Vic and Argmon were the first two back to the kitchen followed closely by SPX-39. SPX-39 tucked itself into a corner and watched Joey intently. Its stare was unnerving. Even more so than even Argmon’s presence. Joey didn’t know which one to keep an eye on.
Argmon set to work on a cook-top range that pulled out from the wall from in between the upper and lower cabinets. The pots he used were collapsible and reminded Joey of pots his grandfather used for camping except these ones folded to be nearly flat. Joey felt the pocket knife in the coveralls he was wearing. It had belonged to his grandfather and was a camping staple as well.
“Eep! Eep! Eep!”
“Hey Dexter!” Vic called out. “We’re making something to eat. Glad you could join us.”
“Eep. Eep. Eep.”
Joey watched Dexter’s three eyes blink out of unison. It had a bottle of orange liquid and took a seat next to June. Joey flushed with jealousy though he didn’t know why he needed to be jealous of some weird creature.
The tri-ped was quiet enough as Argmon cooked. It was SPX-39, the nervous, neurotic robot that had Joey on edge with the way it stood in the corner and its head lowered into its body and rose out again to look around the room. It bothered Joey, but he wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was just unsettling knowing a machine moved of its own accord.
“So we’re all almost here. You’ve met everyone except Mike and I’m not sure where Joop-Nop is at the moment,” Vic said.
Joey was prepared for anything. He could hear the multiple footsteps coming along the hallway. So it had more than two legs. That wasn’t anything strange. Apparently extra limbs weren’t more the exception. What will Mike look like? Joey took a deep breath and prepared himself. Surely Mike couldn’t be any stranger than anything else he’d seen so far.
“I’m coming! If Joop-Nop will ooze out of the way that is.” The voice was close and had to be Mike.
“Tell Joop-Nop to hurry up too!” Vic yelled back.
“Argmon said to hurry up or you’ll be having a burnt dinner.”
“How do you know what he said?” Joey asked.
Vic laughed. “Kid, Sometimes I have no idea what he says. But if I’m ever wrong, he’d correct me. That much I know.”
“I’m here! Where’s the new shipmate?”
It was Mike. Joey wasn’t prepared for Mike. As much as he thought he was prepared for anything, Mike defied all his expectations.
Mike’s head was large, about twice as large as Joey’s, and was covered in wiry black hair that expanded out in an afro. Not just the top of his head, but in a full beard also. That wasn’t the strangest thing about Mike though. It also wasn’t the strangest thing that Mike was hanging from the ceiling. Joey could handle that, almost.
Mike’s body had eight long, slender legs, each ending in a hand and gripping the ceiling. Those legs were attached to a body that looked much like a large spider with a bulbous body and flat cephalothorax that merged with his head. A head that didn’t move from side to side, but moved with his entire body. Mike was a giant spider with a human head.
Joey fainted dead away.
When he finally came to, June was holding him upright. That was some comfort. Having her arm around him put his mind at ease. That was until he noticed he was sitting next to Mike.
“So, buddy, where’re you from? Are you from the same place as Vic and June?”
Joey tried to find words. “Um…uh.”
“Yes he is,” June said for him. “It’s been a shock as you can probably guess.”
“It’s been so long since you came here that I’d forgotten that you were scared of me when we’d first met. Ran down the passageway screaming as I recall.”
“Now that was funny.” Vic laughed and pointed at June.
“Eep. Eep. Eep.”
Even Argmon laughed.
“You’re all a bunch of assholes.”
Joey was sure June would have gotten up and left had she not still been supporting him. He shifted his weight so he was leaning more toward her, but not being held up by her. He’d never been afraid of spiders and wasn’t sure why it would be any different with Mike. Other than being a thousand times bigger than any spider he’d ever seen and having a human head. Well, that and talking too.
Mike patted Joey on the back. “Welcome to the crew. I’m sure you’re going to love it here. And don’t worry. I don’t bite. Hard.” Mike smiled with a mouth full of square, yellowed teeth.
Had he been leaning away from Mike even more? Perhaps it was the look of horror on his face that Mike had actually touched him as if the spider part would somehow rub off. Joey had never been like that and it was surprising now that he was acting in such a manner. The robot was one thing. It wasn’t really a person. But Mike was, well, a living being. He seemed happy enough.
