top of page

𝗘𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗽𝗿𝗶𝘀𝗲: 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗠𝗮𝗿𝘀 𝘁𝗼 𝗚𝗮𝗻𝘆𝗺𝗲𝗱𝗲 𝗦𝗵𝘂𝘁𝘁𝗹𝗲

𝘣𝘺 𝘞𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘪𝘢𝘮 𝘒𝘪𝘵𝘤𝘩𝘦𝘳



My pilot Dave was already beginning to tick me off with his idiotic delusions about living on Jupiter. He usually didn’t do this until we were past the asteroid belt, but he was starting early this time. He’d read somewhere that spacecraft had been successfully landing on Jupiter for years, including the Discovery, which, as I understood things, crashed into Jupiter and wasn’t even remotely successful.


I barked at him. “I swear to Zeus, Dave, if you bring up one more time—”


“Zeus!” he cut me off. “You said ‘Zeus’! You’re a Greek pantheist.”


“No, Dave, I’m a Roman pantheist just like everyone else, but I knew that if I said ‘Jupiter’, you’d get confused and wouldn’t know if I was talking about the god or the planet.”


“I don’t think so. That came off your lips pretty smoothly.”


“Oh, for pete’s sake—”


“Who’s Pete?”


“It’s just an expression, Dave.”


“Anyway, you’re a Greek pantheist. I’ve suspected it for years.”


“What are you talking about?”


“What’s your favourite planet?”


“Uranus.”


“Aha!”


“What do you mean ‘aha’?”


“It’s the only planet named after a Greek god.”


“Dave, you’re ridiculous. I like its color.”


“A likely story.”


“Just concentrate on driving. And don’t hit an asteroid like last time.”


“It’s hard not to. They’re very close together.”


“They’re not close together at all. They’re millions of miles apart! Remember a few years ago when all the rich people were buying up asteroids, thinking they’d be just a hop, skip, and jump away from their neighbors, and they could wobble their fat behinds outside, and wave at each other over morning coffee? How did that work out?”


“Oh, so now you’re slamming rich people. You really are some kind of liberal, aren’t you?”


“Dave, shut up and drive.”


“You can’t order me around like that. You’re not my boss.”


“Yes, I am. I’m the captain. You’re a lieutenant.”


That shut Dave up for a while but I knew it was just a matter of time before he started up again.


“Uh, captain,” he said, making the word “captain” sound like an insult which, for Dave, probably was, as he’d been turned down for promotion on many occasions.


“What is it?”


“Are we landing on Jupiter this trip?”


I looked at him in wonder. “Of course not! Jupiter is a giant gas planet!”


“So are you!”


“Dave, Jupiter is almost completely gas. There may be some kind of rock core but it’s not stable, and definitely not something you can land on. And it has terrific winds and storms on it. That Great Red Spot? That’s a storm that’s been going on for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years.”


“That can’t be right.”


“It is! Remember when the Discovery went off-course and crashed into Jupiter? It was torn apart by the Spot!”


Dave shook his head. “I don’t think so. It landed.”


“Didn’t you learn anything in Astronomy class at the Academy?”


“I think I was sick that day.”


“It wasn’t one day! We studied it every year!”


“That’s your recollection, not mine. Anyway, I was talking to the passengers, and they want to land on Jupiter, not just be dropped off on Ganymede, and have a look at Jupiter from there.”


“Dave, we’re not doing that.”


“They’d be willing to pay extra. I think we can make a few extra bucks for this.”


“No, Dave! And that’s an order! Now, call Ceres City Base and tell them that the Enterprise is coming in for refuelling.”


Dave mumbled something I couldn’t hear but I didn’t care. I’d already decided I was going to recommend him for waste disposal duty once we got back to Mars.


I knew this wasn’t the end of it for Dave, and I became even more suspicious when he said very little after we’d refuelled and continued on our journey to Ganymede. Dave hit only one asteroid after leaving Ceres.


When Jupiter came into spectacular view, Dave put the craft on autopilot, and set it in orbit so we would eventually catch up to Ganymede on the sunward side.


