MOONJACK! Conclusion – Part 2: The End

Tommy Verdigris gazed up at the face – or what he could see of it through the visor – of the giant who looked so much like Commander Braun. It was tempting to take some satisfaction from seeing the man hang his head in defeat. So tempting, in fact, that Tommy figured, what the heck, and gave into it.

So what do you plan to do with us?” the man called Schoenig growled defiantly. His crew clustered around him like clumping kitty litter. “Keep us on to crew your damned Moonliner? Because that’s not going to happen!”

Mr Knucks smiled, smooth as mustard. “Nothing like that. No, I thought I might pack you lot off in your ships. To be honest, we didn’t really give it much thought. Minor details like that, me and Ferret tend to deal with off the cuff. Mr Ferret suggested we might pack you lot off in your ships. But that was before we knew the Moonbase crew came in two sizes.”

Schoenig flicked a glance at Tommy. It was the kind of look some people might give to their kettle or toaster if it dared to fail them outside the guarantee. “Well, you can forget the small versions. They’re only cyborg servitors. It’s us you have to deal with.”

Elena Russert squeezed her Commander’s arm. “Walter. They’re living creatures. They have feelings.”

It was an assertion that Tommy could verify with just how pissed-off he felt. Hauling himself out of the radioactive garbage tip he drew himself up to his full height. And shook a fist at the large Commander the way he’d often wanted to do at the one who was more his own size. “How about you just – fuck off? Eh? How about that for an idea? Operation Exodus! We were going to do that ourselves – when all this started.”

What?” the big Australian, who was so much like Alan Cardinal, fired off a lot of confused glances at anyone who cared to notice. “What’s Tiny Tony yammering on about?”

Russert, the upscaled Henna Russeau, crouched down in front of Tommy and regarded him with an expression designed for soft-focus. “I’m sorry. Operation Exodus is for us. To trigger our revival in the event of human contact. Unfortunately,” she eyed Messrs Knucks and Ferret dubiously, “these two qualified.” Then she was back to dewy-eyed patronising sympathy. “You were built by the Professor to keep things running in the meantime. Your memories are all implanted. Operation Exodus, the hope of returning to Earth, for you it’s all an illusion. I’m sorry.”

Tommy chose not to believe her lies. As if it wasn’t enough that these giant aliens had arrived and assumed the guise of the Moonbase crew, they had to make up outrageous stories to make the real personnel – well, Tommy – feel smaller. “Bitch,” he said.

Now, Frodo, be nice to the lady,” Mr Knucks advised. “As it happens, Frodo here makes a good point though. There’s a lovely blue-green planet out there just waiting for you.”

Where?” demanded Schoenig, searching the stars.

You can’t see it from this side,” said Ferret. “But if you feel like taking a trip back to the base you’ll see it on the scanners. High definition really brings up the blues and greens a treat.”

Tommy watched the giants trade looks, weighing their options. Whoever these imposters were, Tommy wanted them out of here. Thinking back to his first sight of that lovely blue-green planet, it was amazing to recall how excited he’d been at the prospect of an impending return to Earth. Now, all he could think about was that, assuming he played his cards right with Mr Knucks, this was finally his chance to be in charge.

Moonbase, Moonliner, it would all seem pretty much the same from the lofty position of command, wouldn’t it..?

All being well, Braun was already out of the picture, courtesy of the battle for the base. So really all that was needed was for these towering lookalikes to be on their way.

All right,” conceded Commander Schoenig, his shoulders and most of his face slumped in defeat. “We’ll take a look at this planet.”

And Tommy did a little dance in the moondust.

***

So they all trekked to the Fleagle, the Moonbasers under armed Goylish guard. Boarding the ship, they were confronted by an awkward situation involving two Goyles pointing guns at one another and accusing each other of being a metamorph. But it was all resolved easily by Knucks, who identified the imposter by the fact that one of the said Goyles was wielding a Moonbase sidearm and in any case failed to address him with a polite fashion. Poor shapeshifter chick wasn’t to know she’d doppelganged the one well-mannered Goyle in the universe.

After that, it was an uneventful flight back to the Moonbase and Inca assumed the shape of a sulking, smouldering babe with breakfast-cereal eyebrows for the duration. And Knucks would flash her the occasional charmsome grin, thinking that if this was her original shape Mr Ferret had not been wrong.

The only turn-off was the thought that she might accidentally revert to a Goyle or an elephant halfway through. And once that image leaped up at him, it just refused to let go.

