Aphelion Issue 238, Volume 23
April 2019
 
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Closet Cases

by William Joseph Roberts




Trae and Fergus rushed into the bar, both in Salorian combat armor. Fergus removed his helmet and slammed it down on to the counter. “Hey pal, will that get me a drink? I don’t care what it is--I just need something, anything.”

“The name’s Max, not Pal. I’ll be nice this time since I’ve never seen you in here before. What are a pair of humans in Salorian combat armor doing in these parts?” The bartender poured a light blue shot of liquid into a small glass and slid it to Fergus, removing the helmet from the bar.

Fergus slammed back the drink just as Trae took a seat next to him at the bar, also removing his helmet. “I’ll take one of those too,” He sat his helmet on the counter.

“What in the hells has you two so spooked?”

Trae laughed into this drink as he sipped slowly. Enjoying the odd moldy licorice flavor of the light blue drink. “Oh man, you have no idea.”

“Listen up buddy. Let me ask you this,” Fergus knuckled his nose. “Have you ever accidentally hitched a lift on a Salorian ship as a stowaway and lived in a tiny janitor’s closet with your best buddy for over three months?”

“No, I haven’t…” The bartender stared strangely at the pair.

“Well I’m here to tell you right now that it freaking sucks rotten zombie balls.” Fergus shoved his tongue into the glass, attempting to lick it clean. “So there we were, minding our own business and inspecting some Salorian weapons crates…”

*****

“Hey man, check this out. This crate of rifles has one of those gooification mods on them. That’s a pretty penny right there if you can find someone to take them off your hands.”

“Well yeah,” Trae replied. “Who wouldn’t want to cause your enemy’s molecules to destabilize and lose their covalent bonds.”

“Does that qualify as pew pew on the Trae scale of guns?”

“Naw man. More like Goo Goo,” he mused. Trae opened a large shipping container and whistled. “Would ya look at that, Ferg. Pure, unadulterated destructive beauty. So simplistic and finite in the details of the art.”

“Wipe your chin. You’re drooling,” Fergus joked. “The only downside to those lasers are the damned power cells. You gotta pack too damned many with you and they don’t work for shit if you get them the slightest bit wet.”

“True, but the way you can cut a man in half with one shot does have its advantages.”

“Hey, didn’t you say this bay had already been inventoried this morning? That no one else should be in here before later tonight?”

“Yeah. Or at least that’s what the Luvarian up in the promenade bar told me. Why,” Trae asked quizzically.

“Well something's up, cause I can hear voices coming this way. Shit, get in.” Fergus grabbed Trae by the sleeve and drug him inside the container and promptly closed the panel.

*****

“They must have made a sale or something, ‘cause we were stuck in that container for hours while they moved things around. At some point numb nuts over here,” he thumbed toward Trae,” started snoring and nearly gave us away. And the last thing that you want to do is mess with a Salorian gun inventory.”

The bartender nodded.

“So, we ended up being loaded onto a Salorian resupply ship.”

“The Br’Tka Ar’r,” Trae added.

“Yeah that was it! The Br’Tka Ar’r. Big beast of a transport. Four fusion power plants with a jump drive configuration and fusion thrusters for maneuvering the behemoth of a ship. The only real problem we had was that the ship was on a one way circuit mission. A three-month resupply tour around to their outer rim outposts.

“Yup,” Trae laughed. He sipped at his drink, then hurriedly removed the arm guards and armored chest-piece of his uniform. “Give me whatever this will get me for food and drink.” He reached down, removing the outer armor. He unzipped the body suit and laid it across the bar with the other pieces.

“Sure, sure, but you can’t strip in here. This is a bar.”

“Why not? Those Skoocoom don’t wear anything,” he pointed at the sasquatch-looking creatures at a table near the back of the bar. “Are you going to discriminate just because I’m not covered head to toe with fur?”

“Um... Well, I guess not…”

“Well shit then,” Fergus coughed and began to strip.

“You need to hurry,” Trae said, thumbing over his shoulder in the direction of the main entrance.

“Shit shit shit.” Fergus hurriedly stripped and placed the uniform onto the bar.

“Yup,” Trae sighed. “Hopefully they are just visiting the bar and not looking for deserters.

The bartender gathered the pile of uniform pieces and tucked it quietly away behind the bar.

“I’ll have something brought out from the kitchen for you two.” The bartender tapped away at an order display mounted behind the bar. “So then what happened,” the bartender asked. He poured another round of the light blue drinks for each of the men.

“Well, after what seemed like hours of waiting inside of that container, we popped it open to get a lay of the land.”

*****

“Dammit Ferg. I swear that I will cut out your gizzard if I ever catch you eating beans again. That’s just not right man.”

The access panel of the storage container swung slowly open.

“What the hell did you want me to do? It’s not like we’d planned on getting trapped in there. Hey, at least we’re in the clear for the moment.”

Trae motioned for Fergus to be quiet. His eyes bulged and his head tilted as he listened intently. “Right now, all I know is that I do not want to trust you or your judgement. Because of you and your intel we’re stuck here, bound for who knows where and we both know what the Salorians will do with us if they find us. We need to hide.”

