The Last Starfighter

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Authors: Alan Dean Foster
were not pronounced, but they were unarguable.
    “Hi,” Alex said, smiling wanly. If the features were consistent, then the uniformed being confronting him was female. If they were not, that implied ramifications of shape he preferred not to think about.
    She . . . it was nice to think of the alien as she . . . stared at him and mouthed something incomprehensible. It sounded a little like baby-talk, except he knew it wasn’t. Her stance and attitude conveyed her impatience.
    He shrugged helplessly and she looked disgusted, provided he was interpreting her expression correctly. For all he could tell for certain his reaction might be sending her into paroxysms of joy. Somehow he doubted it.
    Gestures were relatively universal. As she moved her arms, patiently repeating the movements as though for an idiot, he finally got the idea that she wanted him to disembark and follow her.
    “Okay.” He started climbing out of the ship. “But shouldn’t I wait for . . .?” He glanced ahead. There was no sign of Centauri. “I guess not. Lead on, good-lookin’.”
    His comment was not understood by his escort, which was probably fortunate, but letting out with a little sass made him feel better. Similar beings immediately swarmed over the ship, tending to outlets and clustering near the stern. One of them muttered something that sounded unpleasant and kicked the lower edge of the main drive. Alex heard something strike the floor with a metallic clank .
    He straightened as much as he could and tried to exude an air of complete confidence. “Perfectly logical explanation for all this.”
    They passed rows of metal cylinders stacked two heads high. Something was loading them on a wheelless platform with the aid of a glowing fishing pole. The loader had tentacles for a face and resembled a humanized relative of H.P. Lovecraft’s great god Cthulhu, a character who’d kept Alex awake with the light burning all night on more than one occasion. He moved closer to his more human-looking guide.
    They entered a doorway cut extra wide, though whether for appearance’s sake or to permit the movement of wide-bodied visitors Alex couldn’t have said. His escort turned him over to another female of the same species. This new nursemaid was slightly taller and more massive than the first. She made beckoning gestures and Alex followed meekly.
    “Got to do something . . . got to make something happen. Can’t just follow them around ’til I drop. Talk to them. Try communicating somehow. Maybe this one is more responsive.”
    As he struggled to think of how best to proceed they stepped out onto a moving section of floor. It carried them before a short creature wearing a dun-colored uniform who pointed something boxy and metallic at Alex. A wide beam of light shot from the box, enveloped him from head to foot.
    “Don’t kill me! I haven’t done anything! I . . .”
    The light winked off. Abashed, he avoided his escort’s gaze. The box wielder disappeared through a small door behind a counter, to reappear a short while later carrying a double armful of clothing, which he handed to Alex.
    “Mine?” he mumbled.
    “Georg-nat,” agreed the alien dispenser, returning to his previous business.
    Before Alex could think of another question, the floor moved him on. Looking back, he saw the short alien noshing on something like a deli sandwich, except that the contents were moving. He swallowed, determined not to pry too deeply into the dietary habits of those around him.
    He remembered his intention to try and provoke some kind of intelligible response from his guide. He cleared his throat and tapped her on the shoulder.
    “Pardon me, but does anyone around here speak Earth?”
    She made an unintelligible gesture with both hands but did not reply verbally. The section of floor finally slowed and Alex was ordered off. He expected her to join him, but she did not. The mobile floor slab carried her away.
    There were plenty of other aliens around,

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