Intro Story

The Great Neptune Storm - a Starship Blunder Story

Sarah Hawkins couldn’t believe that her team had failed again. She grabbed the com and pressed the button before shouting, “This is Starship Blunder approaching for landing from the Northwest, E.T.A in about ten minutes, over.”

“I’m so glad that mission is over!” the alien Xylo proclaimed. “I never want to deal with the Droconos planet ever again.” The blue spots on his shimmering silver-blue skin glowed, letting Sarah know he was excited.

Her body, in contrast, hummed in frustration. “We went to Droconos on a peacekeeping mission. That cool little gadget you made to pump water for the village blew up their well! How are they supposed to get water now? You are the worst mechanic!”

Sarah adjusted the sleeves of her bright purple flight suit, the color of which beautifully complimented her deep brown skin. She meant for the uniform to apply to all of Starship Blunder. However, the hundred or so crew and residents on the ship dressed in whatever they pleased. Xylo always donned a set of gray coveralls, which currently were smudged in soot from the explosion he caused in the Droconos village.

“How was I supposed to know that minerals would contaminate the water?” Xylo asked. “It short-circuited my invention.”

A static-filled message began over the communication device, but it was hard to discern what message was getting relayed, and Sarah was too busy telling off Xylo. “Water from wells always has lots of minerals–especially on a planet with metallic soil!”

Xylo shrugged his narrow shoulders. “Whatever. I’m going to buckle in for the approach. It looks pretty tumultuous out there.”

Sarah directed her attention to the bridge windows and saw what Xylo was referring to. A colossal storm surrounded the floating city Terminus, their final destination on their home planet of Neptune. A large torus-shaped structure enclosed the entirety of the city, with large bay doors on one edge for spacecraft to dock. However, the gray swirling clouds made the doors impossible to see.

“Shit,” Sarah said as she quickly buckled herself into the pilot seat. “This hunk of junk can’t maneuver fast enough to avoid the storm, so we’re going in.” She grabbed the com and pressed a button to announce to the crew on the starship, “Everyone, brace yourselves! We’re coming in for a bumpy landing.” She then switched the com to the radio and informed the Terminus Space Control, “This is Starship Blunder. We’re unable to avoid the storm and will be coming in for an emergency landing.”

Clutching the yoke with both fists, Sarah turned the starship hard left as the strong winds blew the vessel to the right. Normally, she’d point the nose of the craft up to help them slow down, but the storm slowed them down more than they needed to. If anything, Sarah needed to increase the thrusters.

The other crewmates buckled into the bridge and screamed in terror as Sarah engaged the engines, hurtling toward the dock at a skew angle. “Brace for impact!” she yelled before the landing wheels smacked miraculously onto the Terminus landing pad. The craft wobbled a bit to the left and right before slowing down to a stop at the inside edge of the landing pad. The storm whirled and whipped around them as Sarah entered the dock and stopped at a gate. “Woohoo!” she shouted. “We made it!”

A single figure raced from the Terminus Space Control office to the Starship Blunder hatch and knocked loudly.

“Xylo, get the door!” Sarah commanded.

Xylo huffed but got up and sauntered his tall, lean figure to the hatch, easily hefting the heavy door open. “What are you doing here?” he sneered at the soaked Commander, who pushed his way into the craft before slamming the hatch closed behind him and locking it.

“Commander Rex Sterling–” Sarah began, surprised to see the leader of the prestigious Starship Prime onboard her ship.

“What the hell did you think you were doing, crash landing like that!” he reprimanded. “Control told you to turn around. The storm is too dangerous!” His normally perfectly coiffed brown hair hung limp, and water dripped down his chiseled jaw. At least his navy blue flight suit with tasteful gold trim was waterproof and still looked pristine despite the conditions outside.

Xylo was already gathering his personal items from his locker and muttered to himself, “Starship Blunder always crash lands.”

“The… the com… must be broken,” Sarah stammered.

Rex surveyed the interior of the bridge. “Everything in this pile of bolts appears to be broken.”

