Stranded (Space Opera Team entry)

Richard sighed. “Look guys, I don’t know how I can explain this any better. The hypershaft came loose, bolted through the hyperengine, left a gaping hole in the hypercore and now we are dead in the water. Or will, dead in the space.” He looked around at his compatriots. “Unless we can fix this, we’ll be caught in the gravity well of Geminotaurus I and burn up to cinders, and those cinders will burn up to atoms, and those atoms will find a way to burn up too. So let’s put our heads together-”

“I resent that statement!” Zarflox interrupted. His geodesic core spun angrily and his rhombus pulsed an angry lilac.

Richard sighed. “It’s just an Earth expression, Zarflox. I didn’t mean offense to your species.”

“I should hope not!” Zarflox snipped, but the collection of various geometric shapes that made up his body softened to a less sharply defined outline, which was generally a good thing. You could really cut yourself on the edges of an angry Kunnukuh. Richard wondered briefly how it even spoke considering the total absence of a mouth or otherwise visible orifices. “And that is none of your business, either,” the alien muttered. “Bad enough I have to put up with your thoughts protruding from your head constantly, you don’t have to make them about me.”

“I can’t help what I think about!” Richard exclaimed. “That just kind of happens! What if someone told you not to think of a pink elephant?!”

“I’d not think of a pink elephant, unlike you,” Zarflox said. His dodecahedron gleamed yellow with amusement. “You seem to be thinking of one right now. I don’t think someone who can’t control his thoughts should be leading this expedition in the first place. Iiyii, back me up on this, will you?”

“Iii’ii ii-i-i iyiii’i i!” the tiny hairy ball with the 16 fingerless, four yard long, inch-thick appendages in the pilot seat explained. “Iii-ii-iii-i i’ii; yiiyi’ii i. Ii-i, Zarflox?”

“That’s what I said!” Zarflox said. “So, what do you propose, Dick?”

Richard ignored the slight on his name. He sighed and stuck his head into the shaft again. “I don’t know how to fix that,” he said. “I can’t reach the hypershaft, because the hyperpanel is in the way. If we can get that, I am the only one with the opposable thumbs to attach it to the hyperengine, but if I do it out of order, the hyperpressure will blow out the hyperseals and the whole hypership will blow to hypersmithereens! And then we still need to replace the hypercore! Do we even have a spare?”

“Could you repeat that with your head out of the shaft? It’s hard to hear you.” That was the sultry voice of Shabar, the ship’s engineer. How you could get a job as an engineer when you were basically a walking pillar covered in what looked like tiny, constantly snapping venus flytraps, Richard did not know, even taking her marvelous knowledge on hypertechnology into account.

Pulling his head from the maintenance shaft, Richard was about to begin his story all over, when Zarflox interrupted him: “I’ve distributed your tantrum to everyone, Dick, no need to blather on and on and on again.”

Richard took a deep breath, counted to ten, was about to get angry anyway, added another five, and was about to hit six when an idea occurred to him. “Iiyii, come over here for a second?”

“Iiyi-i.” The long, flexible appendages lifted the small hairy ball from the pilot and pulled together next to Richard, all 7 eyes looking at him questioningly. Richard pointed into the maintenance hole. “Think you can reach the hypershaft and pull it towards the hyperengine around the hyperpanel?”

“I-iii’i.” Richard could swear the middle eye rolled at him, but three of the black tubes slid into the hole, gliding down with a creepy dexterity. After a few moments, sounds of metal creaking came from the hole. Iiyii’s two outer eyes squinted, and a few bulbs of thickening pulsed through the three appendages. A clang, a scraping of metal, and the hypershaft was hoisted into the air.

Richard clapped twice. “Excellent work, Iiyii! Now, Zarflox, could you put knowledge of the structure from Shabar into my head?”

“I can put anything in your head, Dick, I just need to tell you not to think of it,” Zarflox quipped. Then he threw up two of his cubes and said: “I’m joking! Joking! You really need to lighten up all of you, you know that?” His globes pulsed with light. Richard could swear he was doing it as a pun. “Go on, dive in,” Zarflox ushered, his disc spinning rapidly, exuding iridiscent colors.

Even as Richard lowered himself down, everything he saw around him was beginning to make more and more sense. Of course! Child’s play! He wrung himself into a more comfortable angle, almost breaking his neck in the process, and squeezed the shaft past his own body. Of course! Just flip the crombulator, turn the wooper around, fix the nozzle, thwip the base and the shaft could chunk right on in there. He could’ve known that without Zarflox’ help. The moment he thought that, he understood absolutely nothing of anything. “ZARFLOX!”

“Serves you right for thinking you can do it on your own,” Zarflox said, his muffled voice sounding somewhere both above and behind Richard.

Richard felt understanding return and sighed in relief. The shaft snapped into place. He plucked the ruined core from its place and wormed himself out of the hole with some difficulty. He held up the dead hunk of metal. “Last step. Do we have another-”

“OH FINE!” Zarflox said, highly irritated. “I’LL DO IT!”

Richard stared at him in disbelief. So did Iiyii, and he was usually very close with Zarflox. “I-i?” Shabar seemed to stare too, which was even stranger since her species had no eyes. Zarflox glowed lilac again, and his edges looked very sharp indeed. “You already know there’s no extra core on board, Dick, and you want to ask me to use my posterior orb since you already know it’s a valid replacement part until the next port, so don’t bother asking!”

Richard blinked. “I knew none of those things.”

Zarflox glowed blue with embarrassment. “Oh. Must’ve been me then. Oh well.” He strained, and the orb dislodged from his body. Richard picked it up and Zarflox’ blue glow intensified. “D-don’t hold it like that, you idiot!”

“Erm, sorry,” Richard said hastily, swapping the orb inside the core for the one in his hand. Immediately, the core hummed to life. He quickly crawled into the hole for the second time and snapped it back in place. The ship hummed to life with a crackling buzz. Iiyii chirped loudly and lunged back into his seat. Shabar exclaimed: “Oh Richard! I could kiss you!”

Richard looked at the mass of snapping flytraps, coughed and said: “That’s alright, Shabar. Return to post, okay?” He looked at Zarflox. “Thank you for your sacrifice, Zarflox. You’ve saved us.”

Zarflox’s disc flipped over. “I’ll be taking my posterior orb back at the next port, you hear? Better get an actual core then!”

“You bet,” Richard smiled. “C’mon, let’s be on our way. You can take the seat up front.”

Zarflox would be practically fuming, if he'd had a mouth. “AND WHAT, EARTHMAN DICK,” he shrieked, “DO YOU PROPOSE I SIT ON?!”

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