“Commander, shall we initiate Operation Exodus?” Sandy Beige stared expectantly over her shoulder at him, her wide eyes making her look like an over-caffeinated imp. It didn’t help that her chair and console were four sizes too big for her. All the control stations suffered from the same problem, but she had distinctly elfin features that completed the impression of a female who was more a product of Tolkien than the Lunar Administration Service.

“Steady on,” he told her, hoping everyone would take note. “I can see it’s a blue-green planet, but we’re going to need more data than that.”

The entire Command Centre was abuzz with excitement but Commander Braun couldn’t help thinking that some of the ejaculations were wholly premature. Even now, as he hurried towards his own station, a few too many crewmembers were gasping in ecstasy and exclaiming things like, “Oh my god!”, “Can it be?!”, “At last!” and most of all, “Earth!”

Clearly he was going to have to take charge and manage all these spiralling hopes as well as everything else. He hopped up into his chair and stretched for the mic on the PA system. He couldn’t quite reach, damn it. He shouted across the room instead. “Lieutenant Maroon. That strange light formation is obstructing our sensor scans of the planet. We’re going to have to send up a Fleagle.”

“Aye, sir!” returned Maroon, with the efficiency and emotion of a power tool. He resembled a repair man from a low-budget porn movie, his moustache and hair clinging to the belief that fashion moved in cycles and their style would come around again sooner or later. He leaned over his own panel and hit the comms switch. Braun bet the bastard was standing on his seat.

“Clear Fleagle One for launch,” ordered Maroon.

Braun beckoned discreetly to Henna Russeau, who was standing nearby. As Chief Medical Officer, she spent a lot of time standing near his command desk, but he had never once reprimanded her for being absent from her post. He welcomed her proximity, despite the dangers of that pointy bra she insisted on wearing. “Henna,” he whispered. “Would you do me a favour and crank up my chair?” He could have tried to reach under his seat and operate the lever himself but that would have involved a lot of undignified contortionism. As it was the chair squeaked conspicuously as Henna pumped the lever. But soon he was elevated to a more practical height and as well as having all the controls just about within arm’s length he had a much improved view of the main screen.

“You know,” murmured Henna under her Dettol-fresh breath, “you might consider getting that chair fixed. Or even refurbishing this place entirely. The furniture to crew size differential around here is bad for posture.” She smiled, eyes flicking to the screen. “But I suppose none of that will matter if we really have found Earth.”

“If,” he reminded her. Not her too, he thought. She wasn’t usually given to such overt displays of emotion. Of course, the excitement was understandable: they hadn’t encountered a planet of any kind in decades, let alone a blue-green one. And he wanted it to be Earth as much as any of them. But surely it was too good to be true.

And yet there it was. A heavenly disc gazing at them from among the stars. Undeniably blue, with ineffably green patches that, he fancied, would have described familiar continents as clearly as the pages of an atlas had it not been for the fluffy swirls of cloud spilled across its surface. That and the maelstrom of colours that played haphazardly around its edges like badly co-ordinated disco lights.

Reason enough for caution, if not outright suspicion. Especially when coupled with the fact that the sensors were drawing a blank.

What Braun needed was an informed scientific opinion. Or failing that, an educated guess. At some point, even assuming they could gather some data on the word and the surrounding phenomenon, he was going to have to consult Professor Burgerminge. Which was never something Braun relished, what with him being dead and all.

He shuddered. It was the ‘and all’ part that really gave him the chills. It would wait.

For now, Fleagle One shot into view on the screen, making a beeline for the planet.

Fleagles were quite simply the best. Ships. Ever. If there were ever beauty pageants for ships, Fleagles would win every time. Designed by people who understood that, unlike models, ships weren’t all about the streamlining. Oh, they could boast a smooth contour here and there, mostly at the front with their rounded bullet-shaped cockpits. And like models their midriffs were little more than skeletal frames. But onto these were bolted blocky landing pods, an interchangeable module of choice and a big cluster of rockets which, on a model, would translate as chubby limbs, a pregnant belly and a fat ass. Generally unwanted additions on a beauty queen, but on a ship – on these ships anyway – they made for the perfect marriage of streamlining and chunky engineering, perfect for a wide range of space operations and – again like models – tended to give ship-spotters and other nerdy types orgasms.

