Day 365 (Done): Four Dudes and the Space Zombies

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.

“No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no, uh-oh.”

“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!”

“Why?”

“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.”

Day 358 (T minus 7): Navigating the Universe–A Four Dudes Flashback

“These guys want to help,” said Nate. He tried to sound confident because Jack was in a panic.

‘These guys’ were aliens that looked like tipped over Erlenmeyer flasks, see-through and all. They had a line of sharp looking teeth, each about a foot long, hanging off the back. They might have had many features, but they were so transparent the dudes could barely see their outline. The aliens had invited them through an entryway that worked more like a sphincter, you had to push your way through, and for some reason, maybe flask etiquette, the aliens wouldn’t go ahead of them.

“How do you know?” Jack eyed the aliens warily. “For all you know, they’re leading us into a gas chamber.”

“I’m picking it up from the translator thingy.”

The translator was a blob that looked like putty with colors shooting over its surface, thin hair shooting out everywhere, puffing bladders, a number of slits that burbled and popped, some bizarre looking circuitry, and a blue sea slug crawling all around it. It ejected and retracted rods to hop and tumble after them. Every time they said something it erupted into action, and it spoke to them for the aliens.

Of course, ‘spoke’ was a stretch. It mostly bawked at them, with a few English words thrown in.

Tim scoffed. “How the hell are you picking up anything from that gobble-dee-gook? We understood more from those egg aliens at the depot.”

“Right,” said Nate. “And every alien race we’ve come across has been nothing but helpful. Why would they help us and then send us into danger?”

“A trader always takes care of his merchandise,” said Jack.

Bradley giggled. “Like the time Mrs. Bush sold me at the Bachelor Auction for Homeless Churros Addicts.”

Tim spat. “Are you sure that wasn’t the Dimwit Auction for Stuttering Husbands?”

“I don’t know, but Carrot Top was the only one to get a higher bid than me.”

“Right,” said Tim.

“He was at the height of his career,” said Bradley.

“Knock it off,” said Jack. “Do you really think a creature with teeth that big isn’t interested in eating us?”

Nate put his hand on Jack’s shoulder. “I’m not getting that from their tone.”

Tim scoffed.

Nate gritted his teeth. “You got any better ideas, Tim?”

“Yeah.” He stepped into Nate’s face, but Nate held his ground. “I got about a pound of—”

“Knock it off,” said Jack. He leaned on Bradley, who stared blankly, his perpetual stupid smile reminding Nate how much of a liability he would be for them.

“Let me just peak in,” said Nate. “If it looks hinky, I’ll wave you off.”

“How can anything here not look…” Jack exhaled sharply. “Fine. Go ahead. It was nice knowing you.”

Nate pushed through the membrane, it was mercifully dry. Keeping one foot outside, he pushed forward until his head popped through into a brightly lit chamber that sparkled everywhere. After his eyes adjusted he discerned the outlines of dozens of the flask-aliens hanging around as if a chemist just dumped them there.

In the center of the room was a magnificent machine with colors and electricity zipping all over uncountable gadgets, some looking like circuitry, others like biological organs, all tightly interwoven in a way that fed into a quivering, shimmering cloud that displayed some kind of pattern.

Nate pulled himself out.

A look passed between Jack and Tim.

Tim shook his head. “Too easy.”

“It’s fine,” said Nate. “A bunch of them are in there. And some big machine.”

Jack set his jaw and nodded. “All right. Here we go.”

He pushed through first and Nate followed, Bradley and Tim behind him, then the translator popped through.

“Hello,” said Nate to no alien in particular.

“BAWK BAWK BAWK BAWK BAWK BAWK Greets BAWK BAWK BAWK,” said the translator.

Nate supposed the missed words personalized the greeting with specifics that couldn’t translate.

“For what purpose are we here?” asked Nate.

“BAWK BAWK Navigation BAWK BAWK BAWK.”

“I got that one,” said Tim. “Chickens navigating chickens.”

