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Saturday, December 24, 2016

X Plus Bun - Retrofire, Pt. 4

My nose was itching; somebun was tickling my whiskers. Abby was doing binkies, and she wanted to play chase around the hay bin. I was trying to tell her I'll be up in a minute but she kept on tickling my nose. I opened my eyes. It was Mel. Now I really wanted to go back to snoozing, but he was all smiles for a change. "Where's Hooper, what time is it?" I asked. "Oh, he's in the back, working on docking with that thing and how are you, Major? You outslept us both and I slept like I never do!" said Mel.
"... and how are you doing?" I asked Mel.
"OK, I'm still looking at all the green areas on the planet below. During the day, of course. The place is pitch black at night. If anybun lives on this planet, they must have no use for artificial light or things like fire. But we do see vegetation. Peculiar kind too." reported Mel.
I looked up at him and said, "You still didn't tell me what time it is." Our clocks reset to zero when we entered our current "predicament."
"Major, you're not gonna like it," said Mel. "I don't have the exact time for you, but I have a hunch as to 'when' we are. The 'where' part will become evident, Major."
"Mel, you're killing me. I could use some good news here!" I lamented.
"It's carboniferous o'clock, Mr. Toes."
"Say again?" I snapped.
"We are home, Major, around three hundred million years ago. I think that's why our autopilot couldn't figure out our exact location. The position of the celestial elements out there made no sense to it. It never had a reason to care about what was in the sky during the carboniferous period."
I kept staring at Mel. I knew that most likely he was spot on, but some part of me thought that that as long as I did not acknowledge him, this would not be our reality.
Mr. Toes and the 'Space Loo'
"Very well, carry on then," I said, sounding resigned and trying to get out of my seat. Was it too late to try to go back to sleep and pretend none of this was happening? I grabbed my half empty sippy bag of chamomile that turned itself "upside down" over the console. Thank goodness for microgravity. I pushed off, my beverage in paw, and floated toward the back. I reheated the chamomile and took a sip; the warmth in my gut felt soothing. My morning cleanup routine went well. The indignities of using a litter box in orbit have not changed much over the eons, so I honored and endured the ancient, indignant ritual.
Still trying to wake up fully, I grabbed some fresh hay sticks and went to check on Hopper. He was going over his calculations for the burns so as to get up close to the Behemoth.
All three of us spent the rest of the day weighing our options for the foreseeable future. I was concerned about our ability to weigh said options reliably with the gravity absent. Such weighing can be tricky, you know. Of course, we tried to determine the mass of our alternatives or their potential energy the best we could, but that's a whole different story.
Mr. Toes
Somehow, both Hopper and Mel had assumed we were going to explore the strange ship. It never occurred to them that we might not. First, we had to agree on a spot where we would have to land eventually. We saw a few places that were ice-free, looked livable, and were close to water.
Of course, Hopper said that we would never have to land, because that thing we wanted to explore was not even a ship. It's a hydroponic dandelion farm with artificial gravity and all staffed by a bunch of bunneh damsels in distress, clad in silver and awaiting rescue. They would all be ours! Mel laughed. I looked at Hopper quizzically because he kept a straight mouf through his prophesying. It was the merciless and disapproving mouf you only get from a Rex. He looked back at me and asked, "What? Why are you gaping at me like that?" Did he go mad last night? Hopper kept staring at me and blinking from time to time. "Hopper..." I started, and he broke into a giggle. "I got you good, Major, I had you going! Heh, I know it's not a dandelion farm. They grow nutriberries there!" and his mouf went dead serious again, his left eyebrow raised, and he squinted his right eye.
I looked at Mel; he was glued to his scope and only shook his head. "Just kidding, Major. We can start the rendezvous whenever you want," said Hopper with a grin.
We put off the maneuver until the next morning. I wanted us to be rested.
Hopper
We decided to suit up just as if we were going on an EBA. Hopper programmed the orbital maneuvering system, and we let the autopilot take over. The jolts and bangs of the firing thrusters broke the peaceful monotony on deck. It was unnerving for me because I wasn't completely sure how this system survived whatever it was that happened to us.
As we approached the Behemoth, its true form came to light. It looked similar to a pine cone or a fat, boring turret seashell. It's surface appeared to have a honeycomb texture. As we got closer to it, the texture looked as if it were made up of individual hexagonal panels arranged like scales or leaves. Our docking sensors sounded the alarm. The ship expected responses from the docking target, but of course, there would be no responses. Hopper took manual control of the ship.
We turned a little to our left and proceeded diagonally on a curving path along the surface of the Behemoth, from its pointy end toward the thick one. More details were coming into view. The little hexagonal panels that created the appearance of texture were independent of each other. They did not lay flat but were raised and tilted at an angle. As we moved farther towards the wide end of the craft, we could see behind the hexagonal "leaves." Each one appeared to be supported by a thin stem. The stems were made up of even smaller vines, braided together. It is hard to judge exactly how many made one up. Our exterior lights were too weak to illuminate the stems well. To see what they were made of, we would have to get much, much closer to them. Before delving into the finer details of this craft, we wanted to fly around this thing as fast as we could, to gander a better overall picture of what have found. When we were almost three-quarters of the way to the wide end of the Behemoth, we crossed over to the shady side of the ship, away from direct sunlight. Very soon, we would have another sunset on our paws, so Hopper slowed us down considerably. We didn't want to risk crashing into something. Now our lights proved more useful as the thick darkness claimed everything around us. Hopper slowed down even more, almost coming to a complete stop. He didn't trust our radar, and I didn't blame him.
Mr. Toes Behemoth and Mr. Toes' tug
We were slowly inching along, staring at the darkness as our eyes tried to adapt to the reduced visibility. We noticed faint reflections of our lights on the edges the panels. That's when we realized something unexpected. The panels were changing their orientation. They were turning toward us! As we moved, the panels followed our lights, turning toward them. Mel put up on our monitors the streams from our infrared cameras. The imagery was faint. We watched as the panels or "leaves" outside the range of our lights kept adjusting their orientation, as well. The ones facing the sun just a few minutes ago were turning toward something else. We couldn't figure out what, though. Hopper brought us to a complete stop. We were spellbound. When the sunlight became brighter, the "leaves" started turning toward it.
When the sunrise approached, we had begun moving again and were nearing the thick end of the "pine cone." Close to the crest of the structure, we noticed a long, cylindrical shape protruding from the ship, like a pod. It was lined up toward the pointy end of the Behemoth. Its surface was smooth; there were no scales or "leaves" sticking out from it. This again looked like a shell. Its rear end, almost lining up with the rear of the Behemoth, was flat. It got somewhat thicker in the middle and appeared to taper toward a rounded front.
Mr. Toes
Hopper turned our ship to fly along the rear edge of the Behemoth, and we spotted several more of those protrusions, spaced out evenly. Then, about half way around the circumference of the rear edge, we noticed an indentation where we expected to see the next pod. We immediately turned towards it. Goosebumps crawled all over me. We were staring at a dock. Those protrusions were pods docked with the mothership. I was starting to wonder what kind of mother she was?
Hopper moved us closer to the dock. I had no doubt that this was a berth for a small vessel. Our radiation detectors went off. We were picking up strange pulses of radiation coming from somewhere nearby. The edges of the berth lit up. What looked like a string of centerline beacons also lit up at the bottom of the dock, running its entire length. We were picking up pings of microwave bursts as well. The place lit up like a Christmas tree, glowing with the full spectrum of light.
"Do you think 'it' knows we're here?" asked Mel nobun in particular and nobun answered.

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