by Kelson Vibber
Once out of the pit...
Actually, I've found myself in a pit. Rather an annoying situation, I might add. Somewhere far above me I can see a grating. If only I knew for sure whether I was still on the Gnork's spaceship, back on Earth, or on some far, distant planet where it rains Cheese-Whiz at two-thirty every afternoon.
How did I get into this mess? I, a simple mail-room worker, on a simple November evening, after a simple... Oh yeah. Career Day. Impersonating an agent for AARG. And meeting a very real alien.
Let me tell you, one alien abduction can really ruin your whole day.
There I was, staring down the barrel of a laser cannon that looked big enough to hold an elephant -- from my perspective, anyway -- and listening to my captor drone on...
Maybe "drone on" isn't a good description. He/She/It was repeating one phrase over and over, in closer and closer approximations to English: "Die, boy!"
The gun fired, and every light in the room went out.
Fortunately for me, this included the laser, which the alien apparently didn't know how to aim very well, because a piece of the wall next to my head blew off in the moment before things went dark.
I didn't want to know what that meant, but I had a few guesses, and none of them were good. For the alien, anyway -- which made it a bit of a plus for me.
Fred, you owe me big time.
I staggered around the room in the dark, trying to avoid my captor by hearing (easy to do, as its translator wingamathidget kept repeating its last comment in phrases that sounded more and more like good old-fashioned American swearing) and hoping I wasn't too noisy myself, until I stumbled on some small door and tumbled through, down a long, long chute onto something soft.
I jumped at the gravelly voice - like the voice of a New York Cabbie. One who speaks English, I mean.
"Hey, get off me, that's what! Do I look like a landing cushion to you?"
"I can't see!"
"Whaddaya mean, can't see! It's bright as day!"
"Are you nuts?"
"Just get off me!"
Obligingly, I rolled off of whatever it was onto a metal floor.
I heard a click, and suddenly there was light again.
"I forgot, you humans see in different frequencies than we do."
I looked around for the source of the voice, seeing nothing but a large room, a few glowing lights that might have been anything from a clock to a piece of modern art, and a large triangular throw pillow directly below the chute opening.
Then the pillow propped itself up on three legs and walked to the other side of the room. As it turned, I saw a pair of eyes on stalks attached to one edge.
"Well?" As the pillow spoke, I saw a mouth flap between the two eye-stalks.
I did what any rational person would do upon seeing a talking pillow. I fainted.
* * *
"Just five more minutes, Mom..."
Something was slapping me in the face. I opened my eyes to see the pillow-thing slapping at me with its eye-stalks. I closed them again.
"I said wake up, buddy-boy."
"Stop slapping me and I'll wake up."
I opened my eyes again, and the pillow-thing was about three feet away from me. It was bright orange, and looked like it was embroidered in old-fashioned floral designs of darker orange. Its eyes were green.
"What are you?" I asked.
"Private First Class Zamboni III, at your service." It did a sort of bow on its two front legs. I shuddered.
"No, I mean what--"
"Hey, relax, kid. You've had quite a shock. I'm a Tranjal. We hire ourselves out as ship's pets sometimes."
"But you look like a..."
"A what?" It waited for me to say something. I didn't. "Oh, those things they put in store windows? Yeah, I did a stint disguised as one of those things once. That's how I learned your language. Never did figure out what happened to 'em after they were bought. But hey, the hazard pay was good.
"So what's your story, kid? I didn't think we were planning to pick anybody up. But then again, I'm just the ship's pet. It's not like they tell me anything."
So I told him. Somewhere between the beginning and end of Chapter One I found I was holding a mug of hot chocolate, complete with marshmallows. It was actually very good hot chocolate.
"Whoa, kid, you better seriously watch yourself!" I watched as Zamboni lifted its own mug to its mouth and sipped. "If the Gnorks think you're really who you said they were - they're gonna be out for blood. They've got a whole town of kids who know the truth, whether they know it or not, and Thred knows what they're gonna do to keep that quiet."
"But I was just making it all up! How could..."
"Lucky guess, psionics -- who cares, they've got it in for you. Now here's what I suggest you do..."
Five minutes later I was saying goodbye to Zamboni and the best hot chocolate I'd ever tasted... maybe because it stood a very real chance of being the last hot chocolate I'd ever taste... and stumbling through a door I hadn't even seen into a cargo hold. Into a box. Zamboni had found a bottle of water I could take with me, but this was going to be a while. He (by voice, at least) was unsure when we were going to reach the next planet, but knew that this shipment of cargo was due to be released on another oxygen-bearing world. Then maybe I could see about hitchhiking my way back to Earth with someone who didn't want me dead.
Unfortunately, I slept through the cargo unloading. I think. I slept through something, and woke up a few minutes ago at the bottom of a dark, drafty shaft about thirty feet high. All I can really tell is that the floor and walls are metal. For all I know it's lit up like Las Vegas in here under some other spectrum, but I can barely see a thing.
If I ever see Fred again, I'll sue him for so much he won't be eligible to pay Federal income tax. Hell, they'll owe him money - and since he'll owe me, they can just send it direct to me, no middle man...
I hear a scraping noise. Somewhere, up above, a shadow forms over the opening. A light appears, and starts slowly descending along the edge of the shaft, to the sound of a mechanical whirring. The shaft begins to brighten, but I still can't see the being carrying the light.
It's coming.January 26, 1999