Woof', said Laika

by Russ

After seven years, Paul was little more than a moss covered husk. A shrivelled form, unrecognisable beneath a mass of unattended hair matted together with the fluids which had oozed and spurted at regular intervals from the various exit points of his body. He’d barely registered the clunk as an unidentified vessel docked with his drifting capsule, and now he found himself blinking through his overgrown fringe at three shadows.

‘Looks like you,’ said Polly.

‘Hilarious,’ said Albert.

‘Woof,’ said Laika.

‘What the…?’ said Paul. Or at least he thought he did. Having not used his voice in more than half a decade, the sound he managed to make was far less intelligible.

‘It’s broken,’ said Albert.

‘You’re broken,’ said Polly.

‘Woof,’ said Laika.

‘Am I dead?’ croaked Paul.

‘Not quite,’ said Albert, who was tapping away at Paul’s console, having turned it around to face himself rather than the atrophied astronaut and navigated the menu away from the simulator Paul had been using to play at throwing virtual coins into virtual empty coffee cups around the cabin, badly. ‘But you’re a long way from home. Were you,’ Albert paused and re-checked the data. ‘Were you aiming for the moon?! My god, talk about missing target…’

Paul’s vision came finally into focus and he started, trying to spur his feeble muscles into some sort of fight or flight. He succeeded in stimulating his bladder into emptying. Albert stepped quickly back from the splash. Laika moved forward and began lapping at the puddle. Polly fell backwards laughing.

‘You’re… animals,’ was the best Paul could do.

‘We’ve got a bright one here,’ declared the re-erected Polly.

‘Shut up,’ Albert addressed the bird curtly before turning back to Paul. ‘We are. I imagine this is pretty confusing for you. I’m Albert, this one cleaning up is Laika, and the annoying one is Polly.’

Paul strained to point with his right arm. It was weakened but he’d kept it in use more frequently than his left, so it still had some movement.

‘You’re, a monkey, that’s a dog, and,’ Paul squinted at Polly. ‘Magpie?’

‘How dare you! I’m a parrot.’

‘You’re black and white.’

‘Sixty years of space will do that to a bird,’ Polly huffed. ‘You’re not exactly rosy cheeked yourself.’

Paul sank back into his seat and looked to Albert.

‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand.’

‘We’ve been up here a while,’ the chimp explained. ‘We were the original… I think you call it ‘guinea pigs’ but I’ve never been a fan of that term. You, your kind, left us up here, presumed dead, but… well, I won’t bore you with the full story. We’re still here, we found each other, we’ve bodged our ships together. And, today, we’ve run into you.’

At this point, Paul’s brain opted for immediate retreat and began releasing sleep chemicals. As he faded, he half-heard Albert continue.

‘Poor guy,’ Albert said. ‘You think we should help him get home?’

‘Can we stop for crackers on the way?’ said Polly

‘Woof,’ said Laika.