As it turns out, cow tipping isn’t a real thing.
But how was I supposed to know? I’m a city boy. And I was trashed. Even if I’d known you can’t really tip over a sleeping cow, I’d have still gone with them. No way I was going to punk out now, not after all the hell I’d been through.
It was rush week and I’d already survived three grueling days of hazing. There had been forty potential Rho Omicron Omicron initiates at the start, it was now down to twenty. We’d been split into groups of five, plus two standing members.
I don’t know what the other groups were doing, but my group went camping.
“Alright boys, load ‘em up!” commanded Evan. “We’s going cow tipping. Yeee haw!”
Nobody whipped out a phone to Snopes ‘cow tipping’. We all just piled into the jeep, with ‘piled’ being the keyword. Evan and the other standing member, Jon, took the front, leaving only the tiny back row for the five initiates. Since two of my potential brothers could barely walk—let alone race to the jeep—I managed to score a bench seat.
Thank God, because Jon flew down the dirt road, bouncing helter-skelter. As we left the hills, the windy road straightened and Joh killed the headlights, without slowing. We barreled on through the black of the moonless night.
Then slid to a stop.
“Alright fellas, this is it,” announced Jon, killing the engine. “From here on, no talking.”
Down a ravine we stumbled. Through some trees, over a fence, and into a field we went.
“Over that way,” whispered Evan, pointing.
Jon strained to see. I doubt he saw anything, but we all heard a deep groan, one that could only have come from a large animal.
“This is so awesome!” whispered Kevin.
“Shut up, pleb,” hissed Evan.
I elbowed Kevin for emphasis. I’d only known him a few days, but I really wanted him to make the cut. Kev was a great big fat kid, always grinning about something, always cracking jokes. I really liked him.
“Lead the way, tubby,” said Jon, giving Kev a shove from behind.
We crept toward the noise, in the same direction Evan had pointed. Soon we could hear the heavy breathing of large animals, occasionally blowing gusts from their noses. Before long we could see large shadowy figures.
It was scary, really. I mean, they were everywhere. At least twenty of them. Do cows bite? Or worse, kick?
“Ah man! I stepped in something!” yelled somebody.
This was followed by a chorus of shushing and laughter. And a moo.
Several moo’s. Three or four cows had been awakened and one had shied away from us, waking several more.
Jon squatted down, so we all followed suit. It took a while, but eventually the racket began to settle.
And then a light came on. A porch light, up a hill, maybe two hundred yards from us. And a light inside the house. The front door opened and an old man in his underwear stepped onto the porch.
Holding a shotgun.
“He’s got a gun!” somebody screamed.
I was already running. We all were. Running, stumbling, pushing, shoving.
Didn’t matter that the old man had shot straight up, I couldn’t see. I imagined he’d been aiming right at me. My running went into warp drive. I was first to the jeep. Everybody piled on. The engine turned and we were moving.
“Wait for me, guys! Guys, guys!”
The jeep kept going.
“Dude, stop! Can’t leave him,” I yelled, pushing my head between bodies to see out the back.
Jon slowed up, but didn’t stop. Kevin was huffing and puffing, reaching for my hand. Finally he caught it, I tugged and he leaped onto a back bumper. Jon tore off with Kev clinging for dear life to the spare tire on the back.
And then the light. So bright that it was blinding. From above.
The jeep slid to a stop, jostling off the road and into a ditch.
Everybody was frozen. Except me. Like, really frozen. I pushed and shoved, trying to get out.
The light was suddenly gone.
Pushing between, I managed to stand up on the seat. We weren’t on a dirt road anymore. We were in a dimly lit room. I looked around. A huge room. Mostly empty, except for shelving and stacked crates.
My friends… they were still frozen. Like, really frozen. Not frozen as in ice, but time.
I climbed down and shook Kevin. “Hey, man. Hey! Wake up, dude!”
I waved a hand in front of his eyes. No response. His eyes stayed wide open, staring up at something terrifying. He looked like he was in the middle of screaming.
I looked around. I was… I was in some sort of cargo bay.
HOLY CRAP! I’ve seen this movie before! We’ve been kidnapped by aliens!
