Molly Glenn, OfflineBy Kirk Trigon
Fifty-two hours ago, with Molly strapped into a big, puffy, vinyl chair, the deep space Space Shuttle Rainbow Raider rode a bright ball of fire into the skies over Houston, Texas.
A few hours outside of Earth's orbit, with an eyeful of stars, she flipped a switch on her console, activating the Raider's sub-light engines, ..and less than a minute ago, its engines roared on and off, pumping out a faint trail of energy in the ship's unsteady wake, as it sped toward the planet Venus. In the cockpit, alarms for every kind of emergency imaginable went off, simultaneously! Then, on the Raider's main monitor, the UFO Contingency Simulation played, as its commander's slender fingers raced over the three, blinking consoles in front of her.
The Raider'd had a special place in Captain Glenn's heart, since the first day she'd laid eyes on it.
It was, hands-down, the ugliest tank ever given wings.
Striped across the sides with red, green, yellow, blue and purple! Not big enough to be majestic, and not small enough to be Bond-flick chic, Molly's loathing for the deep-space shuttle had gone where no other loathing for anything or anybody she'd known had gone before.
It was a full-blown religion.
She'd made a daily ritual of pouting at it, nose to nose. Freckle to tile! Glowering at those unbelievably tacky stripes! On her lunch breaks! Before breakfast! On Saturday afternoons, when her her boyfriend, Buck, had made one too many Beam-Me-Up Barbie jokes! All the experimental heat-shielding, laser-guided navigation systems and hybrid fueling technology in the world don't mean squat, when you're flying around in Bozo's Sunday ride and a gazillion miles away from the nearest happy hour!
This had to be some kind of simulation error, Molly thought to herself, as she stared at the Raider's central monitor.
"Captain's Log," she muttered, activating the flight recorder program.
Pulling back her shoulder-length, auburn hair into a rubber band, she searched
pensively for a switch or button that would deactivate the virtual drill. "It's 5:52pm, December 30th. The Raider has sustained damage to
its onboard computer, during activation of the sublight drive. Navicron systems
are offline and overridden by UFO Contingency Simulation .."
Molly's log entry was interrupted.
"Log Entry Auto-Correct, December 30th,
5:53pm. Captain Marlena A Glenn, .. UFO Contingency Simulation is not running. Repeat -- UFO Contingency Simulation is not running. Acknowledge."
Captain Glenn stared out of the window of her starship, through the stray lock hanging in her face and past her reflection in the glass .. to a Chrysler Building-sized thing off her starboard bow. A little chill slipped through her, when she realized the virtual UFO in the onboard UCS looked nothing like the ship approaching the Rainbow Raider.
The one in the simulation wasn't this big.
"Captain Marlena A Glenn, .. acknowledge."
Only seconds ago, the gargantuan starship in the window was framed by black velvet cosmos and little pinpricks of white, blue and violet starlight. Now, all Molly saw was white metal spreading itself out before the window, .. the Rainbow Raider began to shake.
"Captain Marlena A Glenn, .. acknowledge."
Without Navicron, the Raider was blind. No way to assess how far she'd traveled from Earth. No satellite recog scanners to detect Earth satellites operating nearby. No stellar cartographic programs to plot a return course .. back to Earth.
Molly was blind.
"Captain Marlena A Glenn, .. acknowledge," the onboard computer repeated.
"Correction acknowledged," answered Molly, steeling herself for what she was about to do. "Captain's Log, off. Load weapons systems. All of 'em."
"Happy New Year, Moll."
Captain Marlena A. Glenn spun her chair around. Toward the familiar voice that wasn't supposed to be there. Instinct told her to get her hands on something. A weapon. Anything. She had not been trained for this part of space exploration.
The going nuts part.
Barefoot, bare-chested and sporting a pair of very clingy cutoffs, a familiar, unshaven face grinned from under a cap of dark brown hair. Ignoring the shock of disbelief on Captain Glenn's face, the man offered her a can of her favorite beer. "You hear me, Molls? I said, 'Happy fuckin' New Year'!"
"Sure, .. Buck," Molly answered uncertainly, carefully taking the beer from his hand. She studied the beer for a second, before ripping off the tab and taking a sip. The sight of Buck Rodgers in cutoffs had always been as debilitating to her thought processes as a chainsaw lobotomy. Now, it just freaked her out. "So -- er-rr -- what're you doing way out here, .. in space?"
The man leaned against a wall, shoving one hand into a pocket, while he sipped his beer. His grin eased into a bemused smirk, as he casually rested one leg on a naked big toe. "I dunno. Y'wanna fool around?"
Buck mumbled something about the ship crashing, and he was gone. Not that he'd been there to begin with.
Resting on the console at her right, a pint of Ben & Jerry's she was too busy to dig into melted. Water dripped over the edge and onto the floor. Taped to the monitor's frame, at her left, a Polaroid of Buck Rodgers, naked in a hammock, grinned mischievously, and a faint echo of the lazy Sunday she'd snapped it made her smirk.
"You sure this is what'cha want, Moll?" Buck had asked, between kisses and margaritas in her backyard. Didn't seem to bother him a lick that the Federal Space Administration had picked her for the upcoming mission over him. Now, wearing nothing but a white Stetson and some cologne she bought him for Christmas, the cocky ape damn near changed her mind about taking it. "Nothing I can do to change y'er mind, huh?"
