Crouching low and covered in sweat, he snuck inside. He entered what looked like a waiting room for aliens, or a security area. And across the room, behind a shield of glass, sat a Rhaokin security guard, who stared at Hawk wide-eyed.
“What the—!” the guard said. “A human? How did you get in here?”
Hawk let out an exasperated sigh. He hunched over with his hands on his knees and took a few deep breaths, and raised a finger. There was an open door to the right of the Rhaokin. The floor was blue and the walls were white. Behind the Rhaokin was a console and screens. To the left of the console was another door, this one small and closed. The Rhaokin raised his radio to his mouth, but Hawk interrupted him.
“Simple, my dear Rhaokin,” Hawk said. The Rhaokin guard lowered his radio. Hawk continued. “Last night I got drunk with forty-six Rhaokin friends of mine. During the course of the night, a scientist who works here gave me his key. This morning, I needed to travel the three miles along the course of the jellyfish head, or whatever you call this part of this ship, to reach the Wall. That meant remaining undetected by all of the Rhaokins on board so I could complete my mission all the while remain undetected.”
The guard was enraptured, and Hawk continued. “I waited until the coast was clear, then left the bar. It was lucky that the windows and door of the bar are tinted, as otherwise those passing by would assume that I incapacitated forty-six Rhaokins.”
The guard raised an eyebrow. “Did you?”
“Of course not. Well, at least not directly. It turns out that the Rhaokin alcohol tolerance is significantly weaker than humanity’s tolerance, so I wound up drinking forty-six Rhaokins under the table, which was undoubtedly one of my crazier nights out. So, either way, I wake up surrounded by forty-six incapacitated Rhaokins, and I leave the bar.”
“Let me stop you there,” the guard said. “You keep saying Rhaokins. The plural of Rhaokin is just Rhaokin. There is no ‘S’ at the end.”
“Right. My apologies. So anyway, I step out of the bar and luckily I’m alone. So I think to myself—this area is strikingly similar to strip malls back down on Earth and so I went to investigate. But there is no obvious way to access behind the shops, so I had to get creative. Naturally, I utilized my skills as a master infiltrator to scale the side of the bar onto the roof. Once on the roof, lying prone, I rolled across to the opposite side and dropped down.
“Here I was, in an area that was clearly not meant for normal foot traffic—however there was a significant amount of traffic by crew and shop owners, so I had to hide. Unfortunately, I am on a strict time constraint, so I didn’t have as much time as I would have preferred to fully investigate and weigh my options. But I did notice something consistent with the back alley—the dumpsters. I saw a truck approaching from my rear as well, heading towards the Wall. It appeared to work like the dump trucks back home as well. It lifted the trash and dumped it into its bin, or whatever that part of a dump truck is called—”
“The vapor bin I think.”
“Yeah. Would’ve been nice to know that beforehand. So anyway I considered this method. Hide in the trash, wait for the truck to pick me up, then jump out when I reached the Wall. But I had a problem. I didn’t know how your trash system works. So, naturally, before jumping in head first, I investigated to make sure I wouldn’t be immediately killed.”
“Naturally. So it turns out, as luck would have it, that your dump trucks appear to be relatively gentle with their trash loads. There was still a matter of the crewmembers who drove the dump truck. But as a master infiltrator, I’ve snuck past trained guards who were specifically on the lookout for me. So sneaking past a few unsuspecting crewmembers was no problem, and I hid myself in a dumpster, and waited to get picked up.
“That part of my plan went off without a hitch. I was gently placed inside the dump truck. But little did I know then that your trucks, once full of trash, close and lock the lid and vaporize the trash inside into dust. And little did I know that the trash I’d hidden inside was the last load of trash before a vaporization session.”
“The vapor bin.”
“I told you.”
“You told me two minutes ago.”
The guard shook his head, not noticing Hawk’s barely perceptible movement of his right hand. “How did you get out of that one?”
“It was all chicken but the gravy,” Hawk said. “I withdrew my silenced twenty-two Beretta and shot out every vapor ray in the truck. I saw them begin to glow blue, and assumed that those were vaporization beams, so with one shot each I took them all out. But now I had another problem: The crewmembers were alerted that the vaporization had a complete failure.”
