Shawn had been sitting on the kitchen table, spinning the same lie for the past 10 minutes. “Okay, so you’re mad that I disappeared for two weeks, but, I had an excuse. I was kidnapped—“
“Yes, by aliens, Shawn, you told me. By aliens masquerading as humans. At a keg party.” Gus was sitting at his kitchen table, pen in hand and crossword out, pointedly doing his best to ignore everything coming out of his best friend’s mouth. Shawn was only there because a) Shawn wouldn’t stop calling until he let him in and b) Shawn had actually been gone for two weeks. Now he was back, and Gus could stop pretending he wasn't worried.
And of course Gus was mad. A little bit at himself for getting worked up, but mad at Shawn primarily; Gus had spent the last two weeks telling everyone that Shawn was at a psychic convention, that he was communing with the astral plane in the mountains, that he’d won a trip to a health spa, all the while trying to figure out the bills and dodging phone calls from irate clients.
Plus, Shawn had just disappeared without notice, not even a post-it note to say he'd finally gotten bored of this and gone off to someplace new, which with all the places Shawn had visited probably left the Northwest Territories and a small fishing village in Guam.
He and Henry and most of the SBPD had called hospitals and county jails and old clients until Monday morning at 4:23 am when he received this text from Shawn’s cell:
be back soon, dont worry, explrng the univ. :D
The smiley face pissed Gus off the most.
That had been 8 days ago, and then yesterday morning Gus had woken up to a ficus in his bed and a loud clanging noise in the kitchen.
The ficus was supposed to be an apology. So was breakfast, but Shawn’s attempts to cook “the world’s biggest I’m sorry omelet” only led to his Baker’s Club frying pan being scorched beyond repair. Shawn had left soon after, for the benefit of everyone involved. Fifteen minutes later the calls started, and Gus lasted through the night until the irritating incessant blinking of the answering machine forced him to chose sanity over righteous anger, and agree to meet Shawn.
Now, Shawn flopped down at the kitchen table with all the petulance of a two-year old denied a candy bar. “But that’s what really happened.”
“Do you honestly expect me to believe that you were lured into a spaceship by a woman and her friend, both of whom were aliens-”
“No, only he was, she just traveled in space, and how was I supposed to know she was being literal when she asked me if I wanted to see stars! C’mon!”
Gus continued on, unfazed, “Who then took you in a spaceship on a joyride around the galaxy, wherein you met their alien friends, fought a race of giant lightning bugs, and a small planet elected you president. And then you convinced the “aliens” to take you back home. Of all the stories you could have made up-”
“But dude, you were the vice-president, Gus. I thought of you! Though the people of Laziana did not look kindly on your absence. Lowest approval rating of a vice-president in three hundred quandras. One more point lower and they would have killed you in a ritual sacrifice involving robots and tar.”
Gus turned his attention to the crossword, at least that wasn’t lying to him.
“I was assured the robots would at least be sexy. Want to see our application?” Shawn held a mottled piece of paper in his hand, red bureaucratic stamp seeping through the back of the thin sheet.
The only sound was the rustle of the newspaper as Gus pointedly scribbled a Mr. Yuck in between the crossword and the Jumble.
Shawn waved the application a few more times ineffectually before he finally took the hint and set the wrinkled paper down on the table. Then he tried again, “I was in charge, of course, until I was overthrown for trying to change the national anthem to a Journey tune. They have no love for Journey.”
Gus kept his head down and filled in 39 Down, “Draconian”.
The wooden chair next to him creaked violently as Shawn rocked back into it for a few moments before glancing down at the crossword. After a few seconds, he grabbed a nearby pen and wrote in “Antelope” for 14 Across.
The word was actually “Ubu” and the “elope” fell outside the crossword box and into Mary Worth’s disapproving glare, but Gus just gripped his pen tighter and went to look at 11 Down, “Persephone's downfall”.
Clearly discontent that he didn’t get a reaction, Shawn proceeded to stick his entire hand over the crossword, and said, “Okay, dude, wait, I have proof that I was taken by aliens. They left something behind! Something that even you, Mr Skeptic McSkepticface, will believe. “ Shawn snagged Gus by the sleeve, and Gus let himself be dragged towards the car, To be honest, he was kind of curious. At the very least, maybe he'd get a present out of this whole affair.
"I should have just shown you this first but I didn’t want you to have a massive freak-out. I can’t believe they just let me have this; I saw it as I was leaving, I guess it was in the bottom of the ship for the two weeks I was on board and dude, I, once again, thought of you and asked if I could have it, I knew it would just blow your mind, I mean you saw that one sci-fi movie like eighty-billion times and this is gonna increase our business at least 200% percent...."
Shawn’s excited rambling continued on as they drove over to the Psych offices, telling Gus about a variety of weird adventures that definitely did not happen, including scarily detailed insights into alien electoral processes.
Gus steadfastly continued to ignore him, until they opened the front door and Shawn paused in the middle of his story about mutant sentient jam and said in a raised voice, “Wow Shawn, that was such a great story. And I’m so glad you thought of me, your best friend, Gus, for the VP position of a small planet, and brought me a present, that was so thoughtful of you, but then I guess that’s just the kind of person you are, Shawn—"
"I do not sound like that, Shawn.”
Shawn grinned, obviously pleased that he’d finally managed to get a reaction.
"Gus, stop being such a disapproving pterodactyl about this. I get it, I left without saying anything, and I'm really sorry, but just come see what I got us."
The room looked the same as always, except for a dreary rumble that filled the room, like a storm waiting to break open.
“Can you believe they just gave me away, just like that, no considerations for my feelings, of course, not that I was expecting there to be any, no one thinks of me, just a bunch of wires and circuits..."
The voice was low, monotonous, and reminded Gus exactly of his college statistics professor, Mr. Garkos. Mr. Garkos’s favorite in-class activity had been predicting the various probabilities of Earth’s final destruction; Zombie Uprising had been the leader at 3:1, with Nuclear Fall-out closely behind. Gus would have found the activity entertaining and imaginative, if not for the fact that Mr. Garkos was entirely serious.
Whatever was speaking didn’t move out from behind the desk and the mutterings became too low to hear; with his luck, that was Mr. Garkos crouched behind there, the mini-shovel he gave out to everyone the last day of class in hand. Nothing else happened; Shawn gave the desk a small tap.
“Is it finally time for my presence to be acknowledged? Took long enough, but then I’m not surprised I was forgotten...” The voice said, as a large…thing started shuffling out from behind the desk corner. A large white mechanical…thing. That may have resembled a robot.
Shawn did a ridiculously excited jump over to Gus' side of the desk and said, “That's right, I am the most awesome person in the world. Because I got us an android. From an alien spaceship, which is totally where I was for the past few days. High-five!”
Gus left him hanging, and looked more closely at...the thing-he-was-not-calling-a-robot. He scanned the object for wires or remotes or air holes (he wasn’t a fool; he’d seen the making of Star Wars) but nothing looked out of the ordinary. Whatever it was came to a standstill, unable or unwilling to move any farther until Shawn gave a significant cough. The thing that was possibly a talking android sighed as if the world was ending and took a few more halting steps forward.
“Gus,” Shawn said as he prodded the shambling robot out even further from the desk, “meet our new partner. Marvin.”
The android didn't say anything, but as Gus took a step forward, his phone began to vibrate meekly against the fabric of his trousers. No name appeared on the screen, and if Gus had been a little less sure of his sanity, he might have thought the instrument was actually shivering.