Knucks wasn’t easily disturbed but the thoughts were sufficiently distracting that they were on a landing approach to the base by the time he remembered Lefty. Oh boy, he thought, his arm was going to be sore when it finally hooked up with him.

***

There were no tearful goodbyes, no waving of handkerchiefs at the launch pad. Just a lot of Moonbase personnel shuffling off in the direction of the hangar and the announcement, a few minutes later, from Fremengor that the Fleagle had departed. They watched it up on the main screen, zooming away towards the heart of the blue-green world.

“Part of me’s sorry to see them go,” admitted Knucks, flexing his newly reattached left arm awkwardly as though it was proving a little ornery. For the briefest of instances Mr Ferret worried if his friend had gone a bit soft, but then he added, “That was a cool ship. And that was the last one.”

Ah, yes, his partner did like his hardware. “Well now,” said Ferret in more chipper tone, “perhaps we can do something about that.” He surveyed the Command Centre, littered with all the quarter-pint bodies as though some space-age Snow White had cracked and gone on a shooting spree. “It occurred to me earlier that we’re going to need staff for our Moonliner and I can’t help thinking there’d be oodles of novelty appeal if we had all these diddy men and women to take care of the tourists. And maybe they could knock together a few ships. We could use them as shuttles.”

Knucks tipped his head. “Not a bad notion. The punters would love it, having lots of little people to boss about, tend to their every whim.”

“I could design new uniforms and everything.” Knucks shot him a look. Oops, thought Ferret. “Sorry, I got carried away.”

“I think it’s a great idea,” said a voice at about knee-level. Ferret and Knucks glanced down to see Tommy Verdigris flashing them an A-OK gesture and an incredibly eager grin.

“Hmm,” said Knucks. “I could do a recount, but as far as I can make out we’ve only got one of the little buggers left.”

“Yes,” nodded Tommy keenly. “Me.”

“I thought about that too,” revealed Ferret slyly. “With all his friends gone, there’s a certain Professor down in the Medical Bay who’ll have bags of time on his hands now. I think we’ll be able to persuade him to salvage his puppet people. I mean, not that he has working hands, but I’m sure he can talk a willing assistant through the repair process. Tommy here would be glad to help, I expect.”

“Well, I suppose…” Tommy appeared to have lost some of his keenness.

“Sounds like a plan,” said Knucks. “Let’s go talk to this Professor bloke.”

Ferret figured he ought to – at some point – clarify that the Professor was more of an ex-bloke, but there would be plenty of time on the way. He took one last look at the receding Fleagle, steadily shrinking to dot-like proportions against the blue-green disc of the planet.

“How long before they realise their new Earth is just a special effect?”

Knucks laughed. “Pretty soon, I reckon.”

It was a fairly safe bet. Amazing what you could do really, with a hacked data feed, a painted basketball and a cabin on board a Goylish warship converted into a green-screen studio. The image and the sensor data was all being pumped into the Moonbase systems and relayed to the Fleagle and it was remarkable how space-going types were so much more reliant on their data than the simple expedient of looking out a window. They could have called up to the Goyle ship, had someone shut off the camera and the data feed, but it was more fun to have the Fleagle fly through the phantom planet’s position and spend the next few light years wondering what the hell happened.

Contrary to popular belief, crime paid. In so many ways.

***

When Ferret had first met Professor Burgerminge, he had been in ‘a bit of a state’, it was true, but that was nothing to the mess they found him in when they took a stroll down to the Iso Lab.

The vast majority of his bones were scattered all over the floor, many splintered and broken. All but two of them, in fact, which were being wielded by the savage but pitiful creature who, from his perch on the Professor’s chair, was bashing all hell out of the shattered and fitfully sparking remains of the screen from which Burgerminge’s voice – along with accompanying multi-coloured swirls – had once emanated. Now all it could produce was an intermittent burble or drone, between sparks.

The rabid, legless thing with the bone drumsticks continued to give it a beating, grunting and growling ferociously like one of the apes from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Occasionally these utterances would evolve into words, spat forth in demented fury. “Did you feel that? Did you? How was that effect, relative to the last one?!”

“So, which one of these is the Professor?” wondered Knucks.

“Um, he’d be the one in bits. This other one is Commander Braun.”

At the mention of his name, Braun stopped and turned his wild eyes on the new arrivals. His gaze latched very particularly onto Ferret.