“You would think. So there I was, in the back of a dumpster—”
“The vapor bin.”
“Yes I know!” Hawk sighed. “So anyway, I’m surrounded by mounds of trash, and about to be discovered. I didn’t want to fight them—as for one, I’m not sure how strong your species is, and two, that would still raise suspicion, so I was in a pickle.”
“In a pickle in the trash?”
“No. In a pickle is a phrase that means I was in a jam.”
“A different food item?”
“No. Sorry. In a jam and in a pickle mean the same thing. I was in a tight spot. I was between a rock and a hard place. I was in trouble, with no obvious escape.”
Hawk took a deep breath and continued. “So to explain my escape, you have to better understand the design of the garbage truck—”
Hawk paused for a few seconds and glared at the guard. Then he sighed and continued. “The ceiling of the vapor bin opens and closes by sliding and then folding to the right side of the truck. It lifts off the ceiling enough for someone of my size to sneak through. So I used my grappling claws and stuck to the ceiling. When they opened it, I slid right on through, then stuck to the ceiling between the right wall of the truck and the ceiling. I heard one of the drivers walk by to check the back. They began talking, and I could hear them. They were saying that it looked like the vaporization beams had been sabotaged. The other one suggested that there had been something volatile in the last batch of trash, that exploded and took out the beams. The other one agreed. I breathed a sigh of relief.
“So they hopped back in their truck and drove to their facility, which was close to the Wall. I hopped off when they got close, snuck around, lurked around a bit—you know, made myself invisible—and when the coast was clear I hopped off and snuck to the door, opened it up with the scientist’s key, and here we are.”
The Rhaokin shook his head. “That doesn’t sound that complicated. In fact, that story was pretty unremarkable.”
“I’m aware of that,” Hawk said. “I just needed to distract you while I tied you to your chair and hid you somewhere.”
The Rhaokin looked down at himself. There was a black wire wrapped around him multiple times, constraining him and keeping him immobilized against his chair. “Not bad,” the Rhaokin said. “But I’m not in a closet.”
“Haven’t gotten around to that yet. And thanks for the heads up about the closet. I just need to keep you out of sight for an hour. I’m sorry about this. I’m under orders.”
“What are you planning to do?”
Hawk looked at his watch. “Sorry. Time’s up and I’m on a curfew. Nothing personal.”
“You can’t do this to me!” The Rhaokin said. “My name is is Rahhhhh—”
He continued saying his name as Hawk pushed him into the closet and shut the door. Hawk counted the seconds he said his name.
“Thirteen seconds. This guy is important.” Hawk cracked his knuckles and shrugged. “Oh well.”
The minute hand on his watch seemed to be moving faster than normal. It had taken him two hours to sneak inside this facility and then distract and dispose of the guard. He had one hour to complete his mission. He looked around.
Surrounding him were metallic consoles that seemed to hum and vibrate in place like little old men. They emitted smoke in tiny little bursts, and Hawk felt like he was at a shuffleboard competition in a nursing home. Every few seconds a random console would emit a series of beeps, and then a second machine would repeat back the series of beeps, then a light would ding and turn either blue, yellow, green, or red. Between the consoles was the desk where the guard had been sitting. Upon the desk sat a cup and a plate with crumbs. There was a pamphlet with alien words on it. There was art as well, and Hawk got the gist of it pretty quickly.
At the top of the pamphlet was large lettering that read “Las Vegas”, and below that was a hologram picture of a slot machine. The hologram was as simple as the kind sold for sticker books. Hawk placed the paper back down and walked deeper into the facility. The hallway turned left sharply, and the floor became the wall from the previous room, although Hawk didn’t feel a shift in gravity at all. Down this hall was a door. Hawk swiped his key and the door opened.
“What was that?” a Rhaokin said. Hawk ducked down behind a surprisingly large trashcan.
“Nothing,” a second Rhaokin said. “Door does that all the time. All right come on. What’s another one?”
“Jackass? Is that a variation of the one you told me before, ‘ass’?”
“I don’t think so. I think a jackass is more like a dumb person.”
“Is ‘dumb’ a good one?”
