Field Trip

by Jody Wallace
Ebook Release: May 2011
Genre: Comic SF with hints of Romance
Length: Novelette (12K)
Rated: PG-13
From: Meankitty Publishing
Buy Links: Amazon, B&N, iTunes/Apple, Kobo
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Can a slightly cynical school teacher survive a field trip, an interdimensional incident and a handsome tour guide all at the same time?
A futuristic comedy of (little) terrors.

Third grade teacher Hazel James has been escorting her students to the Space Station Freedom Museum and Amusement park on their annual field trip for years. Somewhat dull years, all things considered, but well within the budget of the Integrated Public School System of Earth so she doesn’t have to pay for the extras. This year, however, starts out with an ominous fizzle almost as soon as she and her batch of darling troublemakers enter the front door. The museum’s shabby equipment malfunctions during the shuttle simulation. The children are having some issues with the whole paying attention business. And their usual tour guide has been replaced by a good-looking Zhie male–who’s completely incompetent at his job.

Or is he? Miss James knows something is up at Space Station Freedom–whether due to budget cuts, poor management or one too many unruly student groups–but she has no idea what an unusual turn their annual field trip is about to take.

Tropes: This not-quite-a-romance science fiction story includes elements of disguise and a brush with law enforcement.

***** An excerpt from FIELD TRIP *****

Chapter One

Geiger, the little piss-ant, sat behind me during the shuttle simulation and relentlessly kicked the back of my seat. He’d picked that seat because it was beside Clarice, not because it was behind me, his teacher, but that didn’t stop him from kicking.

“This is how astronauts used to travel between planets,” droned the Zhie tour guide. He was obviously not used to holding the attention of twenty Human and Zhie third graders from the Integrated Public School System of Earth on their annual field trip. We were only ten minutes into our day-long visit to The Space Station Freedom Museum and Amusement Park, and already the kids were restless.

“The early Humans didn’t know about dimensional cross points.” The guide, who’d introduced himself as Sergeant Chamblin, flicked his eyes from left to right, as if he were reading cues. His posture was as rigid as a post. “They used huge spacecrafts powered by dangerous fossil and nuclear fuels to propel themselves beyond Earth’s orbit. The ships were nothing like the sleek hep…hep…oh, hoppers. Hoppers of contemporary times.”

So maybe he was reading cues. Great. A newb. I resisted the urge to check the back of the room for any writing on the wall…of the cue or the ominous variety.

“Trips between planets took months instead of seconds,” our newb explained, “and travelers were hindered by cramped living conditions, faulty gravity emitters, radiation, and, horror of, uh, horrors, space rations.”

The folks in charge of writing the speech presumably thought they’d get a response out of the kids with that worn-out joke. And they did. A wad of gum flew across the room and stuck to the guide’s podium, an incongruous green blip on the black and white logo of Galaxy Prime.

Behind me, Geiger snickered.

Chamblin’s lips tightened, and one of his eyebrows arched. If he’d ever done an IPSSE tour before—I was starting to have my doubts—he should hardly be surprised that kids horsed around.

“As I was saying,” Chamblin managed, before an another piece of gum joined the first. The Galaxy Prime logo now appeared to have eyeballs.

With a sigh, I reached for the belt on my unpadded seat. If the first Human astronauts had had to squeeze themselves into chairs like this, no wonder they didn’t progress any further than their own solar system. Nobody wanted to be this uncomfortable for that long.

The buckle on the worn strap jammed. I struggled to disengage it as Chamblin asked, “If you’re quite finished hurling indigestible food objects at me, we’ll continue.”

When nobody threw anything else, he said, “Is everyone buckled up?”

No one answered. I could feel the kids’ suppressed laughter like the steam before a teapot whistles and pulled harder on the buckle.

“Are your backpacks stowed? It’s time for take-off.”

Again, no one answered. Chamblin’s angular face radiated annoyance. Literally. The reddish coloration started at his irises and bled across his nose, cheeks and forehead until anyone looking at him could tell this particular Zhie was ticked off.

The stupid buckle on my stupid belt was obviously broken, trapping me in place. I turned my head so the kids could see my profile. Too bad I didn’t change color like a Zhie.

