The orange fuzzy thing had seen better days. Harvnik held it up with his forelegs and considered it thoughtfully. He wondered what it was. The field unit had brought it up to the ship from the surface last night and deposited it on Harvnik’s desk.
Harvnik’s division was responsible for testing and analyzing any objects brought in by the field crews. He tagged the fuzzy thing — item no. 4538-2 — and began taking notes. He and the rest of the crew had been unobtrusively orbiting this backwater globe and studying its inhabitants for ages now.
Harvnik was having a hard time figuring out what, exactly, this was. It looked vaguely humanoid, but Harvnik could not find a similar specimen in any of his source materials, including the encyclopedia that had been brought up the week before. Perhaps, he thought, that encyclopedia only had to do with things from the country of Britannica, which the Imperial Exploration Group had yet to locate.
One of the big round eyes had come askew and dangled somewhat morbidly on its cheek. The bright orange fur was faded in some parts, and altogether missing from others. It was battered and stained and smelled rank. Still, Harvnik thought there was something charming about the item.
He cocked his head to the side and used his antennae to smooth the tufted fur down over the bald patches. One of the arms had come loose from its socket, and he tried to push it back in.
As he grasped the hand of the thing to do so, however, the big round eyes began to blink. “Hello!” said the thing brightly, its voice childish and robotic. “My name is Dolly! Will you be my friend?”
Harvnik laughed, startled and delighted. “Well, hello!” he answered. He wondered if the thing was alive, though it seemed inconceivable that it could be, as old and tattered as it was. And there were no other signs of life, aside from the fact that it spoke, of course. Still, politeness dictated he respond to the thing’s question, and so he did.
“Yes, of course I will be your friend.”
“Yay!” exclaimed Dolly. “I will give you a big hug!” So saying, the thing reached out its arms (or, more accurately, reached out the one good arm while the disjointed one twitched in its socket). Harvnik laughed again and, despite himself, reached out with all six of his legs to hug the stinky little creature.
He was standing there like that, tightly hugging an artifact from the planet they had come to study, with a ridiculous smile on his face, when Fluva, the First Officer of Toys and Assorted Detritus, came in. Harvnik put his legs down quickly, blushing a bit beneath his exoskeleton. “Oh!” he said. “Hi, Fluva.”
“What is that?” asked Fluva. She came over to get a closer look. “It’s cute, isn’t it? In a sad, beat-up kind of way.” She reached out and squeezed the hand.
“Hi!” said Dolly. “I like you! I’d like to be your friend!”
Fluva jumped back, startled yet laughing. “Oh my!” she exclaimed. “Is it alive, then?”
“I don’t know,” answered Harvnik. “It talks, but there’s no heartbeat or any other sign of life.” He considered the thing again. “It says its name is Dolly.”
He leaned forward and stuck his face right up against Dolly’s. “Dolly,” he said. “Do you know where you are?”
“I’m with my friends!” Dolly chirped.
“Oh my!” said Fluva again. “It does seem to respond to language. Maybe it’s a god of some kind. Ooh! I bet it’s a god!” She considered the thing.
She looked up as the sliding door swooshed open again. Petty Officer Mukingtokflyglavoniusmuktak (who, as the junior officer on the team, was usually given the jobs that no one else wanted to do), walked through on all eight of his legs.
“Hey, Muk, look at this,” said Fluva. “It’s adorable, isn’t it?”
Muk remained behind Fluva, watching with a wary eye as Harvnik handled the thing.
“Huh,” said Muk, eyeing Dolly the way one might size up the giant space spider from Planet 3,937,353A that had managed to spin its sticky web out of its own atmosphere to ensnare surrounding planets. No one went anywhere near that particular solar system anymore, and the spiders may well have taken over the entire galaxy by now, as far as Muk knew.
Fluva, undaunted, took Dolly from Harvnik and thrust it into Muk’s face. “Say hello to Dolly!”
“Hi!” said Dolly obligingly.
