Part Three: A Galaxy in Peril

Part Three: A Galaxy in Peril

        Lucky McDougal drained his sixth cup of Gonka-Soda, leaned back in his chair and picked his nose. He was not having a good day.

        Horrified by the slovenly actions of a man she’d always admired from afar, Sissy Sputnik did her best to cover for him. After all, her professionalism was what made her the best anchorwoman on B.O.I.N.G!

        “Erm, Lucky… Chief? We’re still broadcasting live to the galaxy.”

        McDougal looked around, startled, and almost fell out of his chair.

        “Oh! Of course! I, ahem… I bet the people of the Sqishy Galaxy are riveted to their vid-screens, watching the master at work.”

        Before Sissy could reply, a pounding noise came from the ship’s main hatch, causing Lucky to leap out of his chair in fright. Lucky hated it here; he didn’t do well amongst people generally, preferring to spend time alone tinkering with his robots whilst watching re-runs of Star Tours on his Gogglebox Glasses. But Captain Shlumbuck had insisted he fly out into the desert and save the universe, taking a news crew with him to record the mission for posterity. The shuttle had landed in the desert a mile outside Stone Masoon, as close to the radioactive wreck of the Invincible VII as he’d dared go. The heat was baking—his patented air conditioning system had broken down again; there was a news crew cramping his style, he was almost out of soda, and now there was something banging on the hatch, trying to get in.

        “Good grief…” muttered Sissy, despairingly, and marched over to the hatch, flicking on the securi-screen to see who was outside. “It’s your RescueBot.”

        Lucky had thought the day couldn’t get any worse, but he’d been wrong. Sissy flicked open the hatch door, and from the sweltering heat of the desert staggered the fourth and final state-of-the-art RescueBot, half melted, its circuitry sparking, and its head spinning around like a gyro-stabiliser. Lucky approached the stricken robot with great trepidation.

        “Erm… Number Four… did you complete your mission?” he asked.

        As if in reply, Number Four began to smoulder and shudder, filling the shuttle with thick, black smoke, before the unfortunate droid’s head exploded in a shower of sparks.

        Looking lost, Lucky turned to the on-board computer, and flicked on the portable B.A.B.S unit.

        “B.A.B.S, status report. Did Number Four complete the mission?” he asked, knowing that he wouldn’t like the answer.

        +++Negative. Quantum reactor core energy levels still climbing. The good news is, Number Four made it past the acid pool that destroyed 1, 2 and 3. The bad news is, he discovered a short-circuiting electro-field, and fried his circuits beyond repair.+++

        “But… but… he was my last RescueBot! What do I do now?”

        +++You could don a radiation suit, let me guide you through the wreckage, and turn off the power yourself. The chances of success are at least 2123 to 1.+++

        “Are you crazy? That’s certain death!”

        +++Negative. Certain death will only occur if the reactor reaches critical mass, which will occur in T minus 4 hours unless it is switched off.+++

        Lucky shot a glance at the RescueBot parts heaped in a corner of the shuttle. All three had been melted by the acid that powered his air conditioning system on Invincible VII. He looked up at the air-con unit above his head nervously.

        Now that Number Four was fried, what was the point of staying? He might as well just go home, watch the cribbage finals, and hope the whole thing just blew over. After all, B.A.B.S. had been wrong before…

        “Chief McDougal,” Sissy said, interrupting Lucky’s reverie. “What do you intend to do? Are you going to save the galaxy or not?”

        Lucky thought back to his father, and how he’d never believed in him. He thought back to GalactiCorps Engineering School, when they’d told him he’d never build a starship that worked properly. Most of all, he thought back to Spoddy Shlumbuck’s last message: “He’s never been my first choice. Nor even my second. But by the stars, he’s definitely my third… the fate of the galaxy rests in the hands of Lucky McDougal.” For the first time in his lazy, good-for-nothing life, Lucky McDougal’s dull, freckled face contorted into a grimace of determination. Or as close as it could get to one.

        “Help me on with the suit,” he said. “I’m going in.”

 

*

 

        “It’s no use, I can’t do it. I give up.” Lucky planted himself on the floor next to a huge pile of debris, tired and defeated.

        “But Chief,” said Sissy, “you haven’t even gone inside yet.”

