did a toot-crackle-pop. Translators throughout the ferry sounded off, burping, whistling, twanging, and groaning. The one next to the guys said, “Launch in thirty BAAAWK.” It seemed like about ten seconds when the ship started in motion, gradually picking up speed, turning slightly for a smooth trajectory toward the wormhole’s opening.
Tim looked back out the side windows at the space station shrinking away, it’s bowtie configuration unusual among the ones he’d seen before, a gigantic Grobinkian ship taking off from it.
Through the pilot’s window before them floated the enormous framework surrounding the wormhole entrance, intricate lattices between huge beams, maintenance hoppers darting between them, many blobs that they’d come to recognize as message indicators—panspeciel signs of a sort. Inside looked like a sphere of roiling clouds.
“Wow,” said Nate.
One of the blobs was many times larger than the others.
“Hey, alien jagoff.” said Tim. “What message is the biggest one signaling?”
Mops answered, “It says, Earth beings too BAAAWK stupid to read this.” His mops wiggled. “Either that or ‘Construction Ahead.’”
“Seriously?” said Jack. “Maybe we should come back when they’re finished. How long until it’s done?”
“Three million, two hundred forty-seven thousand, six hundred twenty-eight BAAAWK.”
“I ain’t turning back,” said Tim.
“We better just go,” said Nate.
Jack bit his lip. “What construction are they doing?” The closer the wormhole came, the more violent the appearance of roiling clouds seemed.
“Expansion. Building extra BAAAWK lane and anchoring it to destination.”
The ferry entered the sphere. Tim felt wobbly and the space around him suddenly seemed immense, then tiny, then immense again in some kind of insane oscillation, Bradley’s face growing and shrinking with the effect.
Bradley’s voice came out in warped spurts. “This is like that summer in Norway with Jimmy Fallon.”
“One more restraining order heard from,” said Jack.
Mops started tooting excitedly, tinkering with the controls.
“Whazza matter, swabby?” asked Tim.
“Wormhole BAAAWK wrong.”
Tim stood and the four of them huddled in the doorway looking out the front. The roiling cloud had become a swirl of lights that suddenly blinked out. The space station they just left appeared for a second, the Grobinkian ship just gaining separation, then they disappeared and the ferry was once again in roiling clouds.
“What the hell just happened?” asked Jack.
“Great,” said Jack. “Not like the translator can’t handle the critical stuff.”
“Are we going to make it to the destination?” asked Nate.
“Unknown,” said Mops.
“Shit,” said Tim.
They all stood breathless, waiting to exit the wormhole. Again the cloud became swirling lights that blinked out. The space station blinked into view for a second, a Grobinkian ship lifting off again, and they were back in roiling clouds.
“What’s going on, Mops?” asked Tim.
The alien remained quiet and worked the controls. The same sequence occurred again, down to the space station and another Grobinkian vessel.
“Oh, no,” said Nate. “This is bad. This isn’t good at all. This is—”
Tim shoved him. “Spit it out, Nancy. What the hell is going on?”
“It must be the construction,” said Nate. “They’ve anchored the end of our lane, or whatever the wormhole equivalent is, back to the source of the wormhole.”
“They’ll figure that out, though, right?” said Jack, panic rising in his voice. “They’ll fix it.”
Nate shook his head. “Didn’t you see the markings on the ship. It was the same Grobinkian vessel each time, exactly where it was when we entered the wormhole in the beginning.” The others stared blankly. Nate scoffed. “It’s anchored at our beginning time, too. They might fix the anchor point, but it will only work for ships that entered after they fix it. In our time, it will always come back to here.”
They gawked at him.
“Why don’t we just come out where we started?” asked Tim.
“We do,” said Nate. “But the trajectory puts us right back into the wormhole. We’re screwed.”
“That’s it,” said Jack. “We’ve got to change our trajectory in some way.”
“Yeah,” said Tim. “That sounds right. What do you think, monkey-boy?”
Nate bit his lower lip. “I guess. The alternative is literally eternity in this wormhole loop.”
“Mops. Listen up,” said Tim. “We’ve gotta change the trajectory the instant that space station appears. Can you give that a try?”
“Not protocol,” Mops said.
“C’mon, Mops. We’ll be stuck here forever if you don’t.”
“BAAAWK trained me for BAAAWK protocol imperative.”
They continued to wheedle him during another loop. Mops flipped the announcement lever again and explained to the passengers that they would be stuck in traffic for an indefinite time, possibly years. A number of aliens shrunk themselves. Across the aisle one started to spin a cocoon. A few squeaked and moaned. Several in the back fused themselves together into a ball.
“No fucking way,” said Tim. “Get your protocol-obsessed, fat-assed alien body out of there.”
Mops compressed his body into the wide trunk, then shot up a few feet higher than before, bumping his head on the ceiling.
“Back off, Tim,” said Nate.
“Eat my shorts,” said Tim.
“You’re aggravating it. Who knows what it’ll do.”
“Well, whatever it does, it can’t be as bad as being stuck here for eternity, can it?”
“Guys,” said Jack.
“Tim, you promised not to do this again,” said Nate. “Now settle down and let’s handle this calmly.”
Tim flipped him the bird. “Calm this.”
“Guys,” said Jack.
“You’re a belligerent ass, Rockwell.”
“You’re a d—”
“Guys! Knock it off!” Jack yelled. “Think about it for a second. We have to convince Mops to cooperate, none of us can fly this ferry.”
“I can,” said Bradley. Say what you want about Bradley, they all knew that he didn’t bullshit about operating machinery.
“You sure?” asked Jack.
“Absolutely. I’ve been watching.”
“There it is,” said Tim. He stepped into the pilot cabin and wrapped his arms around Mops’s trunk, pulling him off the floor with a slurp and dragging him out the door. Mops sizzled, tooted, and clanked while slapping Tim vigorously in the face with his moppy things and winding it’s appendages around his legs. The translator bawked and barked, unable to keep up. They both tumbled onto the floor.
Tim gasped. “Get in there!”
Nate and Jim nudged Bradley to the controls. The clouds were dissipating into lights.
“You’ve got to time it perfectly,” said Nate. “Just as the space station appears you’ve got to punch it left, right, up, or down.”
“Bank,” said Bradley.
“What?” asked Jack.
“You say bank left, or bank right,” said Bradley.
“Yeah, who cares?” said Nate. “It doesn’t matter which you do. If it doesn’t work, we’ll try another the next time around. You ready?”
Bradley grinned and nodded.
“Focus,” said Nate. “Here it comes.”
The lights blinked out. Bradley banked left and the space station appeared, this time seeming to fly by on the starboard side, then came back around as the ferry spun. They were out of the worm hole. Bradley maneuvered the ferry to a stop, slowing her to an imperceptible drift.
Jack shot his arms up. “Whoohoo! Way to go, Bradley.”
Nate gave Bradley several high fives as Jack grabbed him in a big bearhug.
Tim and Mops had ceased their struggle, Mops back on his trunk, and Tim sitting on the floor. He grabbed the narrow stalky part of Mops middle and pulled himself into a stand, then brushed his clothes straight.
Mops tooted and clacked. The translator said, “Now the pile of BAAAWK excrement from Earth thinks he’s a BAAAWK hero, eh, BAAAWK-brain?”
“You’re welcome, ass-hat.”
Tim chuckled, and Mops twirled just a little.