“Not from what I’ve heard. It’s sort of childish.”
“Okay what else?”
“You want to know the best one?”
“What’s that one mean?”
Hawk poked his head over the trashcan. They were two female Rhaokins—Rhaokin, that is, both somewhat larger than the other female he’d met. There had been a couple female Rhaokin at the bar, but drinking seemed to be a male activity. They stood behind a large transparent screen that had four sides—one screen in the middle, then screens attached on the left side, right side, and top, which caved inward slightly.
“A lot of things depending on the context. I wasn’t going to tell you this one until you understood English a bit better, but it’s important for you to know it.”
“How do I use it?”
“Generally, you say ‘fuck you’, but you have to be careful. If you use the wrong words with it, your insult may come off as homophobic.”
“That makes no sense to me. What’s a Rhaokin equivalent?”
“We don’t really have one.” The first Rhaokin paused. “Well actually, how about ‘Peenup’.”
“Now I understand. So when you say to someone ‘fuck you’, you’re telling them to go masturbate.”
“I don’t think so. Honestly, I’m not sure. Rahhhhhhhh was the one who taught me all of these, we’ll have to ask him.”
Hawk held his breath. Fuck. Rahhhhhhhh was the alien he just disposed of. If they went looking for him now, his cover would be blown. The first alien lifted her radio to her mouth.
“Rahhhhhhhh are you there?”
There was no reply.
Hawk opened the door behind him and quickly ran out. He ran back down the hall, made the sharp turn, ignored the disorientation, opened the closet door, and grabbed Rahhhhhhhh’s radio.
The guard looked angry. “You better untie me right now or else—”
Hawk shoved the empty bag that had held the syringe into the guard’s mouth.
“I’m really sorry about this,” Hawk said. “This is not like me. Desperate times.”
He raised the radio and coughed a few times, then did the best impression he could of Rahhhhhhhh’s voice. “What’s up?”
“Nice one, Rahhhhhhhh,” the alien replied. “So do you know what the insult words ‘fuck you’ actually mean?”
Hawk paused for a moment. He didn’t really know. “It means go have sex with yourself. But it’s just sort of a stand alone insult now, not to be taken any other way.”
“What about ‘screw you’?”
“You know any other English insults?”
Hawk, of course, did, and really wanted to participate. But unfortunately, the clock was ticking. “No,” he said.
There was another pause. Hawk looked at his watch. Fifty-two minutes remaining.
He strapped the radio to his belt and ran down the inverted hallway a third time, then swiped the door open and rolled inside behind the large trashcan.
“That’s enough for today’s lesson, I think,” the first Rhaokin said. “We’ll pick it back up tomorrow.”
“That’s fine. I need to get back to work anyway.”
The second alien walked off. The first took a seat at a screen and began working by moving her hands around.
Crawling on his hands and knees, Hawk crept around the trashcan and underneath a nearby desk. He looked around. The alien tapped her foot to a waltz-like beat a few feet from his face.
On Earth, Hawk could crawl so silently that the average human, even when a foot or two away, couldn’t hear him. This skill saved his life countless times, most notably in situations involving Russians wearing those hats with the dog-ear flaps and, in some dire situations, his ex-girlfriend. But it was different here. These were no humans, and his ex-girlfriend was likely hunting small children and animals for sport, or whatever she did with her spare time.
He watched the alien for patterns—a critical skill in the arsenal of anyone who has ever done any infiltrating. A pattern could be anything: finger tapping, leaning back after typing a few sentences, the rubbing of eyes after yawning—anything really. In routine situations, humans rely solely on muscle memory and habit to get them through the day, and in this regard Hawk hoped that the aliens were no different. He had no idea how their hearing differed from a human’s. And without any background sound to mask his movement, trying to sneak past this alien undetected would be too risky.
He studied the Rhaokin intently, as he would a human target. She had four monitors, and she could only look at one monitor at a time. She looked at the middle monitor first, then checked something on the right monitor, then looked at the left monitor and moved her hands around in a sort of typing motion. Alongside the wall that held the door Hawk had entered from were several different large metallic computer-like consoles, similar to the ones in the security room. When the Rhaokin did her hand motion and pressed the last key, the second console made a beeping noise, emitting a puff of smoke, then made a ding noise like a toaster and a light flashed yellow. The Rhaokin then looked at the top monitor, moved her hands in that mid-air typing motion again, and then looked up at the ceiling and sighed heavily.
