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Pi(e) Day

In honor of Pi Day, a twitter-prompt flash story. I had an unusually large number of prompts today:

@BenWolfeVision: Why did I have to annoy the hamsters?
@cislyn: The trees knew more than they were saying
@lbrothers: Alien ganache.
@mbennardo: A Regency romance about anglerfish
@kaillem44: a toilet paper shortage
@evilrooster: I thought I had imagined him. Turns out he’d invented me.
@CarolElaine: The scent of soy sauce seeped into the sofa.
@masterobscurity: Prompt: Raining out of a clear blue sky
@thekittymeister: Speedwell!
@onesockshort: Sauerkraut
@notmoro: whispers chickens

As is customary for this writing game, the story includes all the prompts, was written in one sitting, and is largely unedited.

Space exploration wasn’t at all what the movies made it out to be. Frankly, it kind of sucked. Mostly boredom. Lots of boredom. SO MUCH boredom. It was the moments of panic mixed in that really made it special, though. Like now. But this was special even in the annals of the Speedwell, and we’re the only Corps ship they haven’t made a documentary about, because the writers decided nobody would believe even a fraction of the things we’ve done. Clearly the mission where they forgot to supply toilet paper shouldn’t be made into video. But our cook would be a good subject. Why the Corps assigned a Crealloric as quartermaster and cook for a mostly-human crew is beyond me. We haven’t been short on TP since Jerrien took over that slot, thank the skies, but Creallorics are obligate algae eaters with no sense of smell. I don’t mind at all that Jerrien looks like an annoyed hamster — my own resting bitch face is strong — but they cook by color. Color! Jerrien decided that Desiree needed a birthday cake mid-mission, and whipped one up. The “chocolate” ganache? Dark soy. We’re never going to get the scent out of the rec room cushions. And don’t get me started on where the sauerkraut ended up…

I was in my quarters watching a Regency romance video. Somehow the galaxy has glommed onto Terrestrial period romances as the Next Big Thing, and everyone is making them. Whatever studio put this one together did an amazing job with the costuming, given that the entire cast looked more like anglerfish than humans. The fin-bustles were a really nice touch. I was looking at the bonnets, trying to figure out how they were staying on, what with all the swimming, when the alarm went off. Not the one we all ignored that meant Jerrien had burned something again (no sense of smell), but the one that meant something was actually wrong. 

On a Corps ship, let alone a tiny old one like the Speedwell, everyone does multiple jobs. Jerrien was cook and quartermaster, and supervised the cleaning bots. Desiree was geologist, archaeologist, and assistant engineer. Miguel was the engineer and spare pilot. Kallen was our xenobiologist, but only had one job, because their species didn’t tolerate jump travel well and spent transit time hibernating. I checked on them periodically, but in transit they looked like a cross between a limpet and a block of sandstone, and there was really nothing I could do for them anyway. I’m the medic, which really means that I’m trained on humans and on how to look things up for other species, and the botanist, and also, I’m afraid, the captain of the Speedwell.

I ran for the bridge, glad I was still wearing lounge clothes. The message on my room console hadn’t been helpful, just calling me to the bridge. Miguel was standing watch. We had just landed a day ago. Kallen was barely awake, still groggy and muttering about having imagined all of us. They’d be coherent by tomorrow morning. We hadn’t even started sampling yet, beyond basic security checks. There weren’t any large animals in the area, no geologic risks, nothing much going on. Everyone was planning to spend a period resting, except for routine short watches, and and get going in the morning with our various tasks and specialties.

Miguel was sitting in the command chair when I entered, but he very promptly got up. “All yours, Cap.” 

I rolled my eyes at him. Instead of telling me what triggered the alarm, he gestured to the viewscreen. The north camera view, of the trees edging the grassy clearing we’d landed in. I was eager to see how the “trees” and “grass” compared to other worlds. I was going to write a monograph on the evolution of woody and herbaceous species across the galaxy someday. but I didn’t think that had anything to do with it. My monograph was important, but not urgent. Motion caught my eye, something white, about chicken-sized, based on the branches surrounding it.

It was. A chicken. In an alien tree. On an alien world. That nobody from Earth had ever visited, as far as we knew. I zoomed in. Even worse, it was our chicken, beady little eyes and all. So much for biosecurity and not contaminating alien planets.

“Get Jerrien up here. Now.” Miguel buzzed him, while I stared at a terrestrial chicken in an alien tree. The Corps was always looking for ways to ensure that crew were satisfied and happy, and the current fad was for “real” foods. They’d decided chickens were perfect, somehow. Talking to an actual crew would get them the information that we all would prefer less work, less fuss, and packaged food was fine. The Corps wasn’t interested in that, though, but in looking good. So, chickens. The first couple of ships to be sent out with a small flock, not the Speedwell for once, came back with nothing but complaints, and no chickens. The new breed, the ones we’d gotten stuck with, were much quieter. They clucked and crowed, but in whispers. Jerrien was in charge of the three birds we’d been given. They roamed the hydroponic garden, eating our lettuce and whatever chicken food they were given. I tried to ignore them. Jerrien was getting pretty good at cooking eggs, once we explained that “boiled into rubber” was not the best strategy. 

Jerrien slouched in. I yelled. Jerrien apologized. I yelled some more. This made me feel better, but it didn’t do anything for the chicken problem. I needed Kallen to tell me how bad this was going to be, but they still weren’t particularly coherent, so the best thing I could come up with was to go catch the chicken. Jerrien assured me that the other two were in their coop, but couldn’t explain why one was outside, or how it had gotten there. Something about “chicken suit tests,” and “Corps instructions,” and that’s when I quit listening. 

And that’s how I found myself up a tree, on an alien planet, with a net. Wearing an envirosuit, of course, and broadcasting calming chicken calls through my suit speakers. The bird had refused to come down, even with the recorded chicken noises, so I was going up after it. Jerrien objected when I offered to just shoot it, and pointed out that spilled chicken innards would be an even worse biocontaminant. Right, I guess, although we were going to have to heavily decontaminate the tree branch it was sitting on. 

Local planetary time was early morning, of a beautiful spring day here in the northern hemisphere. The sky was a nearly-terrestrial blue, and beautiful. Normally I’d be excited about being the first one ever up a tree on a new world, but I just wanted to catch this bird and go to sleep. I was nearly to the chicken’s branch, safely roped in and net at the ready. That’s when the sky swiftly turned to gray, and the deluge began. 

I was dry in my suit, but the wet tree bark was suddenly slick, and all I could do was watch as the chicken launched itself into the air and flapped clumsily toward the ship, landing in the open outer lock, where it fluffed its feathers and settled in. The outer door closed, trapping the chicken. It could just stay there until we finished biologic sampling and determined whether it was safe to let it back in. When the rain slowed, I’d climb down and go in the lock on the other side.

I wonder if I could explain “chicken pot pie” to Jerrien. 

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