Spaceship ran on solar power. Which was great. Most of the time.
Spaceship was also super chatty. Which was great. Most of the time.
The problem always came when she was super chatty while they were flying under the clouds on overcast days.
“Isn’t it a wonderful day? I mean, I know it’s cloudy and everything, but really, life is just wonderful, isn’t it, and I love flying you around and taking you from place to place and seeing everything on all these different planets. It’s just weird, though, don’t you think, how all these planets look the same and oh no I’m running out of power I’m going to have to… shut… dooownnn… nooooooowwww…”
And with that, Spaceship shut down, and plummeted towards the ground.
“Ugh,” said Bobby to himself. “Not again…”
He strapped in, and waited for the usual crash. Fortunately – considering this happened regularly – the usual crash wasn’t so bad. Even without power, Spaceship had some back-ups in place. She had some kind of force field which didn’t rely on solar power which always cushioned the crash. And she had some kind of bubble around her which (mostly) made her invisible to other creatures on the planets they visited. That bubble had been acting a little wonky recently, and neither Spaceship nor Bobby knew why, mainly because neither of them really understood how it worked in the first place.
None of this meant that the crash wasn’t fast and powerful, though. So Bobby held on tight to the manual controls – they weren’t connected to anything and were only for show, but he felt better holding onto them and pretending to steer. And Spaceship continued to fall. The trees below had looked so small on the screen, but now that the screen wasn’t working anymore, and he was looking at them through the cockpit, they seemed larger and larger. So large, in fact, that Bobby wondered if they were about to swallow his ship altogether. Maybe this was different than all the other planets he’d been on. Maybe the trees were actually large enough to do that.
With a sudden jolt, the force field pushed apart the tops of five fir trees, and Spaceship jolted to a halt, rattling Bobby’s bones and causing him to see triple. Bobby had three eyes, so this wasn’t so unusual for him, but he didn’t like it one bit.
When he came to, he looked through Spaceship’s domed cockpit window at the trees outside. He sighed. These trees weren’t any different than on all the other worlds he’d been to. In fact, they looked exactly the same.
Bobby was an explorer of worlds. He had been to so many he’d lost count. He was sent by his people to find… something. That part was vague in his mind – it was long ago and seemed to be fading away further with each hypersleep he and Spaceship went into, and with each world he visited.
And these worlds all looked the same. Trees of various shades of green, open spaces, water, and occasional creatures. And this was another one.
How many of these had he been to now? Surely more than seventy. Or a hundred and twenty. Or at least thirty. Honestly, it was really hard to tell; when Spaceship lost power, she lost some of her data about where they’d been. “Remote back-up,” she always explained – the information wasn’t lost, it was just sent somewhere else before she crashed.
Bobby sighed, and opened the cockpit. Spaceship’s rounded roof panels were covered in millions of microscopic solar panels, so she would eventually regain charge anyway, but Bobby pulled out the solar booster he kept in a compartment close to Spaceship’s 4D printer.
He climbed out of the cockpit and plugged the booster in to a small socket on Spaceship’s roof. It was overcast above, but the booster was powerful, and immediately he started hearing sounds from inside the cockpit. Sounds like a human voice, but muffled and quiet.
“Ugh, this again,” he muttered. This had happened before; sometimes the booster seemed to pick up radio waves or other frequencies from the planet he was on. As usual, the language used was exactly the same; using her universal translator, Spaceship had previously identified it as a dialect of “English,” which was widely used on a planet called “Earth,” but from Bobby’s experience, it seemed to be used on every planet. Strangely, though, many of the signals he heard during his travels referred to places named “Portland” and “Maine” – a bizarre coincidence, he thought, that every one of these planets should have a “Portland” and a “Maine.”
He climbed back in to the cockpit to get his supplies to explore the local terrain. He was pretty sure he would find the usual selection of flora and fauna, but this was his job, so he thought he’d better get to it.
“…in a local outdoor goods store, where a live moose crashed through the central display of stuffed animals, causing mass chaos and a substantial amount of property damage…” the human voice continued. “As it left the store, the moose appeared to be carrying a few other creatures on its back. Onlookers reported seeing a raccoon on its back, and, get this, a mouse on its head!” Bobby didn’t know what most of those words meant, but something about the tone of the voice, like it was holding itself back from laughing, made Bobby smile; his visits to these planets were pretty boring, and a little chaos sounded like a good thing.
As he picked up his bag and started to climb out to get samples of the leaves and soil in the area, he noticed a green light start to flicker on one of Spaceship’s control panels.
Hmm, that’s odd, he thought. It was coming from underneath the clear covering of the panel, and as far as he could remember, he’d never seen it before. After a few moments during which it seemed to be gathering power, the light started to slowly blink on and off.
He climbed back in, put his pack down, and investigated. He looked around the light, but saw nothing to indicate what it was for. He looked under the panel, but still nothing. He dug around for tools to unscrew the panel, but thought better of it. Spaceship had told him before that she has seven brains, which is why I’m so much smarter than you, she had said happily, as if hearing that would excite Bobby.
The problem was that Bobby wasn’t sure where her seven brains were, and he’d removed one by accident one day while trying to fix a broken panel after one of Spaceship’s chatty crashes. She was exceedingly rude to him and threatened to leave him on a particularly boring planet until he put it back in, when she reverted back to saying how wonderful life was and how much she loved spending time with Bobby.
He didn’t want to risk that again.
He decided to leave it until Spaceship was talking again; she must know what this is, he decided, and climbed out of the cockpit again, bag over his shoulder. He slid down her curved roof panels and into the closest fir tree.
“Hello,” said a friendly voice from the ground. Bobby looked down, and saw a smiling human male, looking back up and waving at him.
“Aaah!” Bobby shouted, losing his grip. He fell from branch to branch until his bag caught on something or other – he didn’t know what, but the strap was wrapped under his armpit and left him dangling in a very uncomfortable way.
“Aaah!” replied the human male cheerfully. “I love that greeting.” The human male, dressed in clothes that Spaceship would have described as “hipster-ish,” brushed his long hair back with his hand, then nudged his glasses back to the bridge of his nose with his index finger.
“How can you see me?!” Bobby panicked.
“Bobby, it’s okay,” the human hipster male replied. “It’s me.”
“Who?!” Bobby panicked again, maybe even more this time.
“You don’t remember, Bobby? Oh, man, that hypersleep thing really messed you up, huh?”
“How do you know me?! How can you see me?” Bobby panicked so much that his bag panicked with him, and both he and his bag fell from the tree altogether.
The human hipster male reached out both arms and gently caught Bobby, letting his bag fall. Bobby heard a smashing sound as his equipment hit the ground.
“It’s okay,” the human hipster male responded to Bobby’s silent concern. “You don’t need that anymore. You found him.”
“Huh?” Bobby asked, now more confused than panicky.
Bobby started to feel dizzy, and before long he felt all three of his eyes close. As he passed out, he heard the human hipster male say something that only confused him further. “Spaceship and I will explain everything to you. She knows your real mission.”