In spite of the fact that earth hadn’t achieved a spaceship as sophisticated as the one Ronnie and Carla cleaned out, he couldn’t help thinking it looked antiquated and obsolete. At least compared to the ones owned by the extraterrestrials he worked for.
“How old’s this thing?” asked Carla.
“Ptholchrampitz says thousands of years,” said Ronnie.
The ship consisted of a glassy material that had gradually lost the integrity of its shape, giving the insides an oozy look, though it had many brilliant colors. It felt like walking through a melted Tiffany lamp.
Ronnie had done many an odd job for his extraterrestrial bosses, but this one made him feel like a vulture. Some unlucky sentient beings stalled out here and had to be rescued, leaving their legacies behind with the ship, and now Carla and he stripped it bare, looking for useful materials, rare treasures, and Jimmy Hoffa’s body.
“I love this ship,” said Carla. She ran her fingers over the streaky blue surface.
“Yeah. And I love oxygen,” said Ronnie. They’re going to stop pumping it in here if we take too long.”
Their bags were getting full after rooting through the food center. Ronnie stepped over some translucent orange stalagmites into another chamber, Carla at his heels. Behind some crates, a big cottony blob like an elongated egg propped up against one side.
“What’s that?” asked Carla.
“I don’t know.” Ronnie poked it. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
They each took an end and carried it to the airlock, but when it opened, their supervisor, Ptholchrampitz, told them to take it back. Ronnie was about to argue when the cottony exterior split, and out crawled an alien he had never seen before. It looked like a peacock, except its tail feathers were guitars and it’s neck a twisted pair of pliers.
“What is that?” asked Carla.
“Juzzamatuzz,” said Ptholchrampitz—or something like that. “Take him back.”
“Is he sentient?” asked Ronnie.
“Of course he’s sentient. Take him back.”
“But he won’t survive,” said Ronnie. “He’s probably been stuck in that cocoon for two thousand years.”
Ptholchrampitz twirled his gobliny head, which Ronnie had come to interpret as a shrug. “Another two thousand won’t hurt.”
“He just woke up to an empty ship,” yelled Carla. She was very in-your-face with their extraterrestrial bosses now that she belonged to the union. “We can’t just leave the poor guy to die of loneliness.”
“Okay,” said Ptholchrampitz. He spun on his suction bumper and slurped away.
“Let’s see if we can get a translator to work with him,” said Ronnie. He strapped a box the size of a loaf of bread with several panels and a new energy pack onto one of the alien’s guitars. It immediately started to squawk and whistle. “He’s obviously trying to say something.”
Carla pulled them to the food center and put a variety of alien juices, fruits, and varmints in front of him. He ate them all while Ronnie fiddled inside one of the translator’s panels to get it working.
“He’s not verbal.”
“His mouth’s full. How’s he supposed to be verbal?”
“Just thinking out loud, Carla.”
Ronnie made adjustments for odors, pheromones, and aura fluctuations. The translator started a methodic hum that thrummed like a chainsaw.
“Does a chainsaw thrum?” asked Ronnie.
“Don’t think so.”
The translator settled into consistent sounds going, “Djeezawibba-Djeezawibba-Djeezawibba, hodicotifrit. Djeezawibba-Djeezawibba-Djeezawibba, hodicotifrit.”
“Well, that’s clear enough.” Carla pinned Ronnie with her eyes. “He wants a jeezawizza locotrift. Give him a jeezawizza locotrift.”
“The translator’s still assembling. The more samples it gets, the better it can reverse engineer the language.” Ronnie tripped a few jumpers in the circuitry and filtered out third quadrant influences.
The translator stopped humming and crackled.
“Something’s coming,” said Ronnie.
“Turn it up,” said Carla.
He tightened up a few contacts, and words started flowing.
“Did I win? Did I win? Did I win?” said the alien.
“Win what?” asked Carla.
“Hide-and-seek. Did I win? Did I win? Did I win?”