Before I could wrap my mind around that, a noise came from behind. A door sliding open.
Desperate, I cast about for someplace to hide. Footsteps approaching. I darted about fifteen feet from the jeep, dove to the ground, and rolled into the opening on a bottom shelf, pulling objects on the ground in front of me.
That’s when I saw… well, an alien. He came strolling right out, looking just like a creature straight off the cover of a Whitley Strieber book. Maybe four feet tall, half of which was his head, with giant dark eyes and small mouth.
Four others stumbled along behind. I mean, that’s how it seemed. That they were stumbling.
Each was very different looking from the other. One was very tall, very slim. Another very hairy. The scariest one was reptilian, like a walking lizard.
I’m dreaming. That’s it. I drank myself into a stupor and passed out. This is just a dream.
I pinched my eyes shut and concentrated hard. My eighth grade algebra teacher, Ms. Russo. Mmm, yeah. Detention. I’ve been very naughty.
I opened my eyes a slit. Dang it. Still stuck in this stupid alien dream.
They had removed Kevin and Jon’s t-shirts and now the tall alien was trying to stuff big Kevin into skinny Jon’s shirt. The aliens were very animated, talking excitedly. It sounded like a noisy jumble of clicks, whistles, and grunts to me.
But whatever they were saying must have been hilarious. I swear, it really seemed like they were laughing. When one of them stuffed Evan’s shoe into Kevin’s mouth, they fell about the place. Yep, they were definitely laughing.
This sparked a new burst of clicks and grunts. And right in the middle of it, I suddenly began to understand: “…totally epic, bro! Oh my god, Tindo, you’re a genius! That dude’s gonna be like, where’s my shoe? And then he’s gonna be all, why you eating my shoe bro?”
They laughed themselves to tears.
‘Greetings Earthling,’ I thought, ‘in accordance to the Viral Peace Accords of 134008, we have established this link to announce our presence in your system and to explain your rights. This link will terminate in exactly 4 and 3/8’s of your minutes. After which we will no longer interfere the outside occurrences of your life, in compliance with the Separate Entity Statute, Section 128, Part 29 of the Equitable Hosting Laws.’
The heck? I thought that? Dude. I’m totally losing it.
‘No, Earthling, you are not loosing your mind,’ I answered myself haughtily. ‘And no, you did not answer yourself. I simply continued speaking to you. Please except my apology if you feel as though I am being haughty, it’s just that I have an obligation to relate a certain amount of information to you and only a short amount of time to do so. Now, if I may continue…’
‘Um, sure… I guess,’ I answered, more confused than ever. As I held this conversation with myself, Tindo and the other creatures continued cracking themselves up, falling all over the place as they put my friends back in the truck. Were they drunk?
‘Yes, they are drunk,’ I thought.
‘No,’ came an exasperated reply. ‘You did not think that. I spoke it directly to your mind. My name is Balar and I am the legal council for the viral colonists who are, as we speak, setting up a colony in your sinus. My job is to inform you of your right to…’
‘Wooooah,’ I thought, ‘Wait a minute. You’re a virus? A talking germ? I’m being infected?’
‘See here, Earthling,’ returned the indignant Balar. ‘There is no need for name calling. I resent the connotations of the word germ. And your crass use of the word infected. But I will forgive your ignorance because I realize that you come from a relatively young species. Now, may I continue to explain your rights to you?’
‘Do I have a choice?’
‘Sure, we could discuss the weather if you prefer. Only, when we get done, you will not understand your rights and I will get fired for incompetence. I’ll probably have to find a new career, something that would be very difficult at my age. I’m 43 hours old and was hoping to retire in 7 hours. So please, don’t do that to me.’
I was taken aback with this. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t realize…,’ my confused apology trailed off pathetically. ‘Please continue.’
‘Thank you. Now, as I was saying you have the right to maintain separate entity status by refusing to host any species with a separate DNA code from your own. I am allowed, by law, to mention that you currently host three hundred and four different species of organisms in your body. And…’
‘…each of these species can be categorized as playing one of three roles: that of Mutualism, Commensalism, or Parasitism. It’s important to know that mutualism is a relationship between two species that is mutually beneficial. For instance, there are a number of organisms that live in your stomach. They feed on digestive byproducts which, in turn, benefits you by keeping your digestive tract clean and healthy. Commensalism denotes a relationship in which one species takes from another without harming. An example of such a relationship is one of twelve organisms that live on your hair and feed on the oil produced by your scalp. This neither helps nor hurts you in anyway.’