“Looks fine to me,” Xylo said with a shrug, his arms full of clothing, books, and random gear. “I better be going–”

“You can’t,” Rex stated, stepping swiftly to block Xylo’s pursuit to the hatch. “Terminus has declared a code blue. Everything’s on lockdown until the storm blows over.”

“Then why did you board my vessel, Commander?” Sarah asked.

Rex shook his head. “Starship Prime landed just moments before your approach. We were able to evacuate everyone from the ship in time, but as Commander, I waited until everyone got off safely before disembarking myself. Control locked all the gates before I could enter, and I got trapped out there. Pilot Hawkins, I request your permission to stay aboard your ship until the storm assuages.”

Sarah found it amusing that Rex quickly went from scolding her for her impressive landing to requesting refuge aboard his starship. Of course, she would never turn away a being in need. “Of course, Commander Rex, you have my blessing to shelter with us for the duration of the storm.”

A sudden crack of thunder made all the crew on the bridge jump as a bolt of lightning flashed through the space dock. The immense energy made the lights on the ship glow brighter for a second, then flash another before turning off.

“Damn surge must have blown another fuse,” Xylo remarked. He shuffled over to his locker and haphazardly threw his items back inside. “I’ve got more fuses somewhere on this ship. But first, I gotta figure out which one went out.” The blue dots on his head, neck, and arms glowed dimly, hinting at the alien’s mild frustration with the current situation. On the bright side, his luminescence did make it a touch easier to see on the bridge.

“I can check the left-wing circuit breaker if you want to start with the mid-deck panel, Xylo,” Sarah suggested. “Commander, there’s a circuit breaker in the daycare for the residence quarters. Could you see if one of the fuses in there stopped functioning?” Typical starcraft have all their circuit breakers and fuses in one central location. But Starship Blunder had been pieced together using parts of several other decommissioned crafts, giving it a patchwork appearance and causing numerous quirks other crafts didn’t have to deal with.

Instead of jumping into action, Rex paused before asking, “Is there a blow dryer or something I could use to dry my hair?”

Xylo shut his locker door and shook his head, the glow from his spot shining a bit brighter. “I’ll go get the Commander a towel.

Miss Luna Knight pulled a box full of toys from the low shelf and placed it on the middle of the lightly padded floor of the main room in the daycare sector. “Alright, children, instead of grabbing the flashlights, let’s embrace the darkness and play with some bats!” With a half smile, Miss Luna removed the top bat puppet from the box and slid her right hand inside. In a scratchy voice, she added, “I love the dark and only come out at night,” while bobbing the puppet like it was the one talking.

Like many of the misfits on the Starship Blunder crew, Miss Luna was unlike any other daycare teacher. She sported a black dress that buttoned up the front, paired with black leggings and black boots. Aside from her face, the only skin visible on her body were her arms, which were covered in colorful tattoos. With black bobbed hair, pale skin, deep brown eyes, and black lipstick, she embraced her gothic style despite how poorly it meshed with her occupation.

“I don’t like bats,” a little boy with long curly hair stated while the other six children dove to the box and grabbed puppets.

Miss Luna removed another puppet and cautiously held it out to the child. “I bet you’ll like bats after learning about them. Lots of bats eat fruit. Do you like fruit?”

The child nodded yes, then reached out and took the puppet offered by his teacher.

Footsteps and a glaring beam of light from the hallway approached, then came to the half-height door that served as the entrance to the daycare.

“Eeeeeee!” Miss Luna screeched in a tone befitting of a bat. She squinted and held up her hands, including the one with the bat puppet, trying to block the light from a super-charged flashlight.

Commander Rex Sterling turned down the intensity of the flashlight while the children got up and started running in circles, waving their toys through the air and screaming in their high-pitched voices.

“This is the daycare?” Rex asked, clearly unimpressed as he surveyed the unruly children and their goth teacher. “Don’t you have backup lights here?”

Miss Luna stood to her full height, about a foot shorter than the Commander. “Yes, you’ve found the daycare. We do have emergency lights, but I prefer the dark. I’m Miss Luna, the daycare teacher.”

“I need to check the circuit panel for this portion of the starship,” he said, getting straight to the point.

