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Guess My Vocation

by Channie Greenberg

Sam, Bernice, Jerry and Tabatha flicked their helmets to the opaque setting. The next guest was so famous as to be recognizable; they were disallowed visual cues.

Tabatha exhaled loudly enough for her mic to pick up her sentiment. Jerry patted her back with a hand, which had been gloved to sustain three different atmospheres’ worth of pressure. He understood that had any of them been able to secure more lucrative roles, they would not be participants on that game show. Nonetheless, a steady gig paid the bills and provided ongoing artistic exposure.

Sam, the veteran among them, coughed. Twenty times in the last fifty, he had been able to identify the guest before the buzzer rang. His bonuses had purchased him a Quibox Model 3 Scooter, which he used on weekends to explore the third moon. To Sam, time spent dawdling reduced the speed with which he could buy a Quibox for his latest honey.

Bernice tried to lick off the sweat that dripped from the end of her nose. She hated these weekly feats of mental agility. Why hadn’t she remained on board the XRT 35, entertaining Venetians with her underwater burlesque?

A loud, syncopated beat signaled that the show’s host, Tommy Two Heads, was making his way to his dais. Bernice shook her neck from left to right. Why did he merit a sine curve of frequencies when all that she, the queen of last century’s striptease, received was a computer-generated score performed by microbes from Andromeda?

Another wave of algebraic notes indicated that the guest, too, had arrived. Bernice wished she could lighten her faceplate, but struggled against the impulse to do so. If she cheated, she would be replaced, leaving her with no means to pay off the dealer who supplied her with fossilized wombat knuckles.

Tommy Two Heads cleared his throats and announced to the panel that the guest was self-employed and that the guest was a service provider. He added the delectable hint that the guest worked with some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry.

Jerry groaned. Manufacturers were easier to sleuth than were merchants of assistance. Just the past week, he had completely misidentified the entrepreneur who specialized in separating mothers-in-law from their bank accounts. Before that, Jerry had been flummoxed when it came to fingering the weasel with the transplanted biped larynx, that had become rich cleaning out cosmic septic tanks.

Jerry strained to hear the contestant sit. All he picked up on his earphones was a spongy noise. Jerry made a mental note. After all, the tentacled pirate from Jupiter had arrived in a tank of liquid nitrogen. The razor-tongued skink from the deserts of Matawanqu 7 had similarly been encased in a form of matter both foreign and wondrous, which had flashed in Morse code a warning that Earth would be invaded three hours later.

Although Sam had won that round, having drilled himself on most of the intelligent fauna this side of the Milky Way, part of the prime audience had lost. In fact, Tabatha had fretted for two weeks after that event, since her manager had lived on one of those planets’ lone moon.

His wins having earned him the right to speak first, Sam asked the game’s only permitted wild question. He shouted into his microphone, demanding to know whether or not the guest was a salamander who performed cardiac surgery on rich and famous silicon-based life forms.

Once, Sam had actually won on the wild card question, having perceived that the guest was a seemingly insipid, but actually ravenous, wild hedgehog from the pro382 sector of Sextans A. Tommy Two Head’s predecessor had suffered lethal nibbles before security could evacuate that wild hedgie.

Sam’s inquiry was translated, instantaneously, into the universe’s two hundred and fourteen principal languages. Only a sloshing sound came back in reply.

Convinced that Tommy Two Heads had flipped over a card and that Sam had lost his right to ask more, Sam quieted. He reached over to poke Bernice through her space suit, but discovered that his appendage met air rather than a cocooned lady.

Jerry’s voice boomed in Bernice’s stead. He asked the guest whether or not the guest’s work was sought by the movers and shakers of the convergent media in the Huchra’s Lens.

Upon hearing his colleague’s question, Sam grunted. If Jerry won, Sam might fail to buy his mistress a motorbike. In turn, she, a female with intact reproductive organs, might develop sudden, alternative romantic interests; it was expensive for a genius walrus to retain partners.

Another splattering sound rang through the panelists’ earphones. Tabatha’s voice piped in. She asked the contestant whether the Tucana Dwarf Galaxy or the Large Magellanic Cloud was his home. Tabatha was immediately cut off by the booming sound that indicated a panelist had overstepped rights; only unambiguous queries were considered sporting.

A gurgling noise followed that boom. It was Sam’s turn again.

Sam dialed his face mask to transparent and for the few moments during which he lingered, he mightily regretted that decision. A pink, gelatinous form, decked in rhinestone earrings and a cardboard party hat, complete with tassel, opened its maw toward the remaining panelist.

Rather than a signature on the sign-in board, an acidic swipe of slime was etching a pattern in the slate. Rather than two heads, the host’s, Tommy’s, protuberances looked like two lollipops sucked down to their sticks.

Elsewhere, Jerry’s fourth hand wiggled, in odd reflex, next to the puddle of viscera that constituted the remains of Jerry’s body. Bernice had been reduced to a pile of peacock feathers and interstellar glitter cream, while Tabatha was entirely missing except for the purple smear that covered the bench where her reptilian tail usually rested. No scales or fingernails evidenced her destiny.

Sam heaved himself onto his flippers and bellowed into his helmet. The last thing he noticed on his personal cam was the show’s ratings going through the roof.

Copyright © 2010 by Channie Greenberg

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