Hank wanted a rocketship. Classic style. Shiny. Perched on fins and ready to take on the galaxy.
Something better than the Westerfield’s old green rocketship. A rocketship the envy of the neighborhood.
A dream rocketship falls into his lap right as the sales of his latest novel take off. The future looks shiny! What could go wrong?
For readers that enjoy fun, light science fiction stories.
Hank’s first rocketship sat out behind the house on what had once been the backyard but was now a large concrete pad complete with inset concentric OLED circles. The rocketship perched on three thin fins, bright red with shiny chrome trim, rising up higher than the two-story house. Higher even than the Westerfield’s old green rocketship next door. A full five stories tall. It boasted an integrated 5G drive complete with inertial dampers and a cabins for a dozen passengers. All the amenities anyone might require for space travel. Escape pods. Space suits. Even vehicles for exploring the worlds they might visit.
When Veronica, Hank’s wife, joined him out on the landing pad he slipped her arm around her waist.
“Isn’t she a beauty?”
“Uh, uh. Hank, what are we going to do with that?”
“Come on, honey! Just look at her. Sleek as can be! She looks eager to thrust! Like she just can wait for it! It’s a beautiful sight!”
“How in the worlds can we afford this?” Veronica didn’t at all like the look on Hank’s face. He wasn’t much of a looker. Too round in the face, a little too flabby, but he was kind and she didn’t worry so much about him leaving her for another woman. Now she wondered if she didn’t have bigger things to worry about.
“It’s all coming together,” Hank said. He beamed at her. “That last novel I uploaded is selling like hotcakes. Better than hotcakes! No more struggling to get by for us. We’re heading to space!”
“Space?” Veronica couldn’t believe her ears. “And what about the kids? And our parents? Are you planning on bringing them all along too?”
“Of course! There’s plenty of room.” Hank squeezed her tight. “Not right away, I’m sure. I mean I might need to take her out for a shake-down cruise or something.”
THAT scared her. “Hank! What do you know about flying a rocketship anyway?”
He laughed. He actually laughed. “There’s nothing to know. It’s like playing a video game these days. The computer does all the hard work and calculations and stuff. Just tell it where you want to go and it figures all that stuff out.”
Veronica shook her head. This was crazy but she’d get him talked out of this sooner or later. As long as she kept his feet on the ground. The last thing she needed was him flying off into space on some rocketship!
“We’ll see. Right now I’ve got dinner coming to the table. Steaks, with mashed potatoes and gravy. Why don’t you come on in and get washed up?” Steak always worked. Hank loved his meat.
So Veronica couldn’t believe it when he shook his head instead. “I think I’m going to spend some time buffing her. I can see some spots they left when they delivered her and I think a bird crapped on her. Just put my dinner in the suspender and I’ll eat it when I come in.”
Veronica felt sick. She managed a weak smile. “Don’t be too long.”
Hank’s eyes never left the rocketship. “Oh, I won’t.”
The next morning when Veronica brought Hank’s coffee to his study he wasn’t there. For several long minutes she just looked at his leather chair. Where was he? Every morning he sat in the chair writing. Nothing interrupted that routine. Not even the time when he came down with that avian flu bug. He had wrapped an afghan around himself but that was it.
No denying it, though. He wasn’t writing today. Veronica honestly couldn’t remember the last time that happened. Hank took pride in his writing streak. She carried his coffee down the hall to the mud room and went through out to what had been her backyard. The rocketship stood glistening with morning dew. A touch of sunshine hit the pointed top and made it shine like a star come to Earth. No sign of Hank.
She called out. “Hank! Hank! Are you in there?”
An arched opening appeared in the side of the rocketship, the whole opening sliding silently out of the way. A shiny silver ramp appeared and slid downward to the landing pad. Hank waved from the top of the ramp.
“Hank? What are you wearing?”
“You like?” Hank turned in place showing off a silvery suit with red bands at his wrists, ankles, waist, neck and the bottoms of his feet. “It’s an AES! That’s an all-environment-suit. Perfectly comfortable from the bottom of the ocean to the blazing sands of Mercury! Of course you have to have the gloves and helmet on to get the full effect! Wait right there!”
