Space Janitor (101-110) shrugged at Shep. He had no idea how they were supposed to attach the foot. It would be another task for them to perform.
Space Janitor felt useless. Everything he did to try and make things better only ended up making things worse.
“Look pup it’s not your fault. You’re doing what you can,” Shep said to Space Janitor. He could see the disappointment in his eyes.
“Maybe I could use the machine again to make something we can attach it with,” Space Janitor said. His voice was full of hope.
“You know what pup don’t worry about it. You have helped me so much. I am thankful. I know you might not feel like I do but trust me when I say, I do. What we need to do is get ready for the dust off. Can you see out the window?” Shep asked.
Space Janitor went to a small window in the top corner of the cabin. He stood as tall as he could to see out. There was nothing out there. There was a thick red fog. Impenetrable to Space Janitor’s eyes. There was no sign of anything out there.
“Well?” Shep asked. Space Janitor turned to Shep.
“There’s nothing out there. Some kind of red mist. I can’t see through it,” Space Janitor said.
“Red mist. Great. Either means there’s been a set down or a take-off. No matter which it is, our work has been cut out for us, again,” said Shep. Shep had the foot and was looking at it in a puzzled manner. He tapped the bottom of his stump. Winced in pain. The feeling was returning.
Shep put the foot in his overalls.
The transport bumped and swayed more.
“Have we landed,” Shep asked.
Space Janitor turned to Shep and shrugged.
“It looks like we’ve landed,” Space Janitor said. Space Janitor tugged at the door, it wouldn’t budge.
“Don’t be in such a rush, OK?” Shep scolded Space Janitor. Shep got up. He was still hobbling, but it would do for now. There was a moment when he wasn’t too sure if he should try and at least attach the foot.
Space Janitor watched Shep navigate the cabin. Space Janitor was concerned for his coworker. Neither did he want to risk anything by dawdling on the job. He tried to make an excellent first impression with his employers.
The door of the transport opened. It had landed, but the question now was where. The red mist contaminated the cabin. It coated everything it touched with a fine film of particles.
Space Janitor could feel it get into his airways. He coughed and gripped his chest. If he spent long in the environment, it would suffocate him. His lungs would become leaden with the powder.
Space Janitor looked over to Shep. It was taking a toll on him too. There was no way either of them could get out of the transport, let alone do the job. Had they been sent here to die.
The two cleaners were doubled over in the cabin of the transport. A voice came over. Cold, robotic and unaffected by the dust.
“Please disembark,” it commanded.
Space Janitor wheezed and crawled off the ramp.
“Please disembark,” it repeated.
Space Janitor grabbed Shep and pulled him out of the transport. As soon as they were off the ramp, it folded up barring reentry.
There was the sound of the engine firing up. It spluttered as it made its way upwards.
Space Janitor could see it struggle to ascend. Was the machine faltering?
Space Janitor watched the ship waver and falter as it went upwards. The ship disappeared. Enveloped by the red mist whipping overhead. Space Janitor’s head was pulled back down to the ground. He crawled forward. Looking around, he could see Shep struggling behind.
Space Janitor reached to the Spenglactic. He hoped it would be able to offer a solution. Otherwise, they were doomed.
Space Janitor thumbed a button on the Spenglactic. It came to life.
“What the hell have you got us into this time?” Spenglactic sputtered.
“Some dust storm,” Space Janitor wheezed back.
“You need me to sort you out again, don’t you? Yes,” said Spenglactic. There was a power-up sound.
Let me take a moment to say I know it feels like the Spenglactic is a literal deus ex machina, but I swear it’s not. This is how it actually happened.
Anyway, back to the story.
There was a sucking followed by a boom.
Spenglactic had sucked in all the dust within their radius. Forced it out, creating a brief bubble of the clean atmosphere.
Space Janitor took it in and looked around. He saw Shep hunched over trying to breathe. Space Janitor went and grabbed him. Pulled him close and looked in the clean area.
The dust was already closing in, and soon they would be back to square one.
Space Janitor saw a hatch on the ground. He didn’t know where it would lead to, but he owed it to himself to find out at least. The alternative was to be swallowed by the dust once more.
Space Janitor placed Shep in front of him and guided him towards the hatch in the ground.
With some effort, he was able to get it open. The two descended into the dark. Where were they?
“More darkness, fantastic,” said Space Janitor. Shep did not respond. They could see through slats above them the red dust was still whipping about. Was it calming down? Would it ever settle? Space Janitor thought to himself.
Shep wheezed beside him. He was still bent over, arms bracing the legs. He coughed out some of the red mist.
“Are you OK? Here let me help,” Space Janitor.
Space Janitor gave Shep a solid thump on the back, bringing up more of the red mist.
