How was I supposed to know? It looked like a piece of Sweet Loop cereal to me. After all, I had eaten them for breakfast that morning. One could have been sticking to my shirt sleeve. So I ate it.
The Throatorian spokesman instantly roared: “It has eaten of the FLEMMING! The time is not right!” His bulbous throat swelled as he sucked in a huge gasp of the steamy-wet Throaten planet air, and then collapsed as he blasted out a tremendous rush of air that blew Captain Cragor’s hair back: “IT MUST DIE!!!” The twenty-five thousand or so Throatorians bellowed a response that rumbled the mucky ground. The mass of these giant, green creatures rippled like a boiling pot of thick soup and the circle tightened around us.
Captain Cragor and the ship’s anthropologist and second in command, Soph, did not move, so I didn’t pull the unauthorized stunner I had stuck in my boot. The dank, musty pond smell of the creatures thickened and I was sure our names were soon to be deleted from the ship’s crew log.
Soph held up his hands slowly, palms out, and Captain Cragor did a ditto, so I did the same.
The larger Throatorians rose up on their eight toes and looked down with dripping, watery black eyes at us with their tongues flicking past our faces, snapping like whips. A large falling teardrop was struck by one of these flying tongues and it ricocheted to the point of my chin and drilled itself in. I knew we were dead.
Through all of the noise and commotion Captain Cragor’s sudden movement startled me. He jerked back his head and opened his mouth to the sky as a dog howling at the moon, “Peace!” he yelled at the top of his voice, but it was lost in the din like a man’s voice at a women’s reactionary meeting.
I thought for sure they would then slice us into little pieces and play “catch-the-fly” with our bits. But, to my surprise, they bellowed and burbled down to quiet — that is, a Throatorian quiet, which is about eighty decibels. We lowered our hands one by one, slowly.
“Please forgive this creature,” Captain Cragor yelled above the ruckus, pointing a finger at me. “He is of a lower order and did not know what he was doing. He is like the muck worm and knows nothing more than his limited biology allows him to know.”
The Throatorian spokesman gave a grand belch that smelled like an intense version of one of my cabin mate’s pickled egg farts, indicating he was willing to consider the animal comparison Captain Cragor had just made.
As Captain Cragor and the spokesman yelled at each other, Soph turned his head and said to me, “You moron, why the hell d’you eat that damn bug?!”
“I thought it was a Sweet Loop piece of cereal.”
Soph rolled his eyes back — he can really roll his eyes back, he’s a Flavion from the Dromeda Galaxy — and he repeated, “Moron.”
“Is it okay to talk like this?” I asked.
“Yeah, these creatures can’t hear anything under fifty decibels.”
I laughed. “That’s great; what idiots; it’s like having a secret code. We can say anything and they can’t hear us.”
“Look down when you talk. They might be able to read lips,” Soph said, and rolled his eyes again. “Have some respect for these beings. They can speak English. Can you speak their language?”
I imagined myself trying to burp and grunt and fart out their language. It was a true body language. I clamped my mouth shut and listened to Captain Cragor yell his way out of his unexpected mess.
It finally ended with the Throatorian spokesman allowing me to return to the ship with my party, but Captain Cragor had to agree not to leave the planet until the Throatorian council had met to decide my fate.
I had to smile. I knew Cragor wouldn’t leave the planet until the ship’s holds were full of the Sliverian mud, which is used in making the ceramic nozzles for the new Macky space drive that had just been put into production. The mud was worth billions and this Throatorian planet was the first one we’d found with it in any great quantity — it was all over the place. So I hadn’t expected the chewing out he gave me when the ship’s door closed behind us.
He bellowed and turned red in the face as he called me names that his sister would have never approved of anyone calling her son. I pointed this out to him, but it did no good. “You were there just to carry the damn instruments; you weren’t supposed to do anything — ANYTHING!” He yelled and turned down the hall toward his cabin. “Put him on the bilge clean up — make it a crew of one until this is decided,” he threw over his shoulder to Soph.
“But Unk,” I started, trying to make a point, but he turned and I thought his face was going to explode, so I stepped back.
“Don’t you ever call me that on this ship, I am the Captain,” he said through clenched teeth. “You may have cost this ship a lot of money. We have to be at Ipswitch station in two days if we want to get this Sliverian contract. And now, how am I going to get these Throatorians to calm down enough to talk business? You ate their most important animal on their damn planet!” He shuddered and his face collapsed into a stone mask. He turned and walked away rubbing his throat.
I turned to Soph and shrugged my shoulders. “How was I supposed to know that dumb bug was so important to them? I thought it was a piece of Sweet Loop cereal.”
“That’s your trouble, Matts, you don’t think,” he answered. “When you are dealing with an alien culture, you know nothing of what is important to them, so you don’t do anything, especially eat one of their animals that’s lying around. And these creatures are not dumb, just different.