Their one drawback really was their name. But as mankind had surged forth into space the makes and models of ships multiplied exponentially and coming up with original names for them became a tougher and tougher challenge. Especially if, as was the case with many ship manufacturers, you were dead set on something in the birds of prey category. The Fleagle was an alien bird and a fearsome predator from the world of Ornithaxagoras, and the manufacturers had filled their brochures with pictures of the beast to prove it was every bit as glorious and symbolic of power and grace as the Terran eagle. But still Braun couldn’t help feeling there was something lacking.

They’d gone through a lot of Fleagles over the years and were down to their last half-dozen. The number of available modules was limited too and all they had left at their disposal were two passenger modules, one for refuse collection, the seldom-used mobile catering module and one that he had secretly had converted into a sauna, as a birthday treat for Henna. (Unfortunately within minutes of entering she had started melting and they’d had to assume the module had been invaded by some bizarre alien life form. The module was now in quarantine, awaiting the time Braun felt confident enough to authorise a hazmat team to go in there and convert it back into the laundry module it had once been. Luckily Henna had suffered only minor disfigurement and it was nothing that a little plastic surgery hadn’t been able to remedy. The plastic she’d used had left her with a degree of stiffness in her expressions, but Braun couldn’t say he’d noticed any difference.) Still, even Fleagle One’s basic sensor array should be more than capable of penetrating the strange barrier to deliver some useful readings. Although they hadn’t had a good track record with strange alien barriers in the past, it must be said. But this one didn’t appear especially substantial or formidable and he had high hopes that Fleagle One would return with a few answers at least.

Henna tensed beside him as they watched. The rise and fall of her chest was distracting, but with a superhuman effort Braun was able to train his attention on the screen.

All eyes were fixed on the same view as the ship closed in on its target. And all eyes blinked as the beam lashed out and the ship was engulfed in a ballooning ball of flame. Blinding white faded just as swiftly away to nothing and took Fleagle One with it.

“S-H-I-T!” said Braun, who was in the habit of spelling out all his expletives. He had developed a glossary of operational acronyms so he could get away with profanities without having to make donations to the Moonbase swearbox. He had to take care that the acronym was appropriate to the situation, but he was on pretty safe ground. This one was officially listed in the manual as ‘Something Happened I Take-it!’ – which fitted well, sort of, with his follow-up question. “What the hell happened?”

Nobody had an answer. Everyone had been struck dumb. A plus, in some respects, since many of the women were screamers and while it didn’t take much to set them off, it usually took a good shake or a hearty slap to shut them up. And then it all got horribly unpleasant. Shrill ear-piercing hysteria, or potential law suit whenever they did find Earth. Talk about a rock and a hard place.

Sandy, normally one of the worst screamers – which was probably why she’d been assigned as communications officer – in the event of radio failure, her voice would carry – merely piped up with an urgent, anxious tone: “Commander! We’re getting a signal!”

“Put it on speaker!”

He jumped down from his seat – forgot the extra height and cursed whoever had thought to fit the base with internal artificial gravity. Still, he did his best to roll on landing and come up all straight-faced like he’d meant to do it. Henna ran to his side to check him out but he waved her off, allowing himself a discreet wince. His knee would have welcomed her ministrations, but it would have spoiled the illusion he was desperate to maintain – i.e. that his acrobatics had been intentional. And if anyone questioned their purpose, he’d tell them it was ‘strictly need to know’.

That was one of the privileges of command. Being able to lie your way through the more embarrassing moments.

He hobbled around the desk, Henna following, and stood, looking out over the Command Centre and watching the screen. Waiting for the signal to come through.

Mayday! Mayday!” crackled a voice. It possessed a sort of ethereal, effeminate quality that was three parts strange to one part faintly seductive, like an ice-cream commercial voice-over filtered through an electronic kazoo. “I am under attack! People of Moonbase, I submit to you for protection! In the name of compassion, I demand sanctuary!”

Commander Braun frowned. He looked at Henna and she frowned. Everyone frowned and looked at each other. The Command Centre was like a facial expression marketplace, everyone trading frowns.

Unless he was missing something, this unknown visitor had blown Fleagle One out of the skies and now was asking for their help.

Bloody cheek! was Braun’s first coherent thought.





[To Be Continued…]

1 Comment

  1. […] Teaser: 1) Here. Moonbase Kappa finds Earth and is menaced by an alien […]

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