“Hey, wait a second. You’re the one that got the info from that Luvarian, not me.”

“Well right now that’s beside the point.”

“There’s bound to be somewhere that we can hide until the next port,” Ferg said.

The heavy metal sound of thick latches being removed echoed throughout the cargo bay.

“Shit, over there.” Trae shoved Fergus further back into the cargo bay, behind a stack of ration pack cases. Fergus reached inside of a partially opened case and pulled out the prepackaged meal. “Oh sweet, Tritium baked beans.”

Trae scowled, pointing an accusatory finger at Fergus.

“What,” he defensively whispered. “It was a joke.”

Trae motioned once again for Fergus to be quiet.

“I don’t understand why the Captain insists on wasting so much of our supplies on one meal,” a deep raspy reptilian voice hissed. “It does nothing but cause us more work to prepare and then to stretch out the remainder of our supplies for the rest of the voyage.”

“It’s his futile attempt,” a second voice replied, “to earn grace with the crew and hope they do not decide to cook him instead. Here it is,” the voice said and grunted. The sound of metal scraping metal and something heavy dropping to the floor decking echoed through the bay. “In his defense, if you let the Laon’ie die or become lethargic from a long voyage the flavor is horrible. Better to eat them when they are fresh and still squirming.”

“True, you do have point. My mother never could afford fresh Laon’ie. She fed all twenty of us on freeze dried dinners until the day we moved out. They were soggy and chewy at the same time. I’ll never touch another one of them.”

The two voices grew distant and then silent after the whoosh of a bulkhead hatch opened and closed behind the cooks.

“That was freaking close man.”

“Yeah,” Trae agreed. “We need to find a data terminal and see exactly what we’ve gotten ourselves into.”

“Well, there’s a door right here,” Fergus thumbed over his shoulder, then turned and made his way toward the hatchway. “Enie, meiene, minie, mo,” Fergus sang then tapped a button on the control display on the wall next to the hatch. The hatch whooshed open initially, but ground to a screeching halt. The hatchway door shuddered as it settled into the guide track slightly off kilter and leaning outward.

“What did you do Ferg?” “I didn’t do shit, man. Wasn’t me. I just pushed that blue button right here,” he pointed to the location on the display panel. “But,” Fergus peaked past the partially opened door, “there is a maintenance terminal in here.” He quickly squeezed himself through the opening.

Both men’s head swung round to look in the direction of another hatchway opening. The distinctive whoosh and hum resounded throughout the large bay.

“Shit, get in here.”

“No shit Sherlock,” Trae said. He sucked in his muscular chest as flat as he possibly could and forced himself through the opening.

“Close the door man. Hurry up.”

“How?” Trae shrugged. “You broke it, remember?”

“Hell, I don’t know. Hit the button and see what that does.”

“What did you say you hit before? The blue one?”

“Yeah man, hit the blue one. Hurry up, sounds like someone is singing. Dear God that is horrible,” Fergus dug a pinky finger into his ear and wiggled it.

Trae pressed the blue button on the display. A grinding sound followed by the smell of burning insulation wafted into their nostrils.

“What’d you do man,” Fergus blamed. “Just pick it up and close it. Hurry.”

“You actually think I can move a structural bulkhead with my bare hands,” Trae huffed.

“Yeah, I do. Use those Jedi mind tricks of yours. Now come on, hurry up, someone is coming.”

“Fine, just so I can prove you…” Trae easily lifted the door in the track and slid it into the closed position.

“See, told ya,” Fergus laghed.

“Move,” Trae said, pushing his way past Fergus in the cramped space toward the maintenance terminal.

“Um...hey Trae.”

“I’m kinda busy at the moment, numb nuts.” Trae tapped away at the terminal, ignoring Fergus.

Fergus opened his flight suit, tying the sleeves about his waist, he then rolled up and tied a knot in his undershirt so that the knot sat just below his right man boob. “But Trae,” Fergus whined with a high pitched lisp. “We’re both in the closet now, don’tcha know,” he said, followed by a valley girl hiccupped squeak.

Tears streamed from Trae’s eyes from the haughty laughter that he barely contained inside. He gasped for a real breath. “Oh my God man. We’re suck aboard an alien ship, Salorian of all aliens mind you, and you wanna screw around like that? What the hell is wrong with you?”

“You love me and you know it. Don’t deny your feelings pappa bear,” Fergus lisped as he cupped a man boob and puckered in Trae’s general direction.

Trae coldly turned back to the maintenance terminal. “According to this, we are on the Salorian heavy hauler Br’Tka Ar’r, which roughly translates to, Space Slug.”

“Dammit, fine,” Fergus huffed. “You’re no fun sometimes, you know that?” He untied his shirt and pulled his flight suit back over his shoulders, zipping it closed. “You know, you don’t have to be such a serious stick in the mud all the time. One of these days I’ll get hold of that stick up your ass and I won’t let go until I wrench that bastard free.”

