I was offered guest quarters, but was told I would not be paid for the duration of my stay. Only enlisted trainees got paid. The majority of the facilities, I was informed, were safely buried underground. Creepy and I shared an elevator with a squat, powerful red-shelled alien with four stumpy legs, a muscular pair of claw-tipped arms with decorative carvings over the exoskeleton, a bandoleer of hyper-grenades and a highly-polished collection of service medals. She introduced herself as Sally.
“Barracks are down on level twelve,” she told me as the doors rolled open to level three. “You’re welcome to visit between 11001010011000 and 11001010011011, but outside those units and the training superstructure is off-limits to civilians.”
I was still looking at my complimentary binary wristwatch and wondering if I was wearing it the right way around when the elevator doors rolled shut and Creepy was, blessedly, gone. I retired to my room, made myself comfortable as possible in a high-g environment, and wondered what there was to do for moral-support-lenders in the Gorbajixi Foreign Legion.
Luckily, they had several billion shades of entertainment available on the subspace spectrum, and I managed to figure out how to use the remote control even though that, too, was in binary.
I was enjoying the third and penultimate hour of Enormous Brother, a reality show about ten contestants sent to live inside the mouth of a huge alien life-form until only one of them hadn’t been eaten – at which point I was led to believe the final contestant would also be eaten after being told it was about to be rescued, to the great amusement of everybody watching – when I was interrupted by an excited hammering on my door. I opened it to reveal a wide-eyed Creepy dressed in a Gorbajixi Foreign Legionnaire’s uniform several sizes too small, and a helmet several sizes too big.
“Anything come flooding back yet?” I asked.
“You must be Sputum,” Creepy dashed my hopes, which I confess hadn’t been high. “My notes told me you’d be around here somewhere, and sure enough, I’ve tracked you down. I bet you’re surprised to see me.”
“I bet you bet I am.”
“So!” Creepy faced me. “We draw ever closer to the inevitable end of our little game of cat and mouse. I’m the cat, before you ask.”
“I could tell from the uniform,” I remarked. “So joining the Gorbajixi Foreign Legion didn’t bring your memory back?”
“Oh, like you thought it would,” Creepy said scathingly. “Like you didn’t know that they needed fresh humans to act as disgusting bowel-nurseries for their crablike super-soldiers on level thirteen.”
“Oh. Did you at least learn some sort of cool alien … death … pinch…” I trailed off, suddenly assailed by a number of thoughts.
“I’ve deduced that the alien I originally assumed to have attacked me in my toilet was little more than a scapegoat. That’s right! It never even existed!”
“So we’ve come all this way,” I said, “and signed you up in some sort of alien militant extremist group, for nothing.”
“Far from it,” Creepy said triumphantly, and made an explicit little gesture with his hands. “I believe it is time,” he went on, “to read those hidden notes. I believe they will cast a certain light on things that up until now, I have only suspected. Sputum, if you will, kindly remove your – ”
“Alright, alright,” I grumbled. “Just … close the door, will you? For decency’s sake?”
He did so, and I took off my hat and thrust it at him.
“Read them quickly,” I growled, “I don’t want anybody to see me this way.”
He took the careworn black cap in his fingers, his face wrinkled with distaste even though he was wearing elbow-length Gorbajixi Foreign Legion-issue gloves. He turned the hat around, folded it roughly inside-out, and held it up to the light. I winced to see my beloved headgear so harshly treated.
“Be careful,” I requested plaintively.
“As I thought, as I thought,” Creepy muttered, and cast an accusing glare at me. “The so-called alien never existed – you made up the whole story, to send me on a wild goose-chase across the galaxy!”
I snatched my hat back and jammed it onto my head.
“Darn it, you got me,” I said. “How amazing, the way you managed to put all the pieces together.”
“I can’t take all the credit…”
“You can’t take any of the credit,” I snapped. “Come on, come with me. I’m sick of this.”
I led Creepy back to the elevator, and we ascended to the ground floor. By the time we stormed into the recruiting office, of course, Creepy had forgotten why he was storming, but that didn’t appreciably detract from his overall storm.
“Ah,” the elongated squid creature said with a welcoming slither of numerous tentacles, “our latest recruit and his moral support. How are you settling in?”
“I’m not sure,” Creepy admitted. “Where are we?”
“You might as well come clean,” I said, and paused for a moment to reflect on the inappropriateness of this expression when applied to a creature that could fill its own printer cartridges. “We know about your little recruiting ploy.”
“I really have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Of course, I should have realised earlier that it was you in our toilet,” I said. “I knew I’d heard that snigger of yours before, and you’re easily thin and malleable enough to fit through our S-bend. You needed new humans – you as much as admitted it yourself, you accidentally fed the last batch too much ammonia and they couldn’t be used as bowel-nurseries for your crab-soldiers.
“So you knocked Creepy out and irradiated whatever part of his brain it was that created fresh memories, leaving him unable to remember anything for more than a few minutes at a time. The only question was, how to get him here?”
“How indeed?” the squidgy officer prompted.
“Simplicity itself! I suspected the fellow who volunteered to give us a lift from Earth was an impostor right from the start. No student of metabiology would ever ask if memory-loss was a racial characteristic. Metabiologists study all forms of memory-loss in the course of their first decade. A reasonably fashionable student of metabiology, furthermore, might have a pierced fanurgle or wear his hurbi around backwards, but to do both smacks of trying too hard, which is just the armed forces all over. His Uncle Squashnibax would never forget when he needed to nurbl his nurblsqrlter, because Bwolusite men over the age of eighty don’t even have nurblsqrlters – they wither and drop off when they enter puberty.”
“Astonishing,” the recruiting officer exclaimed. “Not even I knew that.”
“I didn’t either, until a little while ago,” I admitted. “I was flicking through your entertainment spectrum, and I stumbled on this show about annoying adolescents from over-privileged Bwolus II. One of them was embarrassed about being seventy-five years old and still having a noticeable nurblsqrlter-bulge. Incidentally,” I added, “the first feature I came across was some sort of heavily-encoded Gorbajixi military transmission, and that was precisely what our friend Ppt was listening to when he rolled down his window the first time we saw him.”
Creepy and the recruiting officer were staring at me with frighteningly similar expressions, considering their anatomical discrepancies.
“But the clincher,” I concluded with a flourish, “was quite simple. No self-respecting Bwolusite would let his little sister put multiplasm in his Gzzrekko.”