Veronica couldn’t believe it. Before she could object Hank disappeared into the rocketship. He came back a minute later but now he wore a helmet and gloves. The helmet was mostly transparent with a bright red back side. The fingertips of his gloves matched the red on the suit. He waved.
“See?” His amplified voice blasted out like a loudspeaker. “Oops!” That also came out loud. He waved his hands in the air. “There? Better.”
Yes, he sounded normal again. Veronica shook her head. “Hank, what are you doing? Aren’t you going to write this morning?”
Hank laughed. “I already did! I came out here this morning and worked in the Captain’s office. You should see this place! Come on up!”
She didn’t want to go into the rocketship. The longer he kept this nonsense up the more likely it became that he’d do something colossally stupid. She shook her head. “Come into the house. We’ve got a lot to do today.”
Hank reached up and twisted the helmet free. Tubes sprang away and retracted into the small pack at the back of the suit. “Do? Like what?”
“The kid’s lessons for one thing. Plus we need to clean the place. And there’s the shopping. You don’t expect me to do it all, do you?”
Hank shook his head. “No dear. I’ll be right down.”
“Okay. I’ll put your coffee in the suspender so it stays hot.”
Hank disappeared back into the ship. Veronica gave it a distrustful look and went back into the house.
Fifteen minutes later she felt like screaming. Hank still hadn’t come back inside!
Veronica went back outside onto the landing pad. The rocketship stood just as the same except the sunlight had crept a bit further down the gleaming red sides. It hurt to look at, it was so bright. She shaded her eyes.
It was a beautiful thing. Still, she wished that they still had the flower beds and maybe a patch of lawn instead of just a landing pad. But that’s the way it was these days. The Westerfield’s dingy old green rocketship stood next door on a cracked landing pad. The house behind theirs had a smaller rocketship all thin lines and the whole thing shiny silver. It looked like a needle balanced on one end. A couple more houses over a brilliant blue saucer perched on three narrow legs. The whole thing stood taller than any of the rocketships around but was really just trying to compensate for being so small. Beyond all of those she could see other bright glints. All of the rockets rising up from the backyards throughout the neighborhood. Not only the neighborhood or the city but the whole country really. Even other countries were getting in on the act now. A rocketship for every household.
Veronica shook her head. That wasn’t the worst of it. A lot of people now asked why ― when they had a rocketship ― they needed to have a house at all? Why not just live in the rocketship? Of course a lot of people still couldn’t afford that but just last week Millie told her about her sister whose husband retired after a career in pharmaceuticals. They bought a very nice rocketship and sold their house and anything that didn’t fit in the rocketship. Last Millie had heard her sister was off around one of those moons out there. Io or something like that. Emailed her photos and everything.
Well, if Hank thought he could convince her to leave their house he had another thing coming. She strode over to the bottom of the ramp and banged her heel down on the metal. It hardly made any noise at all. She tried again. Still nothing.
Nothing. He must not hear her. She’d have to go in after him. Veronica shook her head and started walking up the ramp. Boy, it was steep. Her lungs burned and she about froze when she made the mistake of looking over the side. Didn’t the designers ever consider the possibility of hand-rails? Puffing and about scared out of her wits she finally reached the top of the ramp and lunged to grab the handle just inside the open doorway. She pulled herself up into the rocketship and looked back out.
Wow. She was up higher than the house! She could see the red flyer Frisbee on the roof. Rodney threw that up there last year and Hank still hadn’t gotten it down. Out past the house she could see the houses spread out all around and from many of the backyards rocketships gleamed in the sunshine. Reds, yellows, blues, greens, silver, all sorts of colors, some painted with fantastic images. She hadn’t realized there were quite so many now.
Down below the back door opened and Rodney came out with Tif in tow.
“Mom! Can we come up?” Rodney called.
“No! Stay down there!”
“Aw, Mom, please?”
Veronica shook her head. “There’s no railing! It isn’t safe. What if your sister fell off?”
“I wouldn’t,” Tif objected.
“Just stay down there while I get your father.”
“Don’t.” Veronica held her hand out. “Just don’t. I mean it. Stay there.”
