The four dudes unanimously decided Jack and Bradley would make the first garbage collection from Bubble City, which is to say neither of them withstood the shriveling looks Tim and Nate gave them for losing the entirety of their fuel source. Besides, Tim was tired from the walk.
The planet’s sun was at its peak in the purple sky. Tim and Nate sat on some chairs they crafted using some alien crate material, and Crpleenoorine, the alien that brought them, lowered the platform again to take the other two to the city.
“Chop-chop,” said Tim. “Me ’n’ doofus are gonna chase off those hoodoos and talk philosophy.” He said the word ‘philosophy’ like it was football or blowing things up.
“Woonoos,” said Bradley.
“Wh-what was that?” asked Tim, bending his ear with feigned concern. “Did you say foofoos?”
“Woonoos,” said Bradley.
“Come on, Bradley,” said Jack, and guided him toward the platform.
“I know,” said Tim. “Doodoos. That’s it, right?”
Bradley stopped and turned, but Jack grabbed his arm and pulled him along. The platform took them up into the vessel, and it wobbled its way to the city.
“So,” said Nate. “I sort of take your earlier point about perception and reality, but what do you really think about—”
“Nate,” said Tim. “Just kidding about the philosophy thing. A first year philosophy student from Aquinas University could tell you the whole theory is metaphysical garbage.”
“Metaphysics is garbage?”
“No, dumbass. The metaphysical premises they have are garbage. I’m going to take a nap. Watch out for them hoodoos when they come along.”
Tim awoke to a scream. Nate sprinted, weaving and dodging, chased by a woonoo, and Tim couldn’t help imagine it was one of the Dow scrubbing bubbles like Jack had mentioned. It was easy enough to ignore the tubes coming out of the top. He pictured a cartoon Nate in the commercial, screaming and running through the shower as the scrubbers came for him. Tim sat and watched for a while. Nate yelled for him to open the spaceship, then disappeared around it, voice fading. It increased again as he came around the other side.
“Damn, I wish I had a cigarette,” said Tim. He scoffed and pushed himself off the seat into a walk to intercept Nate. As they approached he picked up speed, and just before getting to them, he raised his arms and bellowed, kicking sand-mush at the woonoo. It croaked, spun in a circle several times, then sped away.
Nate collapsed in the mush, sucking air. “Why the hell wouldn’t you help me?”
“I just did,” said Tim. “Apparently they smell fear as good as a dog.”
“Promise you won’t tell the others about this.”
“Oh, I promise, Nancy” said Tim. “I promise to tell this story every chance I get.”
Nate pointed toward the city. The mush rover staggered toward them.
When it arrived, the platform lowered as before, Jack and Bradley standing in front of the alien. Each held a small, rubbery sack.
“You need help bringing down the garbage?” asked Tim.
“This is it,” said Jack, thrusting the sack in front of him.
“They’re very efficient,” said Bradley, holding up his own.
“That’s it?” asked Nate.
“Come on, guys,” said Tim. “It’ll take forever to get off this planet if that’s the fastest you can go. Tomorrow we all go collect.”
“You don’t understand,” said Jack. “This is it. We covered the entire city, and they hadn’t cleared their garbage out for more than a month, so it’s not like we’ll get more tomorrow.”
“They’re very efficient,” said Bradley.
“What’s worse, is we still have to separate out the unusable portion.”
“We’re doomed,” said Tim. “We’re never getting home.”
Nate walked up to Jack and spoke into the translator strapped to his arm. “Mr. Cooperlingering alien sir, how long will it take us to collect enough garbage from your city to get enough for our flight?”
The translator whizzed and burped. “MWAAP fuel MWAAP to accrue five thousand two hundred seventy-six days MWAAP stages.” The translator buzzed and warbled. “Removal to MWAAP disposal every three hundred twenty.”
“This can’t be,” said Tim.
“Their days are a bit shorter,” said Bradley. “But not by much.”
“Wait,” said Tim. “Where’s the disposal site?”
“MWAAP I can present MWAAP.”
“Why the hell didn’t you tell us that before, genius?” said Tim.
“MWAAP MWAAP non-sensical.”
A while later they came to a dry hole, a few scrubbing bubbles passing through it.
“The woonoos took it all, didn’t they?” asked Jack.
“Woonoos BWAAP took is true,” said the alien.
“Any way we can see where they took it?” asked Tim.
“Can MWAAP is true,” said Crpleenoorine.
“Have mercy,” yelled Tim. “You’ve got to really spell it out for these dudes.”
“This is a lot like that time me and Geraldo searched for Cheiro’s Book of Numbers in Elvis Presley’s gym locker,” said Bradley.
Jack wrinkled his brow. “You mean…?”
Bradley smiled and nodded. “Geraldo Rivera. I kept telling him Elvis took it to Buenos Aires after faking his death.”
Crpleenoorine took them to a pond of sludge surrounded by woonoos. Clearly enough to power their trip. For the next several days they filled containers and hauled them to the ship, loading the alternative fuel intake and then the room.
Tim, Nate, and Bradley waded several yards into the sludge where they could shovel some of the solid chunks, which, according to the aliens, were lighter and more efficient to burn—whatever they were. Jack was on shore throwing up for the third time.
“Why is it that everywhere we go we end up waste deep in sewage?” said Tim. “I’m starting to wonder if the universe isn’t trying to tell us something.”
“Now that’s some metaphysical garbage,” said Nate.