Their evolution was much different than yours and it has shaped them to be what they are, as did yours … understand?” I nodded, wanting to keep on Soph’s good side, hoping to get out of the bilge clean up. He shook his head as if he knew what I was thinking. “Okay, go down to sick bay and see the Doc. That bug might have been poisonous — or something — to humans. Then get to work on the bilge.”
I made my way down to the sick bay a little worried. I hadn’t thought of the bug being poisonous. Doc Freedman checked me over with a grim look on his flat face, but pronounced me fit. “You probably will get an upset stomach and a bad case of gas out of it, but you’ll be fine.” He put his instruments away, shaking his head and mumbling to himself: “Never had anything like this happen before; ate a damn bug.” He turned back to me, “You better stay clear of the crew. They won’t appreciate the money you may have cost them by this faux pas. That mud could have made us all very rich.”
He was right. None of the crew I saw on the way to the bilge talked to me. They all turned their heads or suddenly became busy as I passed.
And I was doing a lot of passing by that time. I never had gas like that before. It broiled and extended my gut and smelled like a dead elephant rotting for two weeks in a heavily used toilet that hadn’t been flushed in a year when it escaped, which it did despite my teeth-clenching try at control. I could hardly stand up let alone stand the smell. The rotting smell of the bilge was a sweet perfume to me when I arrived.
I had only been a member of the Muley’s crew for three months, but I had already done the bilge clean up six times, so I knew what to do. This was the first time the terrible bilge smell didn’t bother me. My smell was worse. The gas continued to build and escape beyond my control. Each escape ripped out a tremendous blast that reverberated loudly against the ship’s metal hull as I tried to do my work. I swept and mopped and cleaned and farted. Finally I had the job finished and I opened the hull’s bilge door to remove the garbage.
To my surprise, when the door opened a mass of Throatorian males rushed in and I was pushed back across the ship and up against the wall. The noise peaked the decibel scale and the small area of the bilge was quickly packed with the green creatures.
I didn’t have time to think; I couldn’t breathe. With the smell of the bilge and the Throatorians smell — plus my smell — there was no fresh air at all. I wiggled my way around the wall, reached the ladder, and climbed for air.
Captain Cragor was waiting for me when I reached the hatch. “What the HELL have YOU done NOW, MATTS,” he greeted me with a staccato growl.
I shrugged, and farted.
“I don’t know, Unk. I was just cleaning out the bilge like you told me to when I opened the door they came running in. I didn’t do anything.”
His hands reached for my neck, but stopped a few inches away. They shook in mid-air; I farted.
He began shaking his head and rubbing his throat. We both looked down at the chaos below, wondering what was up when Soph called on the shipcom: “Captain Cragor to the bridge.” Unk jerked a thumb at the speaker over his shoulder and said: “Come along, Matts. I’m sure that this has something to do with you.”
I shrugged — gas ripped out.
Unk’s face wrinkled up in disgust and he ordered me to walk behind him — way behind.
The Muley’s not a big trader ship and we were at the bridge in no time. As we entered, the entire bridge crew turned and wrinkled their noses at me. Several moved away as I passed.
Bartble, the navigator, slid his trunk into the pouch on his chest. The ones fastened to their posts by bridge rules made funny faces and turned their heads away.
“Captain,” Soph said, “The Throatorian council members have arrived and are in the conference room. They seem more excited than usual.”
Unk glared at me and motioned for me to follow.
To my surprise the council was made up of eight female Throatorians. They sat in the too-small chairs circling the conference table and each had in hand a gnarled short staff about one meter long.
Captain Cragor yelled the introductions to the largest female who was sitting in his chair. She gave me a long black-eyed, watery stare and then bellowed out the names of the council members. Each member as she was introduced sent a vicious whip-snapping tongue in my direction.
I sank lower and lower in my chair with each lick.
The council leader then bellowed her opening statement fast and furiously: “First we want to know who and why someone in this ship has been calling the mating call. It has aroused our males, and the mating season is not for two star revolutions yet. This is not right! The females are not ready for the male attachments. It is not right for the males to be forceful.” At this statement, each female rapped her staff hard on the table. “And this has caused great discomfort to our people.”
Captain Cragor held up his hand and yelled back: “Honored female, we do not know the mating call of the Throatorian race and we have not been calling it.”
A tongue whipped past my ear.
I jerked back and the sudden movement released a tremendous fart that I had been struggling to contain since I had sat down.
All eight green heads turned at me and all eight tongues flicked and hit their mark: Me.
The pain released a serious gas explosion that seemed to lift me off of the chair.
Tounges snapped on me and I kept farting with each strike.
“That is the mating call!” the female leader bellowed. “That is what has gotten our males in the mating frenzy. Not only has this creature eaten of the mating Flemming, it has now begun calling for mates out of season!” For the second time that day a Throatorian filled its throat with air and blasted out: “It must DIE!!!” All eight of the females raised their staffs threateningly at me.