Inside the door was a round room about the size of a one-car garage all white and shiny OLED panels displaying all sorts of classy-looking readouts. The panels on the walls almost looked like cotton but when she poked one it felt rigid and unyielding to her finger. On the far side of the room a closed door, with a small hexagonal window at head-height. Veronica walked across the room to the other door and looked for a handle. None apparent but there was one of those screens right at door-knob height on the wall beside the door. Actually two, one on each side. She reached out and touched the screen. It lit up with floating dialogs and several options. The one at the top read, “Open inner airlock door.”
She touched it.
The inner door slid away into the wall revealing a larger chamber inside the rocketship. That chamber looked just as slick and polished as the airlock but with lockers along the wall. Six per side. Each locker had a transparent door and a colored trim. Long benches sat in front of the lockers. The red locker door hung open and the red helmet she’d seen Hank holding was sitting on one of the benches. She also noticed that the room narrowed towards the far end where there was another door. The air smelled like a new car.
“Hank?” Veronica put her hands on her hips. “Hank? Where are you? I thought you were coming inside?”
If he could hear her he wasn’t answering. Veronica picked up the helmet ― actually very nice and substantial looking ― and put it away in the red-trimmed locker. She closed the door. Red was nice but the locker on the other side had a lovely deep purple trim. She liked that one. Not that she was going to tell Hank that right now. She crossed the room to the next door and touched the panel. Hit the command to open the door.
After the door got out of her way she walked on into the next chamber. This looked like some sort of social area. A holographic pedestal display sat at the center of the room. Very lovely leather recliners in the same colors as the suit were arranged in pairs around the display. Some sort of home theater system? Nice. Expensive and she couldn’t help but wonder again just how many sales Hank’s novel must have gotten to make this kind of money.
“Hank? Hank? Where are you?”
Nothing. No answer.
Beside the door she had entered there were six other doors out of this room. They couldn’t all lead to locker rooms. And there had to be some sort of elevator or something to move between one level and the next. She went to the next door on her right. No signs on the door. She couldn’t see anything through the window. No lights inside. She touched the panel and noticed a tag along the top. Ground Vehicles. Okay, that wasn’t what she was looking for but maybe Hank was inside checking out some sort of Moon buggy. With the lights off. It didn’t seem likely but she tapped to open the door. It slid aside and all along the ceiling lights turned on with a bright daylight-like glow. This chamber actually curved around and looked like it must be twice as large as the locker room. Sleek powerful looking vehicles sat parked in rows close together like in a parking lot. Not only big-wheeled buggies but smaller quads and two-wheeled motorcycles as well. But no Hank.
Veronica stepped back and closed the door. The lights went off. Well, this was just ridiculous. Where had Hank gotten off too? And the kids, what were they doing? Veronica hurried back over to the locker room, double-tapping the panel to go through the doors. She got out into the open doorway in the airlock and looked down. Rodney sat on the ramp while Tif bounced a ball on the landing pad.
Okay, they were fine. She just needed to find Hank. Something had to be wrong. He should have been out by now.
Veronica went back into the rocketship to the main chamber. One of these other doors must lead to an elevator. She went to the first door on the left and touched the pad. Atmospheric Vehicles. She opened the door and glanced in. A couple small shuttle craft as well as jetpacks hanging on the wall. No sign of Hank. Another big room that curved around to take up a couple chambers. Veronica stepped out and closed the door. If those two vehicle rooms curved around they wouldn’t quite reach each other. That meant the door straight across the room from the locker room must be the way to get to the other levels. She hurried over.
Sure enough. Through the door was an elevator lobby with an elevator at the far end. And two bathrooms. “Hank?”
No answer. He must not be in the can. The elevator panel lit up with up or down arrows. Which way? She noticed a handle icon on the display and pulled that open. It showed a schematic of the rocketship with the different floors labeled. The floors below this one were marked Storage and Rocketship Systems. This floor was the Excursions deck. Above that Living Quarters and then Command Bridge. She tapped the Command Bridge. He had to be there, messing around with things. But he better have a good reason for not coming inside!
