“Look what I found skulking around outside.” The Grosthnos pulled Rory into the control room by one skinny naked shoulder. “Claims he’s a Terran.”
“A what!” The captain, a burly Hronoid with tusks like a rhino’s, swiveled in his command chair to stare. The room reeked of the body odors of half a dozen beings, from scaly multi-limbed insectoids to slimy Mucoids.. Rory’s stomach lurched as the Grosthnos lifted him so that his toes barely touched the floor, partly since he couldn’t remember when he’d last eaten.
“A Terran?” said the captain. “That’s a good one. Terrans died out centuries ago. And they didn’t look anything like that! You don’t look much like a super-species to me!” The crew rumbled in laughter. “What would a Terran be doing here at the ass-end of space anyway? How old are you, kid?”
“S-sixteen,” stammered Rory. “My ma and paw bought me as a frozen embryo – they got me cheap because they weren’t sure what I was – but I know!”
“R-r-right,” drawled the captain. “What do you want?”
“Want to get into space, off this rock. I can work – I’m strong enough.”
The captain snickered. An evil spark came into his eye. “Fine. You beat Shuggup here in a fair fight, and we’ll give you a berth.” He gestured to a gorilla-muscled crewman. “Mash ‘im!”
Shuggup grinned, showing discolored fangs..
Rory backed away, throwing a desperate glance over his shoulder.. He recognized the computer logo on the control panel, Terran initials in a circle, once ubiquitous throughout the galaxies.
He remembered his ma’s advice: “you’ll never win with muscle, son. But what Terrans are good at is adaptiing- use your brains.”
Rory raised his voice, speaking the old Terran he had learned from the scratched discs: “Computer! Activate voice control. Emergency protocol!”
Half a second passed. Shuggup’s brows wrinkled, doubtless wondering why his victim was shouting gibberish. The computer responded, a husky contralto that had not been heard for perhaps half a millennium. “Voice mode activated. Do you claim Terran status?”
“Scanning DNA for confirmation. . .”
“Mash ‘im!” growled the captain.
“He’s talkin to the computer,” muttered Shuggup. “The computer never talks to us . . . “
“DA scan completed,” said the computer. “Status confirmed. Orders, sir?”
Rory scarcely had time for elation. “Inactivate life support!”.
The lights went out, plunging the control room into pitch-black. The ever-present hum of the air systems stopped.
“Hey, what did you do?” the captain yelled.
“I have control of the computer,” Rory said. “If you want power and air, tell your gorilla to keep his hands off me. Computer, reactivate life-support. Lights on low.”
The humming restarted. An eerie glow came up, lighting the crew’s bizarre forms like a half-glimpsed nightmare. The captain peered at Rory. “Maybe we can find you a post after all. We could use a co-pilot.”
Rory straightened his shoulders. “Fine. That’ll do for a start. Computer: if at any time you don’t hear my voice for more than 8 hours, you will suspend life-support again.”
Years later, when an interstellar media personality asked what Rory would have done if he’d been unable to communicate with the ship’s computer, he only shrugged. “Guess I’d have had to think of something else,” he said. “Or died.” And he flashed the grin famous by then across all the light-years of the rejuvenated Empire of Man.