Jack looked through the glass panel out across the Calamine landscape, stuck in a transportation hub, which, for some reason, the Calaminese aliens thought to build completely separate from the stargate installation twelve miles away. To get to it, they would have to trek across a hostile terrain of greenish blue sludge and rubbery trees through toxic air.
Until their arrival, the Calaminites had never heard of human beings, so provisioning atmospheric suits for the journey presented a problem.
A Calaminite named Deeeeeeeeezhm, who looked like an axe growing out of a blue fern, three eyes lined up vertically on the cheek of the blade, jiggling discs on the butt end, and grasping appendages on the haft that looked like rubbery, unshelled Brazil nuts. Something underneath the fernlike base moved him around with alacrity. He spoke very little, relying mostly on gestures that Jack couldn’t fathom. Nate did an impressive job figuring out the communications.
“No bloody way,” said Tim. Deeeeeeeeezhm pulled an atmospheric wrapping around him, trying to stuff Tim’s thick head through a three inch tube. “It would be easier to stuff Nate’s square head into a round helmet.”
Nate scoffed. “If you took all that bone out of your head, you’d slide right through.”
Jack laughed. A rare zinger from Nate.
“Do you have any kind of roving machine with atmospheric control?” asked Bradley.
Deeeeeeeeezhm’s blade edge quivered, then he spun around and skittered away.
“What a debacle,” said Tim. “We’ve gone through a dozen different suits for a dozen different species, and nothing works.”
“At least you didn’t have to try the shrink wrap with a straw,” said Nate.
“Pschaw.” Tim dismissed him with a wave. “It was a good look for you.”
“I’m feeling the love here,” said Jack. “How long until the relative alignment breaks?”
Nate squinted. “If I have the local time correct, we have three and a half days before it loses our destination. Still time.”
“Maybe,” said Jack. “I don’t know how fast we’ll get through that mush out there.”
“If I got through Jack Nicholson’s backyard party, I can get through that,” said Bradley.
Four Calaminites each rolled big transparent balls into the room, the surfaces patched with interlaced wormy strands and a few dark grey panels.
“What the hell are these?” asked Tim.
Three of the Calaminites scuttled away, and Deeeeeeeeezhm popped open small panels on the spheres.
“Shit,” said Tim. “You gotta be kidding me.”
“What?” asked Nate.
“They’re hamster balls,” said Tim. “We’re going to be freaking hamsters.”
Jack visualized the mush outside swallowing each of them inside the orbs and quickened his breathing. “Bradley’s turn.” He felt bad for pushing it off, but he didn’t say anything when no one corrected him.
“All right, pal,” Tim put his hand on Bradley’s shoulder. “Choose one and crawl in. I’m sure you’ve been in tighter places like the tunnels of Vietnam or the caverns of Chimichangangaro, so this should be a snap.”
Bradley’s stupid grin framed his big upper teeth. He hesitantly stepped forward, and Tim coaxed him into the portal. Bradley stuck his head in and squeezed through his shoulders, but as he tried to squirm the rest of the way through, the sphere rolled, lowering him to the floor, and trapping him.
“Settle down there, little Mikey.” Tim pulled Bradley up, and the ball rolled up with him. “Guys—give a hand here maybe?”
“Oh, sure,” said Jack.
Jack and Nate supported the sphere, and Tim pushed Bradley through, but he got stuck around his stomach.
“All right, all right,” said Tim. “Roll him all the way up.”
Jack and Nate complied, and Tim pulled himself on top of the ball and pushed on Bradley’s butt with his boot.
“Help me,” said Bradley.
“Whattaya think I’m doing?” said Tim. He grabbed Bradley’s flailing legs and held them together, wrapping one arm around them, and laying his forearm on the bottoms of Bradley’s shoes. He put his weight on the legs and pushed again and again like plunging a toilet. “Son-of-a-bitch, Bradley, you gotta cut down on those big blatworm breakfasts.” He gave one last push, and Bradley slipped into the ball, sliding along the surface in an involuntary flip that sent him spinning around until he settled.
“There you go,” said Tim. “If he can fit, we all can.” He shut the panel and slid off.
Bradley got to his feet inside the bubble. “This reminds me of my first year at Lewis and Clark Junior High.”