        The wreckage of Invincible VII jutted out of the Dunromin desert like a silver spear. A broken, mangled and dangerously irradiated silver spear. Spoccles bounced around everywhere, swarming around the ship. Each time one came too close to the team, the cameraman poked it with a Spoccle-prod, sending it hopping away frantically. Chief McDougal, clad in his oversized radiation suit and carrying a kit-bag full of tools, battery packs and spare parts, looked more like a robot himself than a man. And now he was exhausted, slumped by the ship’s main hatch like a broken toy.

        “You have to get going, Chief,” urged Sissy. “If you don’t, the universe will implode!”

        “Implode, im-shmode!” said Lucky, dismissing her with a wave of a paw-like hand. “B.A.B.S probably got it wrong. It’s not like she’s infallible.”

        +++If I had feelings, I would resent that remark. But I do not claim to be perfect. After all, you built me.+++

        “Hey!”

        “Come on Chief, there are billions of people watching,” urged Sissy. “We’re interrupting the PGCC for this! What are you going to do?”

        Lucky wracked his all-too-small brain for an idea. Then he looked around at the piles of scrap beside him, and his eyes lit up as the unfamiliar feeling of a ‘good idea’ flushed over him.

        “I’m going to build another RescueBot!” he declared.

        The news crew groaned.

        “No, listen. I’m going to use these parts. I’m going to build a Bot that can leap over acid pools,” he said, holding up a pair of huge springs from the wreckage triumphantly. “One with a renewable energy source…” he tipped the battery packs from his kit-bag. “And I’m going to give this Bot an advantage over all the others!”

        “What advantage?” asked Sissy.

        “I’m going to give him B.A.B.S.” The smug look on Lucky’s face said it all. He waited for a cheer, but it didn’t come. “Erm… and when he goes in to save the universe, we can all go back home and watch the Cribbage tournament!” he proclaimed. This time he did draw a cheer and a round of applause from the B.O.I.N.G news crew. “Okay,” Lucky said, and passed a pair of wheel clamps from a moon-buggy to Sissy, “hold these will you. If we all muck in, we’ll be back in time for tea!”

 

*

 

        The RescueBot’s eyes illuminated, and his optic scanners looked around at the people who had woken him. He saw the red-headed man in the strange suit, and searched his databanks. Yes, that was his creator, Lucky McDougal, Chief Engineer First Class. The Robot did not know the others. He tried to stand, but the springs in his legs wobbled, and he found it difficult to stay still, so he began to shuffle around, adjusting to his uneven centre of gravity.

        “Whoah, there, little fella,” said Lucky. “Gotta learn to use those springs.”

        “He’s adorable!” said the green-skinned woman. “Does he have a name?”

        “Why don’t you name him?” offered Lucky.

        Sissy gave the little robot the once-over, looking at the huge bolt that held his head together, the springy limbs, and the single panel resembling an eyebrow over its right eye.

       “Umm… MonoBrow…” she muttered thoughtfully. “No. BoltHead? Nah, too cheesy-pie.” Finally, as she walked around the RescueBot, her eyes alighted on the back of his head, and the word ‘Jack’ emblazoned on an odd metal panel. A flash of inspiration crossed the reporter’s face. She turned to the TV camera behind her.

        “Ladies and gentlemen of the Sqishy Galaxy, it is my great honour to present to you the saviour of the universe. We’ll call him… SpringJack!”

        “Okay ‘SpringJack’, you know what to do, right?” Lucky asked the little RescueBot. SpringJack nodded, but even nodding seemed to make him lose his balance.

        “You’ve got your battery pack, and you’ve got B.A.B.S. to guide you. Now go find the quantum reactor core, and flick the big red handle to ‘off’, right? Now, we’ve got some important stuff to do, so you’re on your own. Maybe we’ll see you after the tournament.”

        With that, the huge outer door of Invincible VII opened behind SpringJack, revealing a scene of chaos within. Electricity flashed and roiled around wrecked conduits, and acid dripped from the upper decks and gathered in acrid green pools. Spoccles peered in through every porthole, eager to get inside the ship to eat all the soft furnishings, oblivious to the dangerous radiation within.

        SpringJack turned back to see his creator and the news crew already halfway back to their shuttle. He waved goodbye to them, struggling to stay upright as he did so, and then took his first tentative, wobbly step into the derelict starship. SpringJack didn’t really know what ‘saviour of the universe’ meant, but it sounded important. The universe could depend on him!