“Shut up,” said Nate.

Jack grabbed Tim’s shoulder, stopping his lunge. “Not now, Tim.”

“What are you navigating?” asked Nate.

One of the aliens touched something on the machine and all of its gadgets went into action and emitted every kind of burp, squeak, and zap that was possible for the human ear to hear. They watched the machine and engaged in a long, bawk-filled, back-and-forth with the aliens, working out the meaning they were trying to convey one or two words at a time. It took three days before it dawned on Nate what they were doing.

“They’re charting a course home for us! Multiple courses.” Nate jumped up and down and squeezed Jack around the shoulders. “We’re going home! We’re going home!”

Over the course of a few weeks, they learned about stargate alignments, spaceflight, nebula worms, and excretory protocols. Nate studied them very hard because they had nothing human-friendly to record the information and he figured he was the best suited for all the technical aspects of it.

“Wait a minute.” Jack interrupted a session. “Just how far are we from earth?”

The alien running the machine cleared the cloud and a few hundred dots appeared.

“BAWK BAWK this place…” The alien made a dot in the lower right side of the cloud zap and flash. “BAWK home BAWK BAWK.” Another dot in the upper left corner zapped and flashed.

“That doesn’t look so bad.” Tim gazed up at the display, jaw hanging open.

“Which one of these planets has the depot we started from?” asked Jack.

“BAWK not planets.”

“Whattaya mean?” asked Tim. “What are they?”

Nate’s scalp went cold and he grew faint. He knew the answer before the flask said it.

“BAWK galaxies in BAWK.”

Nate gasped and thought he heard a moan. “I’ll never remember all this.”

“I got it.” Bradley pointed to his mouth. “It’s all up here.”

“How long is this trip going to take?” asked Nate.

Another moan.

Nate went back and forth with them to approximate earth time.

“Three years and seventeen days,” said the alien.

Nate heard three moans and realized one was his own.

“Why can’t we go back the way we came?” asked Jack.

“BAWK one-in-million alignment BAWK.”

Bradley chuckled. “This reminds me of the year I raced the Iditarod on my Flexible Flyer sled.”

Nate, Tim, and Jack yelled. “Shut up!”

Day 350: Four Dudes and a Universe Stretched

Jack felt like the gliding spaceship stretched his sanity across the universe. He reclined in a pilot’s harness designed for a very round creature. Whenever he sat up, he slid back down.

“How close are we?” asked Nate. He came in chewing on a gummy cake and handed one to Jack. They tasted like sod mixed with Elmer’s glue, and none of them liked to speculate what was in them. Unfortunately, they had to chew to eat them.

“Didn’t you just ask me that?” Jack took a tiny bite.

“I haven’t been up here for twelve hours.”

Jack grimaced. “Really? Seems like…” He shrugged. “I don’t understand the units, but the indicator has barely moved.”

Nate sighed. “It tests the limits of your mind, doesn’t it?”

Jack scoffed. “I’m trying not to think about it.”

“This is twelve times longer than anything we’ve done without a stargate.”

“I said I was trying not to think about it.”

“Then why are you staying in the pilot’s chamber?”

“Because I can’t stop thinking about it.”

Tim stepped in through the back portal, laughing and making farting noises. Bradley followed him.

“You never worked for the EPA, dinkwad.” Tim pinched Bradley’s cheek. “Hey, Jack. I forgot to tell you. He flipped his cuppies over the papples you gave him.”

“What are you talking about?”

Tim flicked Nate’s ear. “The Piggimaters, or whatever they’re called. When they provided the ship.”

Tim’s disproportionate enthusiasm unsettled Jack.

“Yeah, I guess I remember something about them.”

Tim flicked Nate’s ear again. “You guess you remember? We were just talking about it.”

“Tim, I haven’t seen you for a week.”

“Right,” said Nate. “That was when you came up here and kept flicking my ears.”

Tim flicked his ear.

