By Robin Day and Bill Rushmore
Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol stifled a yawn as he sat at the controls of Fireball XL5. After checking his instruments carefully, he glanced over at his co-pilot. “All systems green Robert. It’ll be a while before we get to planet Hydranis. Wonder what we’ll find there.” Robert didn’t respond.
“There I go again...” Steve chuckled, “Trying to make conversation with a robot. Guess its time I took a break.”
He reached out a hand and flicked the ship’s intercom switch. “How are we doing Matt?”
Professor Matic answered almost immediately from the Navigation Bay. “I’d say we’re still a good fifteen hours from Hydranis, Steve.”
“Ok, Matt. Let’s all take a break. Boy, do I need a coffee...”
“Sure thing, Steve.”
“I’ll have the coffee standing by in the lounge, Steve.” A soft feminine voice chimed in. “I’ve finished writing up my medical reports.”
“Thanks Venus. I’m on my way.” Steve turned back to Robert. “Take over Robert. Maintain course 1-8-7 zero-blue.” The robot co-pilot acknowledged the command as Steve swung himself out of the pilot’s seat and stretched his aching limbs. “Coffee...” he said as he headed aft to the doors, “...and maybe one of those little green pills.”
Steve strode into the Navigation Bay.
“I’ll, er, be right with you Steve.” Matt muttered, looking up briefly from his desk.
Steve smiled and nodded as he headed to the far door, on his way to the lounge. “OK Matt.”
As the Navigation Bay door closed behind him, the Colonel paused in the corridor. Something just didn’t feel right. He turned, retracing his steps. The door hissed open and he walked back into the Navigation Bay.
As he entered, there was a sudden flurry of activity from Matt who appeared to be trying to conceal the fact that he was trying to conceal something beneath the piles of books and papers scattered haphazardly around his desk. In his apparent hurry to act as though nothing was amiss, Matt knocked several instruments onto the floor where they landed with a clatter.
“Matt?” Steve fixed his navigator with a questioning look.
Matt responded with an angelic smile, his arms - spread across his desk in an unnatural posture - seemed to be trying to conceal something. His expression screamed “Guilty!”; his whole bearing resembling that of a naughty schoolboy discovered mid-prank.
After a long moment, the Professor suddenly seemed to remember that he possessed the gift of speech.
“Oh, Steve...” his voice trailed off.
“Something wrong, Matt?”
“Uh...no, no, no. No. I didn’t hear you come back. Kinda startled me.” The tone of panic was unmistakable.
“Oh, okay.” Steve stared at Matt for another moment. He was met by the same look of innocence, but his curiosity was aroused.
“What’s up Matt? What’ve you got there?”
“There, on your desk.” Steve approached Matt, pointing at some papers on his desk which the Professor appeared to be protecting with his life. There was another flurry of activity as Matt made an elaborate pantomime of tidying his desk, covering up the offending papers in the process. “Nothing. It’s nothing. It’s nothing you need to see - yet.”
“It’s nothing, Steve.” Matt sounded defiant. Then he wilted, adding in a much smaller voice, “It’s a secret.”
“A secret?” Steve groaned inwardly.
Matt seemed to sense the tone of wariness in Steve’s voice. “It’s a surprise,” he said finally. “For you. We thought...”
“We?” Steve interrupted. “Who’s ‘we’? Does Venus know about this?”
“I’m not saying anything else.” Matt regained his defiant tone. “Don’t even ask me. I won’t say a word more.”
“Humph!” Steve snorted, turning on his heel and walking rapidly towards the door.
As he left he was followed by the sound of the Professor’s voice, “And neither will Venus!”
A few minutes later, with steely resolve, Steve burst into the ship’s lounge. He found his Doctor of Space Medicine reclining casually on one of the couches, her legs across the seats, one foot crossed over the other. She was reading a magazine.
Steve stared at her, as he attempted to frame the question he needed to have answered. But before he could speak, Venus looked up at him over the top of the magazine and, fixing him with a stare of her own said, “Don’t ask, Steve, just don’t ask.”
It was early morning at Space City. Lieutenant Ninety looked up as Commander Zero entered the Control Room. “Good morning Commander Zero.”
The Commander beamed as he sat down at his desk, “Good morning Lieutenant. What’s the situation?”
“All pretty routine sir.” Ninety told him as he handed over a small sheaf of reports.
Zero glanced through the papers, signed them and handed them back to Ninety. “Two more weeks to go Lieutenant. Two whole weeks before Jonathan gets back from his space summer camp. Say, do we have anything new on Hydranis?”
“No sir. Fireball XL5 should be arriving there this evening.”
“Yeah...” The Commander frowned as he looked at the sector chart. A flashing marker showed XL5’s position as it drew nearer to planet Hydranis. “...Then maybe we’ll get some answers.”
Colonel Zodiac sat in Fireball’s lounge, drinking his coffee. He looked across at Professor Matic who was sitting opposite him, engrossed in some unfathomable diagrams and calculations which meant nothing to Steve. He craned his neck to get a better look at what the Professor was doing but whatever it was, it didn’t make any sense whichever way he viewed it.
