Catch up on earlier episodes at this link
Meanwhile, on board the MoonShip Waist of Space…
Commander Tarquin Stuart-Lane of the Royal Space Regiment regarded his companion with some sadness.
“Going to have to call you Meredith from now on, old thing,” he said.
“Why’s that?” his companion, Commander Meredith Winstanley, asked.
“Well,” he replied, “You’re not really Merry, are you?”
“Merry is my name, not my mental state, idiot” she said petulantly, “besides; don’t you have anything more important on your mind than what to call me?”
“I read somewhere—”
“You read? I didn’t know you could.”
“How rude. Yes I can, and I did. I read that names can affect people; that you can kind of become what people call you.”
“So what have people been calling you? Idiot, Tosser, Nob, Dolt, Buffoon, Moron; what?”
“You’re being very unkind, Meredith. Not like you. Always thought of you as a chum. Must have been wrong. Sorry.”
“No, I should be sorry. Look. Just leave me alone with my thoughts for a while, can you?”
“Right-oh. What should I be thinking about?”
“Think of a way out of this mess.”
“Yah. Okay. Right.” Tarquin went silent. We may never know what he was thinking about in the minutes that followed, but we can be sure of two things: it was definitely not the same as what was occupying Merry’s mind, and it was most unlikely to be in any way related to the mess in which our astronauts were likely to find themselves embroiled in the not-too-distant future.
Meredith broke the silence. “A penny for your thoughts,” she said wistfully.
“Have you ever wondered why the stars look different from here than from home?”
“Is that what you’ve been thinking about?” Meredith asked with a note of incredulity.
“Well, yah. In part, anyway. I think I may have a theory.”
“What is it?”
“A theory? It’s a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained. Thought you would have known that.”
“I know what a bloody theory is, moron. What’s your theory.”
“Oh; no idea. I just think I may have one.”
“Give me strength!”
Three days and six tins of sardines later, the radio came to life again.
“Moonship Waist of Space, this is the shuttle Sir Prijs, Captain Rik van Winpell speaking. Over.”
“Did he say Rip van Winkel?” Merry asked.
“Sure. Yah. Sounded jolly like it,” Tarquin replied.
“Surprise, repeat your message, please,” Merry said into the radio.
“Not ‘Surprise’, ‘Sir Prijs’,” the voice replied, “Named after the famous Belgian explorer Sir Henrick Prijs. I am Captain Rik van Winpell; we have come to take you into custody and return you to Earth for trial. Over.”
“Did you say Rip van Winkel?” Merry asked with a barely suppressed giggle.
“I did not. I clearly said my name is Rik van Winpell. Now please secure yourselves and prepare to be acquired by our tractor beam. Over.”
“You are not saying ‘over’. Protocol and procedures require that you say ‘over’ at the end of your transmission. Why you are not saying ‘over’? Over.”
“So arrest us.”
“That is what I am doing, you fools.” His voice faded, and Merry thought she heard a snippet of conversation in the background, though she couldn’t make out what was said.
“We have a small problem,” Captain van Winpell said when he came back on the line, “Over.”
“Yes, you do,” Merry replied, “You didn’t say ‘over’ after your last transmission.”
“It is not for you to correct me. This is my mission and I always follow protocols. Over. There; happy now? Over.”
“So what is your problem?”
“Our tractor beam is not functioning, so we are unable to arrest you. Over.”
“Oh, gosh,” Tarquin helpfully offered, “what are you going to do now?”
“My Chief Engineer has it in his hands. He’s one of your compatriots, you know – comes from Newcastle. Over.”
“When does he expect your tractor beam to be fixed?” Merry asked, “I don’t want to spend a single hour more than I have to on this blasted rock.”
“It is not something he is able to fix,” the captain explained, “it needs some new parts. We have requested a visit from a John Deere engineer to do the repair. Over.”
“Golly. Call-out fee must be horrendous,” Tarquin said.
“Not our problem,” Merry informed him, adding, to the captain, “When will the engineer arrive?”
“Four days,” the captain said, “Over.”
“We have run out of food,” Merry informed him.
“We haven’t,” Tarquin whispered to her.
“Shut up,” she whispered back.
“I can drop a package of four days’ food close to your craft,” the captain said, “any special requests? Over.”
Merry didn’t know whether he was being sarcastic or not; it was well hidden by his accent.
“Almost anything that’s not sardines,” she said.
“Stand by for package drop. Over and out.”
Thirty minutes later, a plume of dust outside their craft told our pair that the drop had taken place. They tossed a coin to decide who had to go out for it. As always, Tarquin selected heads. As always, he lost. It never occurred to him either that he could change his call to tails occasionally, or that Merry was using a two-headed coin.
“I say, old thing,” he said when he finally came back into the craft, “scrummy stuff, Merry.”
“Let’s not eat it all at once though, eh, Tarq. Make it last until we get arrested.”
The pair feasted on a tin of all-day breakfast each. As they were relaxing, replete, afterwards, Merry called out, “Tarq,”
“Yah? What is it?”
“I have a plan.”
“I’ll bet it’s a corker. Your plans are usually corkers.”
“I think it is.”
“What’s it for?”
“It’s to make sure we don’t get thrown in jail when we get back to Earth; won’t even have a court-martial.”
“That sounds like a jolly good plan. What do you have to do?”
“I have to do very little, Tarq. It’s mostly down to you.”
“Me? Okay, right-oh, splendid. Merry?”
“Your plans never involve me.”
“They do when there’s work involved.”
“Okay. Yah. Right. Grant you that. What work is involved?”
“We’ll talk about it later, Tarquin. Go to sleep now.”
“Right-oh. Nighty night, sleep tight, don’t let the—”
Whether the expression on Tarquin’s face as he drifted of was a smile of pleasure at his little quip, or of pain at the reaction he’d had from Merry, will remain a mystery; but sleep he did, and peacefully at that.
I wrote part one of this tale in response to Kreative Kue 39, issued on this site earlier. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.