Nate couldn’t recall being in a worse position since they’d been inadvertently thrown across the universe, hundreds of galaxies away from home. Except maybe when the Glolip inside that first gate wanted to smother and eat them, but this was definitely the worst since then.
The four dudes were in the soup, which is to say, they’d been captured by Porligraps and secured to gurneys of some kind leaning in a semi-circle downwards over the top of the aliens. This was probably because the tentacles and pinchers the Porligraps used to manipulate things grew out of a large hole in their tops. When you met them head-on, they looked like hairy morel mushrooms with four rounded pads for feet and plants growing out of their tops that were part venus flytrap, part fern, and part stinkweed, pinchers added in for good measure.
Looking down from the gurney was like looking in the hungry maw of a man-eating sponge with halitosis, it’s helper crabs poised to grab you and drag you in.
Jack to Nate’s left looked miserable, and Bradley on the other side of Jack kept whispering about Russian torture techniques. Tim on Nate’s right made a game of trying to spit into the openings on top of the Porligraps as they wobbled by.
“Way to go, Nate,” said Tim.
“How in the course of events can this possibly be my fault?”
“In the course of events where you stopped the ship.”
Nate regretted it, of course. The Porligraps had breeched the hull, immobilized them with an energy field, and secured them to the gurneys before they could even activate a beacon. “They sent a distress call.”
Tim struggled to move. “Now I know how to catch an idiot.”
Jack scowled. “Get off his back, Tim.”
Bradley’s eyeglasses barely hooked one ear, hanging lopsided, precariously close to dropping to the floor. “If these guys aren’t Russians, they’re at least Russian trained.”
“Shut up, Bradley,” said Jack.
While three of the aliens interacted with each other’s manipulators, a fourth pinched at Tim’s middle. He giggled.
“Stop it. I’m ticklish.” Tim grimaced. “And invest in some breath mints, you overgrown turd.”
“BAWK what is ticklish?”
“Holy shit, you speak,” said Tim.
“Conversant BAWK intelligent species.”
Anger boiled up into Nate’s head. “How do you guys get off capturing us against our will? You’ve broken intergalactic law according to agreements among every sentient species we’ve ever met.”
“BAWK more guidelines BAWK than law.” The alien rotated some, but Nate had no idea where it’s front was. “BAWK what is ticklish?”
Nate snarled. “Eat my shorts, you alien scum.”
Tim scoffed. “That’s telling him.”
“Guys.” Jack’s false giggle dripped with sarcasm. “Let’s not antagonize our nice alien hosts, all right?”
Nate understood Jack’s concern, but he had more ire to get out of his system. “Why the hell should we tell you anything when you’ve taken us against our will?”
“Options BAWK communicate, probe, dissect, or dissolve.”
Jack gritted his teeth and hissed. “Nate.”
“Okay, okay,” said Nate. “Being ticklish is a propensity for an involuntary response that mimics happiness.”
“You think your propensity for big words translates well, doofus?”
Jack growled. “Tim.”
The alien ran a curlicue along Tim’s foot.
Tim thrashed and laughed. “Stop! Stop!”
The alien moved to Nate and poked at his ribs. It didn’t tickle.
“No ticklish?” asked the alien.
“Not at all.”
“Are BAWK defective?”
Tim burst out laughing. “And how.”
The other three Porligraps started poking Bradley and Jack. Bradley laughed with exaggerated gusto.
“Knock it off,” yelled Jack. “Get away from me.” He kicked and got surprising distance through the force field, almost catching one on the claw.
“You can’t break me,” said Bradley. “I’ve withstood the torture pits of the Balikakas in Malanoa.”
“You tell ‘em, Bradley,” said Tim.
“Where the hell is Malanoa?” asked Jack.
“Somewhere in Connecticut, I think,” said Bradley.
“What ticklish BAWK purpose?” asked one of the aliens.
“Why BAWK ticklish inconsistent?” asked another.
“What’s with the tickling obsession?” asked Jack.
“Seriously. Are you a new pervy kind of aliens, or something?” asked Tim.
“What purpose BAWK?”
Bradley’s glasses fell to the floor and a lens shattered. The alien in front of him bent a little, but couldn’t go far enough to examine the glasses with their feelers.
“Be careful! Those are spectacles,” said Nate. “You touch them, they could kill you.”
“When they broke, they spread shards that could cut into your feet.”
“Yeah—and there’s got to be all kinds of earth germs on them. They’re very infectious.”
“I’m a carrier of ebola,” said Bradley.
“What scares me is that he really believes that,” said Tim.
One of the Porligraps whistled and a small crablike creature with feathers instead of claws swept up the glass and the frames into its mouth and scuttled away. The aliens consulted amongst themselves, the translator remaining quiet. When they broke, one of them manipulated a control cluster, which lowered the gurneys and released them.
“Study BAWK earthmen discontinued. Determined incoherent and stupid. Complete waste of time.”
“Incoherent, ay?” said Nate. “You might consider the fact that you’ve had fewer untranslatable words than any other species we’ve met, so it takes one to know one.”
Tim grinned. “Good one, doofus.”
The aliens dumped the dudes back onto their ship, the breeches closed off, and disappeared into space.
Nate patted Bradley on the back. “Sorry about your glasses.”
Bradley pulled out an intact pair and put them on his face, bulging out his eyes.
“You had another pair?” asked Jack.
“That’s the third since we got lost,” said Nate. “How many do you have?”
“Hah,” said Tim. “And those jokers think we’re stupid.”