“What’s it say?” Jack looked over Bradley’s shoulder at the alien control board’s bluish display, which was really a three-dimensional surface constantly changing its shapes, textures, ripples, and snorts. It was like looking inside a kaleidoscope for a detailed map of a city, but somehow Bradley made sense of it, and he said there was a marooned spaceship dead ahead.
“Banebluates? I think?”
They’d been stuck in this interstellar ship for a month with no showers, so the body odor was getting thick in the cockpit’s close quarters.
“What the hell are Banaballates?” asked Tim.
“Dunno,” said Bradley.
“Maybe they have food,” said Tim. “I’m sick of having nothing but dried protein.”
Nate scoffed. “There could be dead aliens in that ship, and all you think about is food?”
“If they didn’t want people to think of food, they shouldn’t have named themselves ‘bananabites.’” Tim looked askance at Jack for approval.
Jack squinted and shrugged. “I suppose we should check it out.”
Bradley started the docking protocol and piloted their small craft around to the side of the other, allowing the autodock to connect and seal to the ship. Through the side window, it looked like they parked next to a half-melted skyscraper with lots of bio-contraptions up and down the side. They waited for the analysis to come back as ‘breathable for humans.’
When Bradley gave the go-ahead, they unsealed the lock and opened it.
Jack caught the air in his throat, choked, then coughed, and after forcing air into his nostrils, almost gagged. The smell was incomprehensible and bad.
Tim spat. “You sure this shit is breathable Bradley.”
“Don’t spit on the floor,” said Nate.
Tim pushed his lips out into a gruesome frown and mocked him with a whiny voice. “Don’ ‘pit onna fwoor.”
“Bite me,” said Nate.
Tim lunged and Jack jumped in between and caught him. “Can’t you guys give it a rest for a minute? For the sake of some stranded aliens?”
Tim backed up and spat on the floor.
Nate shook his head and stepped into the airlock. Jack followed and ducked down to crawl behind him through a tube on the alien side. In spite of the biotech and the smell, the sides were smooth and dry. Nate opened an alien portal ahead, and floated out head first, disappearing to the side.
Gravity lifted as Jack reached the end, and he pushed his head through into a room that look like it was shaped around a blob, tubes running everywhere overhead and along the walls, and rails along the the ‘floor.’ He got used to the smell surprisingly soon.
Tim and Bradley popped through next.
“Whoo-hoo!” Tim did a somersault in the air. “Zero-G. We haven’t been in Zero-G since Gaping Holer.”
“Gah Pingolah,” said Nate.
“I’m sure that’s what it says in the ‘Tight-ass Encyclopedia of the Universe,’ but we common folk call it Gaping Holer, thank you very much.”
Bradley had joined in with the gymnastics, and Nate started into the game.
Jack grabbed the rail and pulled himself through an opening into the next room, bigger than the first, and fit with all kinds of unfathomable biotech. “You guys coming?”
They searched the ship until they came to what might have been a bridge, bunches of posts to hold onto, and an alien tethered between two poles in the middle.
It was one of the creepiest things Jack had ever seen, not because of the round end facing them, a spiral of flesh like a pig’s tail and two thin orifices slanted upward looking like very alien eyes, and not because of its body flaring into two hairy cones, narrowing backwards, and not even for the formidable looking pinchers protruding large out its back. It was disturbing because of the two arms coming out the sides, their elbows pointing outward as they reached down with two very human-looking hands.
Human hands on this monstrosity. Yeesh.
There was a somewhat standard looking translator standing next to it, so Jack reached over and squeezed the activation bladder. It popped and burped to life.
The others caught up, each grabbing a pole to form a semi-circle around the creature.
“Hello,” said Jack. “We came across your ship, and you seem to be in trouble. Can we help?”
The hands clapped and the pig tail twirled, but nothing came from the translator.
Tim looked at Nate. “Look at Jack taking charge like that.” He threw an arm around Nate and put his head on Nate’s shoulder. “Our boy’s growing up so fast.”
Nate pushed him away. “Knock it off.” He pushed up next to Jack. “Maybe he’s too scared to say anything.”
“You don’t have to be afraid,” said Jack. “We won’t hurt you.”
The alien clapped and twirled.
“This is worthless,” said Tim. “We should just drop him off at the next space station.”
The clapping and twirling became frantic.
“This is like cheerleader camp in Toledo,” said Bradley.
“You were in Toledo?” asked Tim.
“What if he can’t talk at all?” said Nate. “Give him a ‘yes or no’ cue.”
“Good idea.” Jack clicked his tongue. “Alien being, if you can understand what I’m saying, twirl your curly body part three times and stop.”
The drumming and twirling stopped and it held perfectly still. Jack could have sworn the thing sagged as if it were embarrassed. After a few moments, the tail twitched, then twirled three times. The alien stood motionless.
“Aha,” said Jack. “If you want to say ‘yes,’ twirl your spiral nose—that’s what I’m going to call it for now—twirl it once and stop. If you want to say ‘no,’ twirl it one way, then the other, and stop. Do you understand?”
The tail twirled and stopped.
“Whoo-hoo!” said Tim.
“Are you in trouble?” asked Jack.
Jack let out a heavy breath. “Okay, I’m going to brainstorm for possible problems. If I come close, twirl your tail, and I’ll narrow it down from their.”
“Ah, man,” said Tim. “This’ll take forever.” He put his nose close to the spiral. “Hey, alien, pal. Mind if I look around for some food?”
“Haha!” Tim grabbed a pole and propelled himself for a portal. “So long, suckers.”
“Way to be a team player,” said Nate.
Tim repeated it back in the whiny voice as he disappeared into the next room.
Jack let out a half chuckle through his teeth. “We’re better off. He’s getting pretty doggone ripe.”