At the end of her shift Tara Mahoney went into Sauce Boss’s tiny office to tell her GM she was clocking out. “Hold on, I want to talk to you,” Micky said, and shut the door.
Tara raised a pierced eyebrow. “Well, this is going to be some bullshit. Unless you’re giving me a raise.”
“Yeah, no. Sit down.”
“See, this is exactly what I wanted to talk to you about. I’ve noticed you seem to have a problem with authority.”
She rolled her eyes. “You say authority, I say meaningless and unnecessary hierarchy. You say tomato, I say stop using your tomato to oppress the poor.”
Micky sighed, looking discouraged. His problem was, he thought he actually needed his shitty job. And that’s why you should never have children, Tara reminded herself. “How am I even supposed to respond to that?” he said.
“You could say, ‘Thanks for the great work today, Tara, see you tomorrow! You’re awesome at your job! Bye!’ That would work.”
He leaned back and looked up at the ceiling. He was defeated and he knew it. “How do you talk to your manager like this?”
“Easy. I’m your best cook, I’m easily your fastest cook, and I show up more or less on time every day. Fire me, and you’ll probably end up with someone who sucks, and I’ll have a new job by the end of the week. Called job security, son.”
“Okay, fine. But look, when a server tells you they need a refire, please stop arguing with them. It’s not really them asking. It’s the customer.”
“Customers are idiots.”
“It doesn’t matter. Customers pay our bills. And when you argue with servers, it just slows everything down. They need a refire, just make it. Okay?”
“Fine.” She wasn’t about to say it aloud, but she knew inside the justice of his complaint. Why hadn’t he just opened with that? “I got a show to go to. See you tomorrow.”
Her friend Nick’s band, the Groans, were playing at the Lion’s Lair. They were pretty awesome, or at least really fucking loud, which was nearly the same thing. About thirty people showed up to watch, and about fifteen of them formed a loose, swirling pit, including Tara. It seemed like a lot of the guys in the pit kept avoiding her a little, though, presumably because she was a girl, which kind of pissed her off. What was the point of a pit if no one ran into you?
She’d slammed a couple of PBRs and followed it up with a couple shots, but the activity seemed to sweat it out of her and she wasn’t even that tipsy by the time the band finished. When she faded toward the door, she was stopped by someone she recognized. “Tara! What’s up?”
Big purple mohawk, glasses with an athletic band, big smile with missing teeth. Couldn’t forget that face. “T-Bone! Wow. What’s up?”
She’d worked with him a year or two back. He was what you’d call a professional dishwasher, which you could also call a lifelong weirdo. He’d once confided in her that he’d been to outer space. Said there were dozens of species, faster than light travel, all that jazz. In his defense, they’d both been high as shit at the time.
He asked about her and she told him about Sauce Boss, including her recent minor tiff with Micky. “You want a new job?” he asked, to her surprise.
“Cruise ship.” She looked at him skeptically and he laughed. “I’m serious. I’ve been on a ship the last three months. Doing dishes like always, but now I get paid good to do it, and there’s nowhere to spend it anyway. What do you say?”
“Where’s it go?”
He gestured broadly and said vaguely, “Faraway lands, distant seas, glorious vistas. You should apply.”
“Sure, maybe I will.”
He gave her a number and that was that. Or so she thought, until the spaceship abducted her half an hour later over on 28th Avenue.
She woke up feeling like something had torn her whole body apart molecule by molecule and put her back together in only roughly similar order, which wasn’t surprising, because that’s exactly what happened. She didn’t know that, though. She assumed she had just had too much to drink at the Lion’s Lair. Her memories were all fucked.
And gods, whose place was this? Obviously she’d crashed here. Felt like she’d literally crashed. She felt light-headed, woozy, her limbs nearly floating. And was she in a hammock right now?
She struggled out of the netting and that’s when she knew something was seriously wrong. Normally, such a clumsy escape from a hammock would have dumped her on the floor. This time, even more unfortunately, she just floated there, slowly drifting down and out.
“Oh, fuck.” She shut her eyes. Maybe she had taken something. That would explain it. She opened them. Still floating. Her heart started racing, light and fast, and then she threw up.
Most of the vomit splashed against the far wall, which, she noted, had a Ramones poster on it, while some of it formed irregular greenish bubbles that floated around her. She wasn’t paying too much attention to them, though, because she was busy throwing up some more. This could go on a while, she knew, and if it did, this room was going to get really messy.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” someone cried nearby. She opened up her eyes and saw a large monkey flying in through a round portal. She gasped and flailed away, managing to touch one toe to the floor, or what she was still thinking of as the floor, though the room was actually hexagonal and made of some whitish-yellow plasticky stuff.
In any case the monkey looked pissed. “You fucking punks,” it yelled angrily, using its tail to anchor itself on a handle in the wall, opening a storage unit there. “You ever think, maybe I just shouldn’t have that eighth drink? Like, maybe seven PBRs is enough? Here.” It reached out one long arm and shoved something in her face. It had a black circular opening attached to and some pliable material that looked like intestine. When her gorge rose and she instinctively put her face to it, she realized it was, in fact, a barf bag.
Meanwhile the monkey had let loose a a dozen large yellow moths in the room. They floated over to the vomit and wrapped their wings around it, forming little yellow balls, and layered themselves on puke on the wall, wings touching. “You owe me for that poster,” the monkey said. “Like, who even knows when we’ll be coming back to Earth again?”
“What–?” she began, and stopped. “Where–?” Try again. “Who–?”
The monkey sighed. Wiping the puke-tears from her eyes, she saw that it was odd-looking even for a monkey. No fur, for one thing. Nasty gray skin, curious pot belly, long arms with four-fingered hands and long thumbs, a skinny pointed tail like a rat’s. Its ears were big as a fox’s, its nose was black, its teeth were small and pointed, and its eyes were a vile bloodshot yellow. Its privates were hidden by a pair of green cargo shorts, which is all it wore.
“Okay,” it said. “I know we haven’t met. Sorry. No one likes waking up to the sound of someone puking all over their apartment. I’m Farxis, T-Bone’s roommate. Welcome. Can I get you anything? Some water, some painkillers?”
“Yes,” she said.
By the time he came back, she was back by the alcove with the hammock, doing her best to curl into a fetal position. “Where am I?”
Farxis raised a brow. “I told you. You’re in my and T-Bone’s place. Fuck, how much did you guys drink last night?”
“I mean, WHY AM I FLOATING?!” She hadn’t meant to scream it, but once she started it was hard to stop. “AND WHY ARE YOU A DEFORMED FUCKING MONKEY? AND WHERE IS FUCKING T-BONE!”
Understanding bloomed on Farxis’ face, with pissiness close on its heels. “Oh, I get it now. I fucking get it. Goddamn T-bone, that asshole. And then he leaves me to do the explaining. What are you, like a short order cook or something?”
“Yes,” she allowed, puzzled.
He sighed in exasperation. “He tell you he worked on a cruise ship, asked if you wanted a job? And you kinda sorta agreed?”
“Okay. Here’s the deal. You are on a cruise ship, sort of. You’re floating because you’re in space and there’s obviously no gravity here. I –” – he jerked a long thumb at his chest – “– am in no way deformed, thank you very much for that insult, but am a perfectly handsome Trathian, so you can leave your prejudices at the door, please. Any other questions?”
“One more,” she said, forcing herself to calmness. “Why am I here?”
“You mean like, existentially?”
“Oh. Well, I assume to work in the kitchen.” He saw her contorted expression of outrage and added, “In his defense, it is really hard to find good cooks these days.”