“This was supposed to be a very short budget meeting,” Alvy said.
Thor Slaymaster didn’t say anything. He was trying to figure out the readings on the controls of the spacecraft. The changing green figures on the center display looked to be a proximity range of some sort. Whether the figures represented the proximity to the Alphabet ship or to the firm, flat, unyielding, deadly surface of the Earth was a matter of some current concern for Thor Slaymaster.
“You’d canceled it three times,” Alvy said. “Killbot invasion last Monday, helicopter malfunction last Thursday, and I don’t remember your last excuse.”
“Hangover,” Thor Slaymaster said.
“That’s not what you told me.”
“At the moment,” Thor Slaymaster said, “it is not that important.”
Thor Slaymaster was uncomfortable in spacecraft, the way he was uncomfortable in formal wear or chairs with armrests. Thor Slaymaster’s skillset did not encompass orbital dynamics or ballistic navigation or any of the approximately seventeen other specific knowledge bases that one would need to guide a damaged, pilotless spacecraft to either a convenient local space station or the surface of the large, blue planet below. Since neither the spaceship or the inconveniently deceased pilot was of human origin, this made Thor Slaymaster’s task of keeping himself alive unreasonably difficult.
“What you told me was that you were taking a quick trip up to the Alphabet ship to see Charlie, and that I could ride along, and we could go over the budget figures on the way up. That doesn’t seem to be working out so far.”
Thor Slaymaster briefly considered whether a controlled experiment involving throwing Alvy out the nearest airlock to reduce the ship’s drag coefficient would be beneficial. He concluded that it might be, but that other matters took precedence and that good combat accountants did not grow on trees.
“Do you know what is wrong with the pilot?” Alvy asked. “If we could wake him up, maybe he could tell us what to do.”
“Unlikely,” Thor Slaymaster said. While Thor Slaymaster had substantial experience with the anatomy of the aliens commonly known as “Alphabets,” his knowledge was mostly confined to the female of the species. However, he had every reason to think that the crack in the rear skull carapace that the pilot had experienced was as fatal as injuries get.
“Maybe I could do CPR,” Alvy said.
“They don’t have hearts,” Thor Slaymaster explained. “You’re an accountant. Do you know what the numbers there mean?”
“I think that one that looks like a saxophone might be a twelve.”
Thor Slaymaster considered the situation. He and Alvy were trapped on a small, not to say claustrophobic, spacecraft with a damaged communication system and a dead pilot, which, depending on just how you looked at the controls, was either hurtling out of control towards the oblivion of the asteroid belt or headed straight on a collision course with what looked to be Madagascar.
Thor Slaymaster knew his limitations. No man alive could do more damage to an oncoming zombie horde. But here, in deep space, most of what he knew was working against him. He needed help, but the only member of Team Slaymaster around for several hundred cubic miles of deep vacuum was not being very helpful right at the moment.
“Alvy,” Thor Slaymaster asked, “what exactly is it that you specialize in?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Slaymaster?”
“Well, I mean, we have you on Team Slaymaster for a reason. What are you good at? It can’t be just accounting. For both of our sakes.”
“You mean like Excel? Data mining?”
“You misunderstand. I mean like, skills that can help us get out of this spacecraft and somewhere safer.”
“You mean like an exit strategy?”
“Precisely,” Thor Slaymaster said.
“Okay,” Alvy said. “Exit strategy. What most people do is assess where they are and how they get out of it. Unfortunately, that’s counterproductive, because it focuses all your attention on where you are. What you want to do is figure out where you want to go, and work backwards from there to get to where you are.”
Thor looked out the pilot’s window at the blue mass of Earth. “How about there?”
“You’re not getting it,” Alvy said. “Your exit strategy has to be fixed on a specific goal. The Earth, for example, is a good place to go, but it is also a very big place. It’s mostly ocean, and if you land in the ocean there needs to be a ship around that can pick you up. I also think the prospect of landing a spacecraft in the uncharted ocean would frighten me just a little bit.”
“Slaymaster HQ, then.”
“Better. Now you just have to figure out how to find it after you decelerate from orbit. You know how to decelerate from orbit, right?”
“It is not my strong suit,” Thor Slaymaster said.
“If landing on Earth is not realistic, then what else do you have?”
Thor Slaymaster considered his options. “Shapeshifter mothership is a no-go. The moon is two days away, and I didn’t bring any snacks. I don’t want to go to the International Space Station if I can avoid it.”
“Why not?” Alvy asked.
“Their coffee is lousy. The Alphabet ship is probably our best option. They can probably get us back home faster than anywhere else.”
“Do you know the name of the ship, by any chance?”
“I think it’s called the EXPHARLABLIGZWOOZLEBLORGLE.” Every word in the native language of the Alphabet aliens had at least twenty-six letters.
“Because there’s a button on the left there that says that, and under that there’s another button that says WOOLERBLINGLEQUABBLEBLONGER, which I think means something like ‘autopilot’.”
Thor Slaymaster pushed the WOOLERBLINGLEQUABBLEBLONGER button, and the ship automatically fired its retro-rockets and slowed to a more survivable speed. He pushed the button for the Alphabet ship, and the spacecraft made a gentle turn until it was within the range of the ship’s tractor beams.
“Well done, Alvy,” Thor Slaymaster said.
“Thank you, Mr. Slaymaster. Now, if you could just take a quick look at the third quarter ammunition spending. What we’re seeing here is a trend…”