The lights in the spaceship dimmed and brightened, a lot of the gadgetry’s bright colors turned to black or muddy gray. Sounds like wheezing hydraulics chugged here and again. It all disconcerted Jack, and though they wouldn’t admit it, the other dudes didn’t like it either, and it was throwing off their game of twenty-one questions.
A Colvakeetian, a ball of rippling muscle with venus-fly-trap arms, materialized onto a pedestal, and introduced himself as Gilamoss. He blathered something for a few minutes, incomprehensible due to all the ‘BAWKs’ that indicated something untranslatable, but ended with a more understandable, “BAWK infestation BAWK malfunctions. Dudes must neutralize them in this section.”
“How bad?” asked Jack.
“Life-support failure BAWK BAWK possible. Engine delay. Twelve hours to become serious.”
“And creatures are causing it? What do they look like?” asked Nate.
“I affirm. Close to thirty.” The alien rocked and snapped his fly-trap hands. “Some call them BAWK, others call them BAWK, but we call them picor.” Lomalit, the alien that had helped them settle in, appeared on the next pedestal and dropped a cubicle container the size of a fruit crate and several large nets on sticks, strangely similar to ones you can find on earth, except that the fine mesh on these ones was almost invisible, and a quick snap of the wrist would automatically close them.
“Sounds like gremlins to me,” said Tim. “Why the hell don’t you guys kill them?”
“No, no, no. Killing makes BAWK and multiplies to several.”
Bradley tilted his head back and beamed. “I was an expert gremlin hunter back on earth.”
Tim scoffed and stepped up to the alien clenching his fists. “Why do we have to do it?”
“So BAWK don’t expire.”
Jack pulled him back by the soldier. “Dude. They can’t sustain themselves in the oxygen filled areas.”
Bradley rocked on his toes. “The Pied Piper was actually about gremlins, but they made them rats for the story so children wouldn’t be scared. Gilamoss, is it the gremlins who keep eating my bizzle bread?” asked Bradley.
“I affirm,” said the Colvakeetian.
“That’s it,” said Jack. “We lure them out and trap them.”
Tim spat. “If we had any idea what they looked like and what to use.”
The alien opened the container and released a smell like damp, mildewed towels and rotten banana. Inside was an oval thing that looked like a paramecium, except its cilia was thicker at the base, and it had a big mouth with teeth. It lunged to get out, but the same mesh that the nets had covered the opening and stopped it.
Jack recoiled. “What the hell?”
Tim grimaced. “That’s a creepy-assed varmint.”
Jack pointed at the crate. “Gilamoss, bring us a bunch of crates and a lot of bizzle bread, please. We’ll set traps all over our sections.”
“That’s passive.” Nate grabbed a net. “We should hunt them down, as well.”
Tim grabbed another. “I’ll play that game.”
Bradley started whistling the Sound of Music’s ‘Do Re Mi’ song.
Tim patted him on the back. “Good thing you’re here, Bradley.”
Bradley’s whistle faded to swishing air when he couldn’t contain his grin.
Gilamoss teleported away, but soon returned through the oxygenated section entrance portal. He and five others brought the bizzle bread, several crates, and a giant one the size of a bank vault with hatches from the floor to the middle on each side. He indicated to them that it would hold the picors after they caught them.
While Jack set up traps at the edges of the commons and in the private rooms, Nate and Tim went around the periphery jabbing into the gadgetry to flush anything out, and Bradley marched around every which way whistling ‘Colonel Bogey March.’
After a few hours, Nate finally hit something that squealed from behind some hissing conduits and pulsating tanks. He jabbed aggressively, and a picor slipped out between a few switch panels and darted toward the private rooms, rolling on its ‘cilia’ feet. Nate chased after it.
Tim clicked his cheek and walked after him, but Nate yelped and ran back out. The picor tumbled after him, gnashing its teeth. Tim chuckled and shook his head as Nate sped by. He watched Nate weave and dodge for a minute. Bradley continued to wander and whistle. Jack jumped onto one of the pedestals and cursed.
“Do something,” Jack said.
Tim rolled his eyes. “It’s always gotta be me.” He estimated a vector to intercept Nate and the picor and swept the net at the picor as Nate passed by. He scooped up the picor and snapped his wrist to close the net.
“Hah! I got one.” He carried it over to the giant crate, opened a hatch, and dumped the picor into it.
Nate gasped for air. “It’ll take us weeks at this rate.”
“You’re right.” Tim threw down the net and sat on a pedestal. “This dog don’t hunt.”
Jack and Nate joined him. Bradley marched around.
“Hey, Bradley,” said Jim. “Come take a break.”
They munched on some bizzle bread and rested, then brainstormed. Nothing very effective came to mind.
Bradley whistled ‘Colonel Bogey March.’
“Bradley.” Jack covered his ears. “Can’t you whistle anything else?”
Bradley stopped, and after they stayed silent for a few minutes he whistled a morose ‘Scarborough Fair.’
It irritated Jack, but he gradually got into it and started to beat box, giving it a cheerful, if not silly, tone. Nate joined in with vocal base notes.
Tim looked at them like they were crazy, then muttered, “What the hell.” He whistled harmony to Bradley’s melody, and it sounded pretty doggone good.
Nate suddenly stood up and pointed. Twenty or so picors had appeared and slowly approached. Jack and Tim stopped their performance. Nate twirled his hand for them to keep going, and they picked it up again.
Jack beat boxed his way to the side of the giant crate and opened a hatch. Tim got the picture and moseyed toward him, then ducked into the container. Nate and Bradley followed, and so did the picors, slowly at first, but then slipping into the box with the boys one by one. Jack had counted twenty-seven when there were none left.
He closed the hatch, and the one on the other side came ajar. Tim squeezed out, then Nate. They waited for a moment, then Tim squeezed himself halfway in and pulled Bradley out, kicking a picor that tried to get by him and shutting the door.
They all stopped their performance, stared at each other, then cheered.
They collapsed on the floor, laughing and chatting about the experience.
“Nice job, everyone,” said Jack.
“Damn straight,” said Tim.
“Rock on,” said Nate.
Bradley grinned. “I’m good with gremlins.”
Tim had a persistent puzzled look on his face.
“What’s the matter,” said Jack.
“Nothing. I’m just very disturbed that Bradley was right again.”
Bradley whistled a sweet rendition of ‘Homeward Bound.’
“Oh, no, he didn’t,” said Tim, but he couldn’t help himself and whistled the harmony.