The dudes had been dreading this part of the journey home. It was the most dangerous stretch according to the aliens who’d helped them plan everything out with their intergalactic GPS gizmo. The danger came from one primary issue. Space zombies.
Nate rested in the reclining fixture used by the ship’s previous owners, basically a vat of brown Jello. The ship was gigantic, but only that room had human life support. The merchant had rigged the roomed with the piloting controls and an airlock, so it was a lot like a space blimp, except the cabin was on the side. Windows gave a limited view to outer space.
It was an old ship with unused and obsolete pipes, conduits, and gadgets hanging loosely from the walls. The important stuff was colored blue, or so they were told.
Nate daydreamed about fighting off the zombies, steering the ship to safety, and looking good in a white suit, while Jack, Bradley, and Tim hailed him as their hero.
“Wake up, butthead.” Tim flicked him on the back of the ear and shook the vat.
“What do you want?”
“We’ve hit zombie space.”
Nate hopped out of the vat with a slurp. “Why didn’t you just say so.”
“I believe I just did.”
They crowded around Jack at the controls. The displays were visual, almost like a human’s computer screen, but everything had a green tinge. A thin yellow line demarcated zombie space, and it intersected the blob that represented their ship.
Jack kept repeating a song he’d made up, which wasn’t entirely unlike a reggae tune. “Oh, no. You can’t eat my brains. No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no, uh-oh. Oh, no. You can’t eat my brains. No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no.”
Tim blew air between his teeth. “I think a half hour is long enough to be singing that song.”
Jack grinned wide and sang louder, adding hand motions, twirling his fists around each other and swinging his arms out on alternating sides. “C’mon, guys. Join me.”
Bradley joined him for a verse. “We should take this to Vaudeville.”
Nate studied the screen, but didn’t see anything worrisome. “Can we take this just a little more seriously?”
“What do you have to worry?” said Tim. “You ain’t got no brain.”
“Haha.” Nate noticed a shimmer on the screen close to their ship’s blob. “Hold on, guys. Look here.” He hovered his finger over the shimmer, and it grew more distinct as they watched.
“Damn,” said Tim. “It’s a whole fleet.”
“Just keep it steady, guys.” Jack bopped his head. “Oh, no. You can’t eat my brains. No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no, uh-oh.”
“Seriously, Jack.” Tim frowned at the screen. “Can it.”
Jack sang louder. “Oh, no. You can’t eat my brains. No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no.”
“Oh, come on,” said Tim. “It’s like the stupidest song ever.”
“He’s got to deal with things in his own way,” said Nate.
“When I trained in Dao Ling, we used song to focus our chi,” said Bradley.
“Well focus your ass on that screen. You remember what to do, right?”
“Yeah,” said Jack. “What do you think I’m doing? I cut to medium thrust, I set course for a hop trajectory that should bounce us away and around, but keep us in opposition, and I increased the air cycle in the cabin.”
“The air cycle’s not part of the procedure,” said Nate.
“I farted,” said Jack.
“No shit?” said Tim. “I thought someone was cooking rotten broccoli.”
They watched as their ship took an arc that would put them in parallel opposition.
“Oh, no. You can’t eat my brains…”
“Kill me now,” said Tim.
“Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no.” Nate pointed at the back edge of the fleet. “Part of it’s breaking off.”
Tim spat. “Shit, he’s right.”
“Okay. Don’t panic.” Jack’s eyes darted everywhere, wide and terrified. “Nobody panic. Stay cool.”
“It’s okay,” said Nate. “They gave us a procedure for this. We’ve got to navigate through them according to their flight configuration. We can confuse and avoid a lot of their sensors. Get a close-up on the break-away ships. You ready for some maneuvering?”
Jack looked at Nate. “Maybe Bradley should do this. He’s the best pilot.”
Nate nodded. “Good idea.”
Jack and Bradley changed places. Bradley cracked his knuckles and fiddled with the controls.
Nate puzzled through the zombies’ flight configuration and instructed Bradley in some complicated flight patterns, taking them right into the ships. Jack sang the ‘oh-no’ song quietly next to him. They had a few maneuvers left to get out when Jack gasped.
“Wait,” he said. “The other way. The other way!”
