Cmd. Hayes asks for volunteers for a mission critical to the New Alliance of Free Stars: getting groceries! A one-shot comedy based on the computer game Star Control 2 - The Ur-Quan Masters.
Disclaimer: The author does not not own, and does not claim to own, anything copyrighted, trademarked, or otherwise owned by anyone else. The author does not claim to own Star Control or the Ur-Quan Masters, its characters or events or jokes or concepts or dialogue, despite any usage of the above. All intellectual properties, copyrights, trademarks, and other items are the property of their respective owners.
Commander Hayes stepped forward to the podium in the large conference room, looking out over the vast array of aliens seated before him. (Technically, the Orz were standing in their exoskeletons.)
The commander tapped the microphone on the podium to test it. It was on. He took a deep breath to prepare himself, and began to speak:
"Good afternoon to all of you, or at least, as much of an afternoon as you can get in space. Some of you have only just arrived, so I'll introduce myself. My name is Commander Hayes. I'd like to welcome you all aboard the first starbase of the New Alliance of Free Stars. Presently we're in orbit around the Human homeworld of Earth."
"In the year and a half since the Captain first contacted me and created the New Alliance of Free Stars, we've been able to strike many important blows against our foes, the Ur-Quan and their Hierarchy of Battle Thralls. Just recently, in fact, we received word that the Captain managed to trick the cruel Ilwrath into attacking the Thraddash! The Hierarchy is turned against itself!"
The room filled with laughter.
"But one of the accomplishments we're most proud of is how this alliance has been rebuilt, from old friends like the Syreen-" here there was hearty applause for the blue humanoids, "and the Shofixti -" there were loud whoops and ululations from the raccoon-like creatures, "as well as new members, such as the Utwig and Zoq-Fot-Pik!" There was polite applause. "I'd like to extend a special welcome to all of our allies, including the newest group of Zoq-Fot-Pik captains." There was more applause and ululations.
"The road hasn't always been easy," Cmdr. Hayes continued, "but we've persevered. One of our problems has come to the forefront recently. As our alliance has grown, and we've hosted more captains here at the starbase in preparation for building and crewing their ships, our food consumption has increased. With the return of the Shofixti from near extinction-" here he paused for half a minute of jubilant whoops from the Shofixti, "and the fact that the Ur-Quan slave shield cuts us off from Earth, we're now finding our food supplies stretched to the limit. Of course, this is a problem much preferable to that of having nobody to help fight the Ur-Quan at all."
Various noises of hearty agreement came from the audience.
"The last time the Captain was here, he authorized a special mission critical to the survival of the Alliance. We must collect groceries!"
"We need new stocks of foodstuffs for all of the races here. I'd like to ask for volunteers to travel to nearby star systems and scour their planets for food. We'll be using the vessels that we've finished repairs and maintenance on. Our latest intelligence indicates minimal Ur-Quan presence in this area, but there is still some risk. Do we have any volunteers?"
Captain Daikon, a scarred Shofixti warrior, stood up with raised paw and announced, "I and my clan would be very honored to volunteer for this mission. If we time it right, we'll be able to return just as our next generation is born!"
"Please do be sure and leave some food for us," smiled Cmdr. Hayes. Capt. Daikon gave him a jovial thumbs-up.
A Zoq, a Fot, and a Pik hopped onto the armrests of their human-designed chairs, simultaneously, indicating they wished to speak. The Zoq-Fot-Pik were an alliance of three species that had coexisted for so long that they were now no longer sure which name applied to which species. They were so connected that they often acted in trios. One of them looked like a green plant with small antennae. Another resembled an upright clamshell, while the final member resembled a large, grey spring with a talking head.
"We'd like to volunteer ourselves for this mission too," the plant-like creature announced.
"That's why you got up?" the spring groused. "I told you I registered for the Frungy team here! Our big game's tonight!"
"If we don't get some food, you're not going to have any snacks when you watch the Frungy championship!" the plant retorted.
The clamshell member of the trio turned his single eye between one and the other of his companions.
"Oh, fine, but when we do planetary landings, you'd better not get lost again!" the spring acquiesced grudgingly.
"I wasn't lost! I was meandering!" the plant insisted.
"Of course you were," the spring said sarcastically.
"Thank you, captains," Cmdr. Hayes broke in on the quarrel. "Do we have any more volunteers?"
One of the Utwig captains stood, her eyes darkening from the center a moment. It had startled Cmdr. Hayes the first time he'd seen it, but Utwig eyes seemed to do it fairly regularly, almost like human blinking. The eyes were the only visible part of the Utwig's face, for this race wore elaborate masks at all times, switching them according to mood or present occupation. This Utwig captain announced, "I and my crew volunteer ourselves and our craft for this mission. The Ultron, that blessed device which the Captain restored for us, indicates to us that we shall find food in abundance, and we need not go through extended months of painful, lethargic starvation to atone for having once broken the Ultron."