Dave got up, stretched, and said he was going for a bathroom break. But I didn’t hear the bridge door open, and as I turned around to see what was happening, Dave threw a rope over my chest and quickly and efficiently tied me to my chair. He then sat on my lap, grabbed my ankles, and tied them together as well. There was no point in my yelling as the bridge was completely soundproof, but Dave stuck an oily rag in my mouth anyway.


“Grmmph,” I said.


Dave got back in his chair and switched the autopilot to manual. He turned the craft toward Jupiter. I could see he was aiming for the Great Red Spot.


“Grmmph,” I repeated, this time more emphatically.


We descended through the atmosphere. We were knocked around by the wind, but it certainly wasn’t as violent as I’d expected.


When we hit the Great Red Spot, everything went still. No turbulence at all. This wasn’t what I’d been taught in Astronomy class.


We came out of the other side of the Spot, and I turned to look at it to confirm that we’d actually passed through it with no consequences. There was only a white vapor trail showing where we’d come from. I looked at the control panel; the external sensors indicated that the Spot consisted mainly of an ammonia-methane compound. That seemed odd.


I looked out the front window. Everything was cloudy and I couldn’t see anything.


“Mphlgrmph,” I said.


Dave removed the rag from my mouth. “Pardon?”


I tried to spit the oil out of my mouth, but it didn’t work. “I said that you were right about the Great Red Spot, but now we’re in clouds, and we won’t ever get out of them. There is no solid base to this planet.”


Of course, just as I said that, we emerged from the clouds. Directly below us was a long yellow sandy beach. Waves broke onto it. Trees which looked like palms leaned over the back of the beach. Shrubs concealed what was behind the trees. The whole place looked more like Cancún than anywhere else.


Somehow, the entire beach was lit up by a light as bright as the Sun, but we were much too far away from the Sun for that to be the case. I looked at the sky, and thought I saw spotlights poking through the clouds. One of them appeared to be flickering.


Dave landed the Enterprise about halfway along the beach, hitting only one tree. He looked at me, smiling superiorly.


“Yes, Dave, you were right. I was wrong. Now please untie me.”


As Dave did so, he said, “So, despite your negativity and skepticism, I will cut you in on the extra money we’re going to make off the passengers. Now, I’m going to let them wander around for a bit, and then we’ll take them home again.”


“Do you think that’s wise?”


Dave looked at the external sensors panel. “Lots of oxygen. Similar to Earth. It’s all good.” He turned to the hatch door. “You coming?”


“I don’t think so,” I said. “It looks too... too perfect.”


“It does, doesn’t it?” said Dave.


Dave went to the back of the craft, and I could see from the control panel that he’d opened the external hatch. I looked out the front window and saw our passengers gradually emerge from the craft and begin to wander down the beach. Some removed their shoes and socks and waddled into the water. Others lay on the beach like sea elephants, their faces upturned to the light. Others explored through the shrubs behind the trees.


Dave came back to the cabin, plunked himself in his chair, started laughing, and showed me what he had in his hands: cash, credit cards, jewelry, and a button. “Look at this haul!” he cried. “We’re rich!”


I smiled at Dave. “I gotta admit you’re right.”


Our joy was interrupted by piercing screams. We looked up to see some of our passengers sprinting out of the shrubbery pursued by creatures that could be described only as crosses between hippopotami, tigers, snakes, and fungi. The passengers all ran into the water. The creatures followed them, but stopped at the water’s edge, as if afraid to go any further.


“I didn’t see that coming,” said Dave.


A couple of creatures looked over at our craft, and slowly began moving toward us.


“Or that,” said Dave.


I was going to ask Dave how we were going to rescue the passengers, but it didn’t matter. Several huge fish-lizard-parrot-slime mold things appeared on the water’s surface and moved toward the beach. Their gaping jaws scooped up all of the passengers and disappeared under the water. The other creatures sat down at the water’s edge and appeared to be waiting. Presently, the fish-lizard-parrot-slime mold things leaped from the water, expelling from their mouths onto the beach certain body parts of our passengers. The hippo-tiger-snake-fungus creatures chewed contentedly.


