Story Go Round 10/21/2006, round 2, #2

The O2 Bluff

(post-titled by Alan)

Hitch-hiking onto the first manned flight to Alpha Centauri was a mistake. In fact, it hadn't beeen a manned flight till he boarded. The computer and two robots had been nice enough for the first four months , and they played cards every night for nuts and bolts and other loose parts and pieces that were falling off by the hour. Oxygen should have been an issue, and yet somehow it wasn't.

So when the aliens boarded, Josephemus was miffed. "Out!" he shouted. "Shoo!" Sharing had never been his strength, and especially not with scaly polypeds "All the colonial rations are mine, unless its got onions!

No communication seemed possible, and Josephemus (or 'Earthling no.1' as the computer called him) resigned himself to cramped quarters. The adversity brought him, the robots, and the computer closer together, as adversity often does. It seemed the aliens were hitch-hikers as well. What did they want with alpha centauri?

As days passed in somber monotony, Josephemus began to discern repetitions in the aliens' behavior and speech patterns. He downloaded the computer's files on anthropology, linguistics and gambling directly into his brains. Then he reinstated poker night.

And the ploy worked. The polypeds joined them, which was a challenge until he scrounged up extra decks of cards. They were surprisingly good, and he began to lose to them regularly, something he couldn't stop until he noticed how they blinked at each other. There was a rhythm to it. He got the computer calculating through an on-board camera and idiosyncrasy meter. It turned out the polypeds marked the cards with goo, ichor, space spume, you know?

Josephemus had had enough. With 5 days to planetfall he upped the ante through hand gestures, gutteral shouts, and spitting carefully on certain spots on the floor. The aliens understood, and wheeled their navigation computer to the table as collateral. Cards were dealt , each life form eyed the other suspiciously, hopefully. Playing UNO was a risky play, especially for such high stakes. But Josephemus was betting that the robots were color-blind, and the aliens unable to form the word 'UNO'. He would own full rights to Alpha Centauri, and charge everyone else steep fees to even look at it. The top card was a red four . The robot he had named Melvin took it quickly, and discarded a blue six just as quickly. The robot he had named Dolph took the discarded blue six and with a mechanical flourish, played a green draw two, at which the alien to his left swivelled its head clear around. Joe had 3 reds and a wild card to get rid of. He readied to pounce and that's when oxygen levels hit critical. The red light flashed. Banking on aliens lack of knowledge of Earth rules he declared a flush and laid down his hand. Dolph whistled low and backed away from the table convicingly. The aliens bought it. Joe had them doing dishes until they were in orbit around his new planet.