“Eeee!” screeched Muk, skittering across the floor, a grimace of fright playing about his mouthparts. “What is that thing?”
“I thought it might be a species that we haven’t identified yet,” said Harvnik. “It does seem to be alive, what with the talking and all.”
“I think it might be an artifact for worshipping,” offered Fluva. “Perhaps a minor god of some kind.”
“It’s creepy,” said Muk.
Fluva laughed and shoved it at Muk again. “Is not,” she said.
Face to face, Muk stared into Dolly’s one good eye. The eye narrowed as it stared back.
“Is too!” he replied, as he scuttled backward out of Harvnik’s office and right into their boss, Captain Rolplock.
“What is going on in here?” yelled the captain. Everyone froze and turned their eyes to look at Rolplock (including Dolly, whose one good eye swivelled while the other strained to peer around the fur on its cheek).
“We are here to study these things, not to play with them!” said Rolplock. All four hung their heads, embarrassed. “Harvnik, Fluva, come with me. A crate full of new assorted detritus just came in and I need you two on it. Muk, you study this, um, this . . .” he broke off as he considered Dolly. “What, exactly, is this?”
“We’re not sure,” said Harvnik. “It only just came in last night.”
“We think it’s a god,” offered Fluva.
“It’s creepy,” said Muk.
Rolplock sighed. “Muk, you figure out what it is. Harvnik, Fluva, come with me.”
“But . . .” protested Muk.
“What?” snapped the captain.
“Nothing,” said Muk sheepishly. Fluva handed the thing to him, and he gingerly accepted it with just the tips of his forelegs.
“Bye!” said Dolly pleasantly as Rolplock, Harvnik and Fluva filed out. “I love you!”
“Aww, such a sweet little, um, god-thing,” chirped Fluva. “See you soon!”
With that, Muk was alone in the room with the thing. He set it carefully on the lab table to take a closer look.
“I hate you,” said Dolly, a good deal less pleasantly.
“What?” exclaimed Muk.
“I don’t like you at all!” said Dolly.
Muk was frightened now. He took a deep breath to calm himself. He was a scientist in the Imperial Exploration Group, after all, and it wouldn’t do for him to run out of the room screaming like a terrified little larva.
“Now, look here, Dolly . . .” he began.
Dolly eyed him warily. “You’re a turd-muffin.”
Muk scurried backwards, then looked at Dolly again. Certainly it had plenty of unkind things to say, but that didn’t mean it could actually do anything about it. He wondered if it could even move properly. Just then, Harvnik skittered back into the lab. “Forgot my notes,” he said.
Dolly’s face brightened into a smile.
“Hello!” it said. “I’m happy to see you!”
Harvnik beamed at the thing, while Muk shook his head in disbelief. “Unbelievable!” he said. “It’s mean as can be to me, but as soon as you come in? Sweet as aphid nectar.”
“You’re ugly and stupid,” whispered Dolly under its breath. “I hope you die.”
Muk looked up toward Harvnik for vindication, but his colleague was already out the door.
“Ahhhh!” exclaimed Muk, waving his antennae around in frustration. He sat down again and readied himself to get back to the uncomfortable business of trying to figure out what this thing was, while item no. 4538-2 shot daggers at him with its eyes.
“Okay, Dolly, I guess it’s just you and me now.” He tried smiling at it, to see if that would help matters at all.
But Dolly pointed to its one good eye, then slowly extended its arm to point at Muk, then back again to its eye, waggling its eyebrows meaningfully.
Muk sighed and settled down to get to work, trying his best to ignore it. Every time he looked up, however, he was met by Dolly’s unblinking stare. The thing had even propped up its loose eye on one of its limbs to better transmit its hostile scrutiny. When Muk glanced over, Dolly narrowed both eyes and sneered. One time, it even hissed like an unfriendly cat.
Muk sighed again. It was going to be a long day.
This story originally appeared in The Feathertale Review No.19