The Star-liner “Catseye” wouldn’t stay in drydock for long. She’d stop over just long enough to pick up her final bevy of passengers before setting out for Epsilon Eridani; a young system renowned for spectacular solar displays. It was a short round-trip pass, perfect for adventurous senior citizens and soppy honeymooners alike. Eridani was one of the closest stars that Catseye Cruise Ships offered clientele voyages to, yet it was still a grueling 10 month affair for Linesman Singer. With no vacation prospects for non-naval crew, Singer would take every opening he got. This contract had him all lined up until November.
He glanced at his wrist-chronometer and wagered he had a good ten minutes before a castoff order was piped through the PA. He’d make it. Singer was faster than a bunch of octogenarians whose flash of late-life insight saw them dovetailing their pointless existences with an equally pointless “escapade into space.”
His stomach growled.
Linesman Tam was still chattering in his ear. Singer had told her not to come, but since when did anyone ever listen to him? The older woman cast looks over her shoulder as they drifted through the dimly lit corridor of this unnamed space station. Unnamed because it wasn’t humanmade. Unnamed because it was probably only pronounceable if you had sixteen collated tongues. The hexagonal tube made him uneasy. It made Tam downright jittery. He could hear it in her voice.
“Why is it so d…dark?” she said.
“Just be thankful Celsius is smiling down upon us,” Singer hissed. “Dark we can handle. But cold…” He trailed off as he neared an entrance plank jutting surreptitiously out of the wall.
“Here we are.”
“What’s that? Is that the canteen?” Tam said, fumbling for something at her waistband.
“Sure is,” Singer replied. “It’s a doorway.” He floated towards it at an angle. It was covered in thorns, which probably gave traction to the designated alien species that used it. Singer didn’t care. He’d been told that they served Earth delicacies. Fast food.
Thank you Catseye and your many sister yachts. Octogenarians gotta eat.
Linesman Singer anchored himself and began kicking at the plank. The noise he made rattled his companion as she brought her Portois into view. She flicked it open and fingered the screen until it sputtered to life.
“You still keep that thing?” Singer said between grunts.
“Travel advisory states: Condition Orange, graded C,” Tam said.
Singer paused long enough to shrug.
“The Mammalogue Rough-Toothed Ringed Leatherglutton is in rut. They’re cleared for this branch of the station!”
Singer kicked harder.
“This is their ‘estrus cycle’.”
“You know, all that, what you just said? That’s just noise,” Singer said through clenched teeth. “I’m getting my burger. Shipboard accommodation comes out of your pay. You do realize that, right?”
Tam’s eyes stayed averted; illuminated from below.
“I know what I’m doing,” Singer said, redoubling his efforts.
A great squeal sounded and half of the wall folded in on itself like an ornate amalgam of dominoes. Though clearly distressed, Tam followed her younger coworker inside. The Portois started flashing red.
Within was a galley, if you could call it that. It was pressed flat, top to bottom. It reminded Singer of being inside an empty tyre on its side. There was movement all over, but it was gloomier in here than out in the hall.
“Allotropic gasseomorphs primarily exchange thermoception for visual acuity.”
“Shut up, Tam.”
She was quoting again. He hated when she did that.
“It explains why the lights are out,” Linesman Tam complained, looking up. “We aren’t supposed to be here.”
“There’s a bunch of creatures hunched over that hole over there. I bet that’s where the food comes from.”
Singer pushed away from the wall, but was instantly halted when Tam clasped his shoulder.
“Are you insane? If you get caught–” She recoiled, throwing a hand over the ship’s ensign emblazoned on her right shoulder.
“Go ahead. Waste your time. We’d be lucky to even find a human in here, let alone one who could trace us to the Catseye.” Singer glanced down at his own badge. Like they’d even see it!
“Why the hell did you even follow me, Tam?”
A heavy shadow fell over the pair of crewmates. Though the murk seemed to deepen, Singer turned and was able to see an enlarged being hovering nigh-motionless above them. It didn’t seem to breathe, but the rise and fall as it bobbed made Singer venture that the thing was – smelling them. It flipped a muscular appendage into a nook in the floor and pulled itself a little closer. It was shaggy, and smelled of rust and melons.
It whistled something out of a flume-like series of grooves along its ‘side’. Tam started fumbling again.
“I take it this is your Spikey-Tailed Mammal Podge?” Singer said without turning.
Tam thrust her twinkling Portois high overhead. Her lip was a severe line.
The rush of air congealed into a heavily accented form of English.
#forms of beverage# #meat grind# “Disclosure: humans served here” *HUNGER!*
“Whoa, hold it, fella.” Singer patted his hands through the air. “We’re here for the baconnaise and sirloin. Back off.”
Tam tried to speak, but was unable for the first time since he’d known her.
“That thing translating?”
The wooly figure of the alien split like a torn seam. The two crewmembers looked into an unfurling carapace. Like a silent snarl. Those were definitely teeth glinting in there.
“Listen, if I don’t get pension for this cruise, you sure as hell don’t get to eat me.” Singer frowned. He folded his arms across his chest and the chronometer started peeping. Castoff in tee-minus.
Damn it! He’d wasted his lunch break again.