“Just do it. They’re directing you straight into a trajectory with the other fleet, and it’s turning. We’ll lose opposition.”
“Holy shit, he’s right,” said Tim.
Nate sputtered. “I didn’t see that. Do it, Bradley!”
Bradley took them out the side of the smaller fleet, but one of the zombie ships broke off and followed.
“No!” said Nate. “They’re coming.”
“No shit, Sherlock.” Tim bent close to Bradley. “Pull off this way. Lead him away from both fleets so we can deal with him alone. Drive like it’s the Daytona 500.”
“I once subbed for Jeff Gordon in—”
“I’m sure you did, Bradley. Focus.”
Bradley smiled stupidly and worked the controls. The ship and their pursuer got farther and farther apart.
“He’s doing it,” said Nate.
“Now we’ve just got to shake this last guy.”
Their ship stopped turning and went in a straight line.
Tim grabbed Bradley’s shoulder. “Why aren’t you turning?”
“The controls stopped working.”
“What do you mean?” asked Nate.
Tim pushed Bradley’s hands away and worked the controls. “Shit. I’ve got nothing.”
Bradley shook his head. “Not good.”
“Damn,” said Nate.
“Oh, no. You can’t eat my brain. No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no, uh-oh.”
The zombie ship zipped up next to them, a rust-colored mass of cobbled together technology. A loud clang sounded as they attached.
“Oh, no. You can’t eat my brains. No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no.”
“We’ve got to get the controls back,” said Nate.
“Oh, really?” said Tim. “Cause I thought we should break for tea.”
“You’re not helping,” said Nate.
The warning light for the outside airlock turned on.
“Knock it off, guys.” Jack pulled an orange pipe off the wall. “Tim and Bradley, figure it out. Me and Nate will hold them off.”
Nate grabbed another piece of pipe, and they both held them up ready to swing.
“Got it!” said Bradley.
The inside airlock door lifted.
“Too late,” yelled Jack.
An Incredible-Hulk-sized alien that looked like a mushroom with distended bellies on his stalk and five legs rotated out. Several mouths with vertical teeth snapped and drooled from the side of the mushroom cap, and a horrible snort came from the top, which seemed to have some kind of opening that spat green stuff. Behind were five more just like him.
The translator sputtered and snapped. “BAAAAAAWK braaaaaaains!”
Tim shot past Nate and propelled himself into one of the zombie’s distended bellies, hitting it with a forearm and taking him down back into the airlock.
Nate grabbed Tim’s ankles and pulled him back in as Jack hit the button to close the airlock.
“Go,” yelled Jack.
The vessel shuddered and separated from the zombie ship. Tim sprang up and hit the button to open the outside airlock, and the zombies tumbled out into space.
“Get us out of here,” yelled Nate.
After a tense hour hovering over the screens, getting farther and farther away from the zombie fleet, Nate allowed himself some relief.
“Good job, Bradley.” Jack patted Bradley on the back and chuckled. “Not a lot of people are going to believe this one. But we’ll know.”
Bradley grinned wide. “Not since my brothers in arms in Vietnam have I had such comradeship.”
Tim scoffed. “You’re not old enou… Ah, hell. Take a break, Bradley. I’ll drive for a while.” They traded places.
“Thank you, Tim. I can practice my Blues Clues meditation techniques now.” He tugged on Jack’s shirt. “You want to try?”
“No, thanks, Bradley. I’m more of a Sesame Street guy. I’m gonna take a nap.” He went to his usual corner, wrapped himself in a blanket, and snored.
Bradley went to the middle of the room and assumed the lotus position.
Anxiety squeezed Nate’s chest as he thought about the many galaxies and empty space they still had to travel through to get home. “I hope this really is the worst of our trip.”
“Hey.” Tim gripped Nate’s shoulder. “If we can get through this, we can get through anything. Go sit in your Jello. I promise you’ll feel better.”
Taken aback by Tim’s kindness, Nate plodded over to the tank and sunk in. The cool comfort soothed his nerves. His mind drifted to pleasant thoughts of home as the sound of Tim’s voice drifted softly through the cabin.
“Oh, no. You can’t eat my brains. No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no, uh-oh. Oh, no. You can’t eat my brains. No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no.”