The Best of Times Short Story Competition

Autumn 2016 Results

Dweeble - A Space Oddity

Copyright © Mark Fowler 2016

When the Gallians kidnapped my crew from the International Space Station in Sector X4, it neglected to leave Dweeble behind. While the tin-can has its uses, in a situation like this, all Dweeble seems to do is chatter away the hours in whiny metallic tones, offering useless quotes and a stream of space chatter, so banal that a man wishes he could slip right into the exit chute of the Gallian craft, and die a happier death in deep space.

DooDoo, Tweep, Tweep, sssssssh, ping. 7x-2,000,000² hyper-seconds between Gallus and Star Uterass...-10 seconds and counting... DooDoo, Tweep, Tweep, sssssssh, ping.

On the space station, Dweeble was mainly out of sight, processing data picked up by the station's remote sensors, or in the galley preparing Crème Vichyssoise Glacée, or maybe, hotdogs, whatever the crew were in the mood to eat. He's one of those updated B52's that hit the market in 2840, but quickly lost popularity when the Company realised Starmaker crews were committing suicide after subjection to their gawd-awful prattle. We were due for a refit when we'd finished our latest gig, well, that's before the three-headed creep crashed our space party.

Mind you, whining about the robot, is how I'm passing the time in this confined state in the hold of the Gallian craft. My fellow crew members, Habib and Rostov, are locked into their space-seats nearby.

"Commander, what do you reckon the aliens want with us?" whispers Habib.

"Not much point whispering, Habib, they can't speak human and besides, I doubt there's much we can tell them they don't already know."

Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep! Gallians...three-headed Bleebleblops from Hedron Galaxy. Captured, then settled planet Gallus in 2544. Farm Gobbleworms, mine Glowlight, protein collected from sentient beings from other planets. Brussel Sprouts side serves for carbohydrate needs...psst, dingle, dingle...Beep! Further updates available.

"Shut up, Dweeble. No need to depress us further." Of course, I'd heard of Gallian eating habits, but never dreamed our station was within range of their planet. Not my job to panic the crew with such depressing knowledge, especially when we're already captives.

"Flying cockroaches, we're toast," squawks Rostov, her pretty face contorting at the thought of being Gallian cuisine.

"Maybe they want us for other reasons," interjects Habib. "You know, data of some kind, or maybe..."

"To have their children!" Rostov is really freaking out.

Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!... Gallians procreate by thought patterns....Dweeble calms Rostov...Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!

"How the hell do they do that?" says Habib.

Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep! One head, male thoughts. One head, female thoughts. Third head, referee. Calm thoughts, baby Gallian tumble from bottom chute three months after gestation. Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!

"Thanks, Dweeble, cutie," coos Rostov, "I can rest easy for now."

Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep! "Hey, baby, you make my motors whir and my springles go all a tingle"... Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!

Habib laughs as if he's not on a Gallian spacecraft heading for three-headed MasterChef. Rostov, my Junior Officer with the body of starlet, and the brains of a dead genius, giggles unashamedly.

"Shut up, Dweeble," I say kindly. "He's playing snippets from the Robotic Pops. All those oil cans listen into the intergalactic top million they broadcast from Neptune."

"Oh, leave him alone," says Rostov, showing the first sign of mutinous behaviour since we left Earth.

I'm about to give her a piece of what's left of my mind, when a loud blast of gas excites our ears. The divider slides open and an important looking Gallian ducks his three heads and enters the hold.

Each face, uglier than a squashed cabbage, looks round at his captives. One face wrinkles like a thousand year old carpet. I can't work out who's the brains of the operation from that, but I give it a go. After all, I'm the commander.

"You-ee tell Earthling people whatta you wanta from us!"

I'm not sure whether my hybrid pidgin speak is understood. I picked up most of it watching ancient re-runs of Jungle Jim from 20th century television (Hey, what's a guy gunna do shut out in space for ten years, but file through the whole entertainment catalogue on Foxstar?)

The second head twists around on its hose-like neck and peers at me closely. Cranium three is just as interested, but it's his aggressive array of saw-cut teeth that shut me up.

Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep! Gallian no talk. All communication by thought processes... Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!

I whisper, "Dweeble, can you tell me what he's thinking?" I'm not sure why I'm whispering. The alien creep's third head is only one dead Uranian swamp rat away from my face. (If you must know, Uranium swamp rats are considered a delicacy in the Restaurant at the Far End of the Galaxy. This guy's clearly been dining out, judging by the ratty whiff on his breath.)

Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!...Gallian Commander wondering if Brussel Sprouts should be sauteed or done white sauce... Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!

"He wants to eeeat us!" screams Rostov, her ruddy complexion zipping up the scale to bright scarlet.

