Shep thought of the plucky Space Janitor (081-090) with the familiar face. In truth, whether this was a repurposed model or a brand new one based on a classic design, it didn’t matter. Shep was thankful that it was bringing him along. If it were down to him, he would be part of the menu.
Shep was trying to think what compelled him to go into the freezer. Was it some form of desperation? Looking back, Shep liked to think of himself as somewhat of a smart dog. He had a keen nose. At least he hoped he still had a nose. If he could open his eyes, then he would be able to see a little more clearly. However, as it were his eyes were still stuck together. His paws were bundled in his pits. He gave them a subtle flex to see if he could even move them. Shep could move his hands, but the fluids in his joints were becoming more substantial over time.
Shep’s entire body vibrated, and he could feel it going on forever. What would this mean for him? Where was the mutt? He knew he shouldn’t call this new pup a mutt, but then he didn’t call it pup either. What it was exactly, he wasn’t sure. There was something that didn’t sit right. In all likelihood, Shep wasn’t sitting right at all. He could feel his arse and tail go numb. There was no noise around him. There was the wind that became loud as he was able to discern the doorway was narrow, open a sliver.
Shep had not heard anything. He did not know if his ears ceased functioning. He was going to take a chance and wander out and hope that he could open his eyes. Would he see again?
Shep crawled to the threshold. Where was the little Space Janitor who helped him? He should have been kinder to him. It was too late for that now. If he saw him again, then he would make an effort to be kinder to him. At the same time though the mutt, the pup did melt off his foot, didn’t he? Shep struggled to remember what happened to his foot. He was certain he had both feet before he went to sleep and then whenever he woke up, it was gone. It was more than likely to be the Space Janitor.
Either way, he would get to the bottom of things if the two of them got out of here alive. It was looking unlikely.
Shep felt his way forward the ice thinned, and he thought it turned to water. He was outside the freezer and in the ante-chamber. He wasn’t being digested by gunk so whatever the Space Janitor did had worked. Did he sacrifice himself? That would be the most unnecessary.
Shep could feel his lashes becoming looser. He tried to loosen them up, but they were still stiff.
Shep didn’t know whether to linger or remain. He wasn’t actively attacked, which was good. Shep would risk moving forward. The ground was sticky to the touch.
His paws felt electric as blood flow resumed regular service.
Shep called out for the mutt. He couldn’t remember the name. Shep opted for repeating “Hey,” in the hopes that the other Space Janitor knew it was him being addressed.
Shep’s voice was too weak to be heard. The room was cavernous. There were many other background sounds, like dripping, for example. I’d go on, but you get the idea.
Shep came to the edge of something. There was a hole in the middle of the floor. Shep wondered, had it always been there?
No, if it had been there, then he for one would have gone down. The other Space Janitor would have done the same thing too. While Shep knew the Space Janitor’s heart was in the right place, he believed that the brain was absent in this case.
What if the little Space Janitor had fallen down the hole? Shep knew that he would have to go down there.
The ice on his lashes was softening. Shep thought it best to persist with the eyelashes. Shep tugged at his eyes. It took a while, but they started to give. The eyes opened. Shep’s vision was blurry, and everything was a nondescript fog that he could not see through.
Shep blinked rapidly hoping it would become apparent. Opened his eyes as wide as he could. The fog came into sharp relief. Shapes became detailed, and he saw familiar things. Shep sat for a moment, taking it all in before him. The room was large and empty. There were puddles on the ground that looked like water and gunk. Some areas of floor wall and ceiling were marked by the corrosive properties of the gunk.
Shep looked down, and in front of him, there was a large hole. How deep it went, he did not know. Although the mutt had melted his foot, his sacrifice was more than a repayment. Shep edged his way over to the hole and prepared himself for the descent.
The climb down would be slow, but there was nowhere else for him to go.
Shep steadied himself on a rung of the ladder and lowered himself.
It struck him.
What would happen if the little Space Janitor had failed and the gunk was still active?
How would he fight it without his own pack?
What would he do then?
Shep was scared and felt the fear grip his throat. Despite his fear, he would have to ignore it and make some effort to find his fellow Space Janitor.
Even if he could not find the Space Janitor, a mercenary thought entered his head. The idea that he might be able to get access to his pack. It was a voice-activated one. It definitely had some form of personality matrix installed. If he could negotiate with it, then he might stand a fighting chance.
A wash of guilt flooded Shep’s neurons. Was he wrong to think that? It must be a bad thought. It had been a long while since he had felt a lousy feeling. His canine ancestry lived on in his cranium. Even though the corporations had done all that they could to root it out.
