‘Çoè-àòk!?’ blurted officer Gargles.
‘Çoè-àòk!?!?’ he repeated with a bemused look. ‘How the feck am I supposed to pronounce this? Christ but these alien names would wreck your head. Why can’t they just be John or Bob for feck’s sake!?’
Officer Faction sighed. ‘Well for one,’ he said. ‘These particular ones don’t even have any bleedin’ vocal chords, Mickey, and then there’s the fact that they’re feckin’ aliens ya twat! Now just write the ticket and be done with it. It’s feckin’ roastin’ in here, like.’
‘Okay Mike,’ replied officer Mickey Gargles. ‘Don’t be a toolbag about it, ya toolbag.’
Gargles took to filling out the speeding fine and Faction drummed his fingers on the side of their shuttle. He felt their vibration on the composite hull through his spacesuit but in the hostile atmosphere of the alien shuttle bay, there was nary a drop of oxygen to pass the sound to his ears; which were sealed within his fishbowl helmet in any case.
‘200lks in a sub-light speed zone,’ he thought. That’d be a hefty amount of credits to pay off that fine. But with a ship like this he reckoned they could handle the hit.
A smile and a nod to the alien floating in front of them, and he wondered if it knew what a smile was. Then he wondered if the thing even had eyes. The glowing red alien blob, about a metre in diameter and with no discerning features, looked like the biggest spurt of ketchup you’d ever seen. There was all class of weirdoes passing through the solar system these days. From all over the shop they were.
‘What’s its gender?’ asked Gargles.
‘’Twill be on its stay visa,’ offered Faction, and Gargles’ grumble told him he should get the finger out and be proactive about things or they’d never get out of this oven of a ship. He addressed the blob when he said, ‘Could we have another look at your stay visa, please?’
A smooth slate slid out of the ketchup alien and floated towards him on a streak of tentacle.
‘Says it’s of variable gender,’ read Faction.
The visa glooped back into its owner.
‘Jesus, so what do I write then,’ asked Gargles. ’Mr or Mrs?’
‘God, man how do I know?’ He considered this for a second. Leaving a blank space on any kind of form was unthinkable. The bureaucrats in Police Command would spit the paperwork back at them before you had time to say “Christ on Mars”, and they’d be spending the next week trawling the solar system for this geek to get his – damn, her – Christ… it’s!!! signature on a reprocessing A101 form.
‘Write “Misterissus”,’ he said decisively.
That seemed to satisfy Gargles. He completed the form, signed his name with a flourish and stowed his pencil (pencils were your only man in space. Biros in alien atmo were a total nightmare – not to mention zero-g).
Gargles threw back his shoulders as best he could in the bulky spacesuit and addressed the ball of ketchup. ‘Misterissus Koak, you have been fined for speeding in the vicinity of an inhabited planet with flagrant disregard for the safety of sentient life forms-’
A series of clicks and bangs came from the alien, halting Gargles formal ticking off.
Gargles turned in confusion to his partner. ‘What’s it on about Faction, I can’t understand a word it’s saying.’
‘Turn your babble-box to auto-search,’ he said in frustration. He did the same, pressing a few buttons on his wrist panel and his universal translator locked onto the alien’s language.
‘Sorry, could you repeat that please?’ he said with a smile.
The simulated translation came through crystal clear. ‘Under the pan-system treaty of universal year 5499.65-7, I/we claim Diplomatic immunity and am/are free to continue my/our journey.’
‘Oh Jaysus Mike, he’s claiming diplomatic immunity,’ exclaimed officer Gargles. ‘This is really going to feck up the lunch break.’
Faction had to admit he was spot on there. If the gormless condiment had told them this before they had started writing out the citation, it would have been okay but now they were going to have to fill out three separate DI Refusal Forms and a Declaration of Authenticity that had to be filled out by the diplomatic claimant. And this thing didn’t even have fingers. How was he going to hold the pencil?
Gargles began explaining the situation to the alien while Faction retrieved the necessary forms from inside their shuttle. When he returned, Gargles was looking at the talking alien with an exasperated expression.
‘Under Universal Law, I am invulnerable to all persecution for any crimes or misdemeanours.’
‘For the love of Josie!’ he whined. ‘Mike, he’s saying now that we’re persecuting him! That’ll mean a Q57 to fill out on top of the rest… in triplicate!’
‘Ah Christ will you calm down. It’ll be your babble-box talkin’ shite again. He probably said “immune from prosecution” or something.’
At this the alien began to vibrate. Faction thought it looked agitated, if that was possible. What was going on with it, at all?
Gargles took a step towards it. ‘Please calm down,’ he shouted. ‘We come in peace, so we do.’
The vibrating increased and Faction instinctively took a step backwards.
Suddenly the alien began to expand quickly and small blobs started to separate from it.
Faction’s babble-box made a good effort at simulating the aliens stress levels as it translated: ‘We cannot be cut to pieces. We defend ourselves from all attackers!’
‘Holy cow!’ cried Gargle, stepping backwards. ‘What’s his problem?’
Faction dropped his paperwork and shouted ‘It’s the damn translator! Mickey, get your arse into this shuttle right now! That yoke’s goin’ loo-la!’
But Gargles had lost it and was deaf to the world. Faction could see his face now and he was terrified. The alien was still expanding, now filling the shuttle bay, touching both the floor and the ceiling. New blobs were continually detaching themselves from its body and flying around the space in an agitated state.
Faction was frozen to the spot, gobsmacked.
‘Jeeesussss Mike, will ya help me, ta feck!’ screamed Gargle. He was desperate, and rightly so. A blob that had been floating over Gargles’ head had plopped down onto his fishbowl, completely hiding him from Faction’s view.
The disappearance of his friend and partner’s head jolted him into action. Faction pulled his laserolver from its holster and he felt cadet training take over. And a good thing too – it was the first time he’d ever had to use his gun in the line of duty. He fired off a volley of shots into the centre of the main blob but they flew straight through and hit the wall of the shuttle bay.
‘Me bleedin’ gun’s no use, Mickey,’ he screamed in panic. ‘What do I do?’ he pleaded.
Gargle’s voice came clear and true over the radio.
‘Get the feckin’ holy water, man. It’s me only hope.’
Faction jumped to it and legged it inside their ship. There, next to Gargle’s flight seat was the man’s lucky water pistol. He grabbed it with shaking hands and ran outside as fast as his legs would take him.
He ran for his friend, screaming.
He raised the water pistol and fired holy retribution down on the blob covering his friend’s fishbowl.
‘Take that you ketchuppy fecknut!’ he roared.
He squirted madly at the thing and his com-speakers instantly filled with a whining noise that pierced his ears. It was working, the mini-blob began dissolving, and fast. For no reason he could put into words, he felt the alien approaching from behind and he whipped around, brandishing the divine squirter. But the alien was dead close and he felt his hand and the water pistol get sucked into its body. He could feel the pressure, even through his space suit. Then the thing was covering his helmet and all he could see was red… and then black, as he was completely enveloped and no more light could enter. The pressure was all over his body now. He could feel his suit straining. It wouldn’t be long before it cracked somewhere, letting valuable air out and icky alien goo in.
With all his might, he squeezed the trigger of the water pistol. He thought he felt the holy water squeeze out of the weapon, ‘like a holy willie squeezing one out for the Lord,’ he thought.
‘What the feck!’ he said out loud and to nobody in particular.
Albeit shocked by this random thought, horrified that his dying thoughts might be of a holy willie water pistol, he squeezed the gun over and over again and he heard more whining in his com-speakers. The alien was taking the hits. Encouraged, he squeezed even more, and the whining increased in volume. Elation at the hope of survival drove him on.
He began squirming with all the might he could muster and could feel the pressure of the alien’s grip loosening. And then he saw red light and then gloop was streaming down the front of his fishbowl and he could see his buddy Mickey Gargles standing there, dumbstruck. And then Mickey Gargles spoke.
‘You total fecking legend, Michael Faction,’ he said softly.
The blob was mostly all over the floor and looking like the mother of all Ribena spills. Faction was staring at his partner. He blinked and this tiny movement brought him once more to his senses. He panic-checked every inch of his suit for damage, padding everywhere he could with his big mits while yelping in fear. But everything was okay. He was alive.
‘I thought I was done for, Mickey,’ he said quietly.
‘Me too,’ said Gargle. ‘But then I saw the holy water shooting out the back of the bollix and I thought-‘
A loud cracking vibration broke through their conversation. The far wall was splitting apart. Dark burns where Faction’s laser shots had hit hosted a long crack that widened as they watched, exposing the darkness of space beyond.
The crack was widening as they watched and it sped up over their heads and through the floor beneath their feet. They had an instant to trade a shared look of horror before there was a colossal pop, the floor cracked apart and they were sucked into open space along with the contents of the shuttle bay.
Above them now they could see the rest of the alien ship, cracking to pieces and one bit with lots of pipes on it silently crashed into their shuttle.
Their fishbowls automatically clouded up to protect them from the explosion as the shuttle’s fusion engine was pierced and they were engulfed in a huge mute sunset of an explosion.
When the glare passed and the fishbowl un-tinted itself they could see that they were surrounded by trillions of glittering fragments of what had once been the alien spaceship and their shuttle.
Below them, Mars hung like another red blob, a familiar one that meant home and safety, not death and confusion.
‘Thank Christ for these Crylon spacesuits,’ said Gargle. ‘When those Jovian traders said they could withstand a supernova, I thought they were only taking the piss.’
Faction realised he was still holding onto Gargle’s water pistol. He held it up in front of him. ‘What in the name of Betty is in this shit!?’
Gargles laughed out loud. ‘Sure isn’t that holy water direct from the sacred well of Saint Gregory the Wonderworker in the Wicklow mountains.’
Faction laughed loud and long and it was a laugh of relief. In the last couple of minutes he had almost popped his clogs twice – so fast it hardly had time to register, but register it did. This was the laugh of a man who, all of a sudden, knew the true value of life.
Gargles looked at his friend and grinned at him as they floated there, surrounded by glitter.
‘You know what?’ he said finally when Faction’s fit had subsided.
‘What’s that?’ sighed Faction.
‘This is going to mean a feck-load of paperwork,’ said Gargle, a serene look on his face.
‘You’re bleedin’ right,’ said Faction.
‘But you know what?’ continued Gargle.
‘I couldn’t give a rat’s arse!’
Faction laughed again, even louder this time. And then Gargles joined in and they were both laughing and floating there peacefully, miles above Mars, as glitter celebrated their rebirth.