The Mishap at Stone Masoon
Part One: The Fate of Invincible VII
Around the Sqishy Galaxy, the denizens of a hundred thousand worlds gathered, unified as one. Families on Rigel V huddled around antiquated television sets. The Bug-men of Osmosia tuned in their holo-screens. The Sand Nomads of Falloopia gazed into their state-of-the-art Gogglebox Glasses. Most avidly of all, the noble men and women of Stone Masoon, greatest city in the sector, switched on their vid-systems and watched, waiting with baited breath. The music began to play, the graphics swirled. Billions of citizens of a far-flung galaxy could barely contain their excitement…
“Welcome to the B.O.I.N.G exclusive coverage of the Pan-Galactic Cribbage Cup. I’m Sissy Sputnik, and I’m here on board the GSS Invincible VII, where the crew are battling it out to find their champion for the tournament. We’re with the intrepid Captain Spoddy Shlumbuck Jr., reigning champion, holder of the PGC Cup, and hot favourite to win this year’s event.”
Captain Shlumbuck turned to the beautiful, green-skinned reporter, and shot her the winning smile that had made him the people’s champion.
“Why, hello there, lovely lady. You said ‘hot’ favourite, right?”
“Ahem,” said Sissy, fluttering her long purple eyelashes and trying to compose herself. “It must be a great honour to host the first heat of the Cribbage Cup. What would you like to say to your Stone Masoonian fans watching down on the planet?”
Captain Shlumbuck shot a steely eyed glance to the camera, and raised an eyebrow (a gesture that made a million ladies from fourteen species around the galaxy swoon) and said: “Work hard, eat your greens, and you can grow up to be a big, strong, cribbage champion. Like me.”
“Captain,” Sissy continued, only slightly distracted by the Captain’s astonishing good looks and sophistication, “I have to ask – with so many of the crew playing in the tournament, is the ship safe?”
“Of course. They don’t call this baby the Invincible for nothing.”
“Isn’t it the Invincible VII?”
“Look, Miss Sugarlips—“
“Whatever. When Chief Engineer Lucky McDougal designed this baby, he swore that he’d ironed out all the wrinkles. This ship is un-crashable. Nothing can possibly go wrong.”
“I see. And where is the famous Lucky McDougal now? I bet he’s using his renowned intellect to clean up in the tournament, right?”
“Renowned intellect?” Captain Shlumbuck waved a dismissive hand at the reporter. “He only got this gig because his father is on the board at GalactiCorps. No; he’s terrible at cribbage. The only thing he’s cleaning up now is the Spoccle Hold.”
“Oh… Tell me, Captain – why exactly do you have a Spoccle Hold on a GalactiCorps starship? I mean, isn’t that a little weird, not to mention unhygienic?”
Captain Shlumbuck sighed as he recalled the incompetence of the apathetic Lucky McDougal.
“Because, Sissy, our illustrious engineer forgot to design a garbage disposal unit for this ship. But, thanks to my quick thinking and prodigious skills as a Spoccle-wrangler, no-one has to worry about piles of garbage around here!”
“So he didn’t iron out all the wrinkles then?”
Before the Captain could respond, a monitor crackled to life behind him, and Lucky McDougal’s freckled face loomed large on the screen. Behind him, there was some kind of commotion, and the Captain eyed the screen suspiciously.
“Captain! Captain!” cried McDougal, the panic evident in his voice.
“What is it now, Lucky? Can’t you see I’m… busy.” He turned to Sissy Sputnik as he said it, giving her a wink that could melt the heart of even the most resolute Frost-Maiden of Anthracon. But Lucky McDougal was never one to take a hint.
“But Captain, it’s the Spoccles. They’ve escaped!”
“What? How?” asked the Captain, panic creeping into his voice.
Before he could answer, Lucky McDougal was near drowned under a sea of bouncing Spoccles. The next minute, the automatic doors to the gaming hall opened and a horde of the green, verminous blighters entered, sending cribbage boards flying. Within moments, the gentile competition so beloved of the Sqishy Galaxy’s citizens was plunged into chaos. The voracious Spoccles devoured everything in sight, chomping on cribbage boards mid-game, eating crewmen’s trousers as they tried to flee, and even munching on vital power cables.
Captain Shlumbuck staggered to his feet.
“B.A.B.S, status report,” he demanded. Upon his command, the ship’s computer blinked to life.
+++I’m sorry Captain. I was not paying attention.+++
“What? Why not?”
+++I was keeping score of the tournament, like you asked. The number of permutations is quite a drain on my resources.+++ There was a pause and a whirring sound as B.A.B.S processed some new information. +++Oh dear…+++
“What does she mean ‘oh dear’?” asked Sissy, frantically dodging a rampaging Spoccle.