"Thank you, Captain Snoon," the commander agreed, "I think I speak for all of us when I say we'd rather you didn't starve yourself. Any other volunteers?"
There was a clank and a whirr as one of the Orz, Captain Heavy, stepped forward. Its exoskeleton was the thing making the clanking and whirring- the actual alien was set just above the two rapid mechanical legs, under the powerful blasters used in boarding enemy vessels, and behind a thick plate of armor. It floated in a solution of liquid and dissolved gas which it absorbed through gills, and it manipulated its environment with long fins.
The commander licked his lips as Captain Heavy made its statement. He knew his people had been working on the translation computers ever since the Orz joined the Alliance, but he still couldn't understand much of what they said. The statement this one was making didn't make much sense to him. He checked the transcript the computers had thrown up on the podium screen, but he saw the computers were just guessing as well- several of the words had been italicized, a marking indicating they were best guesses.
Capt. Heavy had announced, "Our fingers would be getting the campers many things. They are many bubbles, not fingers, so they are needing it more, I think."
"Capt. Heavy, I'm sorry, I didn't quite understand. Are you volunteering for the mission?" the commander asked.
"Yes!" Capt. Heavy agreed, "even if there will not be much dancing with silly cows, Orz are enjoy it the same. Can Orz slide to the place happy campers are going?"
"I don't know," replied the baffled commander, "but we're grateful for your help. Would anyone else like to volunteer?" he hurriedly asked.
Although none of the other captains volunteered, some human crew members offered to help with the mission.
Over the next few days, Cmdr. Hayes and the captains who had volunteered developed the crew roster and list of ships which would be proceeding on the expedition. Each of the four captains would take their own vessel, crewed by members of their own race as well as human volunteers. It was decided that the four ships would travel together so they could protect each other.. Each of the vessels were the best combat ships the captains' respective races could produce, but the Ur-Quan forces were powerful and numerous.
The mission traveled to a star system not far from Sol, to a planet that, upon scanning, proved to indeed harbor edible biological life.
Capt. Heavy communicated to the other ships, "Orz will GO!GO! and bring back extra silly cows for the campers to be eaten!"
The Zot-Foq-Pik, aboard their Stinger, looked at each other. "Why couldn't we have gone on a mission with people who can actually communicate!" bemoaned the spring.
"He's as bad as you are when you try to explain Frungy statistics," the plant agreed.
"The Ultron indicates," Capt. Snoon, the Utwig captain, broadcast to the fleet, "that the Orz are going to land on the planet and hunt for meat for the starbase crew to eat. Probably that's what they said." Her expression was unreadable, hidden behind her mask of Translating Inscrutable Aliens.
"That sounds wonderful!" Capt. Daikon enthused, his raccoon-like lips curling upwards. "Fresh meat! My clan has spotted a roaring stream full of eels, we shall partake of!"
"But wait, shouldn't we harvest some plant foods too? The Pik can't eat meat," the plant said in concern.
"Are you kidding? I love meat. It's the Fot that are herbivorous," the spring insisted.
The plant huffed, "First of all, you're not the Pik. And second, you can eat meat, but you always get coilburn afterwards!"
"There is no need for concern," the Utwig captain reassured them patronizingly, "the Utwig shall don the mask of Alien Crop Harvesting, to be swiftly followed by the masks of Hopeful Consumption Despite Risk of Tastelessness, and then the mask of Giving the Domestic Nonsentient Companion the Leftovers."
Accordingly, the teams each landed on the planet and began harvesting their chosen foods.
"Wayaa!" one of the Shofixti clansmen exclaimed on the open frequencies, his bushy, ringed tail swishing back and forth, "these streams are not full of eels! They are full of columns of invertebrate creatures!" Indeed, the things they had thought were eels were instead some sort of colony of sluglike beings that clung together and swam through the water.
"What terrible luck," sighed one of the human crewman accompanying them.
The Shofixti turned to him in astonishment and asked, "Are you kidding? We love invertebrates more than eels! Let us unload the nets and sizzling pans!"
Some of the Shofixti children who had been born during the trip jumped into the water and chased after the creatures in the water, catching them in their teeth.
"Stop snacking between meals!" their mothers scolded them.
In the meantime, the plantlike member of the Zot-Foq-Pik decided to assist the spring creature's team. After some meandering and listening to the sound of innocuous flying arthropods, the plantlike creature found the team in a field full of tall, edible grass, playing Frungy. To be more strictly accurate, it found the human crewmen milling about uncertainly while the spring creature shouted at them.
"What are you doing?" cried the plantlike creature.
"Don't get all sanctimonious with me," the spring said defensively. "We looked high and low for edible foodstuffs, and what did we find? Nothing! So I decided to promote greater cultural understanding between members of the Alliance."