“Inhaling razors would have been easier,” Shep shouted. Space Janitor kept on thumping. Shep caught his hand and placed it to the side. “Thank you, I’m good,” Space Janitor nodded but gave one final thump. You know, to make sure. “Hey, didn’t you hear me? Enough”.
Shep stood upright. He observed his surroundings and nodded.
“Well, you did the right thing. Getting us out of that. We need to work out if it’s a landing or a take-off. That way we’ll know how much time we have left. As long as we get to a terminal, we can see the itinerary. Is itinerary the right word? Landings and take-offs, you know? I can barely see let alone think straight”.
“Will there be one down here? It looks like there’s not much down here,” said Space Janitor
“There’s always something down here. Station used to have full-blown maintenance towns down here. That’s what they thought led to the formation of the groups,”
Space Janitor nodded along, not having a clue what Shep was talking about.
“We can stay here and hope what’s happening up there dies off, or we can go forward and hope for the best. I’m not one for hanging around,” Shep said.
Space Janitor nodded.
Space Janitor and Shep moved forward through the tunnel. The howling of the wind reminded the two of the presence of the dust cloud. If it was settling, the two of them were none the wiser. Somewhere up ahead of them, there was a smell of oil. Some kind of fuel source at least. Old fashioned, quaint. Space Janitor breathed in deeply and made himself dizzy. There was a clicking sound coming from a direction, but it changed from moment to moment.
The two walked forward. There was no obstruction. Despite the appearance of some slickness, the ground was not slippy. There were lights overhead too. While it wasn’t exactly well lit, there was enough illumination to allow for a confident walk.
Shep led the way. He had stopped limping and was dragging his wounded leg along the ground. He would occasionally catch it on something and yelp.
Space Janitor would have offered to carry him, but the weight of Spenglactic was enough.
The Spenglactic chimed in.
“My adaptors will need to be looked at after this,” Spenglactic informed Space Janitor. Space Janitor nodded.
“Say Spenglactic,” Shep started. “Do you think you could translate those clicks? There’s a pattern to them. Might be able to help us out,”
“I can’t translate non-mechanical clicks,” Spenglactic responded promptly.
“They’re biological then,” Shep said matter of factly.
“Tomato/tomato,” said Spenglactic.
“I didn’t realise vegetables could speak,” Space Janitor interjected.
“He means it’s from some living being,” Shep said. “Meaning we’re being watched. Don’t look round, don’t panic,” Shep sighed. “I said, don’t look around and don’t panic. Eyes forward and keep going towards that little alcove up ahead,”
The two came to an area. Looked like an old communications station.
Space Janitor looked at Shep.
“Now,” Shep turned to Space Janitor. “Now we take a lunch break,” Shep said, plonking himself down on a nearby chair.
Space Janitor regarded him suspiciously. Shep sat in front of a dormant control panel unmoving. He head stooped, and his breathing slowed.
Space Janitor approached cautiously. He wanted to see what Shep was doing. He couldn’t see Shep’s face well.
Space Janitor pulled on the chair Shep was in. Shep jostled in his place. Opened his eyes and looked up at Space Janitor.
“Leave me alone, please. I don’t want to talk shop when I’m not on duty,” said Shep. He spun his chair around, facing away from Space Janitor. Space Janitor took the hint went and sat at another chair. He kept his eyes glued to the back of Shep’s head. The clicking persisted from somewhere nearby.
It echoed and reverberated. Where the sound was coming from. What exactly Shep was up to, Space Janitor did not know.
Shep stirred in his chair. Cleared his throat then stretched out. He spun around in the chair to face Space Janitor. Shep’s expression had changed. Was Shep happy, he kind of looked that way. Space Janitor found it unsettling.
“Hope you enjoyed your lunch,” Shep said.
“I didn’t have anything, neither did you,” Space Janitor responded.
“True but it’s up to us what we do with our free time. I’m not going to say to you we have to eat food on our lunch. Am I hungry, absolutely. Do I wish I had the smallest morsel, you bet. Am I salivating at the prospect? You know I am. The thing is our fellow four-leggers died to give us the right to eat. Now, shall we press on?”
“I guess we should,” said Space Janitor doing his best to discern what the expression on Shep’s face meant. There was no way to tell if he was sincere or not. Was this some preprogrammed behaviour within him. Wanting to lunch even though it didn’t feel like the most appropriate of times.
Shep stood nodding, tongue waggling out of his mouth. It was almost as if he wanted to play. Space Janitor’s felt his shoulders droop and shake under Shep’s gaze.
“If you need some more time. Shep we can wait a little while longer,” Space Janitor offered not sure what the response would be. The clicks that had been following were now much louder. Space Janitor flinched in response.
There was a change in Shep. He twitched and looked to one side then blinked rapidly. Shep held his eyes closed and looked at Space Janitor.
“It’s fine, don’t worry about it,” Shep said in response. An expression of grumpiness had shaped all features. What had curved upwards now went downwards.