"Calm down, Rostov. Don't let him see you're rattled." Of course, I'm totally rattled, but Rostov's histrionics remind me of my mother when she's out of Valium. "Dweeble, tell the commander Earthlings taste crap with Brussel Sprouts. We'd give him wind enough to blow up a Glowlight mine. We're only tasty with carrots."

Sometimes I have to pat myself on the proverbial back with my own proverbial hand. I get these ideas almost as if it's a gift. Guess that's why I'm commander.

Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!...Gallian commander not happy. Prefers Brussel Sprouts. His mother made him eat them as a tri-child. But, carrots do... Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!

Suddenly, I want to smack my actual mouth with my trussed up hands for being such a smart arse. Then I see it. Rostov's space-seat has a crate of carrots stored underneath.

The three heads begin sniffing each of the crew, including me. I can feel a warm, wet sensation releasing under me.

"Can't you do something, Dweeble?" says Habib, his face lathered in sweat that seems to be putting the second head off his supper.

Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!...Dweeble can collect data from remote sensors, channel alien thoughts, recall 400.9999999³ billion bytes of data, make dinner and play a range of really cool games from the Inter-galactic X-Box Shoppe... Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!

"Oh, shut-up Dweeble," I say, "Habib means something useful." I'm getting very nervous about these creatures. It's hauling the carrots out from under Habib's seat, and the middle head has a diabolic smile on its evil dial. I'm thinking gross encounter of the dining kind, not that I'm letting on that I'm petrified.

"Hey, Dweeby, baby," coos Rostov. "You know those games you play. Do the aliens play them too?"

Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep! Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!...Yes sweetie...Lieutenant Rostov...the Gallian Commander is Gallian All In Googleblaster Champion. He's legend in Inter-galactic X-Box Shoppe StarMag... Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!

Well, I'll be, the Junior officer has had her first good idea in ten years.

"Hey, Dweeby, can you beat him? Rostov would be so pleased if you could win us our freedom."

Dweeble spluttered wildly, his panels lighting up like Alpha Centauri. I just worried he might bust his pfoofer valve. (That's what my Mum called anything she didn't understand in the technical range. Me too.)

Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!...Commander say he return us to Space Station if I can beat him. Best, two out of three. He pleased to have new opponent... Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!

* * *

The strange thing about Gallians is that the singular and plural for Gallian, is 'Gallians'. The three-headed one is the commander, and the crew.

When we reach the command centre, we realise we've been prisoners of only the three heads. (Guess that's where the old space gag 'Three heads are better than one' comes from.) We're locked away to watch Dweeble play Googleblaster for OUR lives.

The game is brought up on a giant screen. A huge array of unusual aliens are floating around a virtual galaxy. Without knowing exactly how it's played, I'm guessing the players have to blast all the aliens out of existence as they whizz about. There's no external controls. Everything happens by mind, or robotic control.

Dweeble's actually pretty good and he has the three heads on the ropes within a matter of minutes. His panels light up furiously and he gives one of those annoying high pitched whistles. (Damned if I can imagine what he thinks he's going to do with Rostov if he wins.)

But, Game two and three are a lot closer. The three heads seem to be working in unison, and I can tell from their creepy smiles that they've done the business. Looks like Carrots a la Human is about to be served.

"Don't worry, Dweeby, you tried." Rostov's sense of fair play and all that, seems a little skewed. She's forgotten that she's about to get dined off.

Dweeble's lights are winking weakly. Even I feel a little sorry for the tin-can.

"Uh, oh, it's getting the carrots diced," says Habib. The alien triple-grins at us as it dices the carrots.

Suddenly, Dweeble spins around, its lights flashing like a manic space ambulance. Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep! ...error...error...error... Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep! He's gone loopier than a Gobbleworm on Uranic acid.

The Gallian Commander stops slicing. The third head looks quizzical. The second seems ashamed, and the right head's angrier than a swarm of Venutian Steam hornets.

Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!...Commander count my aliens, not his. Third game lost. Dweeble winner!... Psst..dingle, dingle...Beeep!

* * *

While I've probably slagged off at Gallians a bit during our adventure, I've gotta admit they're an honourable bunch. When the commander realised Dweeble had really won, he took us back to the Space Station. No apology as such, but we did get to keep the bag of carrots.

As for Dweeble, I have to say he's quite useful, in fact, he's taught me how to play Googleblaster. I don't win, but it's better that watching that dreadful Space Trek program in the Foxstar catalogue.

Rostov spends a lot of time oiling his parts and singing along to hits on the Inter-Galactic top million. Habib does the cooking now that Dweeble's otherwise engaged.

We do miss his Crème Vichyssoise Glacée.