He glanced several times at Doctor Venus who was sitting next to him. She was still reading her magazine, sipping occasionally at her coffee. No one spoke.
Steve was just weighing up whether he should broach the subject once more of the mysterious surprise his crew seemed to be planning for him when suddenly Doctor Venus broke the silence.
“Steve...” She took another sip of coffee and without interrupting her reading, continued, “I’m not happy about one of the tests I performed on you yesterday. I’m going to have to repeat it.”
Steve’s spirits sank. “Oh no, Venus. Not the one with the...”
“...electric shock. Yes, I’m afraid so. It won’t take long though. We can do it as soon as you’ve finished your coffee - if you like.”
Steve didn’t like. Venus spoke as though she was offering him a choice, but somehow Steve felt as though the decision had already been made for him.
This situation was getting out of hand. Time to regain control, assert his authority: “I really don’t think there’s going to be time Venus. We’ll soon be approaching Hydranis and I’ve some reading up to do before...”
Venus refused to relinquish control. “We’re still fourteen hours away from Hydranis, Steve.” She glanced towards Matt, who nodded in silent agreement. “This will only take a few minutes and I’ve already made all the necessary preparations...”
So, Steve thought, it had already been decided. He sighed. “Okay, Venus.” It was pointless arguing with Venus. It always had been - even before she got her Diploma in Space Psychology.
Venus was still speaking, “... and in any case, once we get to Hydranis we won’t have time for anything else, if what the Professor has told me about this mission is anything to go by.”
Matt shifted uneasily and avoided Steve’s eyes.
Steve put down his empty cup and raised his hands. “Right, let’s go and get it over with.”
As Venus followed Steve out of the room she turned to wink conspiratorialy at Matt.
“I thought you were all prepared!” Steve exclaimed as he walked into the Medical Bay. There was no sign of Doctor Venus’s portable torture outfit.
“I am all prepared Steve...” Venus smiled, as she closed the door behind her.
“Steve, I have something to tell you. I’ve been making some medical checks...”
Steve began to feel uneasy, “And?”
Venus reached up to put her arms around the back of Steve’s neck and standing on tip-toe whispered in his ear, “Steve, you are going to be a father.”
Steve froze. “How’s that Venus?”
Venus hugged him, “I’m pregnant.”
“Well, I suppose that as your Doctor of Space Medicine I can give you all the biological data.”
“Er, I mean when?”
“Surely you remember the party - the day before we left Earth?”
“The party...?” Steve said, his lips barely moving.
Venus hugged Steve again and kissed him. “It’s all arranged. We’ll be married as soon we get back to Earth.”
“Married?” Steve mumbled.
“Of course you’ll have to give up Fireball...”
“I’ve already spoken with Commander Zero, he’s got a desk job lined up for you.”
“Matt’s designed a very nice desk for you. You’ll love it.”
“Give up XL5....desk job....married?” By now Steve’s face was covered in perspiration. “No...no!...NO!!!!” Steve opened his eyes wide and closed them quickly. It was very bright. He realized he was lying on his back - had he passed out? He opened his eyes again, slowly. “Venus? Ohhh....my head!” He sat up in his bed and rubbed his eyes. “It was a dream....a DREAM! Ouch! Not so loud Zodiac, you have one mother of a hang-over.”
As Steve showered and dressed he thought about the party he’d been to the night before, but couldn’t seem to remember much. He remembered the gang were all there, including Venus. Trying to think made his head hurt.
Half an hour later, Steve made his way down to the control room.
“Good morning Colonel.” Ninety greeted him brightly “Great party last night!”
“Yeah...” Steve agreed as he gently massaged his temples. “Sure feels like it was. But gee, I had one tootie nightmare last night too.”
“I get those... “ Ninety nodded sympathetically. “Great when you wake up uh?”
“Yeah, you can say that again. What are your nightmares about?”
Ninety grinned, “Don’t ask Colonel, just don’t ask.”
Steve winced at the remark, which had brought his own nightmare flooding back to him with crystal clarity.
The elevator door opened and Commander Zero strolled into the room, smiling happily, “Morning Lieutenant. Ah - Steve, Venus tells me you both had a real good time at a party last night.”
“Er, yes Commander. Real boss - I guess.”
“And I’ll tell you something else that’s real boss Steve.” Zero said as he sat down at his desk, “Eleanor and I have just packed young Jonathon Zero Junior off to space summer camp - for a whole month!”
“Did you say ‘summer camp’ Commander?” Steve asked, a little anxiously.
“Yeah, you heard right. We arranged for him to go to a camp out on Ganymede. It’ll be great for him - and great for us!” The Commander noticed Steve’s glazed expression, but made no comment. “I’ve got a mission all lined up for you Steve. Tell me, have you ever heard of a planet called Hydranis?”
This story previously appeared on the UNITY CITY website, hosted by Robin and Pauline Day, webmasters of the Space City website.