Trae turned, glared at Fergus, his fingers still working the terminal without missing a beat. Fergus peaked around Trae’s broad countenance at the maintenance display. “Whatcha dooin’,” Fergus cooed.

“I’m trying to find out just how utterly screwed that we are.”

“Okay, so are we like, the boss is pissed and shit rolls down-hill kinda screwed, or O, M, G,” he spelled out in his best valley girl accent. “We’re like, so pregnant with baby number five! Or is it more like, holy crap, we’ve just been abducted by aliens and their cold hard probes are lubed and ready kinda screwed?”

Trae stared blankly at Fergus, turned back to the terminal and exploded in self-contained convulsions of laughter, collapsing to the floor in fetal position. He jerked and twitched with every new bout.

“Aw hell.” Fergus stared worriedly at his best friend. “You haven’t done your worry laugh like that since Ogden, Utah man. This has got to be serious.” Fergus crouched down next to Trae as he convulsed on the floor. “So if I’m reading your body language correctly, we are in a no lube, shaft is coated with salt, glass and secretes lemon juice kinda screwed scenario, aren’t we?” Fergus sighed. “Well, we’ve probably been in worse jams than this before.”

Trae loudly breathed in slow, deep breaths. “When,” he growled at Fergus.

“Naha port, Okinawa.”

“Really Ferg? We could have gotten away from those Yakuza goons in our sleep.”

Fergus snapped his fingers. “South Quay, London.”

Trae stared at him with disappointed eyes. “So helping a few Mic’s move a few things through a few slightly secured and booby trapped areas is supposed to be worse than this?”

“Titan outpost beta! Back in 74’.”

“What? No man. That was a piece of cake. This is literally the worst situation we have gotten ourselves into, to date.” Trae regained his feet and pointed to the terminal. “These goons are bound to the outer rim on a three-month resupply mission deep in Salorian territory.”

“Oh,” Fergus gulped.

“No shit, oh, you dipshit! These guys hate humans to begin with and they seriously hate the two of us. I’m honestly not sure how we’re going to get out of this one, Ferg.”

*****

“Hey barkeep, how’s about that food you mentioned? What I wouldn’t give for a thick, bloody, still mooing steak.” Fergus loudly smacked his lips.

“Patience,” Max replied. “Perfection takes time.”

“I couldn’t care about perfection,” Fergus snorted. “I just want something besides Salorian gruel and ration packs.”

“Salorian gruel,” Max asked.

“Think of the most cardboard and rat poison tasting oatmeal mush with the consistency of a rubber bouncy ball that is as dry and juicy at the same time as a bite from your grandaddy’s chaw.”

Max grimaced, “That does not sound appetizing at all.”

“Oh,” Fergus laughed. “Trust me, it’s not.”

“But it is proof that enough hot sauce, even Salorian hot sauce on anything will make it better,” Trae added.

*****

“That’s it; I gotta get out of this closet.” Fergus scrambled to his feet from the makeshift bunk he had haphazardly thrown together on the floor of the maintenance closet.

“It’s only been four days, Ferg. We’re not even sure if they are done with acceleration maneuvers yet. Twelve G’s acceleration that slam you out of nowhere and last for hours could kill or at least hurt the hell out of us. Twelve G’s are the max the human body can withstand and stay conscious but only if we’re in the optimal position. It’s not like we have acceleration couches in here, so just chill and make do with what you’ve got.”

“They haven’t accelerated in two days. They aren’t gonna again for weeks at least. You said yourself that we’ll have to coast for a few weeks between slip jumps before they flip us around and fire the retros to slow our approach to the next stop.”

Trae uncovered his eyes and looked up from his quick-and-dirty bunk on the floor at the back of the maintenance closet. “Just relax. We have enough fat stores to keep us alive for another week or two at least. There’s water right there in that sink and according to the maintenance logs, they haven’t used this closet in years just because of that busted ass door. The ship is in bad enough shape that none of the internal sensors work and only two cameras have any picture at all. If that wasn’t bad enough, we are running on a secondary life support system because the primary crapped out months ago and the Captain was too cheap to buy a new controller card.”

“Yup, still don’t care.” Fergus turned and started rummaging through the storage lockers and cabinets within the room. “Cleaning supplies, brushes, a few hand tools here and there,” Fergus mumbled as he rummaged through the cabinets. “Oh,” he gasped. “Well now, what exactly are you?” Carefully he slid a bundled black something from one of the lockers and sat it down on the small work bench next to the terminal. Not knowing what the wrapped item was peaked Trae’s interest enough that he propped himself up on an elbow and watched as Fergus unrolled the bundled thing. Wrapped neatly within the black, silken fabric was a large, shiny black tear drop shaped helmet that he lifted from the bundle. “Sweet.”

“Is that a full containment suit?”

“It sure looks like it. Suit, gloves, helmet, but no boots though.”

“Is that them in the bottom of that locker?” Trae scootched himself across the deck to the locker. “Yup, here ya go,” He said, handing the boots up to Fergus. “Now what brilliant scheme have you cooked up mister wizard?”

“Oh hey, maybe this is edible,” Fergus reached into the locker, retrieving a foil wrapped bar shaped thing.