“We’ll try and get to the source of these clicks and things will become clearer for us. I hope,” said Space Janitor.
“You know we’re not going to have to do that for one simple reason,” said Shep.
Space Janitor allowed silence to plateau from Shep’s statement. It was expected for Space Janitor to ask a question, but right at the moment, he didn’t care to ask.
Shep broke the silence.
“You don’t know that,” Space Janitor shot back. Shep could have been guessing, but it made no difference either way. Space Janitor was still at Shep’s mercy.
“Sure I do, listen,” Shep said then held up a finger. “Who’s there?”
Space Janitor could hear the sound of something being dragged along the ground. It was coming from around the corner behind him. Space Janitor noticed his shoulders were narrow, and his breath was shallow. He had to consciously lower his shoulders and deepen the breathes he took. He did not know whether to turn around or not.
Space Janitor took a big gulp and turned to face the corner.
There was some more dragging when what should appear from around the corner. It was a very old beagle. It’s face drooped, cheeks jowled. Underneath folds of skin Space Janitor could make out sunken bloodshot eyes.
The beagle carried a long lead pipe. It wore rags for clothing. Poorly sewn patchwork either by arthritic hands or digits not suited for the task.
Space Janitor looked to Shep and shrugged. Shep gave Space Janitor a nod. Now, Space Janitor wasn’t sure what was meant by his nodding, but he doubted Shep knew what he meant either.
Space Janitor turned back around to the beagle.
“Can we help you at sir?” Space Janitor offered to the bandaged beagle. The beagle, whether deaf in old age ore trying to intimidate made no response.
Space Janitor stepped forward, and the beagle barked. Barking with such ferocity Space Janitor could feel it rattle the marrow fo his bones.
Space Janitor instinctively jumped back. His breath shallowed, his body vibrating. Paws curled, ready for action.
“Understand you are prisoner now,” the beagle said. Half speech, half bark. Words were lost, but Space Janitor and Shep got the idea.
Space Janitor looked at Shep, signalling. Space Janitor hadn’t been around too long but knew they could take him.
“What if we don’t understand?” Space Janitor said.
Shep looked at Space Janitor, surprised at the young pups balls. Shep knew if word got out, he would be spayed for sure.
The beagle furrowed his brow. So many lines appeared on his forehead.
“If you don’t understand then you are to be sent to the pits,” the beagle said.
“We have been sent here to clear you out,” Shep spoke up.
“There is no need for that. This is our home. Where we have to go? You cannot chase us off because we don’t want to run,” said the beagle.
“We could take this one on,” said Space Janitor. The beagle barked, but Space Janitor held his nerve. Stepped toward the beagle and readied a nozzle on the Spenglactic. He wasn’t too sure what it would do, but it was better than nothing. Around the corner, unseen by Space Janitor, there was the sound of feet.
“The dog is weak alone. The pack is strong together. You could beat this one, but you could not beat all. You are strays, waiting to be brought to the pound. We have no masters,” the beagle said.
Space Janitor could hear the panting of other dogs. They were ready to pounce. Some could be heard pacing around.
Space Janitor, for the first time feeling like he could fight, relented. He let out a loud sigh, and the beagle smiled. He had won this round.
Space Janitor felt if there was around two, he would have the upper hand. Space Janitor’s paw came away from the nozzle of the Spenglactic.
Shep hobbled ahead of him towards the beagle. Space Janitor followed.
When they turned the corner, they could see there were many other dogs. Dogs of different breeds, ages and temperaments.
Had they made the right choice?
Space Janitor and Shep were paraded past the other mutts. Space Janitor didn’t like the word but could not think of a better one as he was being marched down the tunnels. Some of them snarled, others snapped. Did they know? Were they capable of thoughts? Space Janitor struggled to make out what breeds they were. They had mixed in together forming something new, something dangerous.
The tunnel zigged and zagged. Space Janitor didn’t know how far they were going, it felt long-distance. Then there were moments when it felt like they were double backing on themselves.
Space Janitor managed to sneak a look behind him to see they were being followed. The dogs had not taken the Spenglactic from him. Space Janitor decided to see where they were being taken to first before chancing an escape.
The tunnel went down. Shep was quiet. In fact, everyone was quiet, it felt like a religious procession. Together in silent solemnity, all dogs united.
The tunnel narrowed, and everyone went single file. The ceiling came down to meet captives and captors. They had to crouch down. Progress slowed, and in the distance, there was the sound of grinding.
Space Janitor and Shep were lead through a hole into a larger room. There was a lot of smoke and in the centre, a read glowing. Turning cogs and gears cast large shadows on the walls flickering in front of Space Janitor’s eyes. Looking down, they stood on a broad platform. It was closer to a grating. Space Janitor could see far below. How far down did this go?
The dogs in their entourage got excited. Tails wagged as the silhouette of a dog loomed closer. Who was it now?
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.
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