When people think about space ships or devices that took you from one universe to another, they often think of large metal hunkers, star cruisers where thousands of people checked flashing lights.
As Maverick contemplated the many forms a space ship could take, he was sure that that in no science fiction film he had ever watched did they picture a giant snail.
Sitting in the middle of a mucus covered garage was perhaps the largest snail on record, as tall as a house and pulling along a bus sized cylinder.
The thing was absolutely ridiculous, only made more so by the fact that its rear end was open like the boot of a car where both Maverick and Scratch-Ear could hear mumbling.
“Can’t believe I have to…” Loading the snail with what appeared to be wooden crates and metal barrels was the slug monster with the name that Maverick wasn’t going to attempt to say, he appeared to be in a fowl mood.
Weary of both the slime on the floor and this giant monster mollusc, Scratch-Ear had perched on Maverick’s shoulder and dug his claws in for support. “What is this? Where is the invisible window?”
Maverick had no idea what this invisible window was but he was sure, or unsure in any case, that this was how they were going to get to Bracëo.
“Just let me do the talking.” Maverick’s tone held more confidence than what was really available.
From what Maverick had seen so far this slug guy was the maintenance guy around this place, and therefore it was best to be friendly else you find your break lines cut.
Besides, if things went bad he always had something cute and fury to feed the nice monster.
Taking a step forward and disliking the feel of slime around his naked feet Maverick spoke up. “Um, excuse me.”
The biker slug pulled his head out of the snail’s behind and Scratch-Ear hid behind Maverick’s ear as if he were a monkey. It was hard to blame the young hunter for his fear, he was far away from his nice, unfriendly home.
“Yeah yeah.” The slug cried out in an annoyed tone, getting out of the snail’s shell the slug scratched his head, which caused skin flakes to fall from his flaky skin.
It was now that Maverick could see that this slug alien’s hands were covered in a red oil based fluid that he assumed was lubrication, or at least he hoped it was because it looked ominously like blood.
The monster took one too many slithers towards the boys and noticed Maverick back away, he stopped knowing that meeting new friends was a hard business in an strange environment “So, you’re the new guy huh?”
The monster held out his clawed hand and spoke his peculiar name. “…nice to met you.”
Maverick held his breath and tried to smile. “Maverick Kenning, just call me Maverick.” This was hard to say but nearly as hard as the slug’s name. “Sorry, but I can’t pronounce your name. No hard feelings right?”
The slug thing’s beard wiggled. “It happens, I can’t really say your name either, haven’t got the same orifice. Just call me what you can and I’ll call you Grey, cause that’s what you are right now. Translates pretty good.”
First day at the office and already down to nick names, Maverick didn’t know what he was doing but he was getting the hang of this corporate stuff. “Than I will call you…” He did think the name Slug would suit the alien but than he didn’t want to appear rude. “Mechanic.”
“”Nah, too long for my people. Anyway I’m not the mechanic, I’m just the delivery man.”
Maverick knitted his eyebrows. “I thought I was the delivery man.”
A snort mixed in with a sneeze came out of the slug man which Maverick assumed was a laugh.
“Yeah, boss man likes his employee titles. When he means courier, he means you get him things he can’t get by any means necessary. You see, his people have these rules, he can’t go down to lesser worlds like yours or that fellow over there,”
The slug nodded to Scratch-Ear. “cause his people get angry with him. Otherwise he could just blink and he’d get whatever he wanted. So he hires people like us to do the dirty work.”
Things were starting to come to light.
For whatever reason Sydney had his hands tied and had to use subordinates from the hicks to get their hands dirty.
Maverick was a glorified gopher, well that he knew how to do. People always needed something and either by laziness or lack of correct contacts they came crawling to him. “Thanks, um. Driver.”
It was impossible for a human to tell but the slug man approved of the name. “Good, you pick up fast Grey. You want drop off or pick up you come to me, because there is no way in the name of the Gods of The Deep is that cheep-ass gonna get you your own ride, he can’t even shout you a proper body.”
