Jack awoke to find Bradley’s head on his shoulder and drool down his sleeve.
“Gah!” He pushed Bradley to the other side of the pilot tub. “Get off me, you goof.” The tub was big enough for both of them, the original owner of the spaceship being a snorkelpooch on the large size, and they occasionally had to cooperate to reach and coordinate the controls right.
Bradley squeezed his eyes and straightened his glasses. “I had the most marvelous dream about pickles.”
“Well, dream on the other side of the tub.”
Bradley sat up and examined the fritzball, which is what they called the bizarre, continuously morphing ball that the snorkelpooches used as displays. As usual, Bradley was the only one that could really understand it.
“We’re off course again.”
“We’re off course again.”
“I heard you. But why?”
“Can’t say.” Bradley fiddled with some twistybrays, flicked a gitslider, and squeezed several polyps. “This is the fourth time in twenty-four hours I’ve had to reset the course for Colbizixy.”
Jack scoffed. “What’s with the snorkelpooches’ flaky technology?” He opened the squishpanel to the back. “Tim, get up here.”
“What?” Tim appeared with an applicator in his hand dripping pink goo.
“Tim.” Jack turned on his patronizing tone. “You’re not putting gezzer lube in Nate’s hair while he naps, again, are you?”
Tim slid it into his back pocket. “I can’t say. Whattaya want?”
“We’re off course again,” said Jack.
“What the hell,” said Tim.
“I’m using my hapkido techniques to get it back on course,” said Bradley.
“You’re kickboxing the navigation?” asked Tim.
“It’s the discipline,” said Bradley. “Like when I used Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to make my award-winning Gazpacho.”
Nate squeezed through the portal, his hair shined and twisted like a corkscrew. “What’s going on?”
“Somebody’s gotta figure out what keeps throwing us off course,” said Jack. “We’re farther away from Colbizixy than when we started.”
“How are we supposed to figure out this alien tech?” asked Tim. “Best to take it somewhere for repair.”
“That’ll delay us several months.” Anxiety wasn’t exactly attacking Jack, but it sparred with him pretty aggressively. “Let’s see if we can fix it ourselves.”
“Maybe we can find some manuals or something,” said Nate.
Jack studied the twisted cone of hair on Nate’s head, the ridiculousness of it just striking him, and he released some anxiety with a laugh. “It’s a good thought, if our piddly translator can interpret them. Maybe there are some in the engine room.”
“Where the hell is the engine room?” asked Tim.
Nate stammered. “Let’s not be too hasty about doing anything in the engine room. The snorkelpooches said this ship was self-maintaining, and they never needed to go into it.”
“We’re just looking,” said Tim.
“Like when you just ‘looked’ at the clatterbat trap?”
Tim scoffed. “I didn’t know it was full.”
“They wiped out an entire population of aliens.”
“Bugs.” Tim gritted his teeth. “Non-sentient bugs, and they weren’t—”
“Guys.” Jack climbed out of the tub. “We’re getting off track. Let’s see what we can find, and nobody touch anything without discussing it first.”
They searched the ship, looking for squishpanels they hadn’t yet gone through. They found a room full of objects like giant cockleburs, saw blades, and pretzel sticks. A translator scan found a label invisible to the human eye that said ‘bawk construction materials.’ Another room had loops protruding from every section of wall, a pile of cables looking more like snakes on one side.
“No idea what this is,” said Nate.
“I saw something like this at Jimmy Kimmel’s house,” said Bradley.
Jack scanned with the translator but only found an abundance of ‘bawks,’ the word ‘injection,’ and the word ‘jelly.’
“Oooh,” said Bradley. “Makes much more sense now.”
Jack shuddered and left the room.
Approaching the back of the ship they discovered a flap that gurgled and shivered on the wall. Tim pulled it back revealing an alcove and a squishpanel in the back.
“Nothing ventured.” Tim opened the squishpanel and pushed through. The others followed him down a sloshy conduit, like walking on thick algae, through another squishpanel at the end.
