Zorkwad a Pepper
by Doug ShieldsMy name is Zorkwad Zlog from the planet Gliese 581 g. You humans discovered my planet shortly after you realized that your sun isn’t the only star that harbors planets. Congratulations. But then your scientists decided that my homeworld may not exist after all. Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. My people await your verdict.
I am the only one of my friends who owns his own spaceboat. I call it the Zorkdrive. Whenever our gaming crew runs out of Dr Pepper or finds itself in need of an exotic multi-sided die, I’m the one who makes the trip to Earth to resupply.
Being as I own my own boat, I fancy myself its captain. Calling yourself a captain counteracts the dorkiness of spending your free time drinking Dr Pepper and rolling dice. In fact, my captain’s uniform (knitted by my amazing grandmother) landed me in a relationship with the interstellar actress known as Glissa de Gliese. She always plays the girl who solves complex problems and has a technical vocabulary. You know, the hot one. The one who doesn’t get laid because the other characters are either too stupid to realize how hot she is or too stupid to be noticed by her.
Unfortunately my relationship with Glissa isn’t completely rosy. Between her dense production schedule and my frequent trips to Earth we don’t see each other often. Our playdates sometimes involve ice skating. Sometimes opera. Always Dr Pepper. Our most recent date was the most difficult.
My gaming party was down to its last case of Dr Pepper. Moreover, we’d reached a gaming impasse that required a 100-sided die, the revered d100, to overcome. I proposed that we use a pair of d10, which is functionally equivalent, but old Martin Xenophart demanded the purity of a single die, a die which looks to the distant eye like a sphere and takes nearly as long to come to rest. A die which is only manufactured on one planet: the planet that produces the Galaxy’s favorite corn-sweetened drink, and the gaming capital of the known Universe: the planet Earth.
Human, I hope you’re beginning to realize how precious your dice and Dr Pepper are. I once bribed a Galaxy cop with a d20. I also traded a case of Dr Pepper for an interstellar communicator.
In fact, dice and Dr Pepper have protected you from conquest. Not only have the empires agreed not to invade your defenseless little rock, but they have effected the Treaty of Human Bliss which forbids non-humans from informing you that alien life exists. We don’t want to startle you. More importantly, we don’t want you to divert your resources away from manufacturing dice and Dr Pepper in a futile attempt to defend yourselves.
By telling you my story, I am violating the Treaty of Human Bliss. I do hope you won’t tell.
I was fueling up the Zorkdrive and suiting up for the journey when I got a surprise call from Glissa. She was sobbing. The studio had pulled the funding from the movie in which she was playing a computer hacker. Her character was battling a rogue empire that invaded Earth and sparked a galaxywide economic depression.
Unfortunately the studio bowed to pressure from an ambassador who claimed that the villains resembled her children. Now Glissa was out of a gig.
She was on her way back to Gliese 581 g and wanted to see me when she got here. I told her I was about to head to Earth but I would spend a whole week with her when I got back.
She didn’t see the logic in my offer. She suggested that I wait until she got to Gliese 581 g, and then she would accompany me to Earth. “You know, take a trip together. Like a real couple.”
“That’s fine,” I said, “but then we’d be out of Dr Pepper for two full weeks. The gamers would go crazy. They might even murder someone. I don’t want that kind of blood on my tentacles.”
She shrieked loud enough to make me wince. I felt a resentful pressure in my chest. I finally agreed to delay the trip.
>>> * <<<
The gamers didn’t take the news very well. Spizzard started to cry, though his tears weren’t as persuasive as Glissa’s. Martin Xenophart, who drinks enough Dr Pepper to bathe in, accused me of being led around by the ink squirter. I told him that he is a Dr Pepper addict, and that my girlfriend’s feelings are more important than his addiction. He bit me in the third tentacle. I spat ink on him. We stung each other over and over until we were both laid out on Mom’s basement carpet.