The slug pointed to Maverick’s legs, “Legs,” he said mockingly. “no one trusts a man with legs.”
Maverick blinked, Driver seemed alright, if you didn’t count the excess amount of sweaty slime.
Not liking being ignored Scratch-Ear punctured Maverick’s shoulder with his claws which caused his victim to hold in a curse, “What?” Maverick asked.
“What is he saying?” Damu-Sarmi asked growing restless.
That’s right, Scratch-Ear did not have the implants in order to down load information.
“This is Driver,” Maverick pointed his thumb at the slug. “he’s gonna take us back to your home. Now don’t scratch me again or I’m gonna swing you around the room by your tail.”
Scratch-Ear retracted his claws and held onto Maverick with difficulty but managed.
Driver shrugged in the direction of the snail. “Well, come on. Allow me to give you a tour of my home away from home.”
The insides of the snail shell were more or less gross than Maverick first assumed. It looked like some type of R.V. with a living creature for a motor.
Straight from entry Maverick could see that the seats were cannibalised to increase the cargo hold, and the stench of leaking engine fluid was matched only by the rank odour of what the slug used for a toilet.
The only thing that looked to be keeping this thing together was spit and happy thoughts.
“I’m gonna tell you now. I do not fell comfortable with this.” Maverick said.
He didn’t know if this thing flew or if it was designed to blow itself up and hopefully launch what was ever left of its occupants to the desired planet.
Scratch-Ear hid his nose, but before he could protest about the stench, the cat vomited over Maverick’s back, it was not a pretty sight.
“Really?” Maverick asked.
The slug moved past both boys and gave an insulting snort, “This ain’t some hotel girls, this is a man’s home.”
Getting past a tight squeeze effortlessly, the impossibly long named alien took what could be called the driver’s seat.
To Maverick it looked more like a network of white nose hairs more than a control panel, but what did he know about alien steering wheels?
Once getting into position the slug tilted his head up and the individual hairs that made up the slug’s beard came alive and reached out as if they were fingers on a keyboard.
Sensing its master’s command, the snail gave a violent shake and the boot closed with a slam.
The feeling of being caged in a moving vehicle did not sit well for the little kit and Scratch-Ear unleashed his claws onto Maverick’s back.
If it wasn’t for the uncomfortable amount of ooze on the floor it was possible the Damu-Sarmi would have been bouncing off the walls like a pinball. “I don’t like this.”
“Stop that. You’re making me nervous.” Maverick said.
He was about to pull off the annoying child when the snail crawled forward in an agonisingly slow pace.
It was hard to understand but that one crawl broke several laws of physics.
The act of moving one millimetre caused enough inertia that Maverick was violently taken of his feet, but this was not the disturbing part.
While Maverick and his partner were in the air time froze. It was not a biological dysfunction, a sensation of adrenalin giving the illusion of time slowing down.
For fifteen seconds time inside the snail’s shell froze and each member of the snail’s crew was horribly aware of it, but were unable to move.
With a jerk the broken universe normalised and Maverick was allowed to fall to the ground. “Motherf…” Maverick was interrupted as he landed face first into the mucus.
Maverick’s new body had not been allowed to consume food, perhaps it was a good thing otherwise the teenager would have contributed to the snail shit on the floor.
Scratch-Ear was not so luck. Before he passed out the junior hunter vomited on Maverick’s shoulder and pissed on his back.
“Crap.” Maverick moaned as he clenched his stomach.
“Here we are at 045-41 R.P. Planet Bracëo.” Driver informed the slime covered Maverick and immediately put the park brake on. “Well here’s the problem Grey, I can’t wait around all day while you go off in the woods with your little friend.”
Maverick got the instinct impression that something like a wrist band was being attached to him.
Driver didn’t give a worthy bedside manner, instead the slug wormed his way to the back of the snail and stroked a patch of white strings on the snail’s shell.
This caused sun light to spew from the opening boot. “Now you contact me when you’re done here, and I’ll tell you where we can meet up.” Driver said and shielded his mismatched eyes from the alien sun.
