When Bradley kept comparing the merits of the spaceship with his Maserati Quattroporte, Jack played along with his fantasy for the fun of it.
“One score on the camshaft.” Bradley fiddled with a loose flange-like piece hanging off an indentation, possibly caused by the landing. “In all the time I’ve owned it.”
It was getting a little too deep, even for Jack. “I’m gonna clean out that garbage in back,” he said. “Let me know if you need any help.”
Bradley grinned vacantly.
Jack walked up the ramp. Down the corridors to the back holds, the stench intensified, a rotten egg with body odor and excrement kind of smell. He resisted the gag reflex and opened the main hold, releasing a cloud of putridity.
The garbage was waist high from wall to wall, mostly unrecognizable yellow, red, and green chunks covered in ooze that gave it an overall muddy, orange-brown appearance. He searched the other hold for something like a wheelbarrow, and found a large receptacle about five feet around with bars along the rim that he could pull on. The bottom had very little surface friction and slid around better than wheels would go. He also found a smaller box he could use as a shovel.
He filled the receptacle to the top, and it slid as easily as when it was empty. He had little trouble guiding it out of the spaceship, down the ramp, and even over the sand sludge to a spot about a hundred yards away from the craft. He dug a hole about twice the size of the receptacle, the mushy sand staying in place well enough, then tipped it over, dumping the garbage into it.
Jack had made three trips and guided the fourth containerful down the ramp when he noticed six creatures perched at the edge of the second hole he’d made. They looked a lot like the scrubbing bubbles from that old TV commercial, except they had several hoses coming out of their tops, three fingers at the end of each. They had the dense bristles on the bottom and they were as big as giant tortoises.
“Bradley,” he called.
Bradley poked his head up and around a fluke at the bottom of the ship. “Hey. What are those?”
“I was hoping to get your take on that.”
Bradley crawled out from under the fluke and trotted up next to him. “They’re lined up and orderly. Seem to be inspecting the garbage. I’m thinking their environmental inspectors of some sort. Maybe Customs officers.”
One of the scrubbing bubbles dipped into the hole and grabbed a chunk with each hose, slurping up some ooze as it did. With no more free hands, it slipped out and carried its cargo away, then the next one started in.
Jack couldn’t see any translator, and Nate had taken theirs, but he walked slowly up to them. “Hello. We’re from a planet called earth, and you can see that we are shipwrecked, and we are trying to figure out how to get home, so if you could help in any manner, we would appreciate it.”
They didn’t respond.
“Are you Customs officers?” Jack asked.
The second climbed out, loaded down, and the third went in.
“Ask them if they’re Brethren,” said Bradley.
“The Jim Roberts group. Religious nuts known for dumpster diving.”
“Don’t let Nate hear you talk like that,” said Jack.
“Nate’s very religious,” said Bradley.
“And sympathetic to dumpster divers—Look. We’re several galaxies away. I really don’t think Jim Roberts is going to have that kind of reach.”
Jack raised his eyebrows and nodded. The last of the scrubbing bubbles crawled out, and they all carried their loads away.
“Back to work, I guess,” said Jack. He dumped the container and pushed it back into the hold. He shoveled it about half full when he heard Bradley yelling.
He ran out to the top of the ramp. Hundreds of the scrubbing bubbles scooted along towards them. Several stopped at the hole, but the rest came up to the ramp.
“How can I help you?” he asked. There was no response, but they started up the ramp single-file. “Wait. What are you doing? What do you want?”
“I wouldn’t mess with the Customs service,” said Bradley. “Rub them the wrong way and you can wind up in a holding cell with two smelly Hungarians and a pound of Limburger cheese—and there’s a good bet your Hannah Montana Remix CD will disappear.”
Jack followed them in, and they went down every corridor and into every room that was open. Oddly, they didn’t open any that were closed, but Jack ran up and down the ship watching what they were up to. Most rooms they vacated almost as soon as they entered, but they lingered for a while in the kitchen, not disturbing anything or opening any containers, but sniffing around them a lot. They also made a long line taking waste material from the hold, transporting it off the ship, and carrying it away.
The hold was almost empty when Jack spied a gigantic creature off in the distance, coming from the direction of the bubbly city. It had three bone-shaped legs on each side that rotated in a way that effected a wobbly walk, the bulk of it quite flat, but having a big disk as a head.
“Bradley?” Jack ran around the ship and found Bradley spit polishing a black casement. “Bradley, get inside. Quick.” He pulled Bradley by the arm and dragged him up the ramp where Bradley stood smiling stupidly.
“The ship won’t fly yet, Jack.”
“We’re not traveling, we’re taking cover.” Jack opened the portal on the other side to watch the creature, but hit the ramp override to keep it from extending.
The scrubbing bubbles seemed to speed up their work, almost a frenzy. The monster grew larger, Jack estimated it to be as big as a school gymnasium. He was quaking by the time it reached the ship. As it stomped by, a long pipe with fan blades of a sort came out of it’s belly and made a rattling sound as they spun. The monster extended the fans toward the scrubbing bubbles, and they scattered, some dropping their garbage cargo, some holding on.
When the scrubbers were all gone, the beast turned toward them, poised directly for the ramp. Jack reached for the door control to shut it as Tim’s head popped over the top of the disk-shaped head.
“Whazzap?” asked Tim. “We brought some help.”
The bottom of the creature came off and lowered slowly to the ground, a platform with Tim and Nate peering over the side. “That’s not a creature,” said Bradley.
“Nope. It sure looks like one, though,” said Jack.
When the platform reached the ground, Tim and Nate walked off it, followed by what looked like a gas cap with tiny legs all the way around the bottom. Jack had difficulty reconciling the delicate legs with the bulk of the thing—it was almost the size of a tank.
Tim pointed to the gas cap. “Guys. This is Crpleenoorine, or some freaky thing like that. He’s what passes for an engineer around here.”
“He’ll take a look at our ship,” said Nate.
“Fan-freakin-tastic,” said Jack. “You’ll also be glad to know I cleaned out most of that waste material.”
Tim tightened his lips and nodded.
“Man, I’ll be glad that smell’s gone,” said Nate.
The translator hummed and burped. The side of the gas cap had every kind of shape sticking out of it. It looked like someone had taken one of every kind of utensil from a Target store and stuck them into it all the way around. It swept a spaghetti server toward the fleeing scrubbers. “Why let MWAAP the MWAAP woonoos?”
Jack didn’t understand the question, but thought he had a general idea. “We thought they were officials. Customs maybe. So we let them inspect our ship and haul some of the garbage.”
“MWAAP MWAAP earth joke?” Crpleenorine asked.
“No,” Jack said. “Why?”
“Woonoos MWAAP be not sentient.”
“Wait,” said Jack. “You mean those were wild animals?”
“Yes. I laugh inside,” said the alien.
The creature barely fit into the ship, but it was able to figure out what kind it was and what technologies it used.
“MWAAP problem is spaceship used up all MWAAP fuel, but never utilized the secondary MWAAP that uses alternative fuel for longer distance.”
“Really.” said Bradley. “What kind of alternative fuel?”
Jack’s mouth fell open. Nate and Tim glared at him.
Bradley grinned. “Shouldn’t have doubted those Zirbidots.”