Translation Errors by Brandon Scott

For Jerrod Ruble, who thought this was going to be a different story.

“Dale pues, y en donde queda la persona?”

“I’m sorry. What was that?” Xin asked. “Is that…what is that?”

The creature, a ten-foot-tall green ape, cocked its head and fiddled with his small plastic-looking oval on his hairy chest. He pressed his long fingers against the surface, trying to bring it back to working order.

After a moment, a spark erupted from the surface of it, and the ape cleared his throat. “I was asking you to give me the location of your colleague, more or less. The translator is remarkably not tuned today.”

Xin considered this, thinking as a huge ship flew overhead. The spaceport was never a quiet place, not conducive to higher brain function activities, but he had to make the sale one way or the other. Paying for the stuff back at the casino was imperative.

“He’s not around now.”

“Well, clearly,” the ape said. “Hence why I asked.”

“No, I mean—” Xin cleared his throat and wondered how screwed this would get for him. A Upernit like this one, while not a meat-eating species, was not a person he wanted pissed off.

“I mean he is not alive anymore.” Xin glanced at something but saw something else entirely. A few memories flashing in his eyes. “He did not survive the last trip. The one to get these.”

And, on the word “these” he opened his pack and withdrew a solid mass of quartz-like material. All jagged and producing a faint light. It was eerie and hard to stare at, like the sight of it might make you go mad from the sheer gall of viewing.

The alien appraised it, but did not blindly grab—he was no fool. There was a reason that it was in a reinforced bag—and that Xin held it so gingerly. The air could burn like ignited methane if those things got aggravated.

“And what happened to him, what became of—”

The machine on his fur sparked, and what came out of his mouth next was a language of guttural shouts and oddly sensual hisses. Also, a good amount of phlegm. Unfortunately, Xin didn’t understand such a tongue without a working translator.

The alien gestured at the material and mimed for Xin to give it to him. Xin shook his head and held out a demanding hand. Cash first, then the ape got his crystals. And even then, Xin planned to track the Upernit for a few miles. See what a creature like him wanted with a power source like that. Certainly, not for travel like he’d said in the order. Space fuel, though not always cheap, was easy to find. The crystal was more conducive to torture or genocidal purposes.

At the impudence, the ape got pissed and reached for the leather-like belt around his waist, drawing a long-barreled silver pistol. Xin recognized the model, old but reliable.

Xin’s gun was not so old. In one motion, he flipped open a pouch and drew out the boxy pistol with a large handle. It dwarfed his hand and could take the ape and send his blood all the way up to the stratosphere if Xin pulled the trigger.

The ape stopped taking out his own weapon and stared at the grill of the gun, nose drawn open and flared—a signal of panic and fear for his species.

Xin tried to hit the Upernit’s communication device with the side of his hand, tried to get the translator working. When that failed, he stepped back and tilted the weapon for the ape to deal with the device himself.

A sound to the side caught both of their attention, and Xin glimpsed a few men and women of different races now looking at the spectacle with interest. Xin had chosen somewhere quiet and unpopulated for this meeting, but apparently, any part of the city didn’t stay that way for long.

The ape got the device back to a functioning, if still sparking, state.

“We had a deal,” he growled.

“You’re right, we do. But I need my payment for this. I need to get off the planet—I imagine at least.”

The ape’s hair bristled, the implications of that pretty clear. The reaction was all Xin needed to be sure of his intentions. The Upernit reached down on his belt, opposite to the pistol, and drew out a sack made of basic animal skin.

“Here,” the ape said, the coins inside the bag clinking. “This is what we agreed to, right?”

Xin was not dumb, he kept the gun on the ape. “You count them out for me, okay? I want to be sure that I got what I wanted—”

The bag of coins was not full of coins. Instead: rocks. And those hit right in Xin’s face. The ape, being about twice as strong as a human male, snatched the crystals—risking his hand—and shoved the man backward.

Xin stumbled and pulled the trigger on his gun. And damn did it kick and roar in his hand. The people around staggered, covering their ears, as a huge energy blast spewed forth from the barrel and made the air ripple with purple death.

The building behind, the entire edge of it, sheared off and atomized.

But the shot still missed, and the ape ran with huge pounding steps, going around the corner, brushing past the watchers. Xin ran after him, waving his gun around. The onlookers gave him a wide birth. He sprinted harder, watching as the mammoth ape took a running jump up to a second-floor windowsill and swung further upward. The action should have disturbed the crystals, but considering the ape did not turn to ash and drift down slowly, along with the city block, it appeared he had a gentleness in his motions.

Xin debated following further but instead did a quick calculation in his head. He ran off the opposite way, and past the group of onlookers again. As he did, one of them—a shadow-like being—opened its fanged maw and uttered noises. Noises failing to sound like the intended English.

Xin kept on running, somewhat glancing back, trying to parse what he was saying, when a truck, the truck the alien had been trying to tell him about, smashed into the front of him and sent him careening backward with a burst of blood and broken bones. He managed to remain conscious as all the other people screamed around him.

The man looked down at the gun he had been holding and saw smoke emanating off the wide barrel. A blast used to full effect.

It was then, as a second thing to notice, Xin got that the truck that hit him was gone, as was most of the surrounding street. The only remaining driver, a small flamingo-like being, stood on shaking legs and yelled into a communication device. When Xin moved, even in a totally not meant to be threatening way, the being ran off in a panic.

Xin could not blame it for that. But he felt less compassionate when he discovered, in a matter of moments apart from each other, that he could not get up, and that the police were on their way. Several cars coming around, lights blaring.

The hover cars dropped onto the seared ground, and out of the first, came a few members of the native species. An aggressive, large-eyed, thin-bodied creature with long limbs. They held guns on Xin, and walked up to him, staring with fractured kaleidoscope eyes.

The front one, who lowered his gun, tried to say something to him. Came off as a balloon leaking hard consonants at the rhythm of a tribal drum.

Xin smiled weakly, “I speak English? Any variant you might like? I can do Interstellar British?”

The alien police officers looked at each other and said something else in their native tongue. Xin did not understand what any of it meant. They pulled out handcuffs, and Xin winced.

“Hey, you might want to get off this planet; a terrorist just made off with bombs.”

Of course, the one English word that the aliens understood was “terrorist,” and the guns remained on him with renewed vigor.

“Typical,” Xin said and wondered how long it would take them to realize they would have to drag his crippled body to the station.

Too long, he bet.

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