"No edible foodstuffs!" the plantlike creature scoffed. "What do you call these insects? They're plenty edible!"
Before the argument could proceed further, one crewman saw a horrifying shape running at him through the tall grass. He screamed and ran, shouting, "There's something after us!"
Several more humans found themselves being pursued by the unknown creatures, and fled blindly, trampling down the stalks in their haste, the way out hidden by leaves which stretched over their heads.
"That's it, they're finally getting the hang of Frungy!" the spring creature laughed.
"You dimwit, we're under attack!" the plant said in a panic.
"Friends, stay your hands!" the strange pursuing shapes cried.
The spring stretched itself upward, trying to get a better view of the situation. "That sounds like Capt. Snoon," it said.
"Our apologies," Capt. Snoon shouted to everyone nearby. "We forgot that you are used to our purple adornment, and had never seen our 'Alien Crop Harvesting Mask.' The Utwig are deeply embarrassed by this misunderstanding."
After a few minutes, everyone calmed down and regrouped at one edge of the field. They spent a moment equipping themselves with sickles, the humans with large ones and the Utwig with smaller ones. "The Ultron's singing invites us to begin the harvest!" Capt. Snoon enthused.
The humans began to swing at the tall grass, while the Utwig went in the opposite direction, towards a wooded area, staring at the ground.
Capt. Snoon looked back in confusion and said, "Friends, what are you doing? The fungi are best in the damp portions of the forest!"
Now the humans could see what the Utwig were doing. They were using their small, palm-sized sickles to scrape fungi off rocks lying on the ground.
On another of the planet's continents, a handful of humans had joined the Orz hunting expedition.
Several of the humans had set up a blind near a pool of water, and they lay still, listening to the call of alien creatures in the woods.
"I haven't done this in forever," one of the humans sighed contentedly, his breath spilling out an icy cloud.
A young crewwoman crumbled the earth between her fingers and savored the aroma. "To have the chance not only to go planetside, but to do this again-"
The third human in the blind tapped her and the other man on the shoulder, then pointed at a deer-sized alien hectoped coming closer. They lay still and silent as the creature ambled, making barely audible crackling noises as it crunched the ice under its three-toed feet.
It extended a proboscis from its head and began to extract liquid from a nearby trumpetlike plant. The three hunters quietly took aim, fretting when they accidentally made the slightest sound. The creature continued its drink unaware of their presence.
One of the humans lined up his father's old Winchester just right and-
There was an incredibly loud searing sound as a carnelian red laser beam slammed into the thorax of the game. All around the hunters, insects began to flutter in alarm, and small animals fled the area with cacaphonous cries of alarm. There were thumpings and stirrings as the big game galloped as far as possible from the monstrous noise. In the space of moments, hectares of forest were abandoned to the unknown, incredibly loud noise. The humans remained stunned and still in their blind, like stony islets in the midst of a flash flood.
After a few moments, nature's pandemonium ebbed, and the humans could hear a whirring and clanking from the direction the laser blast had come from. Several Orz came into view. Their exoskeletons crouched as they examined the downed game, then turned with a grinding noise to face the blind, thoughtfully aiming their laser turrets elsewhere so as to prevent friendly fire. "Another silly cow has been danced with!" one of the Orz called cheerfully to the humans. "There are plenty more silly cows that we must invite to parties here!"
"No game here anymore," grumbled the woman as she and her comrades slowly stood up.
A few weeks later, Cmd. Hayes was reviewing the inventory of what supplies the expedition had returned with.
He read to himself, "Lichen, moss, insects," he paused a moment, "communal aquatic invertebrates." He shook his head. "I sure hope some of our allies on base are going to eat this stuff." Gathering his courage, he read on, "Well, at least there's some things humans might be able to eat here. Cereal grasses and," he reread the last item, "laserbroiled meat."
The commander shrugged. "Must be a typo," he decided.
Ordinarily, untranslatable Orz words ought to be set off by an asterisk before and an asterisk afterwards. However, I experienced difficulties getting to display this, so I used italics instead.
The eating and harvesting habits of all the races, including necessary equipment, was totally made up by me to fill in the story.
The flora and fauna of the planet where the mission traveled, and even the planet itself, were made up by me.
The conference room in the starbase was also something I made up.
I inferred from in-game dialogue what the Orz exoskeletons look like, and then elaborated further.
All of the Utwig masks referred to were made up by me, except for the purple one which they wear throughout the game.
I coined the word "hectoped," intending it to mean "an eight-footed creature."
And yes- I totally made up coilburn for the sake of a joke. What?
"Zoq-Fot-Pik - Ultronomicon" "List of ship captain names - Ultronomicon" "Utwig- Ultronomicon" "Orz- Ultronomicon" "Orz communications - Ultronomicon"