“Class,” I said in my stern voice. “Answer Mr. Chamblin.”

“Yes, Mr. Chamblin,” all twenty chirped as one, punctuated by Geiger kicking my seat again.

“Sergeant Chamblin,” he corrected.

“Right, right.” I paused in my struggle with the buckle to salute him. “Sergeant.”

What a downgrade. Last year we’d had a General. With a sense of humor.

Chamblin, whose dignity and coloration seemed to have been appeased by my salute, made a big show of strapping himself into a seat modeled after a pilot’s chair. Slowly, he pushed the red lever on the arm that would start the ride. I freed myself just as the zero-g emitter coughed to life. My ponytail floated straight out from my head, and I shoved a foot under the edge of the seat to keep myself from drifting to the ceiling. All over the shabby cabin, items wafted into the air. The children laughed, grabbing for slurps, backpacks and buzz comms, and in one case, a shoe.

Chamblin fumbled with his seatbelt too. “Miss James, for your own safety, I must insist you return to your seat.”

“Give me a sec, Sergeant.” I batted a crumpled slurp out of my face, aware I didn’t present a very authoritative figure in mid-air. “Who threw the gum?”

The kids sneaked glances at each other, but no one aside from Clarice looked at me. It was too early in the day for them to rat each other out.

“Really, Miss James, it’s all right.” Chamblin’s eight-fingered hand chopped the air as he motioned me down. “Just relax and enjoy the unique and yet wholly secure experience of Space Station Freedom.”

I could tell I was making the guy uneasy, so I cast a hard glance at my known troublemakers and ended with Geiger. “Do not kick my seat again, mister. I don’t care if your toes are growing out and it feels good.”

With an expert twist—I didn’t spend two years in the Planetary Peace Corps for nothing—I did as Chamblin asked and buckled in. Disciplining the students was always up to me, despite my two TAs. Lem and Lon were mostly useless, alternately simpering at any adult female or gazing at me in bemusement when the children acted like, well, children instead of the sims in their training holos.

You’d think male Zhie would be accustomed to kids and their ways, but hey, it was a new generation, IPSSE education notwithstanding. Next thing you knew, female Zhie would start interning with the Centauri Ballet or something. Now that would be a show worth New Broadway prices.

Chamblin waited for me to settle before he continued. “As I was saying, the early Humans didn’t know about dimensional cross points, which is why the Zhie stumbled across the Humans instead of vice versa. The Space Station Freedom was where the Zhie initiated first contact. This is one of the actual transport shuttles used by our ancestors. Retrofitted for safety, of course.”

The first contact story was old news for all citizens of Galaxy Prime above the age of three. If we didn’t get through this portion of the tour soon, Chamblin was going to have a starship full of mutinous Phantasms on his hands, bored senseless into rampant destruction.

“And now,” he said, with a dramatic gesture at odds with his monotone delivery, “brace yourselves for the ride of a lifetime.”

He thumbed the button on the end of the pilot chair’s red lever.

For a moment, nothing happened. Children tittered. Lem might have too, or maybe Lon. Geiger tapped my seat with his toe, no doubt thinking I wouldn’t notice. Chamblin’s face pinked up again, which looked inflamed against the khaki of his uniform cap and black hair, but then the wide holoscreen behind him crackled to life, displaying Earth as it appeared from orbit.

The screen, to my dismay, remained flat.

Really? No projective capabilities? They’d had projective capabilities last year. Not a wise redesign choice. A flat screen would definitely not soothe my small, savage beasts, nor any others. I’d say at least eighty percent had been in orbit for real at some point. That screen had to be nearly as antique as the shuttle.

“Pure caca,” I heard Geiger whisper.

“The teacher said be quiet,” Clarice hissed. Perhaps he was grating on her nerves too. Unicom knew the singlet would test the patience of a Human saint, much less a nine year old Human girl.

The pod shuddered and jolted. The holoscreen fuzzed white, emitted a piercing whine and clicked itself off.

Chamblin frowned. The kids groaned. Their complaints began as whispers and rose like an ocean wave.

At least until the screen burst outward in a shower of red, fiery shrapnel.

© 2011 Jody Wallace