Thousands of dead, kitted out in titanium battlesuits, rattle off our hull.
THUNK! THUNK! THUNK! Like we’re driving through an asteroid cluster. THUNK! THUNK! THUNK!
I’ve gathered us in the bow of our ship near sickbay where the walls are the thinnest, so this crew–this greeny crew–can hear each and every one of those dead bodies drumming against us.
“That sound!” I say (shout more like). “Is the sound of credits plunking against our hull.”
I pause then, like the good captain I’m forced to be, and look them over. The ship’s power cycles are down to preserve energy, so their alien faces float disembodied-like in the gloom of the corridor.
I don’t know their names, just their morphology. There’s a Catargan’sia, face pulled long like an equine’s and bristling with fur; three bright jade eyes are set triangularly in the center of its forehead. A Starkinger, round white face with two huge coal eyes that, given the weak light, look like black holes in the center of its moony mug. A Pummleton, a blank, pumpkin-like face with vertical furrows that are filled with tiny gray vellus hairs. And a Labgraderon, a balloon of fat gray flesh with small red eyes that circle its head like a beaded halo.
They are the motliest of crew, from every backwater planet in the universe, suckered together here by a common cause: somehow, like me, they all owe Rex.
“All you need to do to get those credits,” I shout and then pause for effect. “Is to reach out and take them!”
I watch their reactions. Teeth bristle on the Catargansia’s long face, the Starkinger glows purple, the Pummleton’s vellus hairs flurry, and the Labgraderon’s gray balloon head swells. They are pleased.
The Pathosian, my second in command and Rex’s official plant, materializes out of the hallway gloom.
His legs, arms, and body are like cooked strips of lasagna that waver and wobble limply. He’s a morphological feat, not a bone in his body though he stands perfectly upright, orthostatically. With each step, his fluid like carapace hardens to keep his legs straight and his body upright, then softens to bend at the knee and step forward; it’s a fascinating dance between the conscious mind and his autonomous nervous system. He looks like he’s swimming through the air. It’s beautiful.
I’d love to get him on one of our autopsy tables and crack him open. Not just because I hate him, but because his structures are like nothing I’ve seen or studied back on Earth. Despite what I’ve done, that part of me, the scientist, is still there, still amazed by the morphological wonders of the universe.
His voice is like wet macaroni being stirred, which the adapter stapled into my auditory nerve translates to: “Jack, are you done with the pep talk? Now can we get to work?”
In his decentralized brain, the motivation for whyever we’re here should be good enough and pep talks are just a waste of time.
“Do you need a pep?” he asks. “A reminder of your son?”
After splitting him open, I’d jab a couple of fat needles into him and pump him full of radiocontrast, maybe a radium-phosphor mix, that would light his arteries up like a Solstice Tree. Then I’d like to mount him, take him back to Earth and hang him in the hallway at the Astrobiology section in the University of Antwerp, my old alma matter, so everyone walking by can gawk and learn.
But telling him off accomplishes nothing and jeopardizes the thin thread my son’s life hangs by, so I simply ignore him and press on.
“Gentlemen!” I say. “Let’s get out there and bag those bodies.”