The elevator opened and Veronica walked inside. Nice big elevator. No crowding. The doors slid silently shut and then it moved. She wanted to see the living quarters, the whole rocketship did seem very nice but she refused to let it distract her. Hank hadn’t even asked her if she wanted to get a rocketship or pave over the entire backyard!
A soft ding announced the elevator had reached the command bridge. The doors slid open, revealing a round chamber with sleek workstations, executive padded black leather chairs complete with safety belts. All facing a wide viewscreen that curved around half of the opposite wall.
And Hank, strapped into the center seat with his arms crossed across his chest and two large four-armed, blue-skinned aliens pulling on his legs. They wore silver sleeveless outfits and had big bare feet. The one on the right noticed her first and his head came up. A half-dozen eye-stalks swiveled around to focus on her while the other half-dozen remained focused on Hank. The alien’s small mouth warbled out a series of bird-call like notes and the other looked up at her.
Veronica snapped her fingers. “You let go of my husband right now!”
When both aliens didn’t immediately release him she left the elevator and marched across the room making a shooing motion with her hands. “Let him go! Right now!”
The aliens spared a couple eye-stalks to look at each other and then let go of Hank’s legs. Hank twisted around in his seat. “Veronica! Get out! Quick! Call the police! They’re trying to steal the rocketship!”
Veronica planted her hands on her hips. At least Hank had a good reason for not coming in. She studied the aliens. “Do you understand me?”
Both aliens nodded. The one on the right made another series of bird-like noises and then a pendant hanging from its neck spoke up. “This is our rocketship. It was stolen! We are the owners.”
Veronica bit her lip. Took a breath. “Hank? Is that true?”
He shook his head. “I didn’t steal it. I mean, the price did seem a bit low but ―”
“If this is your ship how come the panels and suits all seem designed for people like us? This doesn’t look like an alien ship.”
More bird noises. The pendant spoke up again. “The ship has been reconfigured for your kind, but it is our ship.”
“It’s not! I bought it,” Hank said. “For all we know you sold the ship and are just trying to steal it back!”
“That did not happen,” the alien’s pendant translated. The alien reached into a pocket in the silvery suit it wore and pulled out a small tablet. It tapped on the surface of the pad and then held the pad out towards Veronica. “See? This is the police report we filed.”
Veronica accepted the pad. Sure enough, it looked like an official city police report on the theft of a rocketship. She tapped the description and it displayed a gallery of images of this rocketship. “Hank, this looks like their ship.”
Hank slumped in the chair. Then he reached down and unsnapped the restraints. “It’s not fair! I got ripped off. Now what are we going to do?”
“I guess you’ll have to go to the police. Report what happened. I’m sure these gentle beings won’t press charges if you cooperate.”
“That is correct,” the alien’s pendant translated.
“Good. Now, why don’t we all go in the house and give them a call so we can get this all straightened out? Okay?”
Veronica stood with Hank, her arm around his waist, with the kids on either side and watched as the rocketship rose silently up into the sky and disappeared from view. It was a beautiful sight. She sighed and looked at their landing pad backyard.
“At least you used the credit card, it sounds like the bank is going to reverse the charges.”
“I know.” Hank shook his head. “But we were going to go visit the gardens on Venus and the snow plains of Mars. I wanted us to see the behemoths of Europa. There’s so much I wanted us to see!”
Veronica gave him a squeeze. “Well, we still have the landing pad and your books are selling well. Maybe we can afford one of those saucer rocketships? It’s not the sort of thing we can live in but it’d be great for vacations.”
Rodney reached up and grabbed Hank’s hand. “Really? Dad, can we get a saucer? I think they’re cool!”
Hank laughed and ran his hand through Rodney’s hair. “I think we just might. What color should it be?”
“Red!” Tif shouted. “I want a red rocketship!”
This story is the 30th weekly short story release, written in July 2010. I originally released this in March 2011 as an e-book. I’ve left it up at Amazon since it was under my own name, though I plan to replace that edition. Someday. I’d also like to revisit this world again in new stories.
Eventually I’ll do standard e-book releases when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the stories. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new e-book versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Check back next week for another story. Next up is a paranormal story, The Witch on Floor Six, originally written under a pen name.