Fiction by J Louis Messina
Illustrations by Andy Rash
“I found a map!”
I heard an explosion and whirled around. My precocious beagle, Sprocket, trotted into the room with a mouthful of treats and dropped them at his feet.
“That ray gun is very helpful at getting to my treats,” Sprocket said, wagging his tail. He gave me a disapproving look. “Master Merk, you shouldn’t be going through your dad’s stuff on the family spaceship.”
“I was just searching for your quantum bone,” I said. “But this map I found is better.”
“Better than a quantum bone?” Sprocket said, drooling.
“Yeah. The map leads to a rare, luminous rose bush, something that will help me pass my Advanced Interplanetary Agriculture class. I’m failing. Dad said I can’t fly unless my grades improve.” I looked back at the map. “The rose is on the planet Shmedec.”
“How are you going to get there?” Sprocket asked. “It’s in the Forbidden Zone.”
“I just got my first spaceship driving lesson two hours ago,” I said. “I’m going to fly this ship out of here.”
“That’s crazy! I’m going to tell your dad.”
“I wish we’d never bought you that dog translator device,” I said.
“Too late now,” Sprocket said. “I can’t let you go up there. You’ll die. As your faithful dog, it’s my duty to protect you no matter what.”
“I’ll give you your quantum bone,” I said, waving it temptingly in his face.
“OK, I’m in!” He snatched the bone from my hand.
I grabbed the ignition chip, squeezed into the tiny cockpit and buckled up. Sprocket jumped in the leather seat next to me and jammed on a safety helmet.
“If I live through this,” Sprocket said, “remind me to swear off quantum bones.”
“Stop whining and help me find the steering wheel.”
Sprocket pushed a button and out sprang the wheel. Trembling, I pressed the ignition. The compact spaceship rattled, and the plutonium fuel surged into the engine, which made a loud humming sound.
“Here goes nothing,” I said.
“I couldn’t have put it better myself.”
Jetting off the patio launching pad and rocketing through the sky, we broke through the outer layer of space and drove straight into a Gamma 10 meteor shower.
“They didn’t teach me how to navigate through this!” I cried. “All I learned was how to defrost my ship’s windshields.”
“Allow me.” Sprocket stepped on the autopilot button.
Weaving in and out and upside down, the ship dodged each deadly rock.
“I believe I will be sick,” Sprocket said, grabbing a barf bag.
When we emerged from the storm, we ran smack into intergalactic space pirate insects.
I’d heard these centipede scum sold their prisoners as slaves to other planets. The space pirate captain’s ugly bug-eyed face appeared on my ship’s monitor.
“Surrender your ship,” the vermin pirate said. “Or prepare to die.”
Turning to Sprocket, my heart bursting, I said, gasping, “What do we do?”
“I was prepared to die when I rode with you. Why should I change my itinerary now? Gun it.”
I squeezed the fuel pumps on the outer wheel; we zoomed through space so fast, Sprocket’s short fur, long tongue and floppy brown ears whipped backward.
Suddenly, a laser blast glanced off our starboard side.
“The next shot will blow you out of the galaxy!” the pirate said gleefully over my screen.
Gripping the wheel, I said in a shrill voice, “Should I give up?”
Sprocket fiddled with some buttons and said, “Calculating our fuel supply, we have enough reserves for one last jump to light-speed.”
“I should’ve checked the gauge before we left.”
“No time for remorse. Just do it.”
Flipping the warp-drive switch, I used our last fuel reserves for lightspeed. Space blurred for a few seconds. When we came to an abrupt stop, my head spun.
Glancing at the monitor, I said, “We lost them!” Then I tapped the navigation screen. “Look at that. The planet Shmedec is right next to us.”
“Lucky us. You’ll have to crash-land this ship — autopilot won’t work.”
“You’re just a ray of sunshine,” I said. “Why can’t I get a dog that just barks to go outside?”
“I’d have preferred to just go on a walk, myself.”
As we plummeted toward the planet and picked up speed, the ship caught fire.
The heat baked us as though we were riding in an oven. Sweat flooded my face. I quickly wiped it away.
“I should have expected that would happen,” I said. “Now what?”
“Aim for that body of water!”
We landed in a vast ocean not a moment too soon. We skidded over the rough sea and onto land, and crashed into a pile of boulders. At least the water had put out the fire, saving the ship. And we were alive. But when my dad sees that dent in the fender, he’ll ground me.
The hatch doors flew open, and we hiked over the bumpy, barren surface until we found an alien tribe. We crept up to hear what they were saying. Before we could make a plan, an alien tribesman warrior seized us from behind and pulled us into their primeval camp.
“These must be the infamous Draconid Tribe of Shmedec,” Sprocket said.
“Are they friendly?”
The chief alien — a plump purple blob with green tentacles — pointed at us and said, “AZM!”
Sprocket’s collar beeped and blinked, then translated the alien’s strange message.
“The chief says,” Sprocket began slowly, “Kill the trespassers.”
“Figures,” I said, rolling my eyes.
However, before he could kill us, the chief’s blubbery eyes squinted at Sprocket, seemingly amazed and fascinated by his collar.
Swiftly, I came up with a win/win solution: As a peace offering, I presented Sprocket’s collar to the tribe in exchange for the rose I needed. The chief placed the translator around a weird-looking blue creature on four legs, which then said something in its native tongue. The chief whipped out a orange, glowing bone and thrust it into its mouth. Then they refueled our ship with plutonium.
Turns out, they weren’t so primitive.
When we landed at home, my dad was there to greet me.
He grounded me for a year, and I had to work to pay off the damage to the family ship. I thought the rose would save my grade, but it turned out the luminous plant can’t survive in our atmosphere, and it died. I probably should’ve read the school’s e-textbook first.
Lesson learned: Study harder. Scheme less.
I said to a sulking, speechless Sprocket, “I think I like you better this way.”
Sprocket barked at me and wagged his tail.
Then I took him for a walk.