The translator was huge, like a haystack with colors streaking through it’s surface, filaments running every which way, several display screens with lines and circles, about a hundred puffing and contracting bladders, and circuit clusters all over. The usual amalgamation of technology from many alien species, only bigger.
“Excuse me?” Nate regarded the Grub Licker with some trepidation. He couldn’t remember what they were really called, but Jack’s nickname for them stuck as usual. It looked like a scorpion fish on a snails foot extending fleshy beige stalks with cauliflower ends towards him. There was something filthy about the Grub Lickers that made Nate fear contamination. Plus they smelled like sweat-soaked mushrooms.
“Why?” the alien asked. “Did BAWK fart?”
Tim spat. “You notice how the closer we get to home, the more wiseassed aliens we run into?”
Having made it to the planet Kawub, they stood at the front of a long line before a state-of-the-art stargate that led across the galaxy to Doberlublubnikyzhlbnook—or Dopey Rubber Schnook, as Jack dubbed it. The gate stood about twenty feet high, the controls shiny and the frame sparkling clean. It wouldn’t have surprised Nate if this was it’s maiden opening.
“Please allow us passage,” Nate repeated.
“What authorization do we need, Mr. Grub Licker, sir?” asked Jack.
“Authorization BAWK from BAWK in BAWK.”
“What the hell did he just say?” asked Tim.
Bradley grinned stupidly and nodded. “He said: Authorization bawk from bawk in bawk.”
“Well, thanks, Bradley.” Tim gave him a wet willy. “That clears it right up.”
Bradley squinched his face. “A kid in my high school did that to me once.” He raised his shoulder to wipe his ear with his shirt. “Once.”
Tim laughed. “Okay, pal. No need to break out your krav maga.”
“Could you dudes shut up for a minute?” said Nate.
Tim gritted his teeth and shoved his face in Nates. “Could you just kiss my—”
“Guys!” Jack pulled Tim back. “Let’s focus on the problem here.” He turned to the alien. “From who in what do we need to get authorization?”
“BAWK travel official for Doberlublubnikyzhlbnook in BAWK.”
“Okay.” Nate sulked for a moment. “Where can we see the official for Dober-lub-lub-nickels-lubnuck?”
The translator went quiet and the colors blurred. “You mean JozBAWKendi, travel official of Doberlublubnikyzhlbnook?”
“Alien dude,” said Tim. “You’re the one who told us. Who do we need to see to get authorization, and where can we find him?”
“He BAWK in junderBAWK.”
Tim scowled. “What the—”
Nate held his hand up to Tim. “Steady, bro. I’m pretty sure he didn’t design the translator.”
“Really?” said Tim. “Because I’m about to kick somebody in the junderbawk.”
Jack rolled his eyes up and fluttered his eyelids. “Mr. alien guy. Please help us out. How do we get to this Jozendi official?”
“You must take this gate to Doberlublubnikyzhlbnook.”
“Okay,” said Jack. “Please allow us through to see him.”
“Shit,” said Tim.
“This is worse than the Byzantine rules among the miners in Westfalen,” said Bradley. “Let me try.”
While Nate tried to remember from where he recognized Westfalen, Bradley stepped up to the alien and said, “Mel-lon.” His voice was deep and dramatic, at least for Bradley.
“What are you doing?” asked Tim.
“Mellon,” Bradley repeated, punching the air.
Jack smacked himself on the forehead. “Guys. He’s using the password for the Mines of Moria.”
“It’s very universal,” said Bradley.
“Can it, Bradley.” Tim pushed him aside and glared at the Grub Licker. “Look. You let us through to this Joziti guy, or I’m gonna pluck all your spines for toothpicks.”
The alien puffed up, and it’s cauliflower appendages spread out and sprayed Tim in the face with a sticky goo that smelled like rotten salmon and alcohol.
“Aaaagh!” Tim stumbled backwards and wiped his eyes. “That’s nasty!”
“One would think you’d learn by now,” said Nate.
Tim grabbed Nate by the ears and pulled him nose-to-nose. “Really? Thank you, Nate. I didn’t realize how dumb I was, and now I realize just how much I need to learn about life. One day.” He shook his head. “One day I might be lucky enough to be as wise as you.” Tim pulled him into a bearhug and wiped his face all over Nate’s hair and shoulder.
Nate pushed him off. “Get off me, jerk.” He wiped the side of his head with the back of his wrist. “Uch. That is gross.”
Tim caught his balance. “Who’s on you?” He pulled up his shirt to wipe his face and ears. “If you’re so clever, why don’t you get him to let us through.”
The smell on Nate’s hair made him want to gag. “Sir, alien, sir. Could we send a message through the gate to Jozendi for authorization?”
“Awesome.” Nate negotiated with a nearby Grub Licker for a message flake and had Bradley program the fragment to request authorization. He handed it to the one guarding the door. “Please send that through to Jozendi.”
“Shit,” said Tim. “It was a good thought.”
“BAWK leave line allow BAWK to BAWK.”
“What’s that?” asked Jack.
Nate blew through his lips. “I think he wants us to get out of the way for the next in line.”
“Shit,” said Tim. They looked at each other. “What are we going to do?”
“They’re culture is crazed by authorization,” said Bradley. “I miss mother.”
“BAWK leave line allow BAWK to BAWK.”
Nate, Jack, and Tim looked at each other, the smiles growing on each of their faces. They turned to the alien and said in unison, “Bawk authorization.”