Captain Bob Presents:
Tales from Planet X
by Resha Caner
part 1 of 2
They let him into a small room to await his sentence. At least that was the reason they gave for making him wait. He suspected his fate had been determined some time ago, and other issues delayed his execution.
For example, what were they going to do with his toxic cargo? Without him to transport it away, his captors faced a moral dilemma. Law prohibited its being disposed of here. Law also forbade dumping it on those who did not understand its deadly possibilities.
It meant the cargo would sit untouched on the dock until... until someone like himself could be found to steal it. Living in the real world while maintaining high moral values required a delicate balance. Nick Drake had been given his role.
Nick Drake never followed the rules. The time had come for him to reflect. It seemed the thing to do while waiting to hear a judge announce his execution. He looked about for a place to seat himself in a philosophical posture, but the room afforded no such luxuries.
Not only was the room small, but the table and chair were small as well. Nick stood six feet four inches — when allowed to stand. The ceiling only rose above the floor by maybe four feet, and the chair looked like something he had forsaken after kindergarten. With their small stature, hairy faces, and tails, the Carelians reminded Nick of beavers. They even lived in crude houses of mud and sticks built above the soupy chaos of the planet’s boiling surface. The Carelians were not the intriguing aliens he had pictured as a young boy on planet Earth.
Life was full of disappointments.
* * *
“Does everyone have their seat? Remember, we need to be quiet when the red light goes on.” Mrs. Hodges paced nervously before her fourth grade class, repeating the same phrases over and over again. She rubbed her hands, tried to flatten her dress over an ample stomach, then stroked her fingers through flat, blond hair. Her hands never stopped moving. “Does everyone have their seat?”
“This is going to be so cool!” Nick whispered to Ben, his best friend.
“We need to be quiet when the red light goes on!” Mrs. Hodges emphatically reminded Nick, then pressed a fat finger against her sweaty lips.
Nick bulged out his eyes, and mocked her gesture. Her face darkened in a scowl, and she half-stepped over the front row of children to reach him, but the curtain opened. Her face froze in fright, and she tried to balance precariously on a single foot. Nick laughed. She looked like the wax figure of Aunt Polly from the Mark Twain museum.
With bared teeth and a wagging finger, Mrs. Hodges slowly retreated, then pointed toward the glowing red light atop the television camera. The show was starting. This was going to be so cool. Only a privileged few ever got to see Captain Bob in person.
A man dressed head to toe in what could have been cheap aluminum foil pranced onto the stage. The whole class erupted in laughter and yelps. Morris, Captain Bob’s co-pilot, tried to make his way to center stage, but a stray wire was wrapped around his leg. The faces of all the kids drew rigid with shock, and several hands waved frantically, trying to get Morris’ attention. He gave a bewildered “what?” kind of stare back at the kids, and continued on his way until the wire drew taut, and he tumbled to the ground.
Laughter echoed from wall to wall.
“Morris!” Captain Bob called from off stage. “Morris!” the children repeated.
Captain Bob appeared with a grim frown and his hands on his hips. He waited for the applause to die down. In that time, Nick studied him. He was smaller than Nick had expected, and he looked funny under the bright lights with heavy makeup. His uniform was not as dazzling as it appeared on a living room television, and Nick could even make out a few stains and repairs.
The clapping subsided, and Captain Bob rubbed his thick beard in frustration. He always rubbed his beard when Morris messed up.
“Morris,” he repeated, “You just ruined my new experiment. Now we’ll have to start over.”
“What experiment is that, Captain Bob?” Morris anxiously leapt to his feet.
Captain Bob looked at Mrs. Hodges’ fourth grade class. His frown turned to a smile. He tilted his head jovially, and stepped to the edge of the stage.
“Can you help me clean up the mess Morris has made?”
“Yaaaay!!!!” everyone responded with high pitched warbles.
“I’ll need a special helper today, because we’re going to...”
“Planet X!!!!” Nick’s classmates screamed. Nick analyzed the scene.
Captain Bob marched off stage, and Morris stepped forward. His voice deepened, and he leaned seriously toward the children. “That’s right, kids. It’s time for... Captain Bob Presents: Tales From Planet X! But first, a word from our sponsor.”
“Cut!” called a voice from off-stage. “Sets!” someone else yelled.
Morris immediately ripped the aluminum foil from his head, and turned to someone crossing the stage with a clipboard. Sweat poured from the dark-brown hair onto his pasty face. “Blast it, Stan. Can’t Morris wear headgear that breathes?”
