It wasn’t so much that Tim couldn’t figure out what the alien was saying, he just didn’t have the patience for it. When Tim worked munitions for the limestone quarries in Nebraska, everyone pretty much spoke the same, and they were a tight community, so he was accustomed to easy socializing. He got along with Patterbutt because it didn’t matter that he couldn’t understand him. They just hung out and had fun.
Jack and Nate spent about an hour trying to figure out the true nature of Patterbutt’s problem. Meanwhile, Tim tried to negotiate with the crew of the boomer ship to save them some of the better rooms, but they refused unless they boarded right then.
“I think we’ve got it,” said Nate. “Patterbutt is the Parmesan-Gravy star system’s liaison for an alliance of species spanning a good part of this galaxy. They had a critical decision requiring his ratification, but their communication link to the headquarters went down, and if he doesn’t get through, the decision will be rejected, this system will be left out of some transportation coop, and Patterbutt will lose his position and be humiliated.”
“Starfleet will can him if he can’t get through,” said Tim.
Patterbutt’s rings expanded and shrunk. “That is correct.”
“What kind of equipment do you use?” asked Nate.
“BAWK BAWK BAWK but I only BAWK when the BAWK BAWK,” said Patterbutt.
“Maybe you ought to show us,” said Jack.
Patterbutt took them to an enclosure shaped like a mini-stadium with a shroud over most of the top. The purpose of the place was elusive as there were many stations of equipment, some moving around, some making noises, some emitting a smell like cheesy burnt poo. Many others appeared to be piles of supplies.
Patterbutt took them to a device under the open area with a coil winding upward out of a blob of alien circuitry almost to the height of the shroud.
While the other three dudes took a closer look, Tim explored the place. There was no way to figure out the weird circuitry of the thing, so he left the linguistically gifted to figure it out through the translator.
Most sections in the enclosure made no sense to his human eyes, but he came upon a platform filled with an array of chemicals in small receptacles. This was something he understood. He recognized potassium nitrate, potassium chlorate, ammonium nitrate—lots of things he used in his profession, but also mercury, zirconium, calcium chloride, hydrogen peroxide, and more.
Tim grabbed several vials and put them in his pockets. Hilarious pranks using the chemicals came to mind that he could play on Nate.
“What ya got there?” said Jack.
“Found a few goodies,” said Tim.
Jack raised his eyebrows.
“Don’t give me that look,” said Tim. “There’s no such thing as money here—so no such thing as stealing.”
“You keep telling yourself that,” said Jack. “We figured out it’s more or less a line-of-sight beam transmitter, but for some reason it’s not getting to the first relay.”
They went back to the device. Patterbutt spun his loops as Nate poked around at the circuits. Tim was positive Nate hadn’t a clue what he was looking at.
“Has anything changed since the last time you transmitted?” asked Nate.
Patterbutt quivered his middle. “Not known.”
“When we came in they were laying down construction supplies,” said Bradley.
“Maybe there’s a modular component in here that broke,” said Nate. “If we could just find a way to diagnose it and replace it.” He looked around the room. “Is there a supply of spare components that go with this thing?”
Patterbutt took him to a palette with dozens of smaller gadgets that were more bewildering than the communication device.
“Construction supplies,” said Bradley.
“What if something is interrupting the beam?” said Jack.
“What would do that?” said Nate. “The roof is open, and if any celestial body moved in the way, it would be too distant to cover the whole beam.”
“You really know what you’re talking about?” asked Tim.
Nate put on his girlish pouty face. “What do you think?”
“I think we should ask if Patterbutt here has a spare one of these communicators.”
Nate looked surprised, but Patterbutt put the kibosh on that idea. “This BAWK is the spare.”
“To block the beam it would have to be very close to the planet,” said Nate.
“They dropped construction supplies near the planet,” said Bradley.
Nate and Jack looked at Bradley. “Construction supplies!”
Bradley grinned, his teeth seeming too big for his face, but oddly matching the magnified eyes behind his Coke-bottle glasses.
“Patterbutt,” said Jack. “We need to talk to the construction company, and can we get one of your scuttle runners to take us up to the supplies they dropped?”
“What’s the matter?” asked Jack.
“Our rooms in the boomer ship are going to be shitty as hell.”