Molly'd answered with a belch and a mumbled order to smile pretty. A few hours and many margaritas later, they wobbled indoors and humped like jackrabbits ..
And the next day, she was suiting up for a trip around Venus.
"There's a war going on down there, Molly," Buck grumbled, tonguing the froth from his upper lip. "There're these two jerks, .. Randor and Hordak. They're going at it like gangbusters, and it's ripping the world apart. Before them, it was two other guys, and so on and so forth, all the way back to the damned Ice Age. You're about to get mixed up in this $#*% pretty deep, but, .. just hang in there. Everything's gonna be alright."
Not entirely convinced she wasn't hallucinating, Molly stood up and walked over to the thing that looked like Buck in cutoffs. "You're not Buck, .. are you? The Buck I know would be on the horn to Houston, cussing out Mission Control for a way to get us down in one piece! You? You're not even sweating."
"You're pretty cool about all this, yourself," the impostor replied casually, revealing nothing. Then, he shot her this look Buck'd all, but patented - the "Wouldn't you rather screw me, than nag me?" look. "Why is that? Why aren't you bouncing off the damn walls, right now?"
"Don't know," Molly answered, suspiciously. "Who the heck are you, anyway? The Devil? My guardian angel, maybe?"
"Good and evil don't apply to us," the thing smiled, sipping his beer, as she circled him. "I'm whatcha' call Kodagon. We're non-partisan messengers for the Master of the Universe. Guess you could say I'm here to make a little .. delivery."
Shit. It's an alien.
This thing just walked right into your damn starship from lord knows where. Walked right into your damn head. Like it was a sale at Macy's.
"Really?" Molly groaned back her brew, with poorly concealed worry. Worry that she was losing her mind. Six weeks of alien encounter training went right out the window, and poker instinct kicked in hard as hell. Turn on the charm, Captain Glenn thought. "So, what exactly is it you're here to deliver, cowboy, .. and why the masquerade?"
The thing that looked like Buck continued to nurse the can in his grip. "I'd hoped a little beer and a good #^@* would put you at ease -- make this all a little easier on you."
He's in your head, Molly thought. Get into his.
Figure the sunuvabich out.
"Wanna' put me at ease, .. Buck?" Molly leaned in really close. Her lips curled into a dirty, little smile she'd worked at a billion happy hours. "Lose the mask. C'mon. Don't be shy, now. Let's see what you really look like, before we .."
When Molly blinked, there was a very tall man in dark red armor standing where Buck had been leaning against the wall. The sight of him made her flinch, and her half-empty beer can rolled across the cockpit floor toward the rear of the ship. In the span of another blink, the Raider lurched sideways, and Captain Glenn found herself pressed against him.
"Oh, .. $#*%! $#*%!" Captain Glenn huffed, frantically pushing herself from the mysterious stranger's chest. "Who are you? What the hell do you want from me?!"
Bronze muscles swelled, where no armor protected the Kodagon enforcer.
What could be made of its face from beneath the crimson helmet, gave the suggestion of hardened, masculine beauty, but not the kind that made a girl blush. The jaw jutted menacingly, and orbs of black glass concealed the eyes. Upon its metallic breastplate, a fork-like symbol glowed, as though it had been painted in blinding white light.
"I am here to deliver you, human," Zodac answered mirthlessly, as he felt the terrified breath rush out of Captain Glenn against his lips. "I am here to see that you crash."
The Rainbow Raider lurched forward, spilling Molly against the ship's console headfirst. Her skull bounced off the plastic frame of the monitor and sent her twisting backwards onto her belly. Carefully, she raised her head to look for the strange visitor.
And the man in the red armor was gone.
"Mission Control! Mission Control!" Molly shouted into the ship's radio, steadying herself. "This is Captain Marlena Glenn of the SS Rainbow Raider! Do you read me? Over!"
The malfunctioning UFO Contingency virtual that seemed so real only minutes ago was gone. By playing it out, as if it were a standard drill, Captain Glenn had tricked the onboard computer into logging a score and closing the program, .. but something else had gone very wrong!
The huge alien starship in the simulation had fired on the Rainbow Raider.
In turn, the malfunctioning onboard computer logged the hit as Ďrealí damage and was no longer reading vital mission ops programs. Life pods, communications, stellar cartographics, navigation and self-destruct programs were offline. The Raiderís hard drive was drawing a zero balance.
And Molly was all out of tricks.
Earth was back onscreen, coming up fast! As the Raider plummeted toward what
appeared to be the Japanese Islands, Captain Glenn struggled to hotwire the
Auxiliary Communications Transmitter! "Mission Control! Mission Control! This is
Captain Glenn, Rainbow Raider! Iím re-entering Earthís orbit with no guidance
systems! Everything's offline! Do you read me?! Over!"
Again, .. no answer.
"Houston, get your BUTTS on the com!! Iím riding a HYDROGEN BOMB into Earthís orbit! All my systemsíre offline! Self-destruct is offli -- Mission Control, do you read me?! Do .. you .. READ ME?!!
. . .
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