“Ration pack or maybe a power bar?”

“I guess,” Fergus shrugged. “Only one way to find out though.” He eagerly ripped away the packaging and bit down onto the almost rock-hard bar.

*****

“Hey, did that Salorian go away or is he still in the bar,” Trae asked without looking around.

“Still there, near to the door,” Max answered.

“What’s he look like?”

“Are you sure it’s a he?” Max asked.

“Yeah. It has to be because they don’t allow females on any of their ships,” Trae stated matter-of-factly. “If you see one off of their home world, it’s a male.”

“Alright, that’s something good to know,” Max replied. “He’s large, leathery like a crocodile with one large green eye and it looks like his right antenna stalk may have been bent or broken at some point. He’s staring at the stage band and kinda rocking on his heels and looks kinda uncertain about something.”

“Bob,” Trae and Fergus sighed in unison with a glance at each other.

“Bob?”

“Well, not really Bob,” Trae admitted. “That’s just what we called him. His name is actually more like Bobrobobo, though that still doesn’t get the clicks and hisses in there. We just opted to call him Bob.”

Fergus sniffled. “Ya know, I’m actually going to miss the big lug.”

“Me too Ferg, me too,” Trae sipped at his drink.

“I can tell there’s a story there, boys. No holding back on me now,” Max said as he refilled both of their drinks. “Why are you going to miss that one out of a ship full of Salorians?”

*****

“Are you sure you don’t want to wait,” Trae asked over their implanted mastoidcomms; tiny communications devices good for short range and completely unheard by anyone but the recipient. Transmission is completed by bearing down on a set of molars where the device is implanted and subvocalizing the words so as to be stealthy and not be heard speaking by anyone else that may be around.

“I’m tired of waiting, I’m hungry and I’m bored.”

“Alright, but if you get caught I don’t know you bro. You’re on your own,” Trae warned.

Fergus took slow, shuffled steps through the cargo bay, trying out the grossly oversized containment suit. Sized for a fully grown Salorian male, the suit was designed for a six foot tall, thick legged, wide hipped, no necked crocodile roach looking alien thing that slouched with horribly bad posture.

“How does the movement look? Realistic?”

“We may need to add a little more stuffing to the legs. They look nearly empty and there’s not a Salorian alive that doesn’t have legs as thick as a howitzer barrel.”

“Alright, what about the helmet,” Fergus asked.

“We may need to pad your neck at bit, also. It’s leaning a bit to the left.”

“I bet it looks like one of those derpy soldier guys from that Spaceballs movie or something.”

“Naw, more like one of those dopey monster muppet things from that ancient kids show.”

“You wanna give this thing a test drive?”

“Nope, no way in hell am I climbing into that getup,” Trae pronounced. “This crazy idea is entirely yours and yours alone. I’d need a few beers to at least take my inhibitions offline long enough to pull off this insane stunt.”

“Oh, you mean like the goat down in Bordeaux, France?”

“What? No,” Trae huffed. “And still, no, you can keep that suit all to yourself.”

“Suit yourself,” Fergus replied over the mastoidcomms. “Hey, I just had a thought. Do you think you can wire this external speaker on the suit to translate directly for me? That way they think I’m actually speaking Salorian if I run into any of the crew?”

“Well,” Trae fiddled with the speaker module on the front chest piece of the suit. “There is an adapter port here. It’s probably for the suits software updates and such. Bring it back to the closet and I’ll see what I can do.

*****

“Damit man, there are only a handful of cameras still working on this garbage scow. What do you see Ferg?”

“I just reached an intersection. Left or right to the Galley?”

“Right.”

“Alrighty then. Going right. Beep...beep...beep,” Fergus shuffled around the corner, partially dragging the overly large Salorian boots.

“Why are you beeping?”

“Because I’m a wide load. Why do you think? Duh.”

“Wide loads don’t get beepers. Those are supposed to be for trucks and such backing up.”

“Oh...okay...beep...beep...beep.”

“What are you doing?”

“What’s it sound like? I’m beeping.”

Trae groaned. The sound of grinding enamel grated inside of Fergus’s inner ear through the device’s receiver...

“Why are you beeping still?”

“Easy, because I want to...beep.”

“Alright, just shut up and find the freaking galley. It should be three doors down on the right.”

“Beep...beep...beep...beep...oh shit,” Fergus whispered to himself. “Um...hi.” He awkwardly waved at a motionless Salorian that stood in the doorway, two doors down from the galley.

“Were you just talking to yourself and beeping,” the Salorian asked.

“Oh shit,” Trae groaned through the comms. “I told you this was a bad idea, Ferg.”

“Yes, yes I was,” Fergus stated proudly in his best announcer voice. “I was beeping though, because it’s just a fun thing to do. I have such a wide ass in this suit that I thought it would be a good idea to warn anyone around me to watch out for their own safety.”

“Beeping isn’t for turning, it’s for backing up,” the Salorian stated blandly.

“Oh my God, Ferg. What are you doing? He heard you. Don’t talk to him.”