“Commander Braun,” said Ferret as affably as he thought the situation merited. Thinking it was perhaps best to divert the conversation away from whatever difference of opinion had arisen between the Commander and the Professor, Ferret decided to focus on the inescapable revelation that somewhen the man had become a midi as well as a mini. “What happened to your other half?”

“Gone.” Braun sobbed. “We were meant to kiss.”

Ferret took a moment to catch up. “I meant your legs.”

“Chin up,” said Knucks, who spoke with the experience of someone who knew something about loss of limbs, even if his was usually temporary and voluntary. “We got plans for this place. They may have to wait now until we can get ourselves another professor-type bod, but it’s only a temporary setback. Tell you what, you can be the boss guy who zips about the place in a wheelchair. Every base should have one of those.”

Suddenly, Tommy piped up behind them: “You’re putting him in charge? No!”

Ferret had completely forgotten the little guy was there. “Have a heart. The poor chap’s got no legs.”

“Yeah, relax, Frodo,” said Knucks. “You can be second-in-command.”

For some reason, that was enough to start Tommy Verdigris sobbing.

Ferret sighed and shook his head. It was like dealing with a lot of kids. One of the hazards, he supposed, of stealing candy from babies.

***

“You know, Walter,” said Elena Russert gently, snuggling up to Commander Schoenig at least in part because there wasn’t room on board the Fleagle for more any spare millimetres between them, “we could always turn the ship around and retake our base.”

“Huh,” said Schoenig and he shrugged. He really was taking defeat hard. She was going to have her work cut out for her breaking him out of this depressive funk. “No,” he declared finally. “No. There was something unique, something special about travelling around the galaxy on a rogue moon. But not when there are hundreds of moons out there doing the same.”

“But now we’re doomed to travel the universe on a ship. That’s been done.”

“Not with this much overcrowding. And not in a sauna.”

Both of those were valid points, but Elena couldn’t help feeling that – with all these bodies crammed into such a compact interior – it was doubtful that they’d see the sauna facilities put to much use. At best it would be a gimmick that distinguished them from all the other aimlessly roaming starships out there.

Walter turned his head toward her – he was so wedged in, he was a while wrestling to turn the rest if him. “It’ll be all right,” he promised her. “We’ll survive. Together.”

She leaned in, vaguely aware of the person on the other side of her revelling in the unexpected gift of some extra elbow room. Eyes turned up to meet Walter Schoenig’s gaze, she parted her lips as an open invitation.

He RSVPed with a smile and some more wriggling in an effort to slip his arms around her.

Oblivious to the fact that behind them there was only a blank expanse of bulkhead and if viewed from sufficiently close-up there would be no clear sense of scale, they kissed.

***

Carver sat back in the pilot’s seat. It was going to be a loooooooooooooooong flight.

Ordinarily he loved to show off his flying skills, but he wasn’t used to this many bods looking over his shoulder. Pulling a few aerobatics would be like giving a sardine can a good old shake. Not a great deal of movement among the contents, just a lot of bruised and unhappy fish. Of course, he wouldn’t mind if one of the nicer looking Sheilas ended up sprawled in his lap, but with the way Lady Luck had been playing lately he’d be just as likely to end up with Lieutenant Poul Marrow perched on his knee. Nice enough bloke, for an uptight pom, but still.

No, best just to keep this bird straight and steady and be grateful he was one of the few with a seat all to himself. The fifteen others crammed into the cockpit were already drawing up a time-share rota for the co-pilot’s chair so it wouldn’t be long before Tony Vespucci would be having to give up his leather-upholstered throne.

“Activate the auto pilot, would you, mate.”

Vespucci obliged, apparently glad to have something to do.

Carver looked out at the rushing stream of stars. Which was overstating it a bit. Actually they were bright dots that seemed to crawl towards them out of the blackness. Incredibly slowly.

Yeah. A loooooooooooooooooooong flight.

Reaching forward, Carver flicked on the comm screen mounted on the panel between the seats. Tapping into the computer, he figured he ought to be able to find something in the way of in-flight entertainment. But the best he could dig up was a bunch of Moonbase personnel records. Jeez. Oh well, it’d have to do.

With a bit more searching he managed to call up some music to liven it up a bit, but essentially it amounted to a lot of names scrolling down the screen.

But, heck, it was surprising how many things ended like that.

|SAF 2010

Advertisements

Leave a comment

No comments yet.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s