‘Eww,’ I felt my stomach turn.
‘Parasitism is the relationship you are most familiar with. Obviously, this refers to organisms that take and, in doing so, cause harm to the host. An easy example is that of influenza, better known to you as the Flu.
‘Now, I tell you all that to lay the groundwork for your understanding of our species. We are called Etymicacaus and our presence in your system is legally defined as Mutualism, in terms of host, guest relationship. We thrive, mostly, on your nervous system…’
‘Now wait just a minute!’ I growled. ‘I don’t want anything or anybody messing with my nerves.’
‘If you will permit me to finish my job, I promise you I will explain both the benefits and the possible negatives of hosting,’ barked the increasingly irritated Balar. ‘May I continue… uninterrupted?’
Mentally, I threw my hands in the air. ‘Sure, why not.’
‘Um, well,’ Balar began wearily, ‘legally I am obligated to first list off negative possibilities.’
‘Ok,’ I returned slowly. I suspected I wasn’t going to like this.
‘I suspect you won’t like this either. But please just hear me out. Bear in mind that our relationship is mutually beneficial and that I have yet to explain what we do for you.’
‘Please get on with it.’
‘Allow me to preface with a little FYI: our species has existed in its current state, evolutionarily speaking, for more than 2 million of your years and we have been guests in billions of hosts from more than 300,000 intelligent species from thousands of worlds. We would never have been so successful if we went around killing our hosts. But…’
‘But there does exist the possibility of death.’
Balar answered slowly. ‘Well, yes. But the greatest risk for that occurs while establishing initial link to the host. This link, the one I’m speaking to you on now. But the risk is so low that, legally, we do not need your permission to establish it.’
I breathed a sigh of relief. ‘So the risk is over? I’m not going to die?’
Balar was quiet for a moment. ‘Everyone dies. Eventually.’
That struck me as evasive. ‘So no, then? The risk is not over?’
‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to be evasive. No, the risk is not entirely over. It’s statistically improbable, but… accidents do happen.’
‘Right. Nervous systems transport neuro-signals, which are essentially tiny pulses of electricity. Tiny to you, but not to us. When a larger pulse comes through unexpectedly, it can, on occasion, fry one of our workers.’
‘Oh,’ I thought, feeling relieved. ‘That’s no so bad. Big whoop.’
Balar was taken aback. ‘Wow. How would you feel if one of your family members got electrocuted?’
‘Huh? Oh, right. Sorry,’ I thought, trying to sound sensitive. I wondered about the funeral ceremony for a single-celled amoeba. Do they break out tiny little bag pipes?
‘Don’t be a jerk,’ growled Balar. Ignoring the amoeba crack, he soldiered on: ‘Thing is, sometimes an accident like that can spread to the point that it ends up effecting the host.’
‘Ah ha. Here we go. So if you guys have an accident, I die?’
‘No, not typically. You may loose vision for about half a second, similar to blinking. Or your liver may cease function for about the same amount of time, and so on.’
This I didn’t like. He made it sound like no big deal, but I wasn’t so sure. I probably need my kidney. And what if I was driving when I lost vision?
‘If such an event,’ the virus was talking fast now, attempting to head off a mental meltdown on my part, ‘were to occur along the nuero-pathway from your brain to your to heart… well, the results could be bad.’
‘The 1/15 of a millisecond, if it occurred while your brain was telling your heart to beat, might cause your heart to skip. Your brain would notice and send extra signals every split second until your heart began to beat again. But all the extra electricity could electrocute our emergency personnel. The result could be… well, death. Your death.’
‘And I suppose you guys would all jump ship and have to find another ‘host’. Sounds like a bummer for you, might even ruin your hole day…’
‘Ok, you know the worst case scenario, so now I would like to…’
‘You can stop right there. I just want to know how to get you murderous germs on mental steroids out of my system. You said something about explaining my rights…’
‘Um, yes. But first I would like to—’
‘Nope, explain my rights first.’
