Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

I got pretty good at morse code after a while.

My co-pilot had a beak. The only way we could figure out how to communicate was if he clicked his beak at me in morse code. He was a pretty impatient dude so he did it really fast. He was wired to the eyeballs with Hexamex for the course changes that might be needed. Being that sped up and prepared for a possibility that might not happen isn’t any kind of fun. Makes a person a little high strung.

The only time he was verbose was when he was making up curses. He didn’t get the abstract notions of my human swear words but he understood actions and verbs so it was fun to hear him be creative when he was telling me off.

One memorable time he told me that my mother enjoyed having sex with hyenas because at least when they laughed at her, she didn’t have to take it as an insult. He also insinuated that my hyena father was where I got my annoying laugh, my short legs, and my hunger for dead animal meat. His race was herbivorous.

He was an Aereacoltra, a flying bird man. He would still be a flying bird man except for the fact that his wings were torn off as part of a prison sentence. He lost an eye in that prison as well during a scuffle over living quarters. Now he’s just a dude with a beak and an eyepatch.

He told me that an antigravity harness is nothing compared to banking and wheeling in a silent sky on a huge pair of wings. That’s the longest thing he told me other than the cursing.

His name was a series of chirps and whistles but I ended up just calling him Stan. Sometimes he hummed to himself as he scanned the instruments for possible pursuit. He sounded like he was gargling marbles but it was oddly musical and whispery.

The irony of the fact that he was a pilot who used to be able to fly wasn’t lost on him. In fact, he took off one of my fingers with that beak of his when I pointed it out.

What’s freaking me out now is that he’s locked himself in his quarters and he hasn’t come out for six days. There’s only so much I can do by myself at the controls before I need some down time. The autopilot’s an emergency measure and we really can’t take the risk of having no one at the wheel, not in this asteroid-laden sector.

“Stan! Get out here! Now!” I pounded and yelled at his door.

Softly, I could hear scrabbling behind the door and then the clicking of the lock. The door swooshed open and there was Stan. He looked exhausted.

“What the hell, Stan? What’s going on! It’s been six days!” I screamed at him.

Stan stepped to the side. Behind him were four eggs. Stan looked at me apologetically.

‘Quadruplets’, he clicked at me with his beak. ‘I guess the condom must have broke at that last space port’

Open-mouthed, I looked from Stan to the eggs and back to Stan again. We weren’t due to dock for another eight months. Stan looked ashamed.

“So should I start calling you Stella instead of Stan?” I asked.

It’s hard to tell when someone with a beak is smiling.

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