+++It appears we’re heading into the Dunromin asteroid belt. Impact imminent.+++
“No!” cried Captain Shlumbuck. “That’s not possible! Where’s the pilot?”
+++You are the pilot, Sir.+++
“Not me, you idiot—I’m obviously busy defending my title. I meant Buckfast.”
+++Ensign Buckfast is also playing in the qualifiers, Sir. He was just about to win by a double skunk when…+++
“I don’t care what his score was! Darn it, this isn’t fair—I haven’t even had my turn yet! BABS, engage autopilot. BABS, engage autopilot; take evasive action!”
+++I’m afraid it’s too late for that, Sir. WARNING, WARNING. IMPACT IMMINENT. ABANDON SHIP.+++
With a ship-shattering impact, the first asteroid crashed into the Invincible VII, sending men, women and Spoccles alike scattering like ninepins. A frightened Spoccle leapt into the Captain’s arms and immediately began trying to eat his uniform. Tossing it aside, he immediately sprung to action as things began to explode all around him.
“Everyone to the lifepods. Abandon ship!”
“But Captain,” cried Sissy, “what about you?”
Captain Shlumbuck stared into the camera, addressing the trillions of spectators as much as the plucky reporter in front of him. His eyes sparkled, and his square, heroically dimpled jaw was set with determination.
“Someone has to salvage this tournament. The hopes and dreams of the entire galaxy rest on that Cribbage Cup, and I’m not leaving without it. Now go—save yourself. I’ll be seeing you later, or my name’s not Spoddy Shlumbuck Jnr!” With one last wink, Captain Shlumbuck dashed back into the hall, disappearing into the mass of billowing smoke, roaring flames and hyperactive Spoccles. Sissy Sputnik gazed after the hero of the hour with her heart in her mouth, until finally the documentary crew yanked her away to the lifepods.
Minutes later, a hundred lifepods ejected from the stricken ship, as Invincible VII ricocheted off a gigantic asteroid, before corkscrewing into the atmosphere of the planet Dunromin. On the planet’s surface below, the citizens of Stone Masoon held their collective breath as their screens went black. And then suddenly, almost beyond hope, the cameras kicked in again. On screens across the galaxy, Sissy Sputnik began her sign-off, squeezed into a tiny lifepod with her team, two GalactiCorps crewmen, and a confused-looking Spoccle.
“We apologise for the break in transmission. Rest assured, thanks to the brave actions of Captain Shlumbuck, the show will go on. People of Stone Masoon—you might want to stay indoors for now. Who knows where the Invincible VII will come down. Stay tuned for more news as it happens. For now, this is Sissy Sputnik for B.O.I.N.G, signing off.”
Part Two: Mishap at Stone Masoon
Captain’s Log, 13th Yoolian, 2614
“The Invincible VII is lost. Crashed, somewhere on the planet Dunromin, near to the great city of Stone Masoon. All hands escaped safely, thanks to the quick thinking and brave actions of the ship’s captain. That’s me. Spoddy Shlumbuck Jnr, GalactiCorps Captain First Class. I have ensured that not only were my crew saved from certain peril, but also the Pangalactic Cribbage Cup was saved from obliteration. The cup stands as a shining beacon in the darkness, a symbol of hope for the entire Sqishy Galaxy.
“There’s just one snag…
“As I exited the ship in the most daring fashion imaginable, I saw the warning light flashing for the quantum reactor core. The ship’s computer, B.A.B.S, was unable to shut down the reactor core before the crash, as chief engineer Lucky McDougal had forgotten to plug her in to the engineering mainframe. Now the Invincible VII has crash-landed less than a mile outside Stone Masoon, and unless someone can manually switch off the reactor core, the resultant implosion could destroy the entire galaxy, creating the largest black hole in the universe. Of course, I can’t do it, as I have to defend my cribbage title—the morale of the good people of the Sqishy Galaxy must come first! And so it falls to Lucky McDougal to clear up his own mess.
“He’s never been my first choice. Nor even my second. But by the stars, he’s definitely my third, and he knows that ship at least half as well as he ought to. Besides, he’s already out of the tournament, so no-one will miss him. Therefore, the fate of the galaxy rests in the hands of Lucky McDougal.
“Actually, there is one other snag. It seems that Tiddles the Spidercat is still on board the Invincible. As my lifepod left the ship, I saw his six little red eyes staring after me through the airlock porthole. Poor little fella… if he’s still on the ship, who knows what adventures he’s had! Most importantly, he’s my lucky mascot, so McDougal had better find the weird little furball.
“But these setbacks are all in the line of duty for me. Rest assured, I will ensure the safety of the Sqishy Galaxy. I will never lose sight of what’s important. I will—
“What? Oh, it’s my turn already? Great. Let’s play cribbage!”
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.+++
“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!