‘I will, just as soon as—’
‘No, first I must—’
‘La laa laaa la la, I’m not listening,’ I put my hands over my ears and began humming aloud.
‘Intelligent species my…,’ Balar stopped himself short of cursing. ‘Will you quit, you moron. You can’t drum me out by humming. I am inside your head.’
Of course he was right, but I wasn’t gonna give him the satisfaction of admitting it. I kept humming.
‘You just admitted it. You thought it, I know.’
‘No I didn’t!’
‘Yes… you… I heard… will you just…,’ Balar was so frustrated, he couldn’t even put a sentence together. He fumed in silence for a moment before speaking again. ‘What a gig, right? And to think, my parent was so proud of me when I decided to get into law. I’ve dreamed most my life away, just imagining that one day I might have the honor and privilege to come before a Host to dispense Initial Contact Legalities! Had this gone well, I would have spent the final hours of my life as a celebrity. Children would have been named after me, songs would have been written about me, and I would have gone into the annals of history as a great barrister. But, alas, I am a complete failure. What a shame…’
He trailed off into tragic silence. I stopped humming and mulled it over. Is he making a play for my pity?
‘Nothing else seems to be working! But I swear it’s all true. My parent will probably ask me to change my name so as to not further damage the honor of my lineage.’
‘That’s kind of shallow. One little screw up and… Wait just a sec! You’re doing it again!’
‘Listen, I will explain your rights and legal recourse if you wish to refuse to host our colony. But will you please, please allow me to point out some of the benefits we provide when I am finished?’
I considered it for a moment. I knew full well that there was nothing he could say that would make me not want to get rid of a virus that might accidentally kill me. Smart bug or not, it was still just a bug. ‘Whatever, go ahead.’
‘Ok.’ Balar smarted, trying to ignore the insults. He collected his wits for a second. He had a lot of ground to cover in less than 2 minutes. Despite the fact that this conversation was occurring at the speed of the host’s thoughts, the time constraints might be too much considering how fast this creature’s brain was working. ‘You have the right to refuse our presence in your system. If, at any time, you should decide not to be a host for our colony, then all you must do is file a complaint in the Civil Courthouse of New Plattington. At that time you will be appointed legal council, if you so desire, and he or she or it will guide you through the process. You and your council will be asked to explain your complaint before the judges, who will then issue a ruling. The vast majority of these cases come down in favor of the host with the judges ordering the viral colony not to reproduce. Within a few days the host’s system is Etymicacaus free as the last individuals die off.’ Balar stopped for a moment. He was not looking forward to this, but he simply had no choice. ‘Those are your rights. Do you have any questions?’
‘Yes, that is all I am required to say about your rights. But I can answer questions.’
‘Ok, where the blazes is this Civil Courthouse of New Plattington and how the heck am I supposed to remember all that?’
‘I will answer the ladder first. In case you didn’t notice, you remembered the name of the courthouse very clearly. That’s because every bit of this conversation is being recorded, permanently and clearly, into your memory for instant recall. As for where the courthouse is, it is located in Galaxy 457b, on the planet Trinity, which orbits Solar Sytem 324456. Does that answer all your questions?’
Balar realized this last was wishful thinking.
‘So all I have to do is file a complaint?’
‘Yes, that will be sufficient to start the process.’
‘And the Host usually wins in court?’
‘Sounds simple enough,’ I paused contemplating. ‘Then you’re saying that it should only take a few days for me to get you guys out of my system.’
‘Yes. Well, no, not exactly. Yes, it should only take a few of your Earth days to get the initial ruling from the judges. But then there is the appeals process.’
‘Appeals! Man, that is so… Why the…,’ I was really irritated now. ‘And how long will that take? I have classes on Monday.’
‘Well, you have to understand that New Plattington houses the vast majority of the courthouses on this side of the universe and services about 50,000 planets in its immediate galaxy. While its judges are renowned for their impartiality, they are also well known for religious dedication to bureaucracy. They feel that in order for justice to truly be achieved, there must be rules that draw clear lines distinguishing correct from incorrect. Judge Beeble, in his famous edict, said that a…’
‘Excuse me,’ I interrupted. ‘This is all very interesting, but do you think it is possible to simply answer the question?’