>>> * <<<
When Glissa finally arrived at Mom’s basement, we wove our tentacles around one another in a moment of joy that only lovers can share. A few moments later the old resentment pushed itself back to the surface. I told Glissa that the Zorkdrive had been departure-ready for a whole week. We boarded the boat and travelled in thick silence.
The trip to Earth was thankfully short. I set the Zorkdrive down in a darling little suburban forest in the United States, a region known for its abundance of Dr Pepper and gaming accessories.
Glissa and I donned our human suits and looked at one another, each wearing a body mask of buttery skin that would fool the local population if they didn’t spend too much time touching us, along with eyes that wouldn’t pass for real. Sunglasses are therefore a necessity while on Earth. We both love costumes so much we jumped at the sight of one another. I traced her artificial hand with my artificial finger. We remembered why we’d fallen in love.
Earth hadn’t changed much in the decades since I’d last been here. The adolescent humans were now dressed a bit less grungy, as though they might be hoping to reproduce. Also, the race had finally developed hand-held communicators, which took up their entire attention. They even pushed buttons while they walked. They never looked at us. They didn’t notice the slightly inhuman texture to our skin. They used their peripheral vision to avoid bumping into us but were never fully aware of our presence.
We had no problem finding the cases of Dr Pepper, but the d100 was more of a challenge. I searched the endless line of strip malls and found several gaming stores, each offering multisided dice but none carrying the one I needed. One of the nerd clerks offered to order a die for me but I found that idea inefficient. I asked him for the address of his supplier but he refused. Another nerd clerk suggested that I look on something called the Internet but he had a hard time explaining exactly where the Internet was. I asked him for the address, and he simply replied “Google knows everything.”
So there became my task: to find the all-knowing Google.
Glissa, for her part, was infuriatingly happy. She cooed at how romantic it all was: the concrete, the traffic lights, the car exhaust. At one point she wanted to climb a telephone pole and make out.
The human suits are so uncomfortable I couldn’t imagine how—to say nothing for why—anyone would want to make out. I kept searching for the die while she kept distracting me with demands for affection. Finally I pushed her away. “No! I am on a very important mission here. The stability of my gaming crew depends on the success of this mission. Please don’t talk to me until I have found the d100. Then I promise to make out with your human suit.”
She shrieked a shriek that did not resemble a human sound. Tears leaked out of her eye holes and rolled out from under her sunglasses.
Truth be known, I don’t even like Earth. I’d just wanted to land, find the merchandise, give the humans their easily counterfeited paper currency, and get off this polluted rock as quickly as possible. Now I couldn’t find what I needed, and my girlfriend was threatening to expose our cover.
I ignored Glissa and focused on the task at hand. An hour or so later I noticed something peculiar: Glissa was gone. Whether she’d slipped away willingly, been kidnapped by police, fallen into a sewer, or been arrested by criminals, I couldn’t say.
The shopkeepers were little help. They kept asking me to describe her. Human female. What color hair? Female. Tattoos? No thank you.
I stepped onto the concrete and called her name loudly enough to be heard at the adjacent strip malls. No response. This was terrible. I still didn’t have a d100, and now my girlfriend was missing. She could be anywhere on a planet full of people who wouldn’t take kindly to knowing who she was. My panic intensified as I made my way back to the Zorkdrive.
The night was turning cold enough to freeze water, and Glissa’s suit wouldn’t offer enough protection to keep her warm. I used the Zorkdrive communicator to scan the time-honored radio, television, and police bands for mention of her. No luck. I got desperate and searched the spectrum for other bands, and found something extraordinary: there, all around me, broadcast simultaneously from ground and satellite, filling my cockpit, was exactly I needed: the mysterious Internet and its all-knowing Google.
With the help of Google I found enough d100 to start an interstellar business. I’ll enter an exclusive contract with the dice company. Every nerd in the galaxy will know my name. No more living in my mother’s basement. My gaming crew will own its own party moon. Life is stellar!