The walls, ceiling, and floor of the room rounded with no corners, and thousands of uvula-shaped projections stuck out everywhere, including the floor, from as short as a decimeter to as long as a yard. Randomly dispersed columns seemed to grow from floor to ceiling, and clumps of alien tech clung to the lower half of most of them. The place had a reddish glow.
“This ship looks a lot smaller on the outside than inside,” said Nate.
“That’s always true,” said Jack, but the room had a cavernous feel to it even though the ceiling was almost within reach.
“I suppose you’re right,” said Nate.
The chamber curved as Jim followed Tim, weaving through the floor uvulae and wending their way between columns.
“Guys, I’m not too sure about this,” said Nate.
“Man up,” said Tim.
“Take it easy on him,” said Jack.
Tim ‘pished’ and picked his way forward.
A pulsation of yellowish light came from around the bend, and the columns going forward had none of the gadgets attached to them.
“What do you think?” asked Tim.
“Dunno,” said Jack. “It’s got that sort of StarTrekky, enginey feel to it.”
“Guys, check this out,” said Nate. The last column to have gadgets included a large translator with an impressive array of alien tech.
“Why would that be down here?” asked Jack.
“I found a karaoke robot in Bill Gates’s basement once,” said Bradley.
“That’s nice,” said Tim. “Let’s keep moving.”
The translator crackled. “Please BAWK none. Stop BAWK BAWK.”
“What the hell?” said Jack.
“Who’s talking?” asked Tim. “Show yourself.”
“Identity BAWK Gaw. BAWK ship.”
“I said to show yourself, Gaw. Or I’ll squeeze the alien snot out of you.”
“Where?” asked Nate.
“Around BAWK. All directions.”
Jack searched their surroundings. “You guys see anything?”
Tim shook his head.
“Nope,” said Nate.
“Only the constructs of the ship,” said Bradley.
They each seemed to come to the idea at the same time.
“Wait,” said Jack. “You don’t think…”
“Is your name Gaw?” asked Nate.
“Are you the ship?”
“Holy shit.” Tim poked at the walls. “This is a first.”
Jack slapped Tim’s hands down. “Mr. ship… er… Gaw, do you have the ability to override navigation?”
After some hesitation, the translator chirped. “Affirm.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Have you been changing our course every time we reset it for Colbizixy?”
A longer hesitation. “Affirm.”
Jack yelled. “Why? Why the hell would you keep doing that?”
“BAWK BAWK BAWK BAWK BAWK sweatheart BAWK BAWK former BAWK.”
“What the hell does that mean?” asked Nate.
Jack furrowed his brow. Nate was the best at figuring these things out. If he couldn’t do it….
“I’ll bet I know,” said Tim. “Gaw, you’ve got an ex-girlfriend in Colbizixy, and you’re extremely uncomfortable about running into her. Is that about right?”
The translator popped and buzzed for a while.
“Dude.” Jack smacked himself on the forehead. “Why didn’t you say something to us?”
“Outside BAWK chamber Gaw negative BAWK BAWK non-friends.”
Jack looked at Nate for help.
“You only talk to friends outside this chamber?” asked Nate.
Tim scoffed. “We can be your friends, jackass. You’ve got to talk to us first.”
“You BAWK friends?”
Tim put his hands on his hips. “What the hell. Why not? I’m Tim, and these are my friends, Jack, Bradley, and Nate.”
“All right, Gaw.” Tim leaned toward the translator, two fingers out and palm up like he always did when he confided with someone. “Now that we’re friends, I’m going to tell you what I would tell any other friend.”
“BAWK Gaw happy BAWK BAWK.”
“Suck it up, pal.”
Jack gasped. “Tim!”
“Grow a pair and go where you have to go, regardless of any exes hanging around.”
The translator was quiet.
“You understand?” asked Tim.
“Gaw BAWK go Colbizixy BAWK.”
“That-a-baby.” Tim high-fived Jack, squeezed Bradley around the shoulders, and fist-bumped Nate. He laughed. “You look like a cockatoo, Nate.”
Nate grabbed his hair and tried to push it down. His face grew angry, then he smiled. “You called me your friend.”
Tim threw his head up and rolled his eyes. “Aw, shit.”