TEXT UNIT 0001
Inebriated space travel is ill advised…
….is what it said on the first page of the Sentient Coalition’s official intergalactic travel manual, which happened to be conveniently wedged under the seat of an incredibly intoxicated alien who just crashed on Earth.
The alien, hereinafter known as Jopp, landed his ship in an abandoned city lot with all the grace of an anvil. After extracting himself from the impact crater, Jopp drunkenly shoved his way through the gathering crowd, all the while shouting an unintelligible string of curses. None of the Earthlings around him could tell that Jopp was an alien, mind you, because, in his final moment of lucidity, he had remembered to trigger his holoskin, making him appear to be no more than a disheveled vagrant. He spotted what he believed to be a Class 3 Danowitcz model space cruiser, and hopped in with the intention of piloting it to the nearest liquor dispensary. After a minute of fumbling with what he thought was the primary thrust converter, the alcohol in Jopp’s system decided it was time to turn out the lights. His unconscious form slumped against the vehicle door.
It was then that the driver of what was in reality a semi-trailer truck jumped into the front cab to kick out what he believed to be nothing more than a belligerent drifter. The driver, hereinafter known as Chuck, pulled himself up into the cab just in time to see the Jopp’s holoskin generator start to malfunction.
Chuck gaped in horror as the flesh of the person next to him actually started to flicker like an old TV with bad reception. A few more static flickers removed the last vestiges of human appearance. The individual sitting next to him was short, barely over five feet, with a stocky, yet firm build, pale yellow skim, a wide nose; no ears, but rather a pair of nodes, each about three inches long. There were no visible seams, lines, or buttons adorning his blue uniform.
Chuck was at a loss for words. He’d already had a long day, and just wanted to finish his route in time to make it to the bar for their fifty cent wing deal. He had just decided to kick the unwanted passenger out and chalk up the odd appearance to over-exhaustion, when the truck was suddenly enveloped in a cone of fluorescent red light. Then, either surprisingly or totally predictably, depending on who you ask, the truck began to rise up into the sky. Chuck sat frozen with shock as they continued to fly higher. Looming above the ever ascending semi-trailer was a massive structure. Its metallic blue underside stretched well over a mile. The enveloping red light was coming from an opening on the underside of the ship. As the truck passed through the opening, the red light ceased, and the truck dropped about two feet back down to the now closed floor panels. This drop simultaneously jolted Chuck out of his shock and woke Jopp from his blackout. Jopp vigorously shook his round yellow head, in an attempt to kick loose the alcohol soaked cobwebs. Chuck couldn’t tell where they where, as the only light came from the interior of the truck cab. Jopp looked over at Chuck and blurted out,
“ψχüϒℑ. φλþ∂∝ ∩∅℘ý.”
Chuck’s expression remained frozen in place, while Jopp’s became annoyed,
“ΣΦ∇ ΨΘ ? ζιξβ ωςσαΦΞ ?”
Again, Chuck just sat there and stared. Jopp then sighed and said,
“ℜσφℵ℘ℑ ΨΦ Ð∂þ∅θ ζλμΧ!”
Finally, Chuck managed to utter, “What?”
Jopp’s eyes bugged out in what Chuck could only assume was shock. The stout yellow alien dug his hand into one of his pockets, and after rooting around for about ten seconds, held a tiny item aloft. It appeared to be nothing more than a small silver oval, about half a thumb long. Jopp pointed at Chuck, and then mimed the act of placing this item on the back of his neck. It took a good three or four go’s before Chuck fully understood what he was being asked to do.
Chuck shook his head, “No way.”
Chuck turned to open the door, and felt a prick as something small and metal was jammed into the back of his neck. It felt as if countless tiny, needle-like legs were digging through his skin. He cried out, and tried to rip the device off with his left hand, all while trying to throttle Jopp with his right. His left hand failed, as the device had now gone fully under his skin. He could actually feel it attaching itself to his spinal cord. His right hand wasn’t making much progress either, seeing as Jopp’s neck was barely an inch long, and as wide around as a coffee can. Jopp swatted Chuck’s hand away and shouted, “Alright! Alright! Calm down would you?! I didn’t know you were actually from Earth!”
Chuck halted his attacks when it hit him that he could actually understand the alien’s words. Jopp continued, “I know. I know. The ‘TellAll’ hurts like a bitch when it’s implanting itself, but hey, at least you can understand me now, right?”
Chuck remained still, eyes blinking, mouth hanging open.
Jopp continued, “Hello? Dude, say something. You’re freaking me out.”
Chuck broke his silence, “I’m freaking you out?! Are you fucking kidding me?! How the fuck do you think I feel right now?! Where the fuck am I?! Who the fuck are you?! What the fuck are you?!”
Jopp replied, “Okay, first off, calm down. Second, you curse a lot. Third, ‘what the fuck am I?’ That hurts, man. I have a name, you know. I’m sentient… a lot more sentient than you Earth Apes, that’s for sure.”
“You’re an alien?”
“Well, I guess from your perspective, that’s true. From where I’m sitting, you’re the alien.”
