“Another day, another stargate,” said Jack. He gazed up at the Calamine sky, which Nate insisted was more mauve taupe than muddy pink. Waiting for the gate to open and nothing to sit on, the dudes lay on the floor inside a transparent bubble adjusted to their physiological needs because the natural environment would kill them.
“How many more do you think ’til we get home?” asked Nate.
Bradley pointed to the sky. “Seventy-eight.”
Nate sat up. “Wait. I thought we didn’t know, ’cause we have to get the alignments for each galaxy when we get there.”
Jack scoffed. “Buy a clue, ninnyheimer. He’s just guessing.”
“Not entirely,” said Bradley. “The average per galaxy has been between six or seven, and on our current trajectory, if the alignments hold, we’ll go through twelve more.”
Tim tapped Bradley’s foot with the back of his hand. “Pretty canny there, Bradley.”
“Wow,” said Nate. “I know it’s a lot, but it feels more tangible with the number.”
“And about as useful as ‘mauve taupe,’” said Tim.
“I guess,” said Jack. “Sometimes they seem as endless as Bradley spinning in a hamster ball.”
Tim laughed. “How many times did we have to knock him loose? Ten?”
“Three times,” said Bradley.
“Seemed like ten,” said Tim. “What a sludgy mess. Like driving through tapioca.”
“I thought I was going to die,” said Bradley.
Jack, Tim, and Nate turned their heads to look at him. Such lucid concern was unusual for him.
Bradley sniffed. “It reminded me of my near-death experience spelunking in the Crystal Cave in Mexico.”
The others groaned.
“What do you most look forward to when we get back?” asked Jack.
“Peanutbutter and jelly sandwiches,” said Tim. “That and putting tuna fish in Nate’s tennis shoes.”
“That was you?” said Nate.
“Damn, was that my outside voice?”
Jack propped himself up with two hands behind him. “What about you, Nate?”
“I just want to take everything I’ve learned from our journey to better the world.”
“Get over yourself,” said Tim.
“Get lost,” said Nate. “You don’t think we can make a difference in the world with our unique experiences?”
“Shit, yeah,” said Tim. “But so can Helen Keller. Traveling through space doesn’t make you wiser than the rest of the world. It makes you dangerous because you think you’re wiser.”
“You know. I’m sick and tired of you knocking down every good thing I want to do.”
“And I’m sick and tired of your self-importance.”
“It’s not self-important to want to help the world.”
“That’s bullshit,” said Tim. “You’re so freaking full of yourself, you’d slip a quarter to a bum and think you had something to say to Mother Teresa.”
“Cool it, dingbats,” said Jack. So much for dreams of home.
“What about you, Jack?” asked Nate. “What do you look forward to?”
“Driving. Anywhere for anything. I just want to cruise around in my Duster and mix it up with America.”
“Isn’t that what got us into this mess?” asked Tim. His smile took the edge off the question.
“Seems like a long time ago,” said Jack. “You’re up, Bradley. What do you look forward to the most.”
For the second time in the conversation, Bradley looked uncharacteristically serious and thoughtful.
“I’d just like to see my mom.”
“Yeah. Me, too,” said Jack.
Me, too,” said Nate.
“Ditto that,” said Tim.