Making your way across galaxies to find your way home can sometimes be a lot like hitchhiking. Not that Jack had hitchhiked much, but a few of his ex-girlfriends had stories, and he tended to romanticize that kind of thing.
The four dudes bummed a ride from the Droo’eps to reach space station Xizjotz, hopped in with a family of Ivyraupigalees down to an unpronouncable planet, where they cadged some seats on a shuttle-bopper to the Permachorgreevry dual star system—Jack liked to call it the Parmesan-Gravy System—settling on the planet Lurpeedurp to wait for a boomer ship to get them into warp speed and make real progress into the galaxy’s Wuhm quadrant, eventually to engage the Dimpsies for intergalactic arrangements.
They were about a hundred years too soon to Lurpeedurp, seeing as alien crews were unloading massive materials right next to it for an intergalactic ‘chute’ that would take them one galaxy away from the Milky Way once it was finished. But it would take at least a hundred years.
If the travel getting there was like hitchhiking, the planet Lurpeedurp was that giant truckstop along the way where you lingered for more than a leg stretch and a pee, shopping, eating, maybe even catching a movie or taking a nap after a long shower and a stop at the laundromat and chiropractor and tattoo parlor, finally getting that penguin on your ankle. It was that place that first made you really feel like you were on a vacation, and you’d always be well rested for having stopped there and even a little reluctant to leave.
Lurpeedurp, for its part, had the most edible food the universe had to offer the dudes since the day they were lost. If you’ve ever had alfalfa sprouts immersed in liquified slime mold with cream of wheat clumps and raisins, you might have an idea. It was a vast improvement on the swill from Carprprplip, that’s for sure, and Jack actually gained a little weight during their stay. They also had interesting landscapes with fantastically improbable flora and fauna.
Most of all, Lurpeedurp had the friendliest aliens they’d met since they’d left earth. The Lurpeedurpians continuously asked how they were doing and offered to bring them things or take them places, even teaching them games that were unlearnable for a human being. These aliens had vaguely hourglass shapes to their bodies, the bottom half extending out and retracting to move them along like a worm, and the top half flailing in a way that seemed very expressive, hundreds of loops around the top, flapping, receding, extending, and interlocking with no discernible pattern. The translators chattered like mad when they were around, but uttered far more BAWKs than usual, which indicated untranslatable words.
One of them in particular, the dudes called him Patterbutt, was especially attentive, and they all took a liking to him, even to the point of competing for his attention. Patterbutt was like that story-telling friend that was full of optimism and held everyone’s attention in the room without even trying. You never really got to know him well, but you were always glad to see him.
On the day the boomer ship arrived, Patterbutt accompanied them to the ship and spun his loops, which they’d come to understand as some level of agitation. “Lurpeedurpians so BAWK BAWK BAWK glad BAWK you bring enjoyment to BAWK and I BAWK you for the BAWK BAWK trip.”
“Well, bawkity-bawkity-bawk,” said Tim. “It’s been nice, but now we’ve gotta go.”
“It’s been real, Patterbutt,” said Nate. “We had a blast with you, too.”
“I know the editor to the ‘Best Living Travel’ magazine,” said Bradley. “I will definitely write you up and submit it for publication. Wonderful amenities. I especially liked your shampoo.”
This made Patterbutt flare his lower half—their sign of mirth. “BAWK BAWK no shampoo BAWK BAWK sealant for BAWK.” His loops continued to spin.
Tim reached the ship’s tunnel ramp well ahead of everyone. “Come on, guys. Let’s get boarded.”
“It doesn’t leave for forty-two hours,” said Nate.
“We talked about this,” said Tim. “These things are built like luxury hotels, but you’ve got to get in early to get the best rooms.”
“Everything okay, Patterbutt?” asked Jack.
“He’s perfect,” said Tim. “Let’s go.”
“Wait,” said Jack. “Patterbutt, what’s wrong?”
“BAWK BAWK send Patterbutt spawn BAWK no communication BAWK if none, then lose vocation, BAWK, and well-being crushed BAWK.”
“That sounds bad,” said Nate. “He’s in some kind of jam having to do with his kid, I think. When did… whatever happen?”
“Soon BAWK after Jack-Nate-Bradley-Tim come BAWK.” It’s entire body shook, emitting a sweet pickle smell.
“Can we help?” asked Jack.
Tim sputtered. “Jack—”
“Please BAWK, please BAWK.”
“We’ve got to help him,” said Jack.
“Darn straight,” said Nate.
“This is a lot like that time the prime minister of Denmark asked me to save Christmas,” said Bradley.
“Shit.” Tim sat against the wall. “I could kill for a cigarette.”
You might think that Tim Rockwell was a selfish son-of-a-bitch, and you’d sort of be right. But to acquiesce that way with no argument was completely out of character for him and demonstrated a friendship better than he had for most humans.
“The next boomer ship doesn’t arrive for another seven earth weeks,” said Bradley.
“Then we’d better hurry,” said Jack.
“A friend in need is a friend indeed,” said Nate.
Tim spat. “One more cliche out of you, Nate, and I’m going to knock you on your ass.”