Chuck opened his mouth to reply, but a loud buzzing noise cut him off. The space around them became illuminated in a soft white light. They were in a massive rectangular room. From what he could tell it looked have the same dimensions as a football field. He wasn’t able to see the ceiling. The room was colored the same shade of blue metal as the outside. Chuck’s eyes were caught by a line of what could only be described as space ships parked across the room. There were two that looked like futuristic jet fighters, one that looked like a rubik’s cube, an honest to goodness flying saucer, one that looked like some shape Chuck had never even seen, and frankly, doubted its flight capabilites, and one that looked surprisingly similar to his own truck.
A door opened up on the opposite wall, and in walked four large slender figures. Other than the height, there was no way to distinguish one from the other. They were clad in what appeared to be tactical body armor. From the neck down, their suits reminded Chuck of a SWAT team, except rather than the typical drab gray coloring, these uniforms were khaki colored with pink trim. Their helmets looked very much like armored gas masks. He wasn’t exactly sure about the function of the objects they were carrying, but he was pretty sure he could recognize a gun when he saw one. His hypothesis was confirmed when, after they had walked up to the truck, the objects were pointed at the windshield.
Jopp grumbled, “Oh shit, Tahls.”
The Tahl standing second from the right spoke in a voice that sounded like it was being fed through an intercom, “Step out of the Class 3 Danowitcz immediately. Keep all hands, tentacles, and other prehensile appendages out in the open.”
They stepped out of the truck with hands held out, and the four beings surrounded them. Chuck couldn’t hold in his panic any longer. He started panting heavily, wide eyes shifting rapidly from Jopp to the others.
“Listen, I don’t know what the fuck is going on here!” he cried, “I’m not with this fucking guy! He just jumped into my tru-” Chuck was interrupted by one of the Tahls stepping forward and ramming the butt of the gun into his gut.
As Chuck crumpled to the floor, coughing and wheezing, the guard spoke, “Please refrain from wanton use of verbal obscenities. You will conduct yourself with proper decorum, or else be met with additional retribution.”
After Chuck had regained his wind, he cautiously pulled himself to his feet. He noticed that two more Tahls had joined the group. These two were holding the heads of what appeared to be giant hoses. The hoses stretched back behind them to cylindrical tanks that were strapped to their backs. Jopp whispered, “Close your eyes and hold your breath. Oh, and keep your mouth shut.”
The Tahl who had struck Chuck spoke, “Douse them.”
The two hoses spewed out a stream of thick blue foam, completely coating the two prisoners. Chuck slipped on a patch of the foam and fell onto his back. He tried to take a breath and almost passed out. The antiseptic fumes were overwhelming. He looked up angrily and started to say, “Motherfu-” he caught himself as the guard took one step forward, arm raised to deliver another blow in the name of good manners.
Again, the young Earth man pulled himself to his feet. The Tahl guard spoke, “Please move towards the hall.”
Chuck stammered, “This is a big mistake. I don’t belong here. Please let me go.”
The guard repeated, “Please move towards the hall.”
“Now wait a minute, here! You’ve kidnapped and assaulted me. I deserve an explanation.”
“Please move towards the hall.”
Chuck put his hands on his hips, “That’s it! I’m not moving another inch until someone explains to me what the he- heck is going on!”
The armored Tahl guards looked back and forth between themselves. Jopp smirked and shook his head.
Chuck and Jopp were led through the hallway. More accurately, Jopp was led through the hallway while Chuck was carried over the shoulder a guard. The Earth man looked up from the floor and met a grinning yellow face.
“You happy now?” asked Jopp.
“Thanks a lot,” grumbled Chuck.
“Hey, I didn’t tell you to get all fussy with the well armed security personnel.”
“Please cease communication during transit.” ordered a guard behind Jopp.
Chuck tried looking around the hallway. From what he could tell, the ceiling was at least thirty feet above them and its entire surface area glowed with a white light. The wide set walls were colored the same khaki tone as the guards’ uniforms. A pink carpet ran down the center of the floor. The tapestries along the walls gave Chuck a peak into what the Tahls looked like under their armor. Tahl skin tones apparently raged from deep purple to light pink. Their heads were long and narrow, and two small oval shaped eyes were set about three quarters of the way up their faces. Thin noses ran from between their eyes, ending just above their wide thin mouths. Despite their physical appearance and the unfamiliar settings, the tapestries reminded Chuck of those stock photos you see on corporate brochures. One depicted a Tahl giving a presentation to a full board room. Another showed a pair gazing loveingly at the skeletal structure of what would, presumably, become a gigantic tower. It was difficult for Chuck to gauge how long they’d been walking, as the hallway had no real turns, but rather barely perceptible curves. He guessed they’d been at it for about five minutes when the hall end abruptly.
One of the guards stepped up and placed his palm in the center of the wall. A door shaped panel pulsed green and slid open, revealing a simple circular room with no windows. The group stepped inside and the guard set Chuck down on his own feet. There was a low humming noise, and Chuck felt the slight pull of an elevator rising. During the silent ascent, Chuck noticed that the blue foam had completely evaporated, leaving his clothes bone dry.