After watching this routine three times in a row, Hawk made his move.
The Rhaokin checked the middle monitor first, then the right monitor. She was about to check the left monitor and move her hands. Hawk counted down. At the exact moment she turned her head, he rolled sideways from under the desk, past her chair, and landed in a crouch behind her. He was about three feet from her rear and held his breath. If she heard him or if she moved, he would have time to attack quickly enough to hopefully knock her unconscious.
But she didn’t hear or see him at all, and continued moving her hands in mid-air.
He crawled on his hands and knees to the back door, scrambling quickly. He had about two seconds to—
Hawk looked up. The Rhaokin was looking right at him.
“Hey!” she said again.
Hawk stood up, brushed himself off, and quickly narrowed his brow to look angry and condescending.
Whenever caught, the wise infiltrator knows that the number one rule to infiltrating is to deny everything and make convoluted counter-accusations.
“Why don’t you ‘hey’ yourself,” Hawk said. He frowned. “What do you think you’re doing?”
The Rhaokin looked around, confused. “What?”
“You heard me,” Hawk said. “There was a spike in the quasi-phasal flux manifold. They sent me, and I see you here, evidently casually scrambling the vector emissions. Care to explain?”
“I was doing no such thing! I don’t even know what that means!”
She went to move, but Hawk quickly raised a hand. “Don’t move! Don’t touch your workstation. Let me see what you’ve been doing.”
He walked around her desk, standing behind her and looking at her screen. It made no sense to him whatsoever.
“Hmmm,” he said. “Everything appears to be in place. Alright, continue what you were doing while I watch, and explain everything you’re doing as you do it.”
The Rhaokin shook her head. “Am I in trouble?”
Hawk nodded. “Grave trouble. I gather you’re not the kind of worker who is privy to authorization towards human consultants, are you?”
“I was not privy to that information, no. I can barely understand what you’re saying, to be honest.”
“Your fate rests in my hands. I’m here to determine whether you purposely or accidentally sabotaged the system and caused Golf down in maintenance to lose an eye.”
“Golf lost an eye because of me?”
“Why else would I know a maintenance worker’s name?”
The Rhaokin didn’t respond.
“What’s your name anyway?” Hawk asked.
“My human name or actual name?”
“My human name is Lilac and my actual name is Sherrrrrrrr.”
“Hmmm.” He rubbed his chin. Her name was about seven seconds long, which gave Hawk the confidence he needed to keep berating her with meaningless jabber. “Alright get back to it. After disabling the flux-manifold, what did you do next?”
Lilac moved her hands to a violet box in the top right corner of the middle screen. “I didn’t do that, I don’t think. I hit this box, and that makes the yellow light over there ding and a puff of smoke comes out. If the puff of smoke doesn’t come out, I have to quickly mash cancel within five seconds or risk a complete system failure and my work station gets blown to smithereens, and me with it.”
She hit the button, then looked at her monitor and held her breath. The light turned on. She waited. Then it dinged, and the puff of smoke emitted. She breathed a sigh of relief.
“How often do you have to do this whole process a day?” Hawk asked.
“About one hundred and ten times.”
“How often does the puff of smoke not come out?”
“About once every one hundred times.”
Hawk scratched his head. “So once a day you have to mash the cancel button or risk dying?”
“Wow. Talk about stressful jobs.”
“I can’t really talk about stressful jobs.”
Hawk paused. “What?”
Lilac didn’t reply. She just stared at Hawk with a look of concern. Hawk stared back with a look of confusion. Each stared at the other for a few slow seconds.
“Screw this,” Hawk said. From his tactical utility belt he withdrew a black device with two prongs that looked exactly like a taser. He pressed it to the back of her neck in a swift motion and pressed the button. It zapped her, and she fell heavily into her chair.
“Sure hope that was a memory eraser, and not a taser,” he said to himself.
Leaving her, he walked through the door behind her.