“I did not think the speaker on this suit worked. I thought I was enjoying my own company, all alone to my...self,” he unsurely said in a mechanical tone.

“That’s it Ferg. Love you like a brother from another mother, man, but you’re a dead man now. Been nice knowing you brother,” the sound of something metal and thrown loudly transmitted over the comms. “And why in the hell are you talking like that? It didn’t work for the Cowboys talking to the plains indians, now did it?”

“I do that at times as well,” the Salorian said, then turned and slowly lumbered down the corridor toward the galley. “If we are lucky the glurb will not be overly burned and soggy today. The captain took the only cook that he could find on short notice for this voyage. We’d have been better off cooking for ourselves in my opinion.”

“What happened to the last cook?”

The Salorian stopped and turned, looking at Fergus. “You do not know? Wait,” his eye squinted at Fergus. “Why are you in a full containment suit?”

“I am new aboard,” Fergus stammered hesitantly. “The safety counsel sent me on this cruise to help catch up the ship’s lack of maintenance. Do you know the number of inspections and scheduled maintenance items that has been delayed or pencil whipped over the last year? A few dozen times already, at least. The captain is lucky that they let him leave port with all of the violations he has accrued. As for the suit, it’s for your own safety. There was a reactor accident on my last assignment that I survived, but I am still too radioactive to be around anyone else without a containment suit. Since I am the most qualified service technician in the sector and this is by far the junkiest flying heap of scrap in the sky, that’s where I was assigned. You can check the records if you’d like.”

“Seriously Ferg,” Trae ranted over the comms. “Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. But now I’m supposed to produce a full Salorian crew record in the main computers within, what? A few minutes? What the hell am I here? Do you think I’m a miracle worker or something?”

“Ah,” the Salorian grunted. “I feel pity for you and your task.” He turned and continued down the hall toward the galley. “If there are items that need attention, should they be submitted directly to you or listed elsewhere,” he said over his shoulder.

“There...there is a ship’s discrepancy list that you may add items to on the ship’s maintenance mainframe,” Fergus nervously replied.

The pair continued in single file to the right, through the hatchway and into the galley area. The stench of something similar to a burnt, moldy dish rag that had been left buried at the bottom of a sink full of dirty dishes for over a week assaulted Fergus’s sense of smell. The Salorian breathed in deep and exhaled with what sounded like a self-satisfied happy sigh.

“That does not smell as bad as I feared. It reminds me of my mother’s own cooking.” The Salorian approached the serving area and took a tray. “Nothing better than to start the day with a full belly of delicious food. I am happily surprised,” he turned and slapped Fergus on the shoulder. “We are very lucky that the rumors were very much wrong.” He breathed in a deep, satisfied breath and held out his tray. The Salorian behind the counter scooped a large helping of a bluish green mush that jiggled and bounced as if it were a steaming congealed mass of fat and collagen. “Yes,” he said sniffing again. Just like mother use to make.”

“Yup. Smells wonderful,” Fergus said sarcastically. He held up his tray for the cook to fill.

“What’s with the suit?” The cook glared suspiciously at Fergus.

“Abort Ferg, Abort,” Trae begged over the comms.

“Radiation from an accident on his last assignment,” the first Salorian answered. “He can’t be around anyone without wearing it.”

“Yes...exactly. Hehe,” he nervously chuckled. “I wouldn’t want to get the rest of the crew sick with radiation poisoning. It’s bad enough that I glow in the dark. Think about how bright it would be in here if everyone were glowing,” Fergus joked and punched the first Salorian in the shoulder. “Am I right?”

The first Salorian turned and punched Fergus back, heartily laughing at Fergus’s attempt at humor. “You are funny...hum…” He shrugged. “I do not know your name.”

“My name? Oh right, my name,” Fergus fumbled.

“Say ‘ōkina oppai o misetekudasai,’” Trae shouted over the comms. “Tell him ‘ōkina oppai o misetekudasai!’

“Oki, what?”

The Salorian starred, curiously at Fergus.

“Fergus,” Fergus answered.

“You are suicidal, aren’t you? That doctor lied to all of us,” Trae shouted over the comms as something heavy clanged against something metal.

Both of the Salorians exploded in haughty, fist pounding laughter. The helmet of Fergus’s suit turned to the cook, then back to the first Salorian.

“Your parents did not love you as a child, did they my friend?” The Salorian slapped Fergus on the shoulder again, nearly knocking him to the ground.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Fergus,” he giggled under his breath. “I am Bobrobobo and this is CaytPowluhr,” he nodded toward the cook. “Welcome aboard, shipmate.”

*****

“So that’s how you met Bob,” Max asked, sliding plates of some sort of steaming meat in front of the nude men.

“Shit,” Trae grumped. He reached over the counter and fumbled in the pocket of one of the uniforms. “There it is. Can’t do without that anymore.” He sat back on his seat, bottle in hand and liberally doused his plate. Some sort of chartreuse colored sauce with a highly acidic and pungent odor resembling fermented horseradish splashed from the bottle.

“Oh, hell yeah! Pass that this way,” Fergus begged, reaching for the bottle.

“Get your own man.”

