Once upon a time, there was an astronaut. His name was Steven. This was not unusual. A lot of people are named Steven. As a matter of fact, Steven was an especially popular name in the astronaut’s family, in particular. His father had been named Steven. His father’s father had been named Steven. According to several people, he’d even had a great-great-great aunt who had also been named Steven, although the reliability of this claim was a subject of some debate, but still … You get the idea: There were a lot of Stevens.
That said, the most extraordinary thing that could be said about Steven was that he was currently floating through space. He was in space on a special mission from the National Space Administration of Aeronautical Space and Whatnot (NSAoASaW). Steven’s mission was simple: to collect a random sampling of floating space rocks and bring them back to Earth in order to determine in what ways, if any, they could be said to be superior to Earth rocks.
Steven was proud to have been chosen for this mission.
On this particular day, Steven was on a routine spacewalk, floating through the vacuum of space outside of his very special spaceship, protected only by his very special spacesuit, in search of the very best floating space rocks that might happen to cross his path. What Steven saw on this day was, however, not a space rock. It was not a rock of any kind. What Steven found floating through the vacuum of space was, in fact, a sheep.
Naturally, Steven was taken somewhat aback by this surprising development. The vacuum of space, you see, is not a location naturally predisposed to the existence of sheep. Sheep, generally speaking, tend to prefer other environs, specifically those possessing such luxuries as food, gravity, and oxygen, none of which the emptiness of space can, in any way, be said to have.
So, of course, Steven was understandably curious.
“How came you to be in space?” Steven asked, looking quizzically in the sheep’s direction.
The sheep’s mouth opened, as if to form words, but said only, “…”
“Speak up,” requested Steven. “I can’t hear you.”
Again, the sheep’s mouth began to move. Again, Steven could hear only, “…”
“Ah,” said Steven to himself. “Of course, I can’t hear what the sheep says. Since sound never travels through the vacuum of space, I’ll have to bring the sheep inside my spaceship, where there will be air in abundance for its answers to travel through.”
With that, Steven motioned to the sheep in a complex pantomime intended to convey the message that he wished to bring it on board the ship.
The sheep simply nodded, having come to the conclusion that sound-based communications were ineffective at the present time.
The sheep offered no resistance as Steven wrapped his arms around it, pulling it back into the spacecraft.
Inside, the sheep took a deep breath, very much enjoying the inhalation of oxygen. It was especially nice, seeing as it had been so long since the sheep had encountered any.
Steven carefully removed the helmet from his spacesuit, saying, “How goes it with you, sheep?”
“Not so baaad,” bleated the sheep, who was quite happy to be on board, having long since found the vacuum of space to be quite tedious.
Steven introduced himself. “My name is Steven,” said Steven, “and I am an astronaut.”
The sheep thought that this went without saying but was far too polite to say as much to its host, instead saying, “I’m Roger. I’m a sheep.”
“I must say,” Steven continued, “in all my years of astronauting, collecting random samplings of space rocks and such, I’ve never before come across a sheep in the emptiness of space.”
Again, the sheep felt this was obvious, but kept these views to itself.
Finally, the astronaut came to the point: “How came you to be in this predicament?”
“Ah, well,” said Roger, “that’s a bit of a story.”
“You see,” admitted Roger, “back on my home planet, Earth, I was a burglar.”
“I see,” said Steven.
“In fact I was a burglar of some repute,” said the sheep with a touch of pride in its voice. “My exploits were known around the world. ‘Roger the Burgling Sheep,’ the newscasters used to call me.”
The name rang a bell with Steven, who responded, “Yes, you famously burgled the Great Pirate Convention in Helsinki.”
“One of my finest moments,” said Roger, smiling with a sense of self-satisfaction. “The trick was to convince the pirates that sheep make great guards who will never ever make off with a treasure-hold of ill-acquired loot under any circumstances whatsoever.”
“Ingenious,” said Steven, much impressed by his guest’s cleverness, however ethically dubious may have been the uses to which it had previously been put.
“As always,” replied Roger, making no attempt at modesty, “but my downfall lay in an even grander scheme.”
The sheep then proceeded to tell the tale.
It was fresh off its highly celebrated burglary of the fabulous Big Money Party for People with Big Money when Roger the Burgling Sheep devised the grandest scheme of its storied career. Deep in the Great Pyramid of Giza, rumor had it, lay the ancient Pharaoh’s super secret treasure-hold.
The Great Pyramid had been heavily searched, of course, and many people had attempted to find the fabled vault. Thus far, of course, none had ever succeeded, but the sheep had one important advantage over the previous explorers: It was incredibly lucky.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that, after flying to Egypt, sitting comfortably in the first-class section of a passenger jet, and sneaking into the Great Pyramid under the cover of darkness, Roger quickly stumbled onto a loose brick. Pulling said brick aside revealed a long-hidden door, covered in the dust of untold ages. The sheep had no particular skill in reading hieroglyphics, but the symbol on this particular door left little room for interpretation: It was a picture of a great, big box of gold.