“You remember that?” asked Nate.

“I remember it fine,” said Tim. He flicked both ears at once.

“Guys.” Bradley had a puzzled look, his perpetual grin crooked. “Something’s wrong.”

Jack’s gut twisted. “Hey, dudes. Remember when Bradley said something was wrong and we all ignored him? I think he might have been right.”

“Like how?” asked Nate.

“I think we’re all experiencing time differently.” Jack brushed his hair out of his eyes. “Like the other day when Nate said we all seemed to be out of synch with each other.”

“You may be right,” said Nate. “We all seem to be out of synch with each other.”

Tim flicked him again.

Bradley’s smile broadened. “This reminds me of that year I worked for the EPA measuring cow-produced methane.”

Jack stared at the indicators. It still showed them heading in the right direction, toward a galaxy they knew little about, except it was the next closest one to earth.

“Let’s just be very careful,” he said. “Make sure we understand the consequences of our actions before we do anything, and just let the ship take its course.”

“Yes, sir!” said Tim. He gave an exaggerated salute.

“I mean it, Tim.”

“Yeah, yeah. I got you.”

“We’ll be careful,” said Nate.

“Let me know when the gummy cakes pop,” said Bradley.

Tim nudged Nate. “So how come you haven’t tried to get me back for flicking your ears?”

“I did get you back. I threw you in the cultured protein vat.”

Tim’s eyes went wide. “Oh, shit.”

Day 336: Scoring Points from the Flibberty-boos

“This doesn’t make any sense.” Tim tweaked a Flibberty-boo’s proboscis because he knew it freaked them out. The alien flapped the ring of spindly things around the lower part of his body. Green, pink, and yellow streaks ran up, down, and around it’s middle, and the top with the nose-trunk-snout thing looked like a purple Q-tip.

“It takes away points when you torment them that way,” said Nate.

Bradley giggled.

“Shush, Bradley,” said Jack.

The four dudes walked among the aliens in the facilities and accommodations district on the Filberjeebians’ planet Bidgee-widgee, or something like that. Tim could never get the names right and Jack always goofed them up on purpose. They passed by nourishment booths, bath pools, sleeping tubes, and leisure flats, the Flibberty-boos milling about and taking full advantage.

“But why the hell do we need points at all?” Tim tweaked another one, and it tumbled away squeaking and snorting. He held his belly and laughed.

“The more Tim messes with them, the more Nate gets upset,” said Nate.

Tim put on his dumbass face, upper lip curled above his teeth, lower lip hitched to the side. “Well, garsh. Maybe Nate should speak for himself.” He dropped the face. “I’ll make up the points, but why do we need points at all? I’ve had to do a lot of things to get passage. We’ve told stories, put on a talent show, eaten worms—but wandering around the planet kissing alien ass for points is demeaning.”

“More demeaning than being slurped by a Glurkilurk?” asked Jack.

“That was quick, and we didn’t agree to it,” said Tim.

They passed by more nourishment pillars, a disinfecting slider, some contraptions they didn’t understand, and an excretory elimination chamber.

Bradley giggled.

“Keep quiet, Bradley,” said Jack.

Bradley giggled louder.

Jack eyeballed him sternly. “Shut up.” He turned to Tim. “They have to fit the ship with a section compatible to human life support, and they demanded points for it. It’s just their way.”

“Hopefully the ventilation will carry away your stink,” said Nate.

Tim feinted a lunge, causing Nate to flinch. “I’m going to drop you into an excretory elimination tank if your not careful, pal.”

Nate poked a flibberty-boo in his middle, the equivalent of a human wave. “Nate is very glad to meet you.”

“BAWK Nate BAWK BAWK.” The flibberty-boo prodded him in the ribs with a spindle.

“You, too,” said Nate.

“Seriously, dude.” Tim poked Nate in the middle. “You sound like an idiot when you refer to yourself in third person.”

