Prompt: Two cougar pilots argue over the pronunciation of an alien word that could prevent the self-destruction of an ancient abandoned alien craft.
There were many titles that could’ve gone in front of her name. Major. Pilot. To some, savior. At the moment she was too full of venom to embody any of them. She was just Paula Babcock: a shouting woman with wild bedhead throwing things down the corridors of the space-faring vessel she commanded.
She was still in her pajamas, the pants of which were covered in cartoonish ducks in old astronaut helmets, and there was a spot of toothpaste on her lower lip. She had only one thing left to throw: her bathroom computerized compact, complete with spinning mirror and moisturizer applicators. It was an expensive gift from her niece, but it was worth it to get one more shot at that floozy.
She chucked it. The other woman was power-walking away and trying to get the upper hand in terms of the crew’s respect, so she didn’t look over her shoulder. The compact struck her on the back of the skull and drew blood. That was it. That was when all of her titles flew out of the window as well. She was no longer a pilot, an admiral, a humanitarian; she was Wendy Hurriken. She was the woman fighting in the hallways with Paula Babcock, throwing punches and tearing collars.
They each helmed their own ship. Paula was master and commander of the Star Systems Vessel Plum Pie, and Wendy’s crew manned the SSV Napoleon Complex. Where the naming conventions had come from they had no idea, the exploratory vessel group had been mostly a boy’s club back then. They were probably drunk.
The women hadn’t known each other until the discovery of the Column. That’s what they’d called it. It was alien, thus extremely important, so they kept the silly names to themselves and went with an apt one. The Column looked like just that: a long thing with few features and texture and color like the stone supports of a long-gone and much-mourned civilization. It had only two access points, and the nearest ships that could attach were the Plum Pie and the Napoleon Complex.
Attach they did, both captains meeting in the middle of an alien hallway, all green and white stone with random flying lights, and shaking hands. There was nothing between them at that point at all. No animosity. No jealousy. They barely registered each other’s existence, as if they were the scent of someone’s latte on the other side of a coffee shop.
Together, with both crews behind them in each ship’s colors, they advanced through the alien vessel and eventually found something near its base they could interact with. Both captains were prepared to be the first contact, they’d been briefed on the possibilities extensively, but what met them was something nobody had prepared for. The Column’s computers scanned the visitors, all the way down to their DNA. In a flash it learned exactly what a human was and what you could count on them to do, what you could predict. It made its predictions and produced the perfect emissary.
The emissary emerged from a crystal cylinder at the end of the chamber. He appeared human, young, and male. His eyes were dark, but inviting. They seemed to invite two members of the crews more than anybody else. The captains stepped forward. They noticed the young man of the Column was extremely attractive, but too young for either of them. They’d been working the currents of the galaxy for more than two decades, and he, fresh from the mechanical womb, looked barely over twenty-five.
“Hello,” the emissary said in perfect English. Well, it wasn’t quite perfect. Wendy heard a little something akin to a German accent. Likely a coincidence. By the time humans made it that far into space, nationalities no longer existed. “Do not be afraid. Yes, I am an alien intelligence. I have taken this form to interact with you. I am not fully alive. I am not meant to experience happiness, just to connect you to the people of the past, and their knowledge.”
The captains greeted him at once, both extending their hands, knocking knuckles. Suddenly, there was something between all three of them, and it had claws. They asked his name. It was nonsense, cobbled together from a few other human names quickly drafted from their computers and into the Column’s. The young man told them he was Bluthor.
Some of the crew snickered, but not the captains. He didn’t deserve any disrespect. There was something about him… Something they both saw. Suddenly, in that figurative coffee shop, they were running into each other, spilling steam on the other’s blouse.
Bluthor was a godsend to the species. He gave the Column’s knowledge freely. There was medicine. Ways to shorten the distance between systems. Even the minutia of recipes and art from a long lost culture. He gave it all. He hosted shows in the Column, the walls alive with light, and told great stories of his history back when his people had their own bodies with their own arrangements of eyes and limbs.
