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Dangers of Darlings

Jez Patterson is a teacher and writer currently alternating between the UK and Madrid. Links to his recent and collected fiction can be found at: jezpatterson.wordpress.com.

"The three Rs that are gained by your children attending school stand for Resting, Relief, and Rehabilitation," Percina's mother had told her. "And they refer to the parents, not their offspring."
Since she'd become pregnant, Captain Percina Saunders had noticed a distinct lack of reaction in her husband's demeanor. She was beginning to worry that the enhanced mental and physical attributes she'd paid to have inflicted on Martin might be responsible for his overly calm comportment, and this was why she'd accepted the job driving the space-bus for the school trip to the Ploppakew Planetarium.
If a ship full of screaming, over-excited children didn't shake Martin from his complacency, nothing would.
"They're at the age where most of them dream of being captains of the Fleet," Martin said as they sat on the bridge, the pupils' beleaguered teacher Mister Taylor down below, taking a headcount and probably wishing he was doing so with an axe rather than a biro.
"Unfortunately..." Percina said.
Percina had once been a captain of the Fleet, before her decision to marry her first mate had led to her dismissal. Most of the officers in the Fleet had been idiots, and all of the idiots had been officers. It was said that the only reason they were taught to stand tightly to attention was because it made their task of distinguishing arses from elbows less of an issue.
The ship abruptly lurched to a halt, throwing Martin out of his seat.
"What the--?"
"One of the little monsters pulled the emergency brake," Mister Taylor told them.
More than one, Percina thought as, without a chair, they'd have needed to clamber on another's shoulders to get that high. This wasn't the first incident.
They'd had to endure sticky fingers on every button, lever, and dial in the ship. Things stuffed into every vent. And anything that was breakable broken, things that weren't merely dented, scratched, and stained into unusability.
"If you'd like to note it down, the school will compensate you for that too," Mister Taylor said forlornly, holding out an incident report that was now just a few bytes short of a total mauling for his school's reputation.
"Martin?" Percina said. Martin nodded, and began tapping out the details. "I'll be on the bridge."
"Hello, Miss Captain," the little boy Percina found waiting for her on the bridge said. He'd made himself a captain's hat out of a folded-up worksheet and was using two strips of banana peel as epaulets.
"Captains don't have sex," she told him, and was glad of his age-related innocence when she played back the line in her head.
"Sorry, Captain," he said. "Midshipman Dooley reporting for juicy!"
"Duty," she told him and sat down with a sigh. "So, Dooley, what can you tell me of these random acts of on-board vandalism?"
"Someone is trying to sabotage the trip," he said.
"Any name?"
Dooley looked suddenly distressed--resembling a man less midship than caught mid-shit--and any talk of mutiny was abruptly replaced by a tiny mute.
"There are plenty of candidates," Martin said. "According to Mister Taylor, he's informed the school on numerous occasions that his class is unteachable but they refuse to listen. The poor guy's locked into a contract that means he can't leave or resign.
"Imagine that: being stuck with a noisy, demanding child every single day of your life and not being able to just walk away and let it be someone else's problem, but--"
Percina watched as Martin's perfect, enhanced features screwed up and sheer, raw panic finally drenched his world.
"Oh my god... I'm going to be a father."
Percina nodded. She also knew who she needed to clap in irons.
The trip to the planetarium went according to plan once Mister Taylor was removed from general circulation and rather more specific mischief making. Thoroughly discrediting his class via an officially-written report scribed by independent outsiders had been his only way to convince the school to disband his class and free him from his contract.
He'd now been obliged to sign on for an extra five years in order to pay for the damage he'd done to the space-bus.
"Don't worry, there's a silver lining to all this," Percina told Martin.
"That's what Jonah thought when he'd been swallowed by the whale."
Percina smiled, relieved to be sharing the load in one way, at least. Spending so much time in Space sometimes allowed you to otherwise ignore the gravity of a situation.
Besides, Pinocchio also managed to get swallowed by a whale and look how much fun he gave his father.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Author Comments

It's always nice to incorporate some personal expertise in Percina's stories. Piloting spacecraft isn't something I can lay claim to (yet) but as a primary school teacher supervising a school trip... yes. Percina's other adventures can be found at: dailysciencefiction.com/hither-and-yon/captain-percina-saunders.

- Jez Patterson
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