‘I am answering the best I can,’ Balar snapped back. ‘As I was saying, the judges feel obligated to draw out this line, for those seeking justice, in the form of rules, regulations, and exact procedures. All of which must be followed to the letter. This kind of complete deliberation, pursued to the point of pedantic minutia, necessarily takes time. Perhaps 175 of your Earth years.’
‘What?!’ I was incredulous.
‘Yes, it takes a long time for each step in the process. The judges very meticulously examine every aspect of each case. This is why no higher court has ever over ruled a lower court’s decision.’
I had graduated from irritated to furious. My mental voice was dripping with sarcasm when next I spoke, ‘I have a silly question for you, but I will ask anyway. If a higher court has never overturned a lower court’s ruling, why, then, is there an appeals process?’
This was a wholly unexpected question. Caught off guard, Balar muted the line and barked orders at his team of co-counsellors.
Tindo and his drunken cohorts, satisfied with their mischief, were now moving away from the Jeep. A moment after I lost site of them, I heard a door slide open, then close.
Suddenly the door slid open again and the lizard looking creature scurried back into view. He curled his tale behind a crate—one that the little guy had been standing on next to the Jeep—and then slid it away before scurrying back out of the room.
‘It’s a failsafe,’ Balar reported loudly in my head, startling me.
‘Jeez! Turn that thing down!’
‘Even though no higher court has ever found cause to overturn…’
Balar continued speaking, but a sudden realization drowned out his words: that lizard dude had moved the crate away from the jeep!
I rolled out of my hiding spot, shove up on my feet, and dashed for the Jeep. At the last second, I used the crate that had just been moved as a springboard. The moment I leaped into the air, there was a bright flash and great WOOSH of air.
I came crashing to the ground. Right where the jeep had been.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
Crap on a cracker!
What the heck am I supposed to do now? How was I going to get home?!
‘Can I… Can I, uh, move on now?’ asked Balar. ‘We’re running out of time.’
Oh, I’m not alone! Thank God!
‘How the heck am I supposed to get home?’ I demanded.
This was yet another completely unexpected question, but Balar was prepared for this one: ‘Your question is not a legal one and is thus outside of my purview. I have no way to address it. Now, if I may continue?’
“NO YOU MAY NOT CONTINUE!” I said aloud so that I could yell for emphasis. “HOW DO I GET HOME?”
‘Please, sir. Please. Our time is almost up.’
Oh, man. I’m so screwed.
‘Mr. Dent? Mr. Dent? Arthur? Please?’
How did they do that? How’d they send the Jeep back? Was there a button somewhere?
I pushed off the floor and ran across the dimly lit room in the direction the creatures had gone.
‘Mr. Dent, please. May I continue.’
I ignored him.
There was a recess in the wall. A door. I pressed the softly glowing button in the center. It slid open.
The light outside was bright and there was a wall directly ahead. I poked my head out and glance right, then back in quickly. I repeated, only this time glancing left. No creatures in either direction. It was an empty hallway.
‘Which way did they go?’ I asked. No response. ‘Hello? Which way did they go?’
More silence. I tapped my head three times. ‘Hello? This thing on? Which way did they go?’
I stepped into the hall and the door slid shut behind me.
It hadn’t been long after the door slid shut behind the aliens when the Jeep had been sent back. Twenty or thirty seconds, maybe? But there was nothing on the wall, it was just smooth.
Laughter thundered down the hall from my right, followed by a chorus of shouting: “Chug, chug, chug!”
For crying out loud, I’ve been abducted by a bunch of morons. This realization was suddenly… comforting? I mean less scary, anyhow. In the movies, aliens are always so sinister. Didn’t seem like these fellas were planning some big invasion or something. Yeah, they looked scary but they were laughing and cutting up. Seemed mostly harmless to me.
Clearly, they had no idea I was onboard. And that gave me an advantage. I think.
Feeling pretty confident, I strode down the hall toward them and stepped through the opening.