“Symbiosis,” said Dave knowingly, as he gradually lifted the Enterprise off the beach. We hovered, watching the feast, slightly disgusted by what we were seeing.


The creatures spat out the passengers’ bones all over the beach, creating a nice design, and then, as one, lifted their behinds and expelled a gigantic red cloud. Our sensors determined it was ammonia-methane-based. Aha, I thought, the origin of the Great Red Spot.


Dave set the craft to Forward, and we zoomed down the beach, catching a glimpse of the Discovery, surrounded by bones being snuffled by some scavenging creatures that looked like crosses between jackals and performance artists.


As we left the beach, I saw a creature on a scaffold repairing a flickering light.


When we cleared Jupiter’s atmosphere, Dave asked, “How are we going to explain this one?”


“‘We’?” I asked incredulously. “‘We’?” I repeated for emphasis.


“You’re the captain,” said Dave. “This ship is your responsibility. But I’m willing to help, given my small participation in this matter.”


“‘Small’?” I asked, and then said no more, realizing that this verbal strategy had no effect on Dave.


“I have an idea,” said Dave. He turned the Enterprise around, and headed straight toward the Great Red Spot. We went through it and the clouds below it, and again hovered above the beach. Dave extended the shovel on the front of the craft, then skimmed along the beach, scooping up all the human bones. We passed by the Discovery, and Dave scooped up all the bones there as well, scattering the scavengers. He dumped everything into the cargo hold.


Dave then turned the Enterprise toward the Spot, and we left Jupiter.


Once we’d escaped the pull of Jupiter’s gravity, Dave turned the controls over to me, said, “To Mars, my good man!”, and disappeared into the back.


After refuelling at Ceres City Base and on our way to Mars, I heard a strange tinkling from the back through the open hatch door, but decided I didn’t want to know what was happening.


When we landed on Mars and I could see all the family and friends of our passengers waiting for their arrival, as well as those waiting for the next trip to Ganymede, I heard Dave’s voice booming out of the speakers all over the spaceport. “Ladies and gentlemen who are waiting for the arriving passengers on the Enterprise, and those due to embark on the next flight, I want to make you aware of a special stupendous offer that we are... uh... that we are offering. We’ve discovered that a brief landing on Jupiter has amazing restorative powers, and is guaranteed to help you lose weight with little effort. Please take advantage of our time-sensitive bargain. Now, if family and friends of the arriving passengers will come aboard and claim who they know, we can begin arrangements for the next trip on our exclusive Mars-to-Jupiter shuttle.”


I put my head in my hands but realized I didn’t have any option other than to go along with Dave.


I went back to the passenger compartment, and saw that Dave had reconstructed skeletons from the pile of bones in the cargo, and put them in their chairs. The people traipsed through the cabin, and I overheard a few remarks.


“Grandpa has lost a lot of weight, hasn’t he?”


“Dianne looks marvellous!”


“Amazing! Where do I sign up?”


Through the crowd removing the bones, Dave made his way toward me, a huge smile on his face. “Our ship isn’t called the ‘Enterprise’ for nothing, right, Captain?”


I looked at Dave. “Oh, for the love of Zeus—”


“Zeus!” cried Dave, and he started once more about pantheism.


I had to admit he was right again. I’m a Greek pantheist. Sue me. Dave also has a law degree. ✦



 

Bill’s stories, plays, and comedy sketches (and one poem) have been published, produced, and/or broadcast in Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Czechia, England, Guernsey, Holland, India, Ireland, Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa, and the U.S. His stories have appeared in Fiery Scribe Review, Ariel Chart, New Contrast, The Prague Review, Ripples In Space, Aphelion, Schlock!, Guilty, Eunoia Review, Once Upon A Crocodile, Little Old Lady Comedy, Yellow Mama, Slippage Lit, and many other journals. His novel, Farewell And Goodbye, My Maltese Sleep, will be published in 2023 by Close To The Bone Publishing.




Speculative fiction & POETRY ZINE
bottom of page