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Planet of the Rovers

by Scott Oliverson

CHAPTER I

     The flight pod bucked as it skimmed the edge of Jupiter's
gravity well. The pilot leaned forward and slapped a control lever with
the lazy confidence of someone who had followed the routine a hundred
times. The turbulence subsided. The pilot tugged at the monitoring
vest strapped to her chest. Comfortable with navigational procedures,
she was just as uncomfortable with the uniform. Suddenly an alarm on
the control panel bleeped, and a round sphere blossomed at the center of
the flight pod's viewscreen. The pilot had been too busy learning
command procedures to remember the name of the object. She recalled a
phrase and name uttered by people back on the command ship, MOON OF
JUPITER - EUROPA. On cue, the pilot entered a new series of commands
designed to stop the alarm system. But instead of stopping, the alarm
grew louder and a blinking light flashed on the panel. The pilot
grunted and entered the command sequence again. The alarms grew more
urgent! The pilot leaned forward anxiously. As she did, her face fell
into the light of the alarm beacon and was reflected in the viewscreen.
 Her face was framed by red-orange fur her blue eyes stared intently
down at the control panel and her nose flared nervously. She was a
beautiful collie named Daisy (The female canine from the Rover
Dangerfield animated movie) Daisy showed her teeth in a grin and
carefully punched the keys in the oder she memorized so carefully, but
still the pod refused to respond. With another grunt, the pilot slapped
the controls in anger. The pod bucked and swerved as though it had been
grabbed by a giant hand. It was heading straight for Europa now, and
the moon was swelling in the viewscreen. The pilot screamed and began
to bang the controls helplessly. She threw one hand over her eyes to
block out the view of the moon rushing toward her while the other hand
pounded the panel meaninglessly.

     At the last second before the pod hurtled down into the grip of
Europa's atmosphere, another hand reached over the collie's shoulder and
touched a lone button on the panel. All at once the alarms ceased, the
viewscreen froze and the cabin lights went up. Lieutenant Space Ace,
hero and defender of truth-justice and planet Earth slid up alongside
the collie pilot. On the screen, a text message popped up saying...

               COMPUTER VOICE
SIMULATION PAUSED. DO YOU WISH TO CONTINUE PROGRAM OR END? Y/N

     Ace ended the program and smiled at the canine trying not to
laugh at the same time.

               SPACE ACE
Sorry Daisy, you lose.

     The collie looked back at him and barked indignantly giving her
master a look like "What do you mean lose?"

               SPACE ACE
Suprised? I changed your flight sequence without you knowing it. <Then
he erupted into laughter>

     Daisy frowned or glared back, then tapped the keys herself.
Sure enough the message read back...

               COMPUTER VOICE
CHANGED FLIGHT SEQUENCE.

     She understood that this meant a different order of buttons, a
combination she had not been taught. It was not fair!

               SPACE ACE
I know you can hit a fastball down the plate...but what about a curve?

     In response, Daisy curled her lip like a toddler about to throw
a temper tantrum and smashed her paw against the console again and again
as she growled in frustration & anger at being cheated.

               SPACE ACE <Scolds her>
Daisy! That's enough. <BAM!> Stop it you bad dog! <BAM!> Stop it right
now or you will be punished, no doggie treat.

     That got her attention. The collie stopped and whinned sadly
lowering her head in guilt awaiting her punishment from her master. But
Ace smiled and ruffled the collie's head, laughing.

               SPACE ACE
How well do I know you pet? C'mon, let's blow this joint, get out of
this dump.

     Relieved that Ace would not punish her Daisy barked happily,
tail wagging and jumped into his arms licking his face over and over and
nuzzling against his cheek whimpering with joy. Laughing Ace stroked
her face and then ordered her to get down which she did. Together they
left the flight deck simulator of the Space Station Star Command. Star
Command was the new generation of space stations to orbit the Earth
since the glory days of SkyLab of the 70s or the Soviet space station
Mir of the 80s & 90s and the International Space Station Freedom of
the New Millenium...

     As Ace and Daisy exited the simulator and walked down one of the
gleaming white halls floating in zero gravity since the station did not
include the gravitational forces on Earth the human ran his hand along
the wall...

               SPACE ACE <To himself>
What a waste. Star Command is built to teach people how to live and
work in outer space while simultanously being used to launch starships
to other worlds beyond our solar system in the hopes of seeking out
first contact with intelligent alien life.  Boring! Sometimes it's
hard to find something to do up here while wondering when you will be
released to return home again to enjoy fun times with your family &
friends again.

     Star Command was a model of quiet efficiency and order. That
was, until you reached the CANINE LIVING QUARTERS. Ace and Daisy
reached the door and barely glanced at the warning sign announcing
"CAUTION: LIVE ANIMALS. SECURITY ACCESS ONLY" Ace keyed the entry using
his password and the door slid back. Instantly he was assaulted by a
riot of barking and howling. Daisy yelped in terror and cowered against
her master's legs but then relaxed as the sounds registered mostly
joyful and anxious. The dogs on the station were treated with care and
kindness by their masters & mistresses. Ace passed by a siberian husky
in a large cage. The canine's eyes studied a mock-up of the same
control panel Daisy had worked in the flight simulator. The husky was
slowly inputting sequences in response to signals on the screen.
Everytime he punched in the right code, he'd be rewarded with a doggie
treat. In another section of the Animal Quarters, Team Rocket James &
Jessie were sampling a melody on a small keyboard. Beside the two
former Pokemon Terrorists, a doberman stared quizzically at the
keyboard, listening to the music. When James stopped playing, the
doberman reached out and tapped the keys, reproducing the melody slowly
and perfectly. Suddenly Daisy rushed forward and leaped into the
waiting arms of a young redhaired woman in a blue jumpsuit with white
trim and white lab coat adorned by a pair of glasses hanging from a
neck-strap and a badge that read SGT. KIMBERLY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER.
Kimmy nuzzled Daisy's face as she licked her playfully.