“Nate has noted your comment. However, Nate also mentions that third person translates better for these aliens.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Tim threw back his arms. “We’re getting about one word in ten from these guys. The translator’s bawking like a rabid chicken.”

“Maybe if you’d bathe—”

“For all you know, there telling you to shove off. Bawk bawk, Nate, and the horse you rode in on.”

Nate put on that smug little grin that made Tim want to rub his face in a cat box. “Nate understands them plenty well.”

Tim scoffed. “Moron.”

Bradley grinned. “This is like—”

“Bradley.” Jack gripped his shoulder. “Keep it to yourself, bud.”

For once Jack couldn’t tolerate Bradley, but didn’t seem to care about Tim and Nate’s bickering. Jack jabbed one of the aliens himself. After a few bawks, it slipped into a nourishment booth.

They each poked a few more of them, getting similar undecipherable results, Bradley laughing hysterically and Jack hushing him up.

“How many more to go?” asked Tim.

“We’re making progress,” said Jack. “A few more each, at least.”

“This makes no sense,” said Tim. He poked one next to a ramp up to some open platform, several levers at its base.

“BAWK BAWK BAWK Tim BAWK.” It waddled up the ramp.

Nate laughed. “Did he really just say that?”

“What? What did he say?” asked Tim.

“Nate’s pretty sure you don’t want to know.”

“Stop talking like a dumbass and tell me.”

“Nate’s pretty sure he said you’re dumb and you look like a space pig.”

“That little bastard.” Tim followed the alien up the ramp. “Hey! Flibbery-boo. I’m gonna adjust your flibberty-jibbet.”

The alien went through a door at the top, but when Tim tried it, it wouldn’t open. He pounded on it. “Come on outta there, coward.”

He looked down at the others, and something about the look in their eyes disturbed him. Bradley squealed and rolled on the floor.

“The jagoff locked the door. What the hell is this thing, anyway?” Tim realized a large panel on the ground had moved away to reveal a bathing pool. “Wait. What?” He looked down at Jack, who wore a shit-eating grin. “No!”

Tim turned to run down the ramp, but Jack kicked a lever and the entire deck dropped from beneath him, held on by hinges. Tim flailed for a grab hold, and for a brief moment he felt like a cartoon character just before he fell off a cliff.

He plunged into the liquid, a sour, salty mess of chemicals. His eyes closed tight, he felt the bottom on his shoes and pushed up. He came to the surface and splashed to the edge, holding himself against the side with his forearms.

He looked up and snarled at Jack, who returned it with a triumphant smile.

“Did we even need any points?” asked Tim.

Jack shook his head no.

“The Flibberty-bastards were in on it too?”

Jack nodded.

“I knew it didn’t make sense.” Tim pushed the wet hair from his eyes. “Tim is not happy.”

Day 332: The Heart of Language (Four Dudes Flashback)

They’d been thrown somewhere galaxies away from home for several weeks, and there was no graceful way to say it.

“Tim, you stink,” said Jack.

“Shit too.”

As instructed by their host aliens, the dudes sorted through a big pile of stuff while a couple of the lurpeedurps fiddled with the translator thingy. Rocks, gadgets, bundles of hair—hair grew on everything on the planet—and a gajillion other things.

Jack hadn’t a clue what the aliens were really called, but they were basically big hairy rolls of fat with no visible head, face, or feet, who lurpeedurped from place to place. They did have little arms that popped out of fat creases, little rubbery fingers that stretched and contracted to manipulate things.

“He’s right,” said Nate. “You literally smell like a toilet.”

Tim lunged at Nate, and Jack jumped between them.

“Get bent, asshat.” Tim eased off, stuck his nose in the air, and feigned refinement. “I have a distinctively natural odor. Like daisies.”

“I’m serious, Tim.” Jack held his nose. “You don’t just stink, you smell like a wet dog that slept with pigs and rolled in road kill after an all night bender with Yukon Jack.”

“You guys don’t exactly smell like roses.” He nudged Bradley. “What do you think?”

