The giant white creature glided across the dark blue water, the most intimidating breaststroke the two men had ever witnessed, an equally giant, equally intimidating shadow following along the bottom of the tank. They did not trust the apparent smile across the beast’s face, nor did they have any reason not to. One enormous paw after the other slapped down against the surface of the pool, sending waves crashing against the surrounding walls, two inch thick glass the only thing preventing their heads from becoming volleyballs. The men shuddered in unison, moments away from hugging like spider monkeys. Ignoring the uneven clink and clank of rapidly approaching footsteps, their four eyes remained transfixed on the strange beast.
“Hurley, what are we going to do with a polar bear?”
Captain Steadman gained momentum as he neared the two befuddled officers, then stopped on a dime, picked it up and put it in his pocket. Eventually he was Pisa-towering over Hurley and Watt. His jaw was clenched, his eyes open wide, and if steam suddenly shot from his ears, no one would have questioned it.
Seconds felt like hours as Steadman counted backward from ten, allowing his color by number face to lighten from terror level red to Georgia peach. The daggers of his eyes remained at the throat of Officer Watt even as he addressed Watt’s partner.
“Officer Hurley, what is your current assignment?”
“Engine room, sir.” Hurley coughed nervously, jealous of the protection his cervical vertebrae provided the frog occupying his throat.
“I see. The engine room. Yet you are in the transporter room. And you are in the transporter room because…?”
Steadman’s question remained hanging in the air long after Hurley’s hurried exit from the transporter deck, leaving only the overwrought officer, the curious captain, and the playful polar bear.
“Would you care to explain what we are dealing with here, officer?”
Officer Watt looked down to his left boot, shiny black against the silver steel floor, then over to his right boot, a bit scuffed at the toe. Out of boots, he looked up to his boss.
“We, um, we…we made a mistake, sir.” Watt tried to will the words back into his mouth before they reached the Captain’s ears, but without the powers of telekinesis the effort was futile.
Before Captain Steadman could birth the rage that was conceived by the officer’s words and then gestated inside his rigid, angry body, it was aborted by a roar echoing throughout the transporter deck. The polar bear had climbed up from the cool blue sea and stretched out across the partial ice platform that had appeared with him. He turned his head toward the two men and seemed to ask a low, guttural question that neither of them could answer.
“So let me get this straight, Officer Watt. Do you mind if I call you Mike?”
In a situation like this, someone in the position of Captain Steadman might have lit a cigarette. However, he did not. It wasn’t so much that he had quit as that he had never been a smoker.
“Um, my name isn’t Mike, sir. It’s George.”
“Mike, would you say that we ask too much of you? Would you say that the orders I give you are unjust in any way?”
“No sir, it’s not that…” Officer George Watt tried to answer, but was cut off by the man ten years and five ranks his senior.
“We had enough Zirconian crystals for one transport. One. And we are weeks away from a new supply. Of course Officer, you already know this, don’t you?”
“And you were assigned the simple task of transporting the Venuvian Ambassador onto the ship. A task that, if I understand correctly, and without getting into the science and back story of it, is as simple as pressing three buttons in succession. A task that you have been properly trained on and have done numerous times over the past few years. Correct?”
Captain Steadman began walking the perimeter of the enormous glass enclosure, squinting one eye as he watched the polar bear swim toward the floating blue barrel that bobbed up and down in the water. He massaged both of his temples in unison. Officer Watt did not follow him but stood still, hands pocketed, his red uniform shirt darkening to maroon around the armpits.
“The Venuvian Ambassador was the one person who could have ensured peace in our war-ridden galaxy. The whole reason we are out here, floating above some hostile planet, is to save him. The whole reason I came out of retirement and left my wife at home…did I mention I recently married?”
“Well, I did. Met a nice lady, decided it was time to settle down, and she said yes. She makes me laugh. A real looker, too. And she loves me for me. Anyway, the whole reason I left her at home alone was to lead the most important mission of my life. And now I’m sitting here with a damn polar bear on my ship while Ambassador Klimek is, at this very moment, no doubt being devoured by the cannibal tribes of Stolar-7.”
Captain Steadman stood frustrated, his back against the glass wall. The polar bear looked on from behind, treading water and becoming Steadman’s giant white shadow. As the captain took a step forward and contemplated the fate of the galaxy, the polar bear pushed himself back to the floating barrel, hugging all four limbs around it. One of the two had a smile on their face.
Steadman walked to where his subordinate still stood staring at the ground and grabbed his collar. Watt was too slow to react, not that he would have even if he had had the opportunity, and so he found himself face to teeth-grinding, brow-furrowed face with his angry boss.
“First, we lose half our crew when we ‘accidentally’ land on SGJ-5, the werewolf planet during their full-moon, because somebody inverted the coordinates. Then your ham-handed approach went all thumbs and, instead of saving the one being that could bring peace to our galaxy, you somehow managed to transport a polar bear from God-knows-where onto our ship, draining our crystal supply and leaving us only enough energy to get home. You’ve gotten us into this mess, now how do you propose that we get out of it?”
Officer Watt thought for a long moment. He thought about the job he worked so hard to attain and now was on the verge of losing. He thought about his accidental role in the forthcoming destruction of the galaxy. But mainly, he thought about all of the late-20th/early-21st century American television he had been bingeing on since he joined the ship’s crew. About his recent discovery that the actress who played the mom in that old horror movie about the killer doll was the same actress who played the mom on that religious family drama that everyone loved. He couldn’t help but wonder if there was any relation. And then, recognizing that he had not thought about the Captain’s question at all, Officer Watt responded with what he honestly thought might be a good answer.
“Maybe the polar bear can help us save the galaxy? Like, maybe it can communicate with the alien life-forms that are threatening us and let them know we are friendly…sir.”
Captain Steadman wanted to slap his colleague.
“Polar bears aren’t exactly known for their communication skills, Watt. This isn’t a goddamned humpback whale.”
“Well, maybe we should just make the best of it, sir. We, um – we could keep him. You know, as a pet. If he’s a boy, we could name him George, and if he’s a girl, we could…”
Captain Steadman did slap his colleague.
“A polar bear on a space ship? Get a hold of yourself, man! That makes about as much sense as a polar bear on a tropical island. Just how the hell do you propose that we explain this?”
Officer Watt found his mind wandering back to all of the television he had been watching, these classic “re-runs” supplying the only knowledge that seemed to stick in his brain anymore. And then it hit him, the answer coming out of nowhere like a sudden cloudburst or a smoke monster.
“Who says we need to explain it?”
In 1987, after hearing Poison’s “Look What the Cat Dragged In” for the first time, Sean Leonard decided he wanted to play drums. After realizing all rock stars wore leather pants, he changed his mind and traded in those dreams of fortune and fame for 80’s sitcoms, horror movies (which he reviews at HorrorNews.net), and punk rock. Sean’s short stories can be found in Solarcide’s “Flash Me! The Sinthology,” Bizarro Pulp Press’s “Bizarro Bizarro: An Anthology,” Chupa Cabra House’s “Axes of Evil,” and online at Cease, Cows. www.seanofthedead.net