“The boss doesn’t like it when I take up the company time and will charge you for the mileage. If you can, try and get all the stolen good in one place and then give us a call, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Just try to grab one at a time or chances are our little thieves will try to knick’em back off you.”
This would have been good advice to follow if Maverick was up to the task of listening. Right now Maverick was withdrawn due to the pain and sensations that came with his first time hopping universes.
Driver viewed his passengers and let out a spitting breath of annoyance.
Unlike the Grey who was covered in vomit and piss, and the Damu-Sarmi who was passed out in slug slime Driver had both the experience and the physiology to handle these short jumps.
Unceremoniously Driver picked up both Maverick and Scratch-Ear and tossed them both out of his ship.
The smart-ass slug spoke as he returned back to the driver’s seat, “We here at Sydney’s Emporium hope you have had a pleasant journey and hope you chose us again for all your travel needs.”
Through pained eyes that were unused to the natural light of this planet Maverick watched the boot of the snail close, “No… Wait.” he tried to plead.
There were questions still unanswered. Why had he been chosen? How did the objects get stolen? What was that snail and how did it move through space?
The snail did not admire the scenery long as the giant creature displayed a sudden bout of alertness before it charged straight ahead and breaking through the skin of reality at an awesome thirty millimetres and hour.
To those like a certain high school graduate it appeared as if some son of a bitch had filled a water balloon with sewer scum and decided to bust it.
Maverick let out a moan as a geyser of universal lubricant rained down on him and the surrounding flora. “Eww.”
If this was going to be a common thing, Maverick was going to invest in a less gooy form of transportation.
Over a period of seconds the ooze evaporated till only virgin shrubs and unmarked trees remained, and except for Scratch-Ear’s bodily fluids over his nice new jumpsuit, Maverick was more or less clean.
There in an unknown and probable hostile world Maverick lay motionless and exhausted.
It was like he had been been soaking in the bath, his will and energy had seemed to be ripped from his body and he was content to die as long as he didn’t have to get up.
In and out of conciousness Maverick drifted. Neither the birds, nor the insects, and even the approaching night awoke him from his slumber.
Unfortunately, for the courier the young Damu-Sarmi was the first to wake.
“Hmm.” Came an unpleasant moan from Scratch-Ear.
As the hunter in training stared up at the growth around him, he allowed himself to smile, it had all been a dream.
On unsteady feet Scratch-Ear rose up and examined the environment around him, his smile froze as he found the giant form of Maverick laying next to him.
The Damu-Sarmi, not having a proper dictionary caused Scratch-Ear to lack the appropriate profanity that wanted to express at that moment.
If Scratch-Ear did have suck knowledge, however, the little kitten would have said something like. “Mother of fucking Cat God who shitted out creation.”
Carefully Scratch-Ear stepped back, he did not want this, he did not want this suicidal quest, he just wanted to get back to the camp and warn his people about the Cali ambush.
The Dark Sea God was wrong, Scratch-Ear had done nothing wrong, he had been the only one to have escaped from the ambush unharmed and that was no crime.
The Dumu-Sarmi struggled to find where he was in the forest, he needed a marking, a way to determine which region he was in.
The marks were subtle, the scratches on a tree, the fragrance of bird feathers, but it was there.
This Sydney god had been strategic in his charges’ placement, if Scratch-Ear intended to get home he would have to go straight towards the main Gapachu camp, and from there a brush with the Cali borders.
The kitten sniffed the air, his cute but sensitive nose picked up the familiar sent of something mean and hungry. Again if he knew how, Scratch-Ear would have cursed.
Maverick’s stir caused the hunter to flinch, the giant grey thing was waking up and then it would most likely threaten or beat Scratch-Ear till he gave up the information to the stolen objects.
But there was no time, the omtwy would soon be upon them both, and the stranger was too big to hide and too small to contend with the beast.
The Dumu-Sarmi stepped back once, twice, and on the third time he became camouflaged by the ferns and thickets till only his yellow eyes were visible. Then he was gone and Maverick was left to rest within the comfort of darkness and greenery.
In the tree above another pair of eyes watched from cover.