p<. Welcome to my short story entitled, “Poxner’s Flight”. This is my customary introduction, where I say, (1) Just in case you didn’t know, The answer is: Yes, all the characters on this planet are chickens, and (2) that’s ‘chickens’ as in bird-fowl-rooster-comb-clawed-feet chickens. Not coward. Well, maybe except for Poxner in particularly moments, where he only sounds incurably fearful. But he is never a weakling. In fact, he is probably the strongest, bravest coward I know of.
If you’ve read the novel “CHICKENS: A Space Adventure” then you probably know all this already. But it is not necessary in order to enjoy the following tale.
ONE FINE MORNING IN THE PLACE KNOWN AS THE ANCIENT CITY OF THE CHICKENS…
Poxner’s machine teetered precariously on the edge of the municipal tower. It wouldn’t have been so frightening if he hadn’t been sitting in it this time. The small crowd forming down below wasn’t helping, either. He should have told his best friend, Omeek, he was going to do this today. Meanwhile, the crowd was getting bigger.
“Look! I think he’s lost his mind!”
“Is he going to jump?”
“Hey, everyone! Poxner is finally going to kill himself!”
The chilly breeze punched at one of the wings from underneath, making Poxner almost lose his balance. He began to flap his own wings, causing the larger cloth-and-reed contraption to flap. Poxner took a breath, adjusted his stance and glanced fearfully down at the cobbled street. He intoned his own prayer to the gods.
“I really hope this doesn’t kill me!”
And then he leapt.
The crowd gasped.
Well, actually, most of them ran for cover.
Poxner pumped his arms furiously, angling his tail to move the rudder just a little to the left. His feet pedaled a second set of wings towards the back, and his head operated the front-rudder. The noise of the beating wings attached to all those squeaky pulleys and ropes was deafening.
Somewhere below he saw Omeek pointing at him, running and shouting. Good old Omeek, he thought, always there to lend an encouraging word, give his moral support…what a friend…
What Poxner didn’t realize (and was probably better off not knowing) was that Omeek was not there to say, “I’m here for you, my childhood friend, to see the triumph of your lifelong dream” or offer to say anything else encouraging like that.
Unless you count yelling,“Poxner, you suicidal idiot! Watch out for Bonko’s manure
From here, Poxner couldn’t have hit the manure cart because he was too high. In fact, for a few seconds of flapping really hard, he felt like he was suspended in mid-air. It was that brief moment that he began to feel he was at last flying, his dream was so close to being complete, everything he worked hard for was coming together, and nothing else mattered.
Until the tail-rudder broke off.
This is one of those times when a true hero can save the day and avoid a horrible
disaster by tapping into an inner power that sets him or her above ordinary folk.
However, this is also one of those times that, even if it didn’t help, screaming very vile, shocking and disgusting word you know was quite understandable, if not entirely appropriate for the occasion. Poxner did exactly that, not out of his deep spiritual anguish over the circumstances, but for two better reasons:
(1) He was going to end up breaking the cobblestones with his face, or whichever part of his body happened to land first.
(2) And it looked like it was going to really, really, really hurt.
Whatever was left of the crowd below was scrambling to get indoors, or at least out of range.
Struggling to regain control of the creaky, yawing contraption, he discovered the rudder-cables had yanked the main wings permanently open, consequently putting him into a powerful down-glide he could not steer.
He ran out of things to yell-- he had even managed to come up with some choice phrases that hadn't been invented yet. But that didn't stop him from screaming.
At least he was too far from the manure cart.
But he was getting dangerously close to the Crystal Temple.
Gathering his wits about him, he paused long enough to stop screaming.
“If I can fly cleanly in through one of the temple windows,” an inner voice told him,“and back out through another, maybe I can still save myself, and I can try to make this work. Or I can just continue screaming.”
After pondering this thought briefly, he chose to continue screaming.
It might also bear mentioning that he employed a second strategy, which involved shutting his eyes as tightly as he could. Granted it was not the best, or even one hundred per cent effective as brave-and-heroic tactics go, but it was sure easier to imagine he was somewhere else. Besides, he was going much faster now.
Luck, as you probably know, has a weird way of working out. As it turned out, he sailed into the east window rather safely if not uneventfully, with his wing-tips barely brushing the curtains as he flew in.
“Yes! Bless my Luck! Haaaaahh!”
This is what can be said of what happened at the east window. What happened at the west
window was a completely different matter.
It is because Luck also has an equally weird way of abruptly leaving when you notice it’s going in your favor. Or maybe it just leaves whenever it feels like it. This is being said here because some things held the west window a little different from the east:
(1) The west window was two featherbreadths narrower than the east window, and it was re-finished last summer.
(2) The west window was closed.
Poxner opened his eyes and seeing the oncoming window with the shutters drawn in, he spontaneously thought up of yet another tactic, which was to yell even louder. Alright, so this is just a variation of an earlier theme. But this time it had the effect of waking up Father FluffNest snoozing down below, and it helped in bracing Poxner’s body for when it would come to an abrupt halt.
His body did not come to a stop, however, because he simply blasted right through the shutters in a spectacular explosion of slats and splinters.
His gliding-machine, though, did not follow the same path. The wings and pedals broke clean off his wings and feet, and fell, crashing to the church floor, leaving Poxner still shooting helplessly through the air, but was now free to flail his limbs in a way that truly showed how he felt, which was an extremely literary place poets would describe as somewhere between unbounded terror and hopeless panic.