The doors opened again and the guard reached for Chuck. He jumped back and blurted out, “I’ll walk! I’ll walk, okay?”
The group left the elevator and entered a vast room. The ceiling was completely transparent, revealing the bespeckled canvas of outer space. A long, oval shaped table spanned the length of the room was. It was obviously one solid piece of rock, yet its surface was moving. Uncountable shapes, swirls, and colors writhed, as if a thousand hurricanes were raging silently across the table. His study of the table was cut short when one of the guards pushed him and Jopp forward. Three figures sat at the opposite end of the table. They were all built long and lean, like the guards. Unlike the guards, however, they were wearing neither the body armor, nor the helmets. The one on the left’s skin tone was pale lavender, the one on the right’s was fuschia, and the center individual’s skin was deep purple.
Jopp spoke first, “Kek! Quo! Loq! It’s great to see you three again. Look, I know you’re all really pis-I mean-upset with me, and that’s totally reasonable. I totally get it, but-”
The individual on the left, presumably Kek, bellowed, “Silence!” Jopp closed his mouth, and in that moment, looked very much like a scolded child (a stout yellow alien child, but a child, nonetheless)
The one in the middle, Quo, spoke in a deep melodic voice, “Joppenslik Wenslode, you were contracted by Prime Partners Intergalactic Consortium. This contract involved the transport of some incredibly valuable goods, and as of today, it has not been completed. Prime Partners’ efforts to locate both our transport craft and its contents have not yielded results. Where is our product?”
Jopp, also known as Joppenslik Wenslode, was looking quite wobbly at the moment. He steadied himself and then exclaimed, “Marauders! I got hijacked in the Dayukon System! I just came out of the jump, and there they were! I tried to jump away, but they were on top of me too fast. Real bad guys… probably defectors from the Vashnii Armada! One of ‘em had mandibles the size of- ”
Quo cut him off, “Mr. Wenslode, why doesn’t your companion introduce himself? Furthermore, why does he continue to use an illegal holoskin in my presence?”
Chuck squeaked out, “Holoskin? What’s a hol-”
Joppenslik interjected, “Ah, Quo…um…well…actually…he’s not exactly wearing a holoskin, per se…”
Quo raised what might have been his eyebrows, “Are you telling me that this is an actual Earth human being?”
This revelation made the other two Tahls gasp, as Quo continued, “Mr. Wenslode, this is not only disappointing, but highly unprofessional. Why in the world would you ever think this would be an acceptable course of action? Now we are left with no option, but to put it down.”
“What?! ‘Put me down?!’ You mean kill me?! You can’t do that! I am a human being! With like… rights and stuff!”
“He’s actually got a point. For a bunch of gluttonous drunken apes, they’re surprisingly sentient. And if I might add in my own defense: it really wasn’t my decision to bring him up here… also I just want to point out that I am neither drunk nor hung over. I was drugged by the marauders.”
“Mr. Wenslode! Cease your prattling, this instant!” Quo then motioned for his two companions to lean in closer. The three of them conferred in whispers for about a minute or so.
Quo drummed his fingers on the table, “Mr. Wenslode, you owe our company restitution for our lost product, and let me stop you before you continue to lie. There are no marauders in the Dayukon System, and I can smell the Flanisi Ale in your perspiration from over here. You have a choice to make: you can choose to work off your debt, or you can choose to spend the next twenty Standard Annuals in the Helon Penitentiary System.”
“I can’t go to Helon! I’m not built for prison! And it’ll take forever to work off that debt!”
“You’re being dramatic. We estimate it will take roughly twenty Standard Annuals for you to pay off the debt, plus the interest. Very fitting wouldn’t you say?”
“What about him?” Joppenslik gestured towards Chuck.
“He will also have a choice,” then to Chuck, “What is your name, Earth Human?”
Chuck responded, “My name is Charles Higgins. People call me Chuck…and can’t you all just, like ‘neuralize’ me or something? Wipe my memory and drop me back on Earth?”
The three Tahls were visibly holding back laughter. Joppenslik cocked one eyebrow up in disbelief, “Dude, seriously, you’re embarrassing me. There’s no such thing as a neuralizer.”
Quo composed himself, “I am afraid that Mr. Wenslode is correct. That is not an option. What is an option, however, is that we will allow you to assist Mr. Wenslode in his continued service to our great organization. I doubt your limited cognitive skills will be of much use, but I’m told your kind can at least follow orders. We calculate this will dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes for us to recoup our investment.”
“What if I say no?”
Quo casually replied, “If you refuse, we go with my original plan and you become tomorrow’s lunch special.”
Chuck nodded, “Your choices aren’t ever really choices are they?”
Chuck sighed and said, “Well, I guess you’re looking at the first being from Earth to be employed by the…what was it again?”
Quo tilted his chin up and answered, “Prime Partners Intergalactic Consortium, the universe’s oldest corporation.”
Chuck exhaled deeply, “Thrilled to be a part of the team.”