Sunday, November 15, 2009

Captain Zoloft Lands His Spaceship
With apologies to Douglas Adams

The empty vastness of space stretched endlessly in all directions, like a big ink spill. A big ink spill that occupied four dimensions. An ink spill that was somehow dented by gravity. An ink spill with stars in it.

Some of these stars had planets orbiting them. And of those planets, a very few were host to living things. One such planet, orbiting a binary star system known locally as Scrotus Epsilon, well within the habitable zone, had bugs on it.

One of these bugs was a fuzzy caterpillar named Jeff.

Jeff looked into the hazy sky of his world, and was not entirely unsurprised to see a spaceship in flames make a screaming entrance. The machine, easily the size of a billion Jeffs (as this was his only reliable reference scale), plowed through the thick atmosphere, trailing shrapnel and a sonic boom that knocked Jeff from his leaf.

That was fine with Jeff. That leaf was getting boring anyway. He twisted himself back onto his stubby little caterpillar legs and started climbing another plant. The ship was gone now, over the horizon, and was already beginning to fade from Jeff's primitive memory. In another few minutes, the memory would be gone for good. Unless stuff landed directly on top of him, Jeff didn't really much care.

For the occupants of the ship, things were a little more dire. Their situation started its decline some hundreds of thousands of miles away.

"Jim!" bellowed Captain Zoloft. "We appear to be on fire! This is less than optimal!"

"Mmm hmm," Jim grunted. He opened a package of space crackers. "You were the one who thought it would be fun to dunk the ship in those plasma storms. Shoulda known they'd melt the hull."

Zoloft swirled his cape in the most captainlike manner he could manage. "They were reckless," he said, his feet tangling in a cape swirl. He hit the deck in a heroic bundle of red velour with a reverberant bonnng.

"I suppose you want me to scramble out a hatch and spray the fire with something?" Jim crammed a cracker into his mouth, dusting a brightly lit display cluster with space crumbs.

Zoloft didn't hear him, for he was engaged in a desperate struggle for survival with his cape. "We meet again, velvety menace!" he screeched, kicking wildly and thrashing helplessly on the ship's polished chromium deck.

"Space Christ," muttered Jim. He jabbed a thumb into one of the thousands of flashing buttons. A small hatch opened in the console and a jar of space peanut butter slid smoothly out on a little tray.

"Space peanut butter deployed,"
announced the ship's onboard computer in a soothing, British-accented female voice.

"Just why in the hell does everything on this stupid ship have to be motorized, light up and announce its arrival? I can see the peanut butter right there. I pressed the button a whole goddamn second ago. My memory's better than that," Jim muttered, spreading some on his cracker. He shoved the jar rudely back into the console.

"Complaints registered. Archival to commence next solar cycle. Space peanut butter retracted, internal re-docking successful. Enjoy!"

"And why does everything have to have 'space' in front of it?"

The sizzle of proton pistol fire echoed through the bridge, startling Jim and causing him to drop his space knife.

Zoloft had freed himself from the devilish constrictions of his beastly cape. He stood over its defeated, shredded remains heaped upon the deck, his pistol in one fist, a space Thermos in the other. He shot the cape again.

"That will teach you to meddle in the affairs of greater men!" he hooted, brandishing the Thermos in quite a fierce manner.

"Captain upright and de-caped," announced the computer. "Bioscan commenced for no particular reason."

"This wouldn't be so bad if you wore more than a cape," Jim said, shielding his eyes with a hand. "Put on some space pants for crying out loud."

"I'm the captain and I will do as I please. Computer! What is the status on this fire we seem to be experiencing?"

"Heat-accelerated oxidization still underway."

"Computer! Translate that last message!"

"Still burning, Captain."

"What are our options?"

"Extinguish fire or crash and die."


Jim threw a bunch of toggle switches all in a row. The chk-chk-chk they made as they snapped into position was followed by some rapid-fire machine twitter as text flickered across the monitors and whole panels of buttons flashed in different patterns.

"Since when does everything that happens onscreen have to have sound effects?" Jim grumbled. "Just moving this freaking window around, even!" He slid a status display from one side of the screen to another. It went "swooooshwoop!"

"Did those many switches stop the fire, Jim?" demanded Zoloft, tugging on a pair of silver space pants, complete with accordion-like rubber boots on the knee joints. The belt was holographic and wholly useless.

"Hell no. I have no idea what that did. There are thousands of little glowing switches over here, and the only ones that do anything as far as I can tell is the one that dispenses peanut butter and this one that makes a little animation of a gyroscope appear on the monitor." He pressed that button.

"Space gnomes! A gyroscope!" bellowed the captain.

"Now entering orbit around Scrotus Epsilon system. Calculating trajectory now,"
announced the computer.

"Jim!" screeched Zoloft. "Fire the ion drive and decay orbit! We'll have to find a good place to set her down and begin repairs. Do you still have your space pliers?"

Jim favored Zoloft with a withering look. Zoloft duly withered. Jim pressed a button on his console, and a little hatch opened up next to it. A jar of space peanut butter slid out on a little tray.

"That's the best you're gonna get from me," he said, nodding at the jar. "Anything else impossible you'd like me to try?"

De-withering himself quickly, as befits a man of strong moral fiber and ineffably courageous leadership, Zoloft scampered to the front of the bridge and wrestled violently with some joysticks.

"Trajectory calculation complete. Impact with Scrotus Epsilon V in six minutes," said the computer.

"Onscreen!" shouted the captain. A little animation of a gyroscope appeared in the center of the huge, curved forward screen.

Jim thumbed through his space atlas. "Looks like that planet's not entirely hostile to life. Says it's kind of humid, though, so if you don't mind, I'm staying inside on this one." He tossed his pair of space pliers to Zoloft, who missed them.

"Leaving me to carry the day again, eh Jim? Naturally! Why, day-carrying is what made me the man I am today. I do not blame you." He picked up the pliers and tucked them into his belt. They wafted through the hologram and clattered back to the deck.

"Impact with Scrotus Epsilon V in four minutes."

"Incredible!" said Zoloft. "Jim, if you need me, I will be in the balloon room awaiting our arrival on this new and uncharted world. If anything else breaks, I trust you can handle it."

"Mm hmm," mumbled Jim, unbelting from the ship's holographic seat belts and shuffling towards an escape pod hatch. "I'll let you know how it turns out."


  1. I feel like I need the reassurance of knowing what's going to happen to poor Jeff.

  2. I'd like to see more of Jim. I think I knew someone like that. I agree with Ms. Deeth-- Jeff needs to re-enter the story at a pivotal moment.

  3. Epilogue:

    Jeff continued to eat leaves and avoid predators, and eventually wrapped himself in a cocoon of his own devising. After many solar cycles, he emerged from his chrysalis a beautiful fuzzy caterpillar and went on to eat many more leaves.

    Apparently Jeff is not above a little bit of time-wasting.


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