Anyone just passing through town and happened to look up would have seen a flying idiot wearing what looked like a costume made of broken reeds, flapping his arms and screaming unheard-of obscenities of every sort. Except technically Poxner’s style of ‘flying’ was now best described as ‘plummeting’.
The conditions now became perfect for him to hit that open manure cart.
Fortunately, he did not hit the open manure cart.
He mostly hit the manure that was piled high inside the open manure cart.
Had you blinked while watching this tremendous crash, you would have seen an immense heap of dung instantly turn into a nasty green cloud, blossoming above a flattened cart, and an even flatter-looking Poxner. Omeek was the only one who came to see if he was alright. But even Omeek was hesitant to touch him. When the green cloud drifted over him, his own face took on a green stain of its own.
“Poxner! What have you done this time? Pheeeeuuww!!! You smell worse than a pasture of sick woxons! Did you break anything?”
“No,” he replied, coughing up smoky green mini-clouds out of his beak, “only…the glider, the church (cough!) this cart, and (cough!) your claim to being the biggest village idiot we’ve ever had!”
“That last part remains to be seen—I still hang around you, don’t I?”
Father FluffNest appeared quickly at the scene with a ready rebuke.
“You kids should be arrested for the trouble you cause! You’ll be grown bantams soon and it’s time you acted like it! Look at the new window! It cost quite a lot to get it done! Look at Bonko’s cart! If you were in church more often, you’d know how to behave better!”
Poxner and Omeek looked at each other’s mucky faces and turned to the priest. It was Omeek who spoke fist.
“Your Reverence,” he answered, offering a grimy, smelly, manure-covered wing in a grandiose gesture, “would you like us to go attend the service now?”
The indignant clergyman stormed down the alley, shouting, “Poxner, remember this—get it inside that tiny brain of yours that CHICKENS WERE NEVER MEANT TO FLY!”
The two friends walked off in the opposite direction, towards the river.
“Come on, Poxner, let’s get you cleaned up before supper. Something tells me we’re going to need a lot of soap. You gotta wash beneath the feathers.”
“Omeek, do you think he’s right? I mean, all I do is cause a big mess around here, and people laugh at me.”
“They do NOT!”
“I know you don’t, but that’s different. That’s just you being a good friend. Maybe I should leave town. There’s nothing for me here.”
“Poxner, the only thing keeping me from going mad at the grain harvest sometimes is thinking of your crazy flying stunts, and wondering what you’ll dream of next. This town needs you to keep it laughing because they forget about the Rain-Fire even for just a little bit.”
“But is that all I’m good for? A laugh? I always dreamed I’d do something important, not be the laughing-stock or the village idiot. Don’t laugh. I really do want to build a flying machine.”
“What about those farm machines you built? Aren’t they worth something?”
“The combine-harvester was fun for a little while and so was the pedal-tractor. But part of me feels it’s wrong to stay here forever, and I’m afraid that if I don’t listen to it, a part of me will die for not giving it everything I’ve got. I want to look back on my life one day and honestly tell myself that I am proud to have done all I could.”
“Poxner, I just figured out something about you.”
“What, that I need to do this to become who I really am?”
"No-- it's that you need a stronger helmet. You've clearly taken a blow to the head too many times."
“Just kidding, just kidding…sheeesh! Hey—I’ll race you to the river.”
“Okay, on the count of three: One…Two…Go!” And Poxner was off, dripping a green trail of sweaty manure-flecks behind him.
“Hey! You didn’t say ‘Three’!” Omeek looked at the filthy trail and picked up a small scroll Poxner had dropped. It read:
They will all sail the endless oceans of space
and that’s what I long to do
to touch world upon world
and see the wonders of the cosmos
The universe is a grand story within a story
waiting to be told
I must be there
to play the song of the stars
the music in the temple of infinity
Let me sing the song
and tell the story
I can touch the mind of the gods
Let us sail the endless oceans of space
“He really believes this stuff, doesn’t he,“he mused, “Sometimes I wish I was as smart as he, and sometimes—”
“Yo, propeller-butt!” Poxner caller from across the street. “What’s taking you so long? Come in, the water’s fine!”
“Not with you making the water green, dung-head!”
“Just go upstream! Besides, you’re dirty, too!”
“Hey, you think they’ll make us fix the window and the cart?”
“Naah, Crazy Bonko’s just going to laugh it off, and say something like ‘I’ll just take my shovel to the preacher and get some more!’ and we can’t fix the window because we’re not allowed up the ladder, not after the incident with the paint-can and Bianca’s grandmother.”
“Poxner, you’re too smart and cocky and mischievous for your own good.”
“You forgot handsome.”
THE FOLLOWING MORNING, ON THE ROAD TO GRAND KIRKOPOLIS…
Poxner sat on a small grassy hill overlooking the highway, gazing at the village he had just left.
“It all looks so small from here,” he whispered, “My entire life was there, never been outside of the old boundaries. Until this day.”
He took out a small bag of fruit, picked out a ripe bao-bulb and began eating. “Look at smoke coming out of the tavern’s chimney stack, the wagons rolling along in straight lines, the crisscrossing streets densest as they all met at the central market. Things really look different when you see them from far away. I wonder if others have seen Ancient City this way. Surely I can’t possibly be the first…”
Poxner was still lost in his thoughts when he was startled by a rustling amongst the bushes nearby.
“What was that?” Poxner nearly jumped out of his sandals as he dropped the fruit-bulb. