"It's a shortcut," Harry "Hairy" Kim said to his best bud, Tom "Gay" Paree as they stood beside the computer console where Hairy worked day in and day out for a measly pittance of a paycheck.
"I tell you we could get home so fast, we'll be there before we left!" Hairy exclaimed again. Paree didn't pay much attention because he was busy watching in disgust as the ship's unassimilated BlondBord, "2-by-4," fondle a tricorder. 2-by-4, a new arrival aboard ship, and most of the men were still dragging their jaws around on the floor when she was around, including Harry. The ship’s pilot hated her for it.
2-by-4 had a body formed like a brick brickhouse. She was statuesque, had piercing ice-blue eyes and a rack from which you could shout “Romeo, Romeo, where fore art thou Romeo."
Paree was unconcerned with getting home because the statute of limitation hadn't yet run out on a few of his petty crimes. He broke his attention on 2-by-4 and looked Hairy up and down. (He didn't get the nickname Gay because he was a happy or cheerful guy).
"Harry, what's your hurry? You're getting paid by the hour and all your money is going right in the bank. You can't spend it out here," Paree explained, while running his finger through Harry's shoulder length dark brown hair. (He didn't get the nickname Hairy because his first name was Harry) (The crew was not good at giving out nicknames)
Paree's voice becoming sultry and silky as he added: "I can make you forget about home."
The Chief of Security, Lt. Commander TwoNuts interrupted the exchange before it could get too heated. "Hey Gay," TwoNuts hollered. (He hollered a lot because on his home planet of Pulkin the atmosphere was real thin and people had to holler just to be heard). "Get back to your seat! Someone has to drive this bucket!" he then threw a stapler to add emphasis to his instruction.
The crew had taken to calling him "Ol' Two Nuts" for reason that won't be discussed. (They really weren't very good at giving nicknames). TwoNuts liked to holler and drink a lot of beer like the other Pulkins on his home planet. He’d been stuck aboard this ship when his wife found him sidled up next to a Betazoid “counselor” at a bar one night. It was either hide out here aboard the ship or face his Pulkin wife.
The “Bucket” he hollered about driving was of course, the Deep Space Trash Scow Voyeur, a ship designed for peeking into the windows of people on other planets to check on garbage status. It had been lost in the far reaches of the galaxy after an alien calling himself "BigOlCop" had caught the ship where it wasn't supposed to be. The BigOlCop had listened intently to explanation given by the ship’s captain then back handed it across the universe.
Now, 70 years from the planets they call home, the Voyeur has spent the last seven years trying to get back to where they started. Actually, two years it spent peeking into windows in this area of the galaxy, not realizing they had been tossed 70,000 light years from home. But the last five years by gravy they had actually set the correct course.
But this morning, young Harry had found what looked to be a shortcut home.
Commander Chokethechicken, the ship's first officer and unofficial wet blanket to all things fun or entertaining, entered onto the bridge in time to hear TwoNuts screaming at Gay. He ducked in time to avoid the flying stapler that conked poor Harry in the forhead.
Now "Choker," as the crew had come to call the soft-spoken retro from 18th Century earth, didn't like a lot of hollering or throwing of things on the bridge. He liked silence and threw like a girl.
Instead of making a scene, he calmly walked up to TwoNuts and socked him in the gut. TwoNuts doubled over and lost his lunch.
"Please, Two Nuts, use your inside voice. I have a headache," Choker suggested quietly. His mild mid-western accent and sincerity added biting contrast to the strength to the punch. He felt he’d hit the Pulkin hard enough that he felt TwoNuts’ spine through his stomach.
"Excuse me commander," Harry said, interrupting the exchange. Choker stepped quickly over to Harry's console, in what any critic watching would say was a well-choreographed and executed ballerina move, and began choking him.
Choker, who'd been a mid-level criminal before being drafted by the captain of this scow, disliked everything and anything about Harry Hairy. Harry was younger, smarter, better liked and didn't have a tattoo on his forehead that said "Beat me till the warmth runs down my leg."
The only thing he found acceptable of Harry was the fact that he could choke him three or four times a day and the kid seldom had to be taken to sickbay.
"Don’t interrupt me when I am hitting people, ensign," Choker suggested as Harry began turning blue. "It makes me sad."
Harry continued to struggle with Choker, but took the time to point at the console. "Look," he said through gasps. "A shortcut home."
Choker dropped the hairy Harry and wiped hair off his hands while glancing across the operations officer's board. He saw all sorts of squiggly lines, flashing lights, lots of letters and numbers.
None of it meant spit to him. He needed an expert.
A smart person.
A learned individual.
A wise one.
Since there were none aboard, he pulled a cell phone from his back pocket and called the captain to the bridge.
Hairy wretched, much like the way TwoNuts had done just moments earlier. He also gasped for air. He hated Choker, although did like the feeling of passing out several times a day. It was like a mini-nap.
Captain Cat Waynjay hustled to the bridge at Choker's call. Cat was a powerful presence on the bridge. She had the wisdom of the ages in her vertically slit eyes, was as agile as a lioness on the prowl and her commands sounded like a purr.
The crew, with a bit of whimsy that belied their lack of intelligence, had nicknamed her JaynWay. (The crew had scheduled a class on nicknaming people, but no one attended. They really had a problem with it.)
The smell of upchuck was strong on the bridge. This upset Jaynway. She was a purrfectionist. (Get it? Cat --purrfectionist? Well never mind)
"Why the call," she asked of Choker, who'd returned to the second-in-command chair. "I was in the middle of licking my….well never you mind what I was in the middle of, just let it be known in the middle of something I was.” Choker looked at her blankly.
“I was busy,” she clarified for him.
"Hairy, that slime sucking little brown-noser you hired as an operations officer said he's found a shortcut home," Choker said, turning just enough in his seat to give the evil eye to Hairy.
"Really? This is great Choker! Yippee!" The captain danced around the bridge, hands flailing wildly, her Voyeur two-piece uniform lifting to a provocative level. (Provocative to everyone but Gay Paree who was busy at the helm station playing with the stick shift.) The rest of the bridge crew, except Hairy, also began to show signs of cheer.
After about 2 minutes Hairy finally got Jaynway's attention when he hollered "there's a little hitch."
The captain stopped her dance mid-stride, which was pretty difficult because she was vaulting the banister surrounding the command stations. “What’d you call me you little wet-behind-the ear drool factory?”
“I didn’t call you anything, captain,” he said, wiping drool from his face. “I said there’s a hitch.”
Jaynway, unstuck herself from the banister and strided commandfully over to Harry’s consol. “I hope that’s what you said because if you called me a bitch, you’d be on latrine duty for the next million billion hundred years.”
Two-Nuts and 2-by-4 stopped hugging and kissing and...well, other things, and sauntered over to Harry's station as well; Choker, who'd found a rubber chicken to choke, stopped choking the chicken to listen as well.
Other crew people who were important to the operation of the ship, Bell Atornass, a half-human, half-Kardashian engineer, who everyone hated until they needed a cave dug, showed up with an attitude that said: “Screw with me and I’ll serve your heart to the little baby growing inside me.”
The doctor of the ship was just a hologram who did his best to act human. Everyone got tired of him within the first few hours of being activated because he was as annoying as a mother-in-law going through a divorce and menopause. His circuitry was deactivated by Atornass with a hi-energy blast from a sledge hammer.
Then came “Creepy” Uncle Kneel-Ix with his tag along friend Naomi Wildman, who was someone’s daughter, but no one knew whose. They walked up to the crowd around Harry and his board.
All eyes on him, Hairy said: "We will all probably die if we take the shortcut."
Then more silence.
Then even more silence.
This was not the brightest crew to travel the starways. No one knew what to say.
The least unintelligent of them was Cat. After several minutes of no sound except the heavy breathing and grunting of Tom, she asked “What?”
“This shortcut, if we take it, is what we in the business call a ‘dirt road,’” Harry said.
Another pause while silence filled the bridge again.
“What?” she asked again, and remember, she was the smartest on of the crew.
“A dirt road,” Harry explained. “As in it is not one of the normal routes a starship would take.”
Tom, who’d remained at the conn had finally finished what he was doing, turned in his chair and tossed a tissue into the trash receptacle he kept at his station. “What’s the big deal, Hairy,” he said, wiping his hands with a handi-wipe.” I’ve taken the dirt road many times, as you well know,” he added with a wink.