But then I remembered that my girlfriend was missing. Even Google wasn’t any help. I tried searching for “captured alien” and found an hours’ worth of distraction. The keyword “human female” made me wish I had a human penis. But where was my girlfriend?
A dense projectile hit the skull of my human suit hard enough to dent it. The projectile bounced off the dashboard. It was hand-sized, roughly spherical. It was a 100-sided die.
Joy flew through my tentacles as I imagined the victory celebration that would happen when I returned to Gliese 581 g with a trunk full of Dr Pepper and a d100.
A second later I realized the implication of being hit with the die: someone must have thrown it. Glissa!
Her human suit was ripped at the side. Two tentacles were hanging out. Her sunglasses were gone. Her facemask was twisted so that there was space between her eye holes and her eyes. She reeked of the fermented grain that passes for party drink on Earth.
“Zorkwad,” she said, “I want you to meet somebody.” She stepped aside and revealed a second biped.
I was confused. Had she found another Gliesan who’d been stranded on Earth? If so, then his suit was unusual. It was shorter than the commercially available suits, and certainly more realistic than—oh shit. “Glissa, did you bring a human onto my boat?”
“Zorkwad, this is Zeek. He’s my new boyfriend. He’s amazing and he thinks I am too.” Zeek was clearly uncomfortable. I pulled off my facemask and spat ink in his face. He let out a human scream as the acid began to etch his cheek. He stumbled out the airlock.
Glissa lashed out with her stinger and stung venom into my ear. Then she stumbled out the airlock to chase her delirious boyfriend. I cried out for her. She called back that she was staying on Earth.
“But you can’t stay on Earth! You’ll crash the economy! I’ll go to prison for violating the Treaty of—” It was too late. She was out of earshot.
I calculated the risks. If I let them go then I would probably never find her. On the other hand, if I was going to catch her then I needed my natural speed. I needed to take off my human suit and chase them through the forest in full nudity. Much better to risk a moment of getting caught than a lifetime of wondering whether Glissa was maintaining her cover. I took off my human suit.
Using my tentacles to slingshot from tree to tree I had no problem overtaking Glissa in her ripped suit, nor her drunk boyfriend on his bony legs. My tentacles wrapped around each of their ankles and we all collapsed onto the bank of a creek.
Glissa started bawling. I started bawling. Zeek started washing the acid off his face.
“I hate you,” said Glissa.
“I hate you too,” I said, “but you can’t stay on Earth.”
Satisfied that his face was clean, Zeek tried to pull his leg out of the grip of my tentacles. Foolish boy.
“So,” I said, “what should we do with your boyfriend? Bury him in the forest?”
“Let him go,” she said. “He won’t tell anyone about us. Even if he does, humans are skilled at pretending we don’t exist.”
Zeek nodded frantically. “I won’t tell.”
Glissa sighed. “I’ll miss his human penis, though. It gets hard on command.”
“Really?” I looked at Zeek’s crotch. “Penis, get hard.” No effect.
“You just have to get him calm. It works. Really.”
“Hey,” I said. “Why don’t we take him with us?”
For the first time, Zeek stopped struggling. “You want to take me into space?”
I ignored him. “Glissa, we’ve always wanted a pet. It’ll give us something to nurture together. Something to love. It’ll be good for our relationship.”
Zeek said, “Do you promise not to spit in my face?”
I shot Zeek a warning glare. I’m not sure whether he could read my facial expression well enough to understand.
Glissa asked me not to spit in Zeek’s face. I promised. Back of the thighs maybe? We’ll figure it out.
I let go of Zeek’s leg. He didn’t run. Glissa and I wrapped our tentacles around each other with an intensity we hadn’t known since we first started dating. The trip home was sure to be fun.
“Human,” I said, “return to the boat.”
Glissa added, “and prepare to be stimulated.”