As the sheep reached forward, a scarab beetle suddenly scurried across the face of the door. Stopping just at Roger’s eye level, the insect turned its small, buggy face toward the sheep and unexpectedly began to speak. The message conveyed by its insectile, slightly buzzy voice was this: “He who opens Pharaoh’s hidden door will be forever cursed.”
Roger brushed the annoying pest aside and pushed the door open. The sheep had little faith in the musings of beetles, having found them in the past to be quite unreliable.
The door opened onto a long, dark hallway. How long it might have been was hard to say. Even with the flashlight, Roger could not see all the way to the end of the hall. It was a good flashlight, too: A nice, heavy Maglite, not one of those cheap, plastic lights they sold in the dollar store. This was a quality flashlight.
That aside, even the long, dark hallway did not seem terribly interesting; I mean, let’s face it: there’s not much to say about a hallway, especially a dark one.
What was somewhat more interesting, however, was the dragonfly hovering just inside the hallway. It stared at Roger with its compound eyes, and it also spoke, saying, “He who walks down Pharaoh’s secret hallway will be forever cursed.”
As the dragonfly flitted off to parts unknown, the sheep rolled its eyes and stepped into the hallway. Dragonflies were well-known hypochondriacs, prone to interpret all sorts of mundane, everyday happenings as ancient, Egyptian curses, so the sheep continued on its way.
It was about halfway down the hall when Roger’s path was suddenly crossed by a black cat. After scampering from one side of the narrow hallway to the other, the cat stopped briefly to say, “He whose path is crossed by Pharaoh’s black cat will be forever cursed.”
“Pshaw,” said Roger, strolling right past the feline. The sheep didn’t believe in curses—or black cats either, for that matter. Roger had long since surmised that all black cats were really just white cats that had gotten incredibly dirty. As such, the sheep paid no heed to the cat’s words.
Upon reaching the end of the hallway, Roger encountered a rat. The rat spoke in a big, booming voice—unusual for rats, but not unheard of—saying, “He who enters Pharaoh’s secret treasure room will be forever cursed.”
But, the sheep knew that all rats were notorious liars. This was where the phrase “you dirty rat” came from. So, Roger simply said, “Psh, whatever,” and confidently entered the room.
This was certainly Pharaoh’s secret treasure room. One could tell by the large chest, undoubtedly filled with gold, sitting in the center of the otherwise unoccupied room.
Roger approached the chest, but was stopped by a small Do Not Disturb sign. Roger was stopped by the sign because it unexpectedly opened its mouth and said, “He who opens Pharaoh’s secret treasure chest will be—”
The sign paused here to take a deep breath and draw out the suspense. How would its sentence end? “Super rich”? “Very happy”? “Slightly underwhelmed”?
But, no, the final two words out of the sign’s mouth were, “—FOREVER CURSED!”
The sheep paused to consider things for a moment. It didn’t have any preconceived notions about things a sign might say to it. Why would a sign lie? But then, the sheep thought, what does a sign really know, anyway? Roger promptly raised the lid of the treasure chest.
The sheep was surprised to not see any gold. Instead, it saw a great, big, gooey, slimy, alien, goo monster, which proceeded to leap out of the chest brandishing a slightly futuristic scepter of some sort. The goo monster adjusted the regal-looking crown on its head and proclaimed, “You have awakened Pharaoh! For your crimes against a good night’s sleep, I hereby curse you, sheep, to float through the vacuum of space for all eternity!”
“So, then, the alien, goo pharaoh waved his magic, science fiction stick around, and I was in space.”
“Incredible,” said the astronaut.
“So, it turns out that the pyramids really were built by aliens, and the pharaohs were all goo monsters!” said the sheep, who had made a sweeping judgment based on a single experience.
“But,” said Steven, still trying to wrap his head around the fantastic story, “why was the alien inside the treasure chest?”
“Dunno,” answered Roger. “Maybe that’s just how goo monsters sleep? I s’pose it helps keep all their goo in one place. Otherwise, it would be running all over the floor and whatnot.”
“I suppose that makes sense,” said Steven. “But, all those warnings you ignored …”
“Well, they kept saying, like, ‘He who does so-and-so …’” Roger explained. “I mean, I identify as nonbinary. I thought it wouldn’t apply.”
“Did you explain that to the Pharoah?” Steven asked.
“Well, he didn’t really give me time, now, did he?”
“I guess not,” said Steven. “At any rate, it sure is lucky I found you.”
“Yeah,” said Roger, “But, I just keep hearing the Pharaoh’s last words echoing in my head over and over.”
“Well, as he was waving his magic stick about, banishing me to space, I heard him say, ‘He who offers assistance to the cursed sheep will be forever cursed.’”
There was an awkward silence.
Finally, Roger added, “Dunno what he meant by that.”