Harry didn’t understand the wink.
“Oh that’s right. You were passed out,” Tom explained. “We’ll talk about it later.”
Cat interrupted whatever it was Harry was going to ask Tom. “What’s so bad about a dirt road?”
“It’s more than a dirt road, captain. It’s a dirt road through Fluidic Space,” he said.
She looked at him blankly.
After a moment she finally said “What?”
Bell Atornass was the next one to speak. She’d been the chief executive engineer aboard a major military vessel many years ago before it was found her dad, a Kardashian, was an illegal alien and one of the many enemies of the Federation of United Planets that Revolve Around Earth-- FUPRAE. She was promptly ushered out of the service as a security risk. She hated the military and just about everyone in the universe, except the baby-father of the child she carried in her belly, who no one knew and no one cared enough to ask about.
“The engines aboard this piece of crap scow won’t make it through Fluidic Space,” she said, then slapped the bulkhead behind Harry. The sound of the slap made Choker jump, and TwoNuts cower.
“What is Fluidic Space, and why can’t we make it, and why will we die?” Cat asked.
Surprisingly, it was Kneel-Ix who answered. “I heard something about this back before my planet was destroyed,” he said, referring to his planet that had been destroyed along with some family and friends and who really needed to let it go because it had happened something like seven or eight years earlier and everyone aboard ship was really tired of hearing about it.
“Go on,” Cat instructed.
Kneel-Ix, rubbed his hands together, puffed himself up to importance, looked down at little Naomi with a smile and continued. “That’s all I know.”
Choker showed him the back of his hand.
TwoNuts kneed him in the groin.
Bell Atornass pulled a phase pistol out from under her maternity blouse and shot him in the knee.
Tom spat on him.
Cat looked at no one in particular and asked the gods above why the hell she agreed to take him aboard.
It was 2-by-4 who finally got around to answering what Fluidic Space was.
“It’s a special anomaly that’s a spatial anomaly,” she said. “The space around the ‘dirt road’ is fluidic.”
Cat nodded understandingly. “And fluid means it is wet.”
“Exactly,” 2-by-4 said.
“And this ship can’t get wet?” Cat asked.
“Exactly,” 2-by-4 again responded.
“Because?” Cat prompted.
“Exactly,” 2-by-4 again responded again, then realized Cat hadn’t asked a question that could be answered with the word. She looked embarrassed for a moment.
Atornass spoke up again. “This scow can travel through the empty vacuum of space, but get the engines wet and it’ll stop so fast we’ll be smears on the front of the ship.”
Cat nodded understandingly. She put her hand to her chin and kicked the prone Kneel-Ix. Her brows furrowed, she began walking along the bridge. She knew it was time she began thinking like the scientist she was. “What if we use something besides the engines to get us through Fluidic Space?”
“That’s a stupid idea,” someone said.
“What are you, nuts?” added another.
“You’re crazy lady,” chipped in a third.
“Get your hand off my ass,” said a fourth.
“You’re going to kill us all” yelled the fifth.
Ignoring all of them as she was wont to do, she said “here’s what we’re going to do,” and proceeded to tell them.
Two hours later, the ship was ready to take the short cut. Harry had claimed that the dirt road would save the crew 65 years worth of travel. Cat had weighed the risk and decided even if three-quarters of the crew died and she lived, it was worth the risk.
Choker, as the first officer was obliged to carry out her orders, hated the idea.
Gay, who really hated the idea, hated the idea even more.
Kneel-Ix, who had no real reason to go down the dirt road, only stayed on board because if he stayed in this area of space, he might as well hang up on living. He was on this quadrants sex offender list.
Harry wanted to get home because, to be honest, he wanted to see his girl. She was pretty and kind and funny and put out. He liked that about her, but so did half the male population of Pasadena.
TwoNuts, being from Pulkin didn’t care one way or the other. His wife was back in Federation space and that sure as blue blazes didn’t thrill him. On the other hand, the Betazoid “counselor” did thrill him, and he had a lot of credit notes to slip into her “uniform.”
2-by-4 had family she’d never met, having been stolen by gypsies as a baby. For all she knew, the family had let her be stolen.
Paree, whose best interests were served by staying well hidden from authorities, knew he could remain hidden for another three years. He didn’t want to die in deep space but the thought of taking a strange dirt road did excite him a little.