He grasped the rung of the ladder and began to climb down. They were slippy, and he clung tight to the ladder. One misplaced step and this would take a while. If he were to make a wrong move or if the gunk was still active and were to envelop him that would be the worst. In no uncertain terms, Shep would be buggered.
Despite all his intelligence and ability, he was still a mutt. Calling himself a mutt in his own mind caused him pain. Dif the Space Janitor feel the same pang of misery at being called mutt. Whether he did or did not was irrelevant. Shep didn’t like it when he was called it a mutt so it would be unfair to carelessly call the Space Janitor mutt.
Water dripped, it took a few moments for him to hear the splash. Shep was aware that he was descending into a large cavern. How big could it get?
How would he find the Space Janitor down here? The ladders kept going down. Shep stopped for a break. In the vast emptiness of the underground, Shep contemplated why was there such a vast underground in this station. Was this part of the fooditorium? Was it part of the overall structure?
Shep’s vision was returning at the same rate; there was less and less to see. It was dark because sure, why not everything was dark here. There was no possible way for him to see too clearly. It looked like there was water at the bottom of the ladder. If this was part of some unknown transit system, then why would the ladder come straight down through it? It must have been left derelict.
Shep looked down to see ashore because he could hear the sound of waves lapping. Instead of what was considered standard shoreline sights, rocks, sand and seaweed. Instead, there were giant gulfs of garbage. What I’m trying to say is that it looked like Cone Island circa 2763 AD. Sorry, Cone Island 2763 be more like Cone Island in the 30th century. Consider yourself warned.
Shep could see that the ladder stopped before the end. The lack of light made it difficult to gauge how much of a drop there was before him. Shep continued the descent until he got to the last rung. His foot slipped, and his body fell dead weight below him.
His arms remained steadfast to the rungs on the ladder. He could feel his arms be stretched and pulled. There was a loud pop from one of his shoulders that felt strange and good simultaneously.
Shep looked down and realised that he could not see the bottom. He did not know how far he would be able to drop. How far did it go?
If Shep’s fellow Space Janitor was down here, he would find out soon enough.
His grip slipped, and he fell. It was a short drop into the cold, what he hoped was, water.
Shep used all his might to surface as quick as he could. The missing foot sent him veering off to the right. It would get infected, and he’d have to lose more of the leg. What a spiffing day, Shep thought to himself.
Once his head was above water, you know what, liquid is more fitting. After his head was above the liquid, he looked to the nearest shore and swam in that direction. He doggy paddled, but due to his canine composition, he referred to it as paddled.
Shep was tired and sore. He took a look down at his leg. The area where there had once been a foot. There was a wound, he could see the bone. He padded it off and inspected it as best as he could. The wound had become weepy, and Shep followed suit. He endured long days. He suffered days that felt shorter but were more packed with experience than others. Shep had never suffered a day such as this.
His canine nature got the better of him, and without his full realisation, he began to howl. They were long sorrowful howls. Howls that you would not expect of such a well-groomed dog. Howl, he did none the less. Even a dog in a tux, with a monocle and old-time tobacco cigarette, was still underneath a dog. Shep was no exception. One may have felt as if there was a moon nearby, such was the length and pitch of the howling. Shep realised he was howling and then grew deeply ashamed, which led to him howling longer and harder.
“Who the heck is doing all that, howling?” asked a familiar voice.
Shep didn’t want to get his hopes up, but it sounded like the little Space Janitor’s Spenglactic. There it was again as usual chirping in, uninvited as usual. Shep was glad to hear that annoying accent reverberate.
Shep made his way over. He let out a short howl.
“Shadup! Some of us are trying to sleep here!” the Spenglactic shouted. Shep was able to work out where it was coming from, roughly. Shep crawled and scraped his way through the garbage. The garbage was a small series of hills, but Shep was able to scramble over the top of them.
Over the crest, he could see the lights of the Spenglactic pack. He could see the outline of the Space Janitor. Shep could see that the Space Janitor appeared to be out for the count. Shep got beside him. Now the tables had turned, he considered removing part of a limb so they would be equal. Shep flushed the thought from his mind. If he felt the urge to settle the score, he would do so at a more appropriate time.
Now was not the time.
Shep looked down at Space Janitor.
“What happened?” Shep asked.
“How am I supposed to know?” Spenglactic replied. “I don’t got no sensors or nothing. Ask him.”
“Is he dead?” Shep asked.
“Again, I don’t know these things, I’m not what you would call an expert.”
“And the gunk?”
“Buddy!” the Spenglactic blurted out. “How many times have I got to explain it to you? I don’t know, alright? All I know is that we were covered in the stuff then the next thing I know, we weren’t. Do you follow?”
“We’ll have to get a move on,” said Shep.
