SCOOTER

The screen flickered to life. A simulation of the landscape hidden under the thick blue methane and helium clouds unraveled itself. My custom navigation grid stretched over it, and listed all promising magnetic anomalies in the partially viscous crust. Areas of seismic instability stretched further into the polar regions. That was what the analysis program showed me in the lower right corner. I threw out my right index and thumb and the writing faded away. I did not plan to stick around to witness any crust activity.

Through the bull’s eye the surface seemed so peaceful and lush blue. It reminded me of Earth. The upper atmosphere showed a relievo ribbon of white clouds further to north to our orbiting position.

Neptune_storms

What bothered me most were the atmospheric pockets and the wind velocity, unpredictable and vicious. Even the CPU had problems showing me depressurization timely. Scooter was approaching faster than the simulations showed. Something was off. I had less time than calculated. That peacefully looking blue under me was deadly. It was ready to tear me and my glider to shreds. If anything went wrong, I could only hope for a fast death.

To my right side the com came to life. „Crap,” I sighed. Of all crew members on duty it must be him.

„What did you just say?” Rains’s guttural voice filled the tiny cabin of my glider. I didn’t have time to put up with his yapping, so I ignored him diligently. „Decker? Protocol?” The best I could do for now, but he was one annoying fellow. „Do you copy?” I’d sign him up, if there was an Olympic discipline called annoying. I bet he’d be top ten. “Decker!”

“No time, Rains.” I needed to focus. „Buckle up!” This was going to be quite a ride. I pulled my straps tighter and started the sequence. The countdown appeared on the screen. Ten seconds to detachment.

„Decker! Is this your idea of—„ I pinched my fingers together and the tone died instantly. I grinned into the video feed and watched Rains ugly face deteriorate.

Five seconds. Rains was signing me something. First he pointed at me with his index, then he seemingly slammed his middle finger into the screen. Ouch. I only could imagine how pissed he must be, losing this bet to me, so I blew him a kiss. I got to be dolphin and he had to be mother hen. My name was going down in history, not his. The first human to drift with Scooter around Neptune.

Two, one.

Trip.

A deep rattling went through my seat, and my stomach lifted off. My glider shuddered and moaned as the winds caught my wing panels. Rapid acceleration swept me to the left, and the glider bucked. Scooter’s vanguard storms caught me in a powerful stream. Air speed indicators spiraled insanely. Exceeding sound velocity! Already! Although I was sealed in properly, I felt the static charge stinging on my skin, even the air tasted sour. I imagined the sonic boom reaching Rains, making him spill his hot coffee.

Stabilizers were screaming, thrusters working at maximum performance. The blue darkened to a steel-gray. The slipstream sucked me down into the lower regions of the atmosphere and the storm picked up speed. The grey withered to a blueish black. The wind screamed around my little plane. Unbelievable! Lightning flashed inside, nearly blinding me. Everything shook, sounded as if someone was throwing rocks at me. Must be hail, methane hail. God of hull integrity stay with me.

Scooter was approaching. I was the very first human to meet it. The first one to see its funnel. Face to face with the to fastest cyclone in the solar system.

***

My cabin was lit dimly by the instruments and screens. The read-outs went head over heels. I couldn’t make out a thing, the information was changing so fast. Simulation toppled over simulation, illuminating the darkness washing in from outside. The hail went as fast as it appeared, leaving me with a cracked porthole. Between the towering cloud formations I was just a speckle thrown into a blender.

To my right Rains was still there, waving his hands frantically, mouth moving like a dying fish. I unmuted him, and a thunderous scream filled the audio feed. I jumped in my seat.„You—„

Rains looked as startled as I was. He furrowed his brows. The scream lowered in tone and volume to a metallic screeching and low-key buzzing.

„Wind? Interference?” I don’t know if I was audible. No reaction from Rains.

Then the screeching got louder and louder. It filled my cabin, my head, the console. It got so loud that I tried to put my hands over my ears, although I was in my suit.

I saw Rains muting my audio feed and staring at me.

The noise got louder and louder. It hurt. It clawed at my eardrums, tore on my nerves. The air felt hot. I smelled blood. Rains eyes bulged.

Can it get even louder? Nausea was on it’s way. Unbearable!  My stomach shook, my lungs vibrated.

I screamed.

I screamed at the noise.

I screamed at Rains.

I screamed.

blush tally

This is one of my worst ideas.

But I’m gonna do it anyway! I can’t just stand there and do  nothing.

Those men are pros… No mercy. At all. I’ve seen this before. They’ll injure that poor guy badly. What do you think will I get as a reward? A nice beat up. “Know what you’re in for”, that’s what my old man always used to say. Thank God he taught me some lessons, and a bunch of  tricks.

I’ve called for cavalry. Cooper’s on his way. He’s a black belt jiu-jitsu, and can avenge me, if needed… I hope not.

Well, whatever happens, happens!

*

“Dude! Why’d ya do thad foo?! I mean – I mean- thanx!” He muffles, holding his bleeding – most likely broken – nose. “Ah, mah tuuth”, he pickes up a white pebble. It actually is his tooth! He flashes a grin, but stops instantly. Chapped lips. Upper incisor’s missing. At least, he’s okay. What a guy…built like a silverback. But on the inside, he’s soft ‘n fluffy like the tail of a baby bunny rabbit.

“Broke?” His bloody index points at my arm. I think so – pulsing hurt. It did make a sick noise, when the bat crashed down on it. I nod. Cooper steps behind me and harrumphs lightly. Such a polite ass!

„Fucked up, huh?” His smooth voice hums. He’s not even pumped out! Why can he be so … perfectly …annoying! I’d roll my eyes, but one is swollen, and the effect’s lost. Nod instead. He makes a sympathetic face. So I DO look fucked up. Toothless-guy is pulling his belt.

