A couple more whooshing doors later and I receive another one of the great shocks of my life. Leaning up against the wall of the corridor is a giant owl man and the hairy man I saw on my first trip into the Biolab. They both turn to look at us in the most casual way possible as the owl man sips at his coffee with a straw. In his hand is another one of those “Property of Steve” coffee mugs only this one has wings painted on each side of the logo. He is 7 or 8 feet tall and is covered in coarse gray, almost black feathers that outline a massive muscular body any superhero would be proud of. The sight of his short wedge-shaped head, tufted eyebrows, and piercing yellow eyes is enough to send an uncontrollable spike of panic through me. For a second, it feels like he’s looking right through me, or into me somehow.
The silence is disturbed by a curious grunt from the hairy man. He is even more massive than the owl man and he looks strong enough to toss a car or three. His shaggy brown hair hangs over his face somewhat obscuring his eyes and the exposed dark skin of his face. He seems to be smiling and appears to be wearing an enormous pair of tie-dye flip-flops which look completely out of place next to the deadly looking talons of the owl man. I must have frozen in place for a second because I feel Cole tugging at my elbow to urge me forward. There must be an impossible sight machine located somewhere on the ship that is churning out these spectacles because this can’t be happening and again they seem familiar. Like a dream I can’t remember.
“Meet the Recon Team. You saw Walt the other day in the Biolab and this is his partner in crime, Steve. Guys this our newest crew member who has yet to remember his name,” said Cole as he pointed a thumb in my direction.
“I’ve been waiting to meet you. Ensign Cole has told me much about your story which is quite fascinating. I’d love to discuss temporal anomalies with you when we have more time,” replied Steve who sounded more like a college professor than a giant birdman. He extended his hand to shake mine and the small gray feathers covering his hand and arm feel soft and smooth as I attempt to remain calm during the most surreal handshake ever. My hand disappears into his burly grip which is firm but not painful. I have the impression that he could easily pop my arm off and use it as a weapon against me if he wanted to. The scholarly voice seems strangely out of place given his impressive physicality.
Walt on the other hand almost did take my off arm with a thundering high five delivered by a hairy hand bigger than my head as he gave me a very laid back sounding, “Sup”. The deepness of his voice echoed around the corridor. Must not be much of a talker because he went right back to drinking coffee from a mug that says “I’m not an animal, I just need more coffee”. People always say that they’ve prepared their whole life for something but I’m not sure you could prepare for this. The surreality of the situation was threatening to swallow me when Cole spoke up.
“Where the hell is Anton? I thought he was coming along.”
“You know Anton, he’s probably discussing the complexities of consciousness with an inanimate object again,” replied Steve while shaking his head with a chuckle.
Ensign Cole, who was now clearly annoyed, reached up to touch the shield on his lapel and said, “Anton, where the hell are you?”
“Always with the big questions Cole. If I knew the answer to that I wouldn’t be talking to this wall right now. Just for the record, I’ve found walls to be exceptionally good listeners,” replied the deep voice of someone who sounded surprisingly like a kindly grandfather. “The wall doesn’t know where I am either so my journey of self-discovery has been hijacked by unseen chaotic elements beyond my control. I will attempt to investigate these elements and prepare a report detailing my lack of findings which I will be willing to exchange for tacos.” The sound of static then filled the room as Ensign Cole looked at the ceiling as if silently pleading with a sky god of his choosing.
“Who is Anton?” I ask them hoping to find some answers before this funhouse ride picks up too much speed.
“He’s our…….wild card?” said Steve as if asking the question himself. This must be funny for some reason because Walt began chuckling to himself with a series of deep throaty guffaws that sounded like they could only originate from inside a giant hairy monster.
“Couldn’t he just show up one time when we plan something? He told me the other day that you can’t possibly get to where you need to be at the right time by attempting to do so. I’m not quite sure what he meant by that but I’m going to assume he’s the one who sabotaged all the clocks in the Biolab. It doesn’t matter. Let’s go blow off some steam and he’ll find us,” replied Cole who was pacing back and forth and shaking his head.
“Leave it to Anton to weaponize the arrow of time,” quipped Steve was who now clearly having fun. Walt started chuckling again which seemed to lighten Cole’s mood as a smile crossed his face.
“Stay close to us and don’t wander off. Your transponder will take care of any transactions once we get off the ship. Feel free to eat, drink, gamble, and be merry. Just don’t pass out in any alleys without us. Kleptak 43 is a great place to have a good time and also the home of numerous criminal organizations. It’s sort of like Las Vegas in your time, only the alien bounty hunters aren’t wearing human suits. Shame they had to blow that place up in 2149,” said Cole who looked quite serious now as he handed me a small laser pistol. “Point and shoot. Anyone you hit with that will be asleep for at least half an hour. If trouble starts get back to the ship immediately.”
“Hold on. Who blew up Las Vegas?” I asked him as the feel of the laser pistol in my hand began asking even bigger questions about what the hell I’d gotten myself into.
“The CDC blew it up after a particularly nasty viral outbreak began sweeping through the Red Light District. Everybody was too busy counting money to consider the possible ramifications of inter-species sex tourism. Nasty bit of business all the way around,” replied Cole as he slapped me on back reassuringly. “You look like you could use a Blackhole Martini. Let’s get to the airlock.”