You can pretty much blame my evil twin Laura for this one…
“What was he thinking?” Father asked as Mother kept fiddling with the gravity net.
“He’s my brother,” Mother answered, as if that were all the more explanation a body needed. Given that Father rolled his eyes and nodded, it seemed this actually was sufficient explanation for the monstrous construct of yarn, popsicle sticks, and PseudoLife PuttyTM balanced precariously atop the family cruiser.
The control panel sparked again and Mother swallowed down another string of curses as her adjustments strained the net’s capacity.
“I just can’t fit the head in,” she groaned.
“I think that’s the tail,” little Marissa offered.
“But, look at that big bulbous bit at the end,” Father countered.
“How can that be a head with no eyes, silly?” Marissa said.
“Then what’s that opening for?” Mother piped in, her antennae quivering in challenge. Marissa blushed plaid.
“That’s for … making stinkies,” she whispered.
Father and Mother both looked back at this year’s Antimas gift from Uncle Mort, turning their heads sideways to give the moaning thing a different look. They both nodded, clicking their secondary tongues.
“You might have something there,” Mother said.
“And the moaning does just seem to echo out from all over, so that might not be a mouth, after all,” Father added.
“I think it might be sitting on its face,” Marissa offered.
“Well, I’m not wrestling with it again even if it is,” Mother said. Her primary tongue stuck out the side of her mouth as she worked the gravity net settings one last time. The head-or-tail shifted slightly closer to the cruiser’s roof with a nondescript grunt and Mother gave a gleeful cheer of success.
Everyone piled in. Marissa sandwiched between Aunt Geranium’s palladium pies and the stack of granite texts from Grandpa Sy. Mother popped them up over Geranium’s lunar camper while Father pulled up the navigation display, then Mother turned the velocity dial to high.
“All right, now there’s no need to fly recklessly, dear,” Father said, glancing back. “Marissa: inertial field on, young lady. Do not roll those eyes at me.”
“It was only three,” Marissa pouted.
“I’d say I’ll turn this cruiser around, but there is no way short of a pulsar explosion I’m spending one more minute in that house.”
“You aren’t helping,” Father muttered, though Mother caught the smile he was trying to hide.
Mother’s white dwarf fingers gained them a good lightyear back from the delay loading Uncle Mort’s present. Marissa fell asleep in the back, until an especially sudden jerk sent one of the granite texts into her lap.
She looked out the viewports and frowned.
“Where are we?”
“Well, we hit a radiation storm,” Mother said, “and somebody decided he had a shortcut.”
“I didn’t hear you objecting, dear,” Father countered. “And there isn’t much traffic here, is there?”
“Because this is the most backwater system I have ever seen,” Mother answered. “I mean, look out there! Unfinished rings on the outer orbits, no radiation management on the solar track, their only regular comet still runs on an outdated three-quarters century model, and … I mean, look at this one,” Mother pointed to the third planet from the central star, leaning to get a better view. “They’re evolving mammals down there, for goodness’ sake. Who does that any more?”
“Mother, look out!” Father called out suddenly.
This time Mother didn’t manage to contain the string of curses as she swerved to avoid the moon she hadn’t seen. Marissa shrieked and buried her face in her tail.
“It’s all right, honey,” Father called back, though he had a death grip on the stabilizer controls.
Mother struggled to course correct, but after a tense few moments, the cruiser was back on track.
“Okay. Okay, we’re all fine,” Mother called with a sigh.
“My present!” Marissa cried out in dismay.
Sure enough, when Father called up the rear display, Uncle Mort’s present was toppling down to the green planet. The gravity net had apparently faltered as they bounced through the rough and unpleasant-smelling thermosphere.
“We have to go back!” Marissa said with a quiver in her voice.
Mother and Father glanced to each other, then back to where Uncle Mort’s creation was splashing down on one of the tiny island land masses, and tried not to show their relief.
“Sweetie, I’m afraid it’s gone,” Father said, patting Marissa’s knee.
“She! She was a girl!” Marissa shot back.
“Of course she was,” Mother offered supportively. “But it really is for the best.”
“Is not,” Marissa pouted.
“Now, let’s think, dear. You know that if you don’t water PseudoLife PuttyTM regularly, it stops moving and shrivels up,” Mother noted.
“And you have that hydrogen sensitivity, dear,” Father added. “but look–” here he pointed to the tracking display. “It’s already waddled its way into a natural body of water. Lots of room and everything it needs to keep, er, moaning and moving for centuries to come.”
“You think?” Marissa said with a sniff.
Marissa looked to the viewfinder again, then wiped a few eyes dry.
“Okay.” She got up on her knees and turned backwards, waving as she called. “Good-bye, Nessie! Take care of yourself!”
“Young lady. Inertial field.”
Marissa took her seat again as Mother veered back onto Primary Interstellar 3875. Mother and Father gave each other silent glances and smiles knowing they’d not have to cart Uncle Mort’s alien craft all the way home.