“Throw it to the males! Let it satisfy their lust,” one of the council members recommended.
I jumped up — launched by a fart — at this remark and was heading for the door when two of the creatures latched onto my arms with their long, thin fingers and held me fast.
“Unk,” I yelled, “don’t let them throw me to the males — I haven’t even made it — I don’t …” The security team rushed the room with stunners drawn and, for an eternal moment, it looked like trouble, but it turned into a stand-off. The team held stunners on the Throatorians and the Throatorians held me.
For the first time since we had set foot on that planet there was actual silence. It was ominous. Captain Cragor ordered the stunners put away and with a little effort he got the group to sit down — although they still held onto me. He looked at Soph. “Any recommendations, Commander?”
Soph’s face went blank for a moment, then a flash of starlight; he began to nod. “Yes Captain, I do. Just a minute; I need to get something.” He left the room and we all sat there in the tense, smelly room and one by one we became aware of the reverberating roar in the bilge below. I was a little worried by now and the control of my gas problem had vanished. It poured out of me in a steady stream, sounding like a rapid fire stunner cannon.
The two Throatorians holding me began to waggle their big staffs at me threateningly. Captain Cragor barked a sharp order to the bridge for the room to be vented.
Soph returned with a box of Sweet Loops. I groaned and farted. Captain Cragor looked doubtful. Soph addressed the council:
“As I understand it, this Flemming bug is an important part of the Throatorian reproduction process?”
“Of course,” the leader blasted. “All adult Throatorian females begin eating the Flemming at the time of the third star revolution. It has always been. It is the way of our people and it cannot be changed.” I farted. Soph nodded his head again.
“As I thought. The Flemming must produce the gas required for the Throatorian mating call.” I farted.
This revelation ran a rumble of excitement through the council. After a few minutes of this, the leader spoke: “We see the wisdom in this, but it does not forgive this creature’s actions.” Her tongue added point to this statement as it landed on the tip of my nose. I farted.
“Well,” Soph began hesitantly, “from the council’s reaction to this unexpected arousal of your males, I see that the Throatorian females do not like the mating season.”
All eight council members blasted affirmative reactions and banged on the table with their staffs.
“I have the answer to your problem, then.” Soph picked up the Sweet Loop box and spilled the contents onto the table. Each council member’s black eyes fastened on the Sweet Loops and each touched one with a flick of a tentative tongue. “Flemmings in a box,” Soph said. “And these fake Flemmings will not produce the mating call.”
The leader picked up a Sweet Loop, “This is not a Flemming?” she asked. With the shake of Soph’s narrow head, she brought it up to an eye, examined it, and then clinically put it into her mouth and swallowed. I farted.
Fourteen multifaceted, black, watery eyes watched her intently. For the first time I saw a Throatorian smile. Her big, rubbery lips creased and the ends rose like the smell of my gas. The two creatures let my arms go and I was forgotten as Captain Cragor and Soph soon had negotiated a ship full of Sliverian mud for a mere sixty cases of my Sweet Loops. I farted.
I was sent to my quarters and ordered not to fart by the outside hull. An hour later I was called to the Captain’s office where I found both Captain Cragor and Soph smiling at each other.
“Well Harold,” Captain Cragor sighed, “we’re taking off in two hours with the cargo bays full of Sliverian mud. We can make it to Ipswitch in plenty of time. The Throatorians thought we were crazy for wanting mud and they were eager to trade it for the Sweet Loops. As it turned out your actions did not cost the ship that much money, so we have agreed not to take the loss out of your share of the profit.”
I nodded appreciatively, and farted.
Soph, standing behind the Captain, who was sitting at his desk, made a funny face and rolled his eyes. He handed a paper over the Captain’s shoulder and cleared his throat.
“Release slip for the use of a crew member’s private stores for ship’s profit,” he said. Captain Cragor began rubbing his throat. I looked at the upside down paper. It dawned on me.
“Hey, those are my Sweet Loops.” Captain Cragor rubbed his throat harder and nodded slowly. “Hey, I think I should get something for them. Don’t you … Unk?” A slow growl rose in his throat.
He must have been around those Throatorians too long, because he yelled, “OKAY!” He began shuffling papers furiously.
It took a few minutes, but I ended up with a nice twenty percent increase in my share of the profit. “Thanks Unk,” I said, “Mom will be proud of me.” It was then I was sure he had been around those creatures too long: he yelled at me the whole way down to the exit ramp where he ordered me to stay off the ship until lift-off. It’s great to work for a relative; no one else got any ship leave at that stop. But, I did have to do a lot of running while out on the planet. Those males; “Boy!”
© 2008 Kim Rush (Published in “Aphelion” Issue 173, Volume 17