Bradley smiled stupidly and wrinkled his nose. “I once met a shepherd in the Himalayas who smelled like that.”

“Oh, yeah?” Tim picked up a piece of metal and threw it in a scrap pile. “Who asked you?”

“You did,” said Nate.

“It’s an expression, dumbass.”

“Tim,” Jack tossed a fleshy object with levers and glowing bumps into the ‘gadget’ pile, then started dividing the fleshy ones from the hard ones. “I’m serious, man. We’re going to suffocate if you don’t clean up.”

Tim tossed a fuzzy strap on the scrap pile. Nate picked it up and placed it in a pile of cloth-like stuff, then Bradley put it in with the ‘useful stuff.’ Jack shook his head and let it be.

‘Excuuuuse me,” said Tim. “Our accommodations haven’t exactly been furnished with showers since we left earth.”

“We have to make do with alien equipment.” Nate examined a gadget that looked like a sea urchin with curly wires coming out the spines. He threw it in Jack’s fleshy pile.

“I’m not taking one of their urine baths,” said Tim.

“It’s not urine,” said Nate.

“How do you know?” asked Tim. “It sure ain’t water.”

“You could have done the Zorbots’ cleaning chamber,” said Jack.

“Nuh-uh.”

“BAWK BAWK BAWK.” The translator buzzed and chirped. Jack couldn’t tell which lurpeedurp was talking. “BAWK speak BAWK BAWK BAWK sort BAWK. What BAWK?”

Jack shook his head and held his hands out. “No hablo bawk-bawk, Senor Lurpeedurp.”

The lurpeedurps jiggled and croaked.

“What the hell are we doing, anyway?” asked Nate. He threw a rubbery ring on the scrap pile.

Tim picked up the ring and threw it in the ‘round things’ pile.

“I like this game,” said Bradley. “It reminds me of my days as a pharmacist.”

“This is stupid,” said Tim. “I don’t know what most of this stuff is.”

“No kidding,” said Jack. He dropped a chunk of fluff that looked like the disgusting food the lurpeedurps had given them earlier. “Hey. Lurpeedurps. Why are we doing this?”

The lurpeedurps fiddled with the translator, and an onslaught of ‘bawks’ came from it with only a few English words.

“I think I’ve got it,” said Nate. “They’re building the translation capabilities by recording our discussion. The sorting was supposed to focus our words on the attributes of all this stuff.”

“Affirm BAWK.”

Jack chuckled. “And it’s so tedious we’ve hardly said a word about any of it.”

“BAWK BAWK conclude BAWK.”

“It’s done?” asked Jack.

“BAWK affirm.”

“Can we keep playing?” asked Bradley.

“Knock yourself out,” said Jack.

“You got what you need?” asked Nate.

“BAWK adjusted BAWK BAWK foundation.”

“What’s that mean?” asked Tim.

Nate guffawed. “It means they’re using Tim’s stench as the entire basis of our language.”

Day 331: Four Dudes and a Tranport

While Bradley lay moaning on the floor of the mini transport, Nate grappled with Tim for the steering mechanism, a squiggly bar that changed shape, and Jack tried to make sense of the readings on a navigation ‘display’ based on smell, sound, and vibration that had to be worn like a hood. It was made for a Mub, a species with heads like cucumbers, so the upper half flopped to the side, and Jack continuously complained that it crushed his skull and left him in darkness.

A pole split the pilot’s deck, and several triangular pipes that looped like drain traps served as anchor points for Mubs’ twisty appendages. A large front window revealed a landscape of green towers on purple ground under a lemon-yellow sky.

They’d just left the official welcoming ceremony and headed for the intergalactic travel office. Or the ‘BAWK galactical BAWK BAWK transport BAWK’ as rendered by the translator.

Nate shook his head at Bradley. “I told you not to eat those sluckerdizzips.”

“Be careful of the signposts the hood shows you.” Bradley held his stomach and grimaced.