The stagehand gave an anxious look toward the children, then rushed to Morris’ side to whisper something in his ear. Morris looked out at the kids, snarled, and stomped off.
So it was just cheap aluminum foil. If Morris didn’t wear a real space helmet...
Nick watched skeptically as the walls of Captain Bob’s Scientific Lab rolled away, flapping like a discarded candy wrapper in the breeze. A cardboard Star Quest, Captain Bob’s speedy spacecraft, rumbled in to replace it. Painted pictures embedded with tacky lights blinked condescendingly. Nick grew sullen. Mrs. Hodges didn’t need to remind him about the red light when the show came back from a commercial.
Memories of last Christmas returned. Nick couldn’t wait to spend Christmas with his new foster family. Yet Santa didn’t come because his foster parents didn’t want to encourage belief in myths; they didn’t go to a church or sing carols because established religion harbored hypocrites; he didn’t get the laser pistol he wanted because it cultivated violence. Even the tree was plastic.
The world teemed with fakes and frauds, but Captain Bob claimed he had really traveled in outer space.
“Now, who will be my helper today?” Captain Bob asked.
Everyone’s hand shot up except for Nick. Ben elbowed him, but he only sunk lower into his chair, crossing his arms and dropping his chin.
“What’s the matter, young man?” Captain Bob asked. A hush came in a rapid rush of whispers, and all eyes turned to Nick. “Would you like to be my helper?”
Mrs. Hodges left her chair, shaking her head, waving her hands, and mouthing “No”. Captain Bob ignored her.
“What’s your name, young man?”
“Nick,” he mumbled. He rose from his chair. Captain Bob smiled, holding out a welcoming hand. Nick ignored him, staring at the captain’s broad palm and stubby fingers. “This is going to be a great adventure, son. I promise.”
I promise. The words rang in Nick’s ears. Looking up at Captain Bob with clenched teeth, he started to shake. I promise. He was a fake.
Nick rushed the stage, not knowing why. Tears forced themselves from his eyes, wedging in his eyelashes and blinding his mad attack. He took the stage in a single leap, and Captain Bob stumbled to one side. Nick went straight for the painted hatch of the Star Quest, and kicked through the set. His foot pierced the thin wall easily, and he lost his balance, tangling arms and legs with the shredded set, bringing everything down with a crash. Vaulting back to his feet, he cried out, “It’s all fake! Everything is fake!”
* * *
“I am so sorry, Captain Bob,” Mrs. Hodges fretted. She paced back and forth, wringing her hands, smoothing her dress, not giving the slightest attention to the scratches on Nick’s arms and legs. “I am so sorry. I assure you he will be thoroughly punished. You have to understand. Nick is a foster child. You know how these things go.”
“Really?” Captain Bob asked as if truly amazed. He carefully placed a bandage on Nick’s arm, then put a hand under his chin, forcing Nick to meet his eyes. “You could say I’m in foster care as well.”
“You are?” Mrs. Hodges said with a startled look.
“In a way. I don’t really ever seem to fit anywhere. You know I wasn’t born on Earth...”
“You’re lying!” Nick shouted.
“Mr. Drake!” Mrs. Hodges reached for Nick’s arm.
Captain Bob waved off the teacher. “It’s alright, Mrs. Hodges. I know how the boy feels.”
“No you don’t,” Nick stated, spittle flying from his lips. He wiped his mouth, then brushed back a tear. He wouldn’t let this fake see how disappointed he was.
“I have something to show you, Nick.” Captain Bob rose.
Nick didn’t follow, so Captain Bob held out a hand. “Come with me.”
“Is that wise?” Mrs. Hodges asked.
“I can handle him,” Captain Bob responded without looking at her. “Guys like us, we need to stick together. Right, Nick?”
Nick could feel the man’s unending gaze burning into the top of his head. Grown-ups were not to be trusted. Every day he saw reports on television about how astronauts were pushing farther and farther into deep space. Amazing new technologies carried man beyond Pluto, beyond Alpha Centauri, to places no one had ever imagined possible. Maybe it was only imagination. Maybe everything was fake.
Captain Bob continued to stare at him. Nick couldn’t see anything but the Captain’s boots, but he could feel his eyes. He tried, but couldn’t resist and looked up. Clenching his jaw, he nodded. He would go look, but he wouldn’t believe.
* * *
Copyright © 2008 by Resha Caner