“Don’t bogart the sauce, Man.”

“Then tell me how we’re supposed to get more now that we’re out of the Salorian merchant service?”

“We?” Fergus growled. “We? Who has been the one working his ass off day in and day out for the last three months while someone spent the entire trip hiding out in their bunk because they were too scared to come out of the closet? Who has been the one risking their neck for months just to put food on the table?” Fergus glared at Trae. “Do you see this Max? You do everything you can for the ones you care for and then they really show you how much you mean to them.” Fergus snatched the hot sauce bottle from Trae and doused his plate. “I earned every drop of this. Every one of these drops is a drop of my blood, sweat and tears.” He pointed at Trae with a shaky finger. “You remember that, now, ya hear.”

Max stared at the pair as they shoveled the gravy and hot sauce covered meat into their mouths. “I thought you were just stowaways?”

Trae snorted a laugh. “Oh we were.” He proudly leaned back with a glowing smile aimed at Fergus. “That is before this guy got out there and made a name for himself in the Salorian supply services.” Trae slapped Fergus on the back. “You are looking at the recipient of the Salorian battle cross, the Salorian meritorious service award and the Br’Tka Ar’r crewman of the month for three months running.”

Max looked up in surprise. “Your Salorian friend just nervously ran over to the stage.”

Trae and Fergus turned in surprise. Bob tapped the karaoke screen, picked up the microphone and cleared his rumbly throat.

“Oh God Trae. He’s doing it. He’s really going to do it.”

Trae wiped away a stray tear from his cheek. “He’s made me so proud. He did it. He’s fighting off his demons.”

“I know. I am too,” Fergus sniffled. “You got this little buddy. Stay strong and follow your heart.”

*****

“Why are you even bothering Ferg? I mean, these guys don’t exactly care about the state of the ship in the first place. Look at it? It’s falling apart at the seams.”

“Dude,” Fergus huffed as he climbed a ladder. “This bulb has been flickering for weeks. I gotta change it before it drives me bat shit crazy, man. You know how this messes with me.” He removed the diffuser and detached the existing bulb.

“And on this ship, that is an exercise in futility, my friend. You may fix one thing but three others will fall apart in front of you.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’m bored and anything is better that hiding out in that closet with you.”

“At least hiding out in the closet doesn’t leave a chance to be discovered by very violent aliens that would kill us, at minimum if we were found out.”

“Good morning Fergus. You are up and about early today.”

Fergus looked down from his perch on the ladder to see Bob, standing below him. “Oh hey Bob, old buddy old pal. How’s it hangin’ man?”

“Uh...things are, um, alright, I suppose. I should probably go,” Bob hurriedly said as he shuffled away down the corridor.

“Hu, I wonder what’s up with him,” Trae asked.

“I don’t know, but I think I need to go find out.”

“Fergus, do not go find out. Minimal exposure, remember,” Trae fussed. “Yeah yeah, I know. But it’s Bob man. I mean, he’s become like our third wheel these last few weeks.”

Trae audibly sighed over the comms. “Why do you insist on constantly testing our luck and survival on your need to be occupied? Tell ya what then. If it’s really bugging you that much, just go ahead and throw yourself out of an airlock. Go ahead and save the Salorians the trouble so that I might live to breathe another day.”

“It sounded like Bob needed a shoulder more than you need to breathe, you selfish bastard. How could you think of yourself over Bob? He’s our only friend here.”

Trae began to laugh, sucked in a deep breath and forced himself to stop laughing. “Fergus, he is a Salorian. Salorians hate humans and we are on their most wanted list. Do you really think that it’s wise to make friends with one of a few dozen others that reside on this ship that we are trapped on for the next two months?”

“Yup.” Fergus reached the bottom of the steps and trotted after Bob as fast as he could in the bulky and cumbersome suit. Fergus heard the loud clunk and bang of something heavy being beaten against a bulkhead. He trotted around the corner, skidding to the right just as Bob disappeared through a hatchway. “Is the helmet cam still working?”

“Yeah, why?”

“What is that compartment that Bob just went into? I don’t think I’ve been in there before.”

“Hold on,” Trae grudgingly sighed. “Oh hey...go in there.”

Fergus stopped in his tracks. “Wait? Just a second ago you didn’t want me to chase down Bob. Now you do. What gives man?”

“Um…nothing, just go in there. We haven’t been in there yet.”

“Wait...no.” Fergus crossed his arms. “Why is it that all of a sudden you changed your tune and decide that it’s a good idea for me to follow Bob and go into that room?”

“Because that room just happens to be the ship’s defense control.”

“Oh, well shit. Why didn’t you say so?”

“I just did, dumb shit.”

“Not originally you didn’t.”

“Just shut up and go in there. I want to see how they have it set up. I’ve never seen a dedicated core compartment for a defensive network before.”

“What the hell kind of friend are you? What about Bob? You’d really rather just check out the room than see how he’s doing? What is wrong with you?” Fergus continued to the hatchway, his helmet bobbed side to side as he shook his head with disgust. The hatchway opened with a whoosh that barely covered the sound of sloppy burbled sobs.