Everyone of importance was on the bridge of the ship. There 132 people below decks, but they didn’t matter. They all wore red shirts.
“Take us in Gay,” Cat ordered commandingly, “I mean Tom.” She then took a sip from her cup of coffee.
Just as she got the cup to her lips, Tom gunned the ship.
Everyone laughed but Cat.
TwoNuts laughed loudest. It was always fun to laugh at someone else’s misfortune.
If it hadn’t been for the danger they were about to face, Cat might have done something captain-y, but the ship had started down the dirt road.
“Is everyone ready?” she asked Choker.
Rubber Chicken in hand, Choker looked at his captain and shrugged. “It’s probably too late to find out now, isn’t it?”
Cat rolled her eyes.
The ship started to rock.
Then it started to roll.
Kneel-Ix said it was like dancing to music.
Harry and TwoNuts both threw their desktop calculator at him. Harry’s hit him in the forehead, dropping him like a bag of wet leaves. TwoNut’s missed completely bounced off the back of Naomi Wildman’s head. She also dropped to the floor.
TwoNuts smiled at Harry.
Looking back to his board, Harry noticed how close Fluidic Space was approaching.
“Five minutes to interdiction,” he stated.
Cat looked at him. “What?”
“I said ‘five minutes to interdiction,” he repeated. “What’s wrong with you, are you deaf?”
She shook her head. “That’s not it Harry. I misunderstood what you said. I thought you were saying something about you and Gay, I mean Tom, when you said ‘interdiction.’”
“I’m not gay, alright?” he said while placing both hands on the console.
“OK,” said Cat.
“Sure,” said TwoNuts.
“If you say so,” said Choker.
“Not my business,” said 2-by-4.
“Who said you were?” asked Gay.
“Look Harry,” said Cat soothingly, “what you do on your own time is none of our business.”
“Thank you, captain,” he said, feeling like he accomplished something.
“But even if you were, there’s nothing wrong with it,” she added.
Harry bowed his head. He hated these people. He saw the numbers on his board change. “Two minutes.”
“On screen,” Cat ordered.
Atornass turned the main screen on. She had to tape the button down or the screen would turn back off. She’d meant to fix it a long time ago, but she just didn’t care enough.
Fluidic Space was like nothing they’d ever seen in space.
It looked wet.
“One minute,” Harry said.
“We’re all going to die!” TwoNuts hollered.
The ship hit Fluidic Space and everything on the screen turned blue.
“We’re in it and the engines have shut down,” Atornass said.
Cat pressed the switch on her armchair and her voice echoed throughout the ship. “Oars away!”
All the crewmembers below decks stuck oars out every porthole available. Cat had told them this was the only way to get home so they all agreed. Also, they wore red shirts and who cared if they didn’t make it?
The 132 began rowing.
“It’s working,” Gay, I mean Tom, said.
“Yes, we’re making it through Fluidic Space!” Harry exclaimed.
“Three minutes to the boundary!” hollered TwoNuts.
“We’re slowing,” said 2-by-4. “We might not make it.”
Choker looked at the captain and accused her. “It’s your fault. We’re all going to die and it’s your fault. You make me sick. I hate you.” He then began choking the chicken again.
“We’re not going to die Choker, so shut up,” she said, pressing the button for everyone to hear her voice. “We’re almost there, crew. We’re going to make it if you give it your all. Put your back into it and we will survive.” She then turned it back off.
“Speed increasing, captain, but it’s going to be close,” Tom, I mean, Gay, I mean Tom said.
The crew below decks put their back into it and really hauled on the oars. They’d been told and led to believe they’d be home by evening if they gave 100% effort. What they hadn’t been told was that while they were rowing, Fluidic Space was leaking in, drowning the crew in the lowest decks first.
It really sucked to be on deck 16.
“There’s the boundary!” Tom shouted.
“We’re going to make it!” Harry agreed.
“Yippee,” cheered TwoNuts.
“Whose hand is on my ass,” asked 2-by-4.
“Big deal,” said Atornass.
“I can’t wait to get off this ship,” said Choker.
“Ut oh,” said Gay, his joy gone.
Fluidic Space began leaking through the turbo lift door.
“Oh crap,” said Cat. “I hate being wet.”