China’s lunar rover is to investigate a cube-shaped “mystery” object on the dark side of the moon…
He watched the Earth dwindle as the ship moved rapidly away. He sighed.
Best get it over with, he thought, and turned away from the window.
ET was standing at the other side of his desk. He did not look happy.
“So,” said ET, “you came back for me.”
“Well, of course,” said ML, the Mission Leader.
“Though having left me behind in the first place?”
ML blushed, meaning that his skin went a slightly darker shade of brown. “We had to,” he said. “You know the rules. We couldn’t let humans see the ship.”
“Because,” said ET, “a UFO would prove that aliens exist?”
“Exactly,” said ML.
“And how many UFOs have the humans seen over the last, say, seventy-five years? Since, say, the Zenubians landed at Roswell and forgot to turn on their cloaking device?”
“About a thousand,” said ML quietly.
“Uh-huh,” said ET, “and do humans believe in aliens?”
“Well, no,” said ML.
“No,” agreed ET, “because the people who claim to have seen them are dismissed as nutters. But you decided to flee with the ship that no-one would have believed in and left them an actual alien instead.”
“Well, we reckoned you would have the good sense to hide away until we could come back for you,” retorted ML. “Remind me how that worked out for you.”
It was ET’s turn to blush.
“Let’s just say,” said ML, “that mistakes were made on both sides.”
ET looked at him, then they both grinned. ML walked around his desk and the two old friends hugged.
“It’s great to have you back,” said ML. He looked down at the box that ET had brought on board with him. “I see you managed to bring back plant specimens after all,” he said.
“No,” said ET. “Something much better.”
“What is it?” asked ML.
“It’s a cooler box full of beer,” said ET, opening it. “I tried it while I was down there.”
ML peered into the box and lifted out a round cylinder. He slipped one long finger into the ring-pull and tugged, starting at the sharp hiss that it made. He watched nervously as a small pool of bubbles burbled from the can, then popped softly.
“Try it,” said ET.
ML took one cautious sip. His eyes widened, something ET would not have thought possible.
“This stuff is amazing,” he gasped.
“Isn’t it just,” smiled ET.
ML flicked a switch on the console beside him. “This is the captain,” he said. “Everyone meet in the mess. We got our crew-mate back, and it’s time to party!”
It was next morning.
If morning is when the sun comes up, then of course it is never morning out in the darkness of space, but if morning is when hangovers happen then morning is universal.
ML woke in a chair in the mess. He moved his head, and groaned.
The mess was a mess. The air smelled of stale beer and burp. His crew were asleep in chairs and on the floor. ML winced at a flash of sunlight across the window of the room. He winced at a flash of memory across the window of his mind. Then at another. And another.
They had danced on the tables. They had sung Wind Beneath My Wings, a song they hadn’t even known they knew. They had eaten everything fried in the galley’s fridge.
Another flash of memory, then a longer, deeper groan.
ML had finally told SD, the ship’s doctor, that he loved her.
He staggered over to ET and poked him awake. ET tried to sit up.
“Ouch,” he said, long and forlornly.
“Ouch is right,” said ML. “You didn’t tell us that this happened.”
“I had forgotten,” said ET. “One of the things drink makes you do is forget.”
“Not entirely,” said ML grimly. “How do you make the pain stop?”
“Not sure,” said ET. “I remember reading something about hair of dog.” He lay back and fell asleep.
“Hair of dog?” muttered ML. “What are we, witches?”
He winced at a flash of sunlight across the window of the room. Then the door hushed open and SD came in. She walked over to him and held her lit finger to his head. They avoided eye-contact as she did so.
ML felt the pain ease. “Thank you, Doctor,” he said, formally. “What about the rest of them?”
“Best just let them sleep it off, sir,” said SD, equally formally. “I’ll drain myself if I do this too often, and I’ll end up with a headache worse than the one I woke up with.” She looked down at the floor. “What are you going to do with that?” she said.
The cooler box was on the floor. The crew had drunk just half the cans between them, but the beer had gone straight to their heads, and when your head is sixty per cent of your body weight the effect is quite profound.
ML followed her gaze to the box. He could swore it whispered to him. He shook himself.
“We’ll have to get rid of it,” he said.
“Yes, but we can’t just fire it into space,” said SD. “That’s been banned ever since the Gartinians knocked out the Jenovians’ TV satellite with a bag full of dirty laundry.”
“I remember,” said ML. “They all missed their World Cup Final. It nearly caused a galactic war.” He looked down at it. “We can’t keep it on board,” he said, “it’s too dangerous.” He winced at a flash of sunlight across –
He frowned. “Hang on,” he said. “Come with me.”
The two went up to the bridge. DD, the designated driver, was asleep at the helm. A can of beer was lying on the console, dripping beer onto the floor, which was already beginning to rust.
“That’s what I thought,” said ML, pointing to the front screen. “Look, we’re flying in circles.”
It was true. They should by now have been two light years away, but could still see Earth. As they watched the moon passed across the screen. They looked at one another.
“I could leave the box there,” said ML.
CD shook her head. “You pilot,” she said. “Land, and I’ll run out and drop it off.”
Their eyes met, for a long time. Then CD winked, huge and meaningful. Both of their heartlights glowed brighter.
“Fly me to the moon,” she said.