“Bob?” Fergus looked around the dark and very empty room.

“What the hell,” Trae wondered. “Where could he have gone?”

“Right there,” Fergus said, shuffling his way over to a small storage closet. He tapped the touch screen control panel on the side of the door frame and it whisked open with a hiss. Bob sat curled with knees to his chest at the back of the tiny, even by human standards, storage closet. He sobbed with heavy bursts of emotion, barely a breath between each body racking sob.

“Since when do Salorians cry,” Trae grumbled. “That just totally ruins the whole crocodile cockroach cold blooded devour your soul badassness that I always associated with them.”

“Shut your pie hole,” Fergus demanded over his mastoidcomm. “This isn’t just any Salorian. It’s Bob, man.” He flipped on his external speaker and slid down the wall next to Bob. “Hey buddy, what’s going on? You’re gonna be alright man. I’m here for ya if you need it.”

Bob looked up from his sulking ball. Tears streamed down his face from his one large eye. His lower, leathery lip quivered and bounced as he sucked in breath with each sob.

“She left me,” Bob wailed.

“What the fuck? I didn’t know that Bob was married,” Trae said over the comms.

“I guess so,” Fergus replied, questioningly. He scooted closer toward Bob.

“I’ve got nothing that needs to be done right now, Bob. Would you like to tell me what happened?”

“We passed within range of a communications relay station during third cycle, while we slept. When I awoke, I looked at daily duty assignments and saw that I had a message. I was surprised. I have never received a message while on a cruise. Unsure, I opened the message. It was from my mate.” Tears welled up in Bobrobobo’s single, large eye. “She has filed yet another grievance against me with the Salorian reproduction counsel. She stated that my passion to sing was the limit of her patience.”

“Reproduction counsel? Um…,” Fergus said. Unsure of what else to say without giving himself away. “She said that I was unfit breeding stock and has requested to be reassigned,” Bob wailed. “All of our hatchlings have been recalled for testing and reassignment.”



“Holy crap Ferg, Bob is a father. I never even thought about that. I wonder how many kids him and her have had?”

“I had no idea,” Fergus transmitted to Trae silently over the mastoidcomms. “What will they do with them all,” he asked Bob.

The big crocodilian skinned roach alien took in a calming breath. He breathed slow, steady breaths as he thought on Fergus’s question. His one large eye darted back and forth in deep, processing thought. “The most likely result,” Bob began slowly, “is that nothing will happen to them. They will be called for testing, and if no serious issue is found then they will be left where they are. If their genetic makeup will cause an issue with the job they have been assigned will they then be reassigned. Only the genetically inferior are destroyed in any case. My offspring will survive.” Bob sucked in a happy, ragged breath and smiled a wide, toothy grin. “They are from good stock,” he proudly beat a fist against his chest.

“Okay, so the kids will be good. What about your mate?”

“I will be free of her oppressiveness,” he squeaked. “Since I came of age, I have not been without a mate. It is odd and empty feeling. But a good kind of empty feeling,” Bob admitted.

“Well hell Bob,” Fergus fussed. “Why are you getting yourself so worked up over this then? Sounds like the kids will be fine and you’ll be happier in the long run without her. It’s simple man. Move on, enjoy life, get assigned to a new chick, have lots more hatchlings with her and never look back.”

“Yes…,” Bob hissed. “Yes, I think that I will be happier.” He forced a smile and wiped the tears away from his one large eye. “I do not need her. All of the cycles that we have spent together, even before the first hatchlings appeared, she was mean.” He blinked in thought. “She was mean and cruel and berated me almost constantly,” he realized.

“Welcome to your release from captivity my friend.” Fergus stood and offered his hand to help Bob up from the floor. “Come on Bob, let’s get you out of that closet.”

The ship shook. Sudden violent impacts reverberated throughout the massive frame of the Salorian heavy transport.

“Oh shit,” Trae blurted over the comms.

“What the hell is going on Bob? Are we under attack?”

“Yes,” Bob plainly stated. His eye narrowed and he took Fergus’s hand. “That felt like an impact from a missile on the outer hull plating.”

An alert Klaxon screamed to life as warning lights around the compartment flashed. Bob ran over to a control console on the far side of the room, plopped into the seat and strapped on a five point harness. He powered up the monitors, flipping switches and activating control panels all over the station with practiced ease. “Fourteen GrisV'ril attack raiders have surrounded the ship.”

“I’ve got nothing down here Ferg,” Trae said. “If Bob is right and it is GrisV’ril, then we may be screwed.”

“GrisV’ril attack raiders? There has to be a cruiser out there somewhere. Aren’t we out in deep space?”

“No,” Bob said plainly. His display showed a hard lock on one of the raiders. He squeezed the trigger on the right control stick mounted to the arm of the seat. Dark marks appeared across the hull of the raider. “Come on,” he growled. “These Vog class raiders have thin armor. The maser turrets should be sufficient to defend the ship.” Bob squeezed the trigger again and the image of the raider exploded in a gout of flame and debris as the port drive nacelle sheared away with energetic force. “We are passing through a system that contains twenty gas giants that are used for refueling purposes. But this system is also a perfect place for pirates to hide in the extensive debris fields waiting to ambush unsuspecting ships.