“Wha!” What the hell? “Stop!” Even if he’s grateful… I’d have to decline. He’s not- um, my type?

“He’s right! We need to put your arm in splints. And get you both to a hospital” Cooper states. Gosh! He is also working on his belt. Well, in fact, that’s more like it! Yeah! Normally, that would turn me on, but… This isn’t the right place, or time for that. Since – Cooper doesn’t even know. Now don’t get the wrong idea…

What the hell! Think what you want!

*

“Be a good boy, take your painkillers. You’re a real jerk, ‘specially in the morning.” Cooper snorts.

“Don’t tell me what to do! And yeah. I AM crabby! You’d be too, if you’d have to share a room with a guy, who is snoring so loud, that he could bring a cathedral to collapse.” Plus I’ve been plastered and put in bandages. Not able to move properly. The whole night, I tried  to turn around, pondering if I should suffocate that snoring idiot, or not. This means toothless-guy: 1; sleep: zero.

Maybe I should’ve stayed the night at the hospital. Cooper insisted on babysitting me, or both of us. He’s the motherly type – not only caring, but a doctor too. Convenient, huh? Toothless-guy had nowhere to go and no money left… Yeah, I decided to stumble upon and mix myself into a fucking robbery. You can call me numb skull. So I take them in, isn’t that kind of me? I don’t remember it though, must’ve been those fantastic painkillers making me a damn instant saint.

“Okay, okay. Sorry!” I’m a jerk. Cooper makes me breakfast. I’m not a morning-person. Never will be. More importantly – there is freshly brewed coffee! “Oh my fairy godmother, pass me a mug of that magic black morning bliss. ”

Zib – toothless-guy – is still snoring. I swear, I’ll suffocate him!

“Did you get some sleep?” He wants to know. “No”

“Did your arm hurt?” “No”

“Want an orange?” “No”

“You need help with dressing? Or breakfast? “NO!”

“Will you answer me only with monosyllables?” “…No”

He’s smiling. “Yes, you do.” I’m a nice guy, take my pills, and let Cooper enjoy his instant saint.

*

I want pancakes, with chocolate sirup and blueberries. “How you like yours?” His voice hums again.

“Chocolate, berries.” My fairy godmother works in my kitchen, like it’s his all along.

“Both? That’s decadent…” Cooper turns around and smiles stupidly. As if he knows… Don’t blush, don’t blush, don’t blush! Dammit! I stare at the rug. There isn’t one anymore. I’ve spilled orange juice, Chinese food and coffee in the evening, must’ve been too groggy. Cooper rolls them up, concerned ’bout rug safety. My plastered arm isn’t of any help, I constantly bump into things. I even smash my own face with it. That’s what happens when you’re not used to the weight and inertia of a plastered arm. Zib and Cooper laugh alternately at my clumsiness. I’m a one big-unintentional-slapstick-entertainer… The arm itches like hell. And I blush at the simplest things, always have – but now I’ve got audience!  Lucky me…

A hand on my shoulder. “Ghaaa- I’m going to have a heart attack. Shish!”

“You’re a pussy!” Zib’s throaty voice whispers right into my ear. Oh, those bastards! Can’t believe they do this. They made it a contest… I bet they even have a tally. A blush-tally. On the way home, they’ve been making fun of my blushing on the way home. Cooper drove, next to him Zib made dirty jokes, and I was enjoying myself in the back. Laughing and whimpering at the same time.  …There will be payback!

“Toothless, you still look like a pretty violet! ’Specially in your face. Sit down. Shut up ’n dig in.”

“Ya don’ have to tell me twice, black eye.” Zib is going to keep Cooper working that frying pan. I bet he eats like a horse, he surely snores like one.

*

“Bed’s yours. ’N ya jumped in, to save ma sorry ass… So, you’ve got the hero-points, dude!” He’s built like one shit brick house, but he’s got the commotion, the broken nose and the cracked jaw. For a damsel in distress, he took a lot of beating. I’ve got only a broken right arm and some bruises. Luckily I’m a lefty, so it doesn’t bother me that much. It’s just a royal pain in the ass. So I’ll better settle down on the couch and leave the bed to my guest. Zib’s treating me like a child, bringing me milk, tucking me in. … Wait! Milk?!

“Is that milk? Where did you find it?” I don’t have any, don’t buy any. Allergies.

“Milked the cow in the kitchen.” Zib’s grinning. “Best for bones.”

“No! No thanks. I won’t drink that. Milk is evil, it wants to kill me.” I refuse.

“Oh c’mon, ya big baby!” He sighs and I just shake my head, like a spoiled kid with lips pressed together – I may not look serious, but I am.

“Go easy on him, he’s allergic.” Cooper steps right behind me, put his right heavy palm on my neck. “We’d have to give him CPR, if you force him. And I don’t want to see any shade of that asphyxia-blue… Or would I?” Gasp! Hot face! I think my jaw just dropped. Damn you! Those last words he directs right into my face, that sucker! And he means it not in a let-me-save-your-life-cause-I’m-a-doctor-way, he means it more like in a let-me-wrap-you-up-in-leather-and-gag-you-for-a-bit-fun-way.

Idiots. “IDIOTS!” Both start laughing

“Ya won, jackass! Can’t breathe – that red! Ahahahaha! Imma gonna peeeehheee!” Zib’s laughing so hard, he barely can breathe.

“Choke! Both of you idiots! Choke on your stupid jokes!”

Cooper is already sitting on the floor waving both his hands in the air. I grab the next best thing, which’s my cover Zib tucked me in and throw it at him. It lands on his chest. “Bite me, oh barkin dog!” Zib’s self-control is caving in. I send some pillows flying. Right into his face.

*