“Thanks, Mike.” It was the toughest two words Joey had ever said in his life. His throat had constricted so much that it came out as merely a squeak.
“Don’t worry, buddy. I’ll show you around the ship. Vic doesn’t even like coming down to the engineering room. Gets him all confused. I’m looking at you and I think you’re a smart one. You may even understand what I show you down there.”
“Um…that would be great.”
June took her arm from around Joey. Without the security of her arm Joey felt naked. All he could do was watch as Mike ate. Those big teeth ground whatever it was that Argmon had cooked with such efficiency that all thoughts of SPX-39 were gone from his mind.
Everyone but Joey ate. It smelled good, but he had just eaten a little bit and the scare Mike had given him squashed all thoughts of eating.
Joop-Nop had slimed onto one of the branch-like things Joey had seen in the fridge and was morphing slightly to resemble it. Several small branches speckled its surface. Joey could only think of how it’d tried to eat him. It was gross, but not nearly as scary as Mike.
“So Mike,” Vic said between bites. “You’re not going to have a problem getting the engines charged once Tootsie is online?”
“Nope. No problem at all. I had started to plot the course before Tootsie crashed. I’m sure she’s lost the initial trace, but I’ve got all the coordinates written down and ready to enter in again.”
“Great. Argmon, you remember where the landing pad is? Didn’t they have a special platform for us to land on due to the weight?”
Argmon shrugged then nodded his head.
“Perfect. June, Dexter, I want the two of you to take Joey here and post a look out. This is a valuable load and we don’t need anyone getting near it. Joey, you ever shoot a gun before?”
“Don’t worry about it. Just stay near June and Dexter and try to look menacing. Holding the gun will be enough. After we sell this load, I’ll make sure you get a share, we can get you some decent clothes. Something a little more appropriate. Those coveralls don’t do a thing for your image. Maybe I’ve got something better you can try on.”
“Image?” Joey hadn’t even thought of his image since he’d arrive. Why should he think about that?
“Kid, we’re a shipping company. I’ve got an engineer already. I’ve got guards. I’ve got Joop-Nop, though I’m still not sure what the hell he does, I’ve got SPX-39, for now, and I’ve got you. I need to figure out what part of this group you are. We need to dress you for the part.”
“Wait a minute, you mean June here in her black and pink outfit…”
“Hey! I don’t wear this all the time. This is my casual wear. Wait until you see my security outfit. I spent two years getting it just right.”
“And what about Dexter?”
“Kid, don’t go getting him all worked up. He doesn’t need anything to make himself more imposing. Understand?” Vic leveled his gaze at Joey. It was true. Dexter had knocked him out with blinding speed.
“Good. Now Tootsie is going to be up soon and once she is, I need to make contact with Planchar so we can drop off this load. And I think you all need to know the police cruiser that chased us away from Bamda Planet is sitting, as best we could tell, in the Munchkada system.”
June stood up and Joey nearly fell over. He’d still been leaning close to her and away from Mike.
“What? Home port?”
“I’ve got plans when we get back. I’ve had these plans set up for months now. And you’re telling me that I’m just going to have to scrap those plans because you got us chased off Bamda and probably wanted in that system now?”
“Hey! How was I supposed to know that they only allowed private industry to take tonindrium off planet?”
“You could have checked.”
Vic shrugged his shoulders. “I did a little. Their whole planet is made of the stuff. I didn’t think it’d be such a big deal.”
“I checked too. They don’t want their entire planet mined away and then they’re left with nothing.”
“Well we’ve got our shipment and we’ll get paid well for it. There’s a clause in the contract that if we encounter police pursuit we get paid double. We can take some time off and lay low until we know where that police cruiser is.”
“Didn’t you hear me? I’ve got plans.”
Vic stood up. “And I told you…”
“Vic, I’m ready,” Tootsie interrupted.
Vic slapped the table. “Let’s get this shipment to Planchar. I’ve never been late on a shipment and I’m not about to start now.”
June’s dark glare could have burned a hole in Vic.
Mike jumped up to the ceiling. “I’ll have the engines ready in five.” And he scampered off.
Vic lit a cigarette before he and Argmon went back up to the cockpit. Joey felt out of place. Dexter, Joop-Nop, and SPX-39 all left the room. June sat back down, put her face in her hands, and cried.
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