“What signposts?” asked Jack.

Bradley coughed and rasped. “They zing and then smell like algae.”

Jack’s agitated tone grew with each word. “And how’s that supposed to help? Right now it smells like cheesy cabbage.”

“You’re merging into a flight lane,” said Bradley.

“This is completely disorienting.” Jack held his head and grunted.

“You have to develop an instinct for their meaning,” said Bradley. “You know, like the Kalahari bushmen hunting man-eating grubs.”

“There’s no such thing as man-eating grubs,” said Tim.

“Tell that to poor…” Bradley clicked his tongue between repetitions of ‘hon-hon’ for the name.

“It’s a little late for developing an instinct, Jackass.” Tim shoved Nate off the squiggly control. “We’re already en route.”

Jack shook his finger toward Tim and poked Nate in the nostril. “Back off and pay attention, Tim.”

“Get bent,” said Tim.

“Watch it!” said Nate.

“What was that?” asked Jack.

“You don’t want to know,” said Tim.

“Look ahead,” said Nate.

They came fast and hard into a group of transports that suddenly spread out to avoid them. Tim wrestled with the bar and nearly bumped several of them as he plowed through the middle. Another group appeared ahead.

“You’re going too fast.” Nate went to grab the bar, but Tim slapped him away.

“I got it.” Tim wrung the bar on one side and it slowed down. The transports behind them whooshed by.

“Too slow,” yelled Nate.

“Stop yelling,” said Jack. “I’ve got a headache.” He wagged his head as if looking for something. “I don’t like the smell of this, guys. I think we’re in a fast lane or something. It smells… uh… sharp, like ammonia and banana.”

“Don’t clog up the fast lane,” said Bradley. “They won’t like that.”

Another set of transports zoomed past, most of them clacking so loud it buffeted their vessel. “They’re signaling their displeasure,” said Bradley.

“What’s the Mub equivalent of a middle finger?” asked Tim.

“Shut up and get us out of this flight path,” said Nate. He grabbed the bar and moved them off.

Tim elbowed him in the ribs. “Get—”

“Aaaaagh!” Jack tore at the hood. “This smell is horrible. Like raw sewage, rotten cabbage, and toe jam. Get it off me.”

“Warp lane,” yelled Bradley. “Get out! Get out!”

Tim and Nate both grabbed the bar and twisted it in random directions. The transport turned sharply and tumbled, heading for the surface. Nate grabbed one of the anchor points, and his body whipped back and forth with each turn. Bradley held onto the center bar, sliding back and forth. Tim hung from the steering bar, flailing, twisting, and kicking Nate in the ass. Jack tumbled along the wall like a teddy bear in a clothes dryer, yanking at the hood to get it off.

“Straighten us out, Tim,” said Nate.

“That’s what I’m trying to do, moron.”

Nate grabbed Tim’s foot as it flopped his way and steadied him. Tim hooked his elbow over the bar and worked it. The transport lurched a few times and steadied. He brought it to the purple surface with a thump.

The hood squeaked and popped off Jack’s head. “My head’s going to explode.”

“How much farther to go?” asked Nate.

“Dunno. Should be most of the way there, I’d think,” said Tim.

Bradley pointed out the window at a bump in the ground with windows. “Sluckerdizzip stand.”

“Shit. Are you sure?” said Tim.

“Can’t forget,” moaned Bradley.

“We didn’t travel a hundred yards,” said Tim.

“I’m driving.” Nate grabbed the bar.

“No you’re not.” Tim head-butted him.

Nate tackled him and brought him to the ground. The transport rocked and bounced as they pummeled each other.

“Bradley.” Jack threw the hood at him. “No more sluckerdizzips.”

Day 317: Four Dudes and the Porligraps

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.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

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.

“What BAWK?”

“Be careful! Those are spectacles,” said Nate. “You touch them, they could kill you.”

“How kill?”

“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.

Bradley grinned.

“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.”