Bluthor shared even more than that, though only with Paula and Wendy. He spoke to them in private. During nights he was either in the Plum Pie or the Napoleon Complex. You see, there was nowhere to sleep in the Column, and his human body needed it just as much as any other. Paula had offered her quarters, over Bluthor’s first drink. He had accepted. Wendy had offered hers, over his first strawberry. He had accepted.
The captains taught Bluthor other things about human life when he was in their quarters. He learned how soft silk sheets were. He learned how quiet everything got when the lights went out, and how sometimes you could only hear giggling that sounded much younger than it actually was. There was simply no light to prove it wrong.
At night he whispered the only secrets he had; the words of his people. Their actual language. The captains ate it up, memorizing everything for him. Bluthor was so… angelic. They found themselves thinking of him every moment they weren’t in his company.
Five months later, Bluthor was dead and gone. There had been no warning, not even a body to find, just a pool of mostly water that wasn’t even clouded. The body had always been temporary, just a handshake between two species. The Column shut them out after that, but their ships remained. They were ordered to stay just in case it came back to life and gave the rest of its answers.
Wendy had a funeral for Bluthor. Paula was in attendance. They both wore black, though the color had been difficult to find in anybody’s wardrobe, as few liked to be reminded of the blackness of space. In her eulogy Wendy admitted she had loved Bluthor. She admitted, at risk of being fired, that they had a relationship.
Instead of being fired, she was immediately assaulted by Paula, who fought for the microphone and declared her own love for the young beautiful Bluthor. The crew snapped pictures. They were tabloid headlines across the galaxy the next day, but all they cared about were the lies they thought the other was telling. They stormed across days and weeks, sneaking into each other’s ships and looking for evidence of the affairs.
Each thought their love burned brighter, neither could understand Bluthor’s betrayal. There had never been a hint of falsehood in those dark eyes. They screamed his secret words at each other, convincing themselves the other was a liar. Their words weren’t right. They were gibberish. Bluthor had been mocking them; he truly only had love for one captain. He simply used the other.
The compact had just been thrown. One captain was in her pajamas and the other was bleeding. They might’ve killed each other, except alarms went off. Alarms within the Column. They ran to see if their Bluthor was reforming, an ice sculpture resurrected by the kindness of the universe. No. He was nowhere to be found, but the Column was cracking up. Destabilizing. All that trapped knowledge, a whole future for humans, was going to crumble.
Paula had the key. Bluthor had warned her this might happen someday. That was why he taught her his language. The Column could only help the righteous, and the righteous had to prove themselves. They had to remember what was important. Love. Compassion. Paula had the word for compassion. She whispered it, but the ship did not settle. A chunk of the ceiling fell and nearly crushed her. Wendy begrudgingly helped her to her feet.
“Gizn!”Paula screamed, but the ship still didn’t respond.
Wendy had the key. Bluthor had warned her this could happen. Humans had to remind the Column that they had heart, that its gifts weren’t being wasted on the cruel. Bluthor had whispered his words to her just for this moment. She had the right one. The word for compassion. She whispered it. Nothing.
“Phoss!” she shouted. Nothing. She tried again. Again. Paula tried to shout above her and her nonsense words.
“Pghoizsns!” they yelled in unison. The alarms silenced. The ship settled into a dusty calm. That was the word. No human mouth could say it on its own. Bluthor’s people, long long ago, had two mouths each, and their language required them for pronunciation. Bluthor had to exist. He had to love them to cement the words in their mind, to get them to go there even in its crumbling horrors and shout them to the ceiling.
He had used them both, but in that use they saw his purpose and his strength. They didn’t hate each other any longer. Bluthor had brought them together in passion to give them a chance, to give everyone a chance at a brighter future. They would always remember him fondly, especially that pristine body of his curled up in the sheets.
The captains sighed.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by SamJFraser during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!