The pomp and circumstance of these snorkelpooches wore on Tim. They’d been good enough hosts and all, and their food didn’t taste like the usual alien soap scum, but the longer they stayed, the more it felt like they weren’t trying to get home. He and dudes followed one of them to a summons of some sort.
“What’s this for?” asked Nate.
“For your mama,” said Tim.
“Another formality,” said Jack. “These guys have a ton of them.”
“Perhaps they’re making us gods,” said Bradley. “I was among the Yanomamos when—”
“I just hope it’s not another one of their ‘bawk-a-chats.’” said Tim. “The way the seats force you to participate gives me the creeps, and they go on forever about nothing.”
Snorkelpooches were hard to describe because they constantly changed shape. Two or three bluish blobs stacked on top of each other, taking the most unlikely forms, sometimes parts of them turning orange or red. They tended to mesmerize Tim if he looked at one too long. Plus they smelled like an outhouse.
A snorkelpooch escorted them into a large, green cell with dangling projections from the ceiling and walls, like stalactites made of flesh. Manhole-sized, polypy cylinders that looked like a field of suction cups covered the floor.
“Bawk-a-chat room,” said Jack.
“Shit,” said Tim.
Used to the routine, they went to the middle and picked suction cups, the sides closing in on them when they sat. Tim almost pooped his pants the first time that happened.
The aliens crept in, surprisingly fast for having no legs, each one manipulating different devised body structures for locomotion in their unique ways.
“BAWK to have you BAWK a chat BAWK BAWK.”
With most aliens Tim had some idea of which of them spoke when the translator said something, but he hadn’t a clue with these things.
“BAWK topic for BAWK in transport.”
Bradley clapped his hands. “Transport. Awesome. You guys tell me about those dodecahedrons you fly around, and I’ll tell you about my Maserati.”
“Look.” Tim raised his hand, then realized they wouldn’t understand it. “Would it be too much to ask if we could choose the topic for once?”
The edges of the suction-cup seat stretched and swallowed him. He kicked, punched, and cursed.
“Not cool,” said Jack, muffled through the seat skin. “Let him go. Now.”
“I could live with it for a while,” said Nate.
Tim growled. He was going to pay for that.
Nate yelped. “No. He’s right. This is not proper treatment of a human being.”
“This reminds me of the pig roast I attended with Alex O’Loughlin.”
The seat loosened and receded. Jack stood, arms akimbo. Nate rubbed his own shoulder. Bradley smiled stupidly like he always did.
“Tsaright,” said Tim. “I’m fine.” He punched Nate on his other shoulder.
The sides still closed upon his nethers in the ‘normal’ way, the seat raised him up, the stalk beneath the suction cup growing, then it shook him to get him to talk.
“Yeah. Okay. Stop shaking me.” Tim forced himself to relax, which wasn’t easy with the creepy fleshy things on the ceiling brushing his back. His seat wobbled above everyone. “Here’s my topic. What do we have to do for you to allow us through your section of the galaxy?”
“BAWK BAWK to choose BAWK sponsor BAWK.”
“What the hell did he just say?” asked Tim.
“Not sure,” said Jack. “A lot of bawk in that translation.”
Tim clenched his jaw, hating to admit to himself that Nate was the best at this stuff. “What do you think, Nate?”
Nate blew air through his lips. “I think we have to go through some kind of process to choose a sponsor.”
“Okay,” said Jack. “Can you please tell us the process for selecting a sponsor?”
“BAWK to BAWK gain favor BAWK.”
Tim, Jack, and Bradley stared at Nate.
“Erm… how do we gain favor with a sponsor?”
“Seven years BAWK service BAWK BAWK.”
Tim gritted his teeth. Nate gasped. Jack cursed.
Bradley smiled. “Can I learn to pilot your dodec—”
“That’s completely unacceptable,” said Tim. “There has to be another option for getting a sponsor.”
“Yeah,” said Jack. “Give us another option—one that doesn’t take much time.”
“Can you do that?” asked Nate. “Can you come up with something else that’s acceptable to us?”
The snorkelpooches’ morphing became more active for several minutes. Tim was about to insist on a lunch break when the translator crackled.
“BAWK talent show?”
“Yeah. Okay,” said Nate.
“What?” said Jack.
“Shit,” said Tim.
“Boy,” said Bradley. “I could really use my accordion and a rubber chicken about now.”