“Is there anything that I can do to help,” Fergus anxiously asked. “I mean, you have three stations in here, where is everyone else?”

Bob unstrapped from his seat and quickly stepped to the next station. “There is no one else. I am the ship’s only gunner at the moment.” The smell of rarely used electronic’s ozone permeated the air as he flipped switches and powered up the station. He hastily returned to his station and secured the restraints. “Take that station and shoot them out of the sky,” Bob ordered.

“Hell yeah,” Fergus chortled and trotted over to the overly sized gunner’s station and strapped himself in as best as he could. “That’s what I’m talking about!”

“I hope that you two aren’t the only ones manning the defenses,” Trae interjected over the comm.

“Hey Bob,” Fergus shouted. He tracked one of the Vog class raiders on his screen as they circled around for an attack run, leading ever so slightly ahead of the target. “How many other gunner stations are aboard the ship?” The raider lined up on its attack run and presented a nose on profile. Fergus squeezed the trigger and held the targeting reticle centered on the nose of the raider. The small ship exploded on the screen. “Booyah! Head shot,” Fergus boasted.

“You have never served aboard a T’ragre class freighter before, have you? There are no others my friend, Fergus. This is the only gunner’s station aboard the ship,” he said regretfully. “We will most likely perish in the cold vacuum of space. But we will die a valiant, hard fought death.”

“Well shit,” Fergus sighed. “Maybe someone upstairs will be watching over us and lend a much-needed hand.”

“Already on it, Ferg,” Trae shouted into the comms. “I now have remote control of the third gunnery station in that room from here. I might make a difference and I might not. But he’s right. We’ll go down fighting!”

“I do not understand,” Bob said.

“Luck Bob. Pure and utter luck. Kill ‘em all!”

“Kill ‘em all,” Bob and Trae replied with isolated fury.

*****

“So, you obviously survived the attack,” Max curiously stated.

“Yup,” Trae said through a mouth full of the gravy slathered meat. “And because of his quick action and skill at defensive gunnery, Fergus here received the Salorian battle cross and the Salorian meritorious service award.”

“Don’t forget about the twelve percent bonus earned for the overall voyage pay because of the number of attackers that the two of us blew out of the sky. Which actually,” Fergus fussed as he reached over the counter and rummaged through the uniforms. “I sure as hell don’t want to forget this. That’s three months’ worth of pay, even if it is just Salorian credits. I’m sure that I can convert them to some other currency while we’re here.” Fergus looked about his person, unsure of where to place the data card. He shrugged, then leaned left and placed the card under his right butt cheek.

Max glared suspiciously at Fergus. “You had cash the entire time?”

“Yup,” he smiled, then continued to chew the previously shoveled mouthful. “Then why didn’t you use your card?”

“You didn’t argue,” Trae responded.

“No take backsies either,” Fergus added. The two quietly continued their meal.

“Fair enough I suppose. I did accept the armor as payment.”

“And as fun as this has all been, Max. I think it’s time that we moseyed along and found ourselves a lift home.”

“You’re probably right, Trae.” Fergus wiped his mouth across the backs of his arms, then hopped from the barstool, peeled the card from his right butt cheek and stretched. “Thanks for the grub, Max. Wasn’t too bad at all.”

Trae slid from his seat, scratching his backside where it had stuck to the seat covering. “Yeah, Max. Thanks for the grub. That was some pretty delicious mystery meat.”

“Thanks,” said Max. “I’ll tell Blanche that you enjoyed it. And that she might want to import a barrel of that sauce for her condiments collection.” He grinned. “She does tend to update her ‘toolbox’ whenever she learns about a new opportunity.”

The nude duo got up from their seats by the bar and proceeded toward the main exit of the bar, and paused near the stage. Bob wailed and sang an ancient Skoocoom love ballad in such a low, minor key that the floor rumbled from his vocal vibrations.

“Follow your heart little buddy,” Fergus said, then held aloft a devil’s horn sign in homage of Bob, and snuggled his head against Trae’s shoulder.

“Oh my God will you get off of me!” Trae shoved Fergus, then stomped out of the bar.

“Adios, little buddy.” Fergus saluted, and then followed Trae out the door.


THE END


2019 by William Joseph Roberts

Bio: William Joseph Roberts... My short story, “When Vulcans Cry” was published earlier this year in the Sha’Daa: Toys anthology from Moon Dream Press/Copper Dog Publishing. 

In a previous lifetime, William Joseph Roberts was an F-15 mechanic and Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force. He has traveled the world and experienced many things in his few years. During his tenure in this lifetime, he has been called a Jack of all trades, a Renaissance man and insane squirrel wrangler by his peers. Since his enlistment ended, he has perused careers as an industrial and architectural designer, design engineer, and now, eclectic writer. William Joseph Roberts currently resides in the quaint southern town of Chickamauga, Georgia with his loving wife, three freaky smart nerd children, and small pack of fur babies. My current web links are: 

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