               KIMBERLY
Was my boyfriend mean to you again? <Glanced at Ace disaprovingly> We
all know it's just rocket envy.

     Ace grinned back, keeping a straight face. Kimberly was a
couple years older than he was, his former partner when they battled the
evil Commander Borf eons ago to protect Earth from the evil pirate and
his dreaded Infanto Ray. And probably smarter than he was, and
outranked him. All of which put her at the center of his attention. He
pointed to the collie she was hugging closely in her arms.

               SPACE ACE
You ever consider getting a new boyfriend?
               KIMBERLY
You mean do I enjoy being miserable? I'll stick with my dogs.

     Daisy suddenly tugged at the doctor's coat, wanting something.
When she didn't respond, she jumped out of her arms and over to a nearby
counter and began to paw & scratch at the locked cabinet, barking
impatiently. Ace popped the cabinet open and scooped a Milk-Bone biscut
out of a box. But instead of passing it to the collie who waited
patiently, tounge lolling out, tail thumping the floor excitedly he held
the treat behind his back.

               SPACE ACE
Which hand holds the Milk-Bone?

     Daisy shot him a look that, in a human, would have amounted to
an insult. She seem to say "Hey-hey-hey! I'm not playing this stupid
game again, not this time. Just give me the biscut before I bite you"
Then she jabbed with her nose at Ace's left hand, he brought it up to
show it was empty. So the collie pointed to the right hand and Ace
brought that one up too, it was empty also! Daisy began to growl
inside, eyes narrowed in a frown, ears flat.

               SPACE ACE
Another curveball down the center of homeplate. <Sighs> 3 strikes and
you're out my dear.

     Reaching behind his back he pulled the Milk-Bone from his pocket
and tossed it to the collie who jumped up and snatched it in midair like
catching a frisbee and bounded a few feet away as though Ace might dare
snatch it back but he did not. Kim's eyes turned to Ace with sudden
seriousness.

               KIMBERLY
You weren't authorized to change her flight training.
               SPACE ACE <Shrugs>
I'm teaching her.
               KIMBERLY <Refuses to be dismissed>
You're teasing her. It's not the same thing.

     Ace did not have a Pd.D. in molecular biology, nor was he an
expert on canine behavior. But he was a Lieutenant in the United
Nations - NATO space exploration division. He'd flown a dozen midrange
missions before the age of 30, and he was TOP MAN on the Star Command's
flight-list. He was not going to back down from a doctor, a former
girlfriend partner no matter how good-looking she was. He met her gaze
with a self-assured smile.

               SPACE ACE
That collie, my pet is gene-spliced, chromosome enhanced...She's a state
of the art canine. She can take it.
               KIMBERLY
Really? <Eyebrows arch like Spock> Well Mr. Know-It-All...when you
frustrate them, they lose focus, they get confused. Even violent.

     Ace jabbed his finger toward the bulkhead of the ship as if to
emphasize his point.

               SPACE ACE
Out there it's frustrating. Out there you can get confused, and if that
happens, you don't have a chance to get violent because you die. I like
Daisy, Kimmy, and I want her to come back alive from every mission she
goes on. That's why I changed her training program.
               KIMBERLY
I would simply appreciate if you would...

     A new shriek or loud barking erupted from a nearby cage, and a
pair of paws grabbed hold of the bars, rattling them with suprising
strengh. Daisy loped over to the cage and stuck her nose in between the
bars to nuzzle against the face of another female collie who rubbed her
back whimpering quietly. Kimmy could not suppres a smile.

               KIMBERLY
Congratulations, Daisy, you're going to be a grandmother or aunt.
               SPACE ACE
Really? I thought I saw a smirk on her face.
               KIMBERLY <Smirks back>
Actually, that female was the aggressive one.
               SPACE ACE
Collies have all the luck, not to mention dobermans, huskies, german
shepherds, dachshunds, whippets, greyhounds, dalmatians, retrievers,
blah-blah-blah...

     But when he glanced at Kimberly he realized she was looking at
him meaningfully and it dawned on him why he never asked her out on a
first date in a long time.

               JESSIE ROCKET
Lieutenant Ace. Postcard!
               SPACE ACE
Huh, what? <Jabs finger at himself> Me.
               JESSIE ROCKET
Of course, who else would keep receiving e-mail messages or video-mail
from Earth?
               JAMES ROCKET
You must be the lucky one brother.
               SPACE ACE
Wowsers, <Quotes Inspector Gadget> I guess I am.

     He held a thin LCD mini computer monitor about the size of his
palm. He looked back at the doctor, hoping to get a little more of that
look she had been giving him, but the moment had passed, and she turned
away muttering to herself. Ace cursed under his breath.

               SPACE ACE
Whoohooa! Mental note to myself, kick myself in the a**. Great Scott!

               END OF PART I

               Proceed to Chapter II