“It’s over there,” she responded, pointing down the hall, “past the restrooms and kitchen area.”

“Thank you.” He turned on his heels and quickly strode away to get to work, his flashlight back on high-beam mode.

Miss Luna observed the unruly children momentarily before declaring, “Alright, my camp of bats, let’s go to the cave for some rest! Naptime!” The screeching children followed her into another dark room and settled down on the waiting sleeping mats for a quick nap.

The emergency lights in the dining hall shone an eerie green instead of the typical emergency red. Chef Bluebottle had replaced the annoying red lights last time the ship’s power unintentionally shut down, which must have been at most a week ago.

Located mid-ship, the room only had windows on the ceiling. Panes of thick acrylic gave a view of the gloomy weather outside. The storm continued to rage as raindrops slapped against the windows. 

As Bluebottle sat at one of the dining tables, he played a game of solitaire using a well-worn deck of playing cards. Once, the old man had served as lead chef of a well-renowned restaurant in the largest city on Mars. Now, he cobbled together whatever dishes he could, using the limited ingredients available to the typically forgotten starship.

Bluebottle recognized the sound of an over-confident swagger from the footsteps echoing down the hall and wasn’t surprised when he saw the approaching man was none other than Commander Rex Sterling. What’s that ass hole doing on this hunk of junk? Bluebottle wondered.

“Good day, Chef,” Rex greeted. Bluebottle’s profession was obvious since he always wore his chef hat, even now while playing card games during a power outage.

“Wish I could say the same,” Bluebottle retorted, turning over a new card. He glanced over the playing field–still no pairs. He placed another card, forming a grid.

“Glad to see this section has working emergency lights, although the color is off,” Rex mused. “I’ll have to notify Xylo and see that he replaces them with the appropriate shade of red.”

“Ain’t anything wrong with the lights,” Bluebottle grumbled.

“My apologies, I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Rex Sterling, and I’m the Commander of the Starship Prime.” He held out a hand to Bluebottle.

The chef shook his head and grumbled. “I know who you are.” He placed another card on the table. Still no pairs.

Rex lowered his hand when it became clear the surly chef had no intention of participating in social graces. “Is there a control panel in this area of the ship? I’m assisting Pilot Hawkins in tracking down the cause of the power outage.”

“I already checked it. It’s fine.”

Rex crossed his arms. Bluebottle suspected the Commander was losing patience with him. Good, he thought.

“I hate to impose,” Rex began. Bluebottle stopped playing his game, set the deck back on the table, and glared at the tall, handsome Commander. “But I haven’t eaten today and am quite famished. I missed the Prime lunch hour since I’ve been sheltering on this ship. Can I have something to eat while I take a quick break?”

“Hmmm. I can make you a sandwich.”

“I know without power, the options will be much more limited–” Rex continued.

“I can make you a sandwich,” Bluebottle repeated, interrupting the Commander.

“Yes, a sandwich would be great, thank you.” Rex tentatively sat at the same table as the Chef’s card game while Bluebottle excused himself and entered the mess.

The kitchen proper was pristinely clean–a testament to how little cooking activity actually took place in the space. Bluebottle opened a refrigerator cabinet and extricated two square slices of bread, a circle slice of bologna, and a square of cheese product. He stacked them on a plate and brought the meal out for the visiting Commander.

“Here you go,” he said as he plopped the plate on the table near Rex before resuming his game at his seat.

Rex said, “Thanks,” and then proceeded to eat his sandwich while watching Chef Bluebottle with clear curiosity. Halfway through his sandwich, he asked, “How do you play that game?”

“Look for pairs,” Bluebottle muttered.

“What happens when you find one?” Rex continued.

Bluebottle dramatically rolled his eyes. “You find another one.” To himself, he thought, For being a starship Commander, this Rex Sterling isn’t too bright.

Electricity arced from the wires into the space around Xylo, making a crackling noise. The alien withdrew his tools quickly while emitting a hiss. His spots shone bright blue, reflecting his surprise at finding a live wire in the medical bay of all places.

He followed the wire with his screwdriver, this time making sure not to actually touch it, up to the ceiling, draped across the sick bay where beds were waiting for patients, down another wall, then behind the watercooler.

