About forty Rhaokins later and a lot of drinking on top of that, Hawk blacked out. Still, somehow he was better off than all the aliens around him, despite him having drank more than them by far. Even by his standards, last night had been a crazy party. But what happened after he blacked out? He had some vague flashes. He remembered pulling out items from his utility belt and handing them out, saying he had no idea what they were. He checked his utility belt. Everything was gone aside for the syringe, the taser looking thing, the Gameboy looking thing, and the hammer. He took out the syringe from out of the little black bag and studied the contents. This was the stuff that was pretty much an instant IV. The saline and iron boost. Using the strap of his tactical fanny pack tactically, he created a sort of tourniquet around his upper arm and injected himself. He felt the effects immediately. His hangover was gone, his headache, the spinning—all gone. He would have to get a box of these from Boris when he returned to Earth. He closed his eyes, now remembering the previous night clearer than before. There had been a high-ranking crewmember at their party. Someone who worked in the lab at the very end of the fish head—the room where he needed to go to disable the machine—had gotten drunk with them last night. Hawk looked around. But he couldn’t find the scientist. He couldn’t even remember which one the scientist was. The problem was, he was so unfamiliar with Rhaokins that he had trouble differentiating one from the others. Even Golf, Omega, Solar, and Aqua looked similar to him, and he’d spend a majority of the night bonding with them. He felt a light vibration on his wrist. The watch! The team! He pressed the display. Five missed calls. Shit. He stepped out of the bar but quickly darted back inside. There were Rhaokins everywhere. It was daytime now—or at least the lights were on. Luckily, no one saw him, but he couldn’t make a call outside the bar right now. He looked around. There was a door on the left side of the bar. He stepped over bodies on his way to it and made to open it, but there was no handle. He found the bartender, unconscious behind the bar, and found his key hanging from his waist. As delicately as he’s always done, he unhooked the key without disturbing the bartender and used it to open the door. It closed behind him and lights turned on. Surrounding him were shelves with boxes upon boxes everywhere. Bottles of liquor sat on top of the boxes, distinguishing the boxes’ contents. He pressed the button on his watch and almost immediately Casey’s face appeared. He looked exhausted. “Thank God you’re alright,” Casey said. “We thought you might’ve been killed.” Hawk shook his head and thought back to last night. “No I was just in a tight spot. Couldn’t take a call without revealing myself.” “Gotcha. So how’s it going?” “Well. I’m about to retrieve what I need to access the device.” Hawk paused for a moment and sighed. “I suppose it’s wasted effort to reiterate how harmless and friendly the aliens are.” Casey nodded. “Sorry, Hawk. Top brass is dead set on you completing your objective.” “Thought so. How much time has passed?” Casey closed his eyes. “Seventeen hours, Hawk. They’ve started to discuss other options.” “What are these other options?” “You don’t want to know. Just complete your objective and get back here!” “Casey, what other options?” “Hawk please.” “What other options?” Casey sighed. “They’re talking about nuking the ship.” Hawk almost raised his voice, but remembered where he was and lowered it to an angry whisper. “This is a tourist ship! There are thousands of innocents here!” “Understood, I promise. But they think they’re doing what’s best for humanity.” “I promise you they’re not.” “What do you expect me to do about it, Hawk? Change the president’s mind? He’s unwavering, and so are the others.” “What about you.” “What about me?” Hawk narrowed his brow. “Do you believe me?” Casey shook his head. “I believe that this tactic is way to drastic.” Hawk paused and didn’t respond. Casey shrugged. “They have your girlfriend. I don’t think you have much of a choice. They are going to nuke the ship if you don’t finish in twenty hours, with or without you on it. They will not hesitate, and they have no intention of warning you prior.” “Won’t you get in trouble for telling me this?” “I suppose I would, if they found out about this call.” Hawk took a breath and scratched his cheek. “I appreciate you telling me.” “Sure thing.” “Alright. Tell them I’m close to completing my objective.” Hawk paused for a moment. “Actually, tell them I completed my objective. Yeah, do that! Tell them I did it! Tell them I disabled the machine!” Casey shook his head and frowned. “No can do, Hawk. We would know if you completed your objective.” “How?” “I can’t tell you that.” “Casey.” “Hawk, I can’t tell you. I don’t know. Jordan and I didn’t construct the hammer device. They constructed it after their second meeting with the aliens.” Hawk frowned. “There