“That’s a fantastic idea. There’s one little problem though, how exactly do you plan to do that?”
“Well,” said Shep looking down at the Space Janitor. “It’s clear that we need to wake him up. If he can be. I hope he’s not dead.”
“You changed your tune,” said Spenglactic.
“Well I mean, he could be my only way of getting out of here. I know that sounds bad but, didn’t he come and get me when he didn’t have to? That’s mighty kind of him,” Shep said, looking down at the Space Janitor.
“That’s beautiful, poetic almost. You really should consider a transfer to something more befitting of your skills. I don’t think he’s dead. There are pressure pads registering shifts in weight. If anything feels like the guy is hanging on. You gotta wake him,” Spenglactic advised.
“How do you think I can wake him?” asked Shep. Space Janitor was breathing. The breath was almost imperceptible to a standard vision range. The chest, however, was moving. It filled Shep with hope although he knew that he wasn’t out of the woods yet. Or out of the puddle.
“I can tell you how to do it but to be honest with you, you’re not going to like it.” Spenglactic teased.
“Tell me what to do, come on,” said Shep.
“Well, the thing is, you got to bark at him,”
“C’mon, don’t make me bark. You know how demeaning that is. You know what we say about barkers? Please, please, please. Can you not shock him or something. You must have a little wire somewhere in there,”
“This is how it’s gotta be,” said Spenglactic.
Shep did not want to bark. On some level, he knew there was a chance that Spenglactic knew he did not want to bark. This was some bizarre test or some retribution.
Shep was reluctant, but what choice did he have in the end?
“Fine, I’ll do it then,” said Shep. “If this means saving the Space Janitor, then there are no other options,”.
“That’s the spirit. Now come on, pucker up. You still remember how to bark?” asked Spenglactic.
“Please, none of your nonsense alright? It’s been a long first quarter. I remember, OK?” Shep snapped at Spenglactic.
“There we go, I even hear some of your snarl there. You’re almost there. Now come on and be a good dog,” said the Spenglactic. You know for a thing that was mainly zeroes and ones it sure behaved like it was enjoying itself.
Shep needed to take a moment to get into the motions. He may have barked once or twice in his younger years. Shep couldn’t recall if that was part of who he was or something implanted. Shep breathed in deep. The air was putrid. What made him feel even worse was that he didn’t mind the smell. At the end of the day. Shep was still a dog. He knew how to bark.
The lips curled, the teeth showed, and Shep opened his mouth wide. He barked once. Short, fierce and fueled by fear. Shep liked how it made him feel. Shep barked three more times in quick succession. Barking made Shep dizzy.
Drawing in a deep breath, Shep barked more. He kept on barking. His eyes closed and he wasn’t even aware of where he was, he felt connected into part of an invisible pack. The barking stretched back through time, and Shep felt alive and present. He was aware of his lungs. His feet, unsteady on a mound of rubbish. His fur standing up on his arms wanting to bust free from under his coveralls.
Shep stopped and looked down. There was the Space Janitor, eyes open.
“Are you alright?” Space Janitor asked.
Shep blinked fast and then rubbed his temples.
“I’m good, you? We need to get out of here,” Shep said.
“Can you move buddy?” said the Spenglactic. The use of the word “buddy” caught both Space Janitor and Shep off guard. What was the little pack up to?
“I can move,” said Space Janitor. He got up to his feet. Shep helped him steady himself. The two/three of them made their way back to the ladders. The two waded out into the centre of the water. It got deep in the middle.
Space Janitor reached the ladders, but he stepped aside.
“You go first Shep,” Space Janitor said. Shep obliged and climbed on the ladder. No sooner had Shep set his hands on the ladder than it lifted from the floor. Raising up carrying Shep. Space Janitor remained in the dirty water.
“What the?” Shep shouted, surprised by the recoiling ladder system. “Pup, grab on.” Shep was getting himself as low as he could get. Upside down hanging arms outstretched, Shep beckoned to the Space Janitor. Space Janitor impotently jumped to try and reach him to no avail.
“Speng, can you give me some kind of boost?” Space Janitor asked.
“After all I gave you, and you still want more?” said Spenglactic.
There was a deep rumbling coming from somewhere in the caver.
“Oh, OK, I know where we are. We’re in one of the understation sewer systems. It’s been out of commission for a couple of cycles.
“Thank goodness for that,” said Space Janitor.
“Oh, don’t be sighing relief just yet. They still need to purge it regularly.”
“Fantastic news,” Space Janitor said looking up to Shep. How was he going to get up to him?
Would you mind reading from the beginning because it’s a fantastic place to start. You can find the first instalment of Space Janitor by clicking here.