That’s not right, the alien thought. Why is there a loose wire next to the water cooler, and what’s that thing inside the water tank? 

He reached into a pocket and withdrew some gloves, put them on his hands, then grabbed the loose wire and stuck it against a screw protruding from the back of the water cooler. The metal spiral inside the water tank began to glow red, and a moment later, little bubbles formed around it.

“Is that supposed to be a…” he trailed off as he grabbed the finger of his right glove with his teeth and pulled his hand out. He pressed the lever on the cooler and held his fingers in the water stream for a second before dropping his glove from his mouth and declaring, “I knew it. It’s warm!” Then he shouted the chef’s name, “Bluebottle!”

Xylo marched into the dining hall to find Chef Bluebottle seated at a table playing a card game and Commander Rex Sterling loudly masticating a sorry-looking sandwich. “What the heck, Bluebottle! I’ve already told you not to rig random heating elements in the water coolers when you need hot water. You’ve caused a massive short circuit that blew the power for the whole ship!”

The chef shrugged and asked, “What was I supposed to do? My kettle broke.

Xylo held up his hands in frustration. “You tell me! I can fix your damn kettle, but you have to tell me it’s broken first!”

“Why would I tell you?” Bluebottle retorted. “You can’t fix anything. You haven’t even fixed the power outage.”

“I was about to!” the alien spat. “But I needed to tell you that you caused this first!” He hissed at the chef, who had already returned to his card game. He turned and began stomping away, pausing to add, “And why are these emergency lights green? They’re supposed to be red!”

Rex shuffled from his seat and stood abruptly. “Mechanic Xylo, I would be happy to assist in repairing any electrical wiring that requires attention. I had an internship with an electrician as a boy–”

Xylo shouted back, cutting off the Prime Commander, “I don’t need any help!”

By the time Commander Rex Sterling returned to the bridge from the dining hall, the power had returned, and all the lights came back on. The confident man breathed a sigh of relief. He knew boarding the Starship Blunder would be an interesting experience, and it was, but he couldn’t wait to return to his starship and the elite crew of competent workers.

Sarah was already checking on all the gauges and controls in the bridge but stopped when Rex arrived. “Leaving already, Commander Sterling?” she asked with a smile. “I hope you’ve enjoyed your time on the Starship Blunder.”

“Yes, I’m leaving,” Rex confirmed, “and to be frank, I hope I never have to step foot on your cursed ship again.”

Sarah looked out the window. “Storm seems to have cleared. Have a safe stay in Terminus, and good luck on your next mission.”

He smiled and said, “Likewise,” but paused before departing. “Actually, I knew that sheltering on your ship would be unpleasant–which it was–but I’m surprised by the crew. Miss Luna did a good job keeping the little ones calm in the darkness of the blackout, Chef Bluebottle made me a surprisingly filling meal, and Mechanic Xylo did get the power operational after a while. Even you, Pilot Hawkins, showed some real skill landing this older starship despite the strong winds and heavy rain.”

She smiled even broader and said, “Thanks, Commander Sterling. Your compliments of me and my crew mean a lot.” She walked over to the hatch and opened it for the leaving Commander. Before he left, she added, “Oh, and if you ate one of Chef Bluebottle’s famous bologna sandwiches, you might want to stay close to a restroom–just in case.”

Rex chuckled and gave a half smile. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he said before disembarking from the starship. Sarah closed the door and let out a sigh of relief before noticing a blue glow from behind the lockers. “He’s gone now, Xylo.”

The tall, lean alien stepped out from his hiding place. “I thought for sure he was going to reem us. Did you know that Bluebottle set up the water cooler in the medical bay to make hot water? That’s what blew the circuits and caused the power outage.”

“Oh,” she said, looking away briefly. “Actually, I did that. I wanted some tea, and the kettle in the dining hall wasn’t working. I thought I grounded it properly. My bad.”

“Seriously?!” Xylo said, throwing his hands in the air before looking down, shaking his head, and finally leaving the bridge. “I’ll go fix the freaking kettle.”