was a second meeting?” “Yes. I can’t tell you what went on in that meeting. It was between Boris, POTUS, and the aliens.” “Boris told me he found out about the aliens ten minutes before I arrived at your facility.” “Yeah, well—he lied.” There was a knocking at the door behind Hawk. He looked at Casey. “I have to go now.” There was another knock on the door. “Hawk, are you in there?” Hawk dropped the watch and pressed a button beside the door. It lifted open. Standing there was Aqua. “Hawk, you alright?” Hawk grinned. “Yeah, just looking for the bathroom.” Aqua didn’t grin back. “I thought I heard you talking.” Hawk nodded. “Yeah you did. I’m actually here because my buddies back on Earth dared me to fly up here.” “Dared?” “Yeah, oh yeah, that means challenged me, something that they thought I didn’t have the courage to do. I was just telling them about last night, how I drank forty-six of you under the table.” Aqua grinned. “Great, now humanity will think we’re lightweights.” “You are lightweights.” “So that’s all you spoke about?” “Yeah.” “Your conversation sounded different.” “Well, it ended on a different note.” “I hope you don’t mind me prying.” Hawk shook his head. “No problem. But, I have to ask. How many times has your ambassador met with our president?” “Twice, I think.” “I only heard about one meeting,” Hawk said. “What was the second meeting about?” Aqua shrugged. “It was just to advance discussion, but it didn’t get very far, I’m sure that’s why you haven’t heard anything.” “What happened?” “From what I heard, there was a second meeting, but our ambassador was attacked by a crazed human. Your president had the attacker arrested and apologized profusely.” “Attacked? How?” “Nothing serious,” Aqua said. “A guy on one of your off-road vehicles drove up to the meeting spot and hit our ambassador with a hammer, then tackled him. Your people pulled the guy off and arrested him. Frankly, our ambassador has suffered much worse on other planets. Your president was terribly embarrassed. I’m sure that’s why you haven’t heard anything.” Hawk nodded. He was skeptical, but he didn’t let it show. “Yeah, sure.” “Alright Hawk. I have to get back to work. You good? You need anything?” “Nah I’m alright. Thanks.” Aqua held out a hand, and Hawk shook it. “Okay. See you around.” Aqua walked off. He stopped drinking pretty early in the night, although he had still gotten wasted. The others, Hawk thought, would be out for a little while longer. Three hours on the clock. Hawk left the storeroom and looked around. He had to find the scientist crewmember and steal his key, then sneak into the science and engineering room and disable the machine, all within three hours’ time. He looked around the bar. All the Rhaokins looked the same to him. What did the scientist look like? What distinguishable feature did he have that would allow Hawk to recognize him from the others? The previous night was a blur. So much drinking. He’d gone to the restroom at least ten times. One time he’d gone to the restroom with the scientist. He remembered that their toilets were very similar to human toilets, except the water was a dark, almost black color, and there was no tank. They had sinks as well for washing hands, and they’d used the sinks at the same time. Then Hawk remembered—the scientist had some sort of tribal tattoo on his right wrist. He’d seen it as they were washing their hands. The scientist spoke English as well as the other crewmembers. He looked around the bar. A few Rhaokins were groaning now—he had to move quickly. Deftly, Hawk hopped over bodies and examined wrists. To create confusion that would mask his impending theft, he occasionally took loose room keys and switched them around. That way, when the scientist realized his key was missing it wouldn’t be an isolated incident. It felt as if he’d checked every single Rhaokin, and that the scientist was the last he checked, but finally—eventually—he found the key. He replaced the scientist’s key with a neighbor’s and stood up. “Hawk?” Hawk spun around. Golf sat up on the floor, looking out of it. “Hey Golf. How are you feeling?” “Sick.” He laughed. “You?” “Same. About to find a bathroom. I’ll hook up with you later.” Golf didn’t reply. He closed his eyes, curled up his trunk tail, and rested his head on it, falling back to sleep almost instantly.” “That’s cool,” Hawk said. “So you don’t even need pillows.” Golf didn’t reply as his breathing became rhythmic. He had the key. Now came the hard part—sneaking into the off-limits quarters. And he had a distance to travel as well. The terrain he had to traverse, in under three hours, was like a heavily trafficked strip mall. He had to go from one end of the strip mall to the other, without being seen, in under three hours. He would have to sneak past at least two-thousand aliens, all of whom would immediately recognize him as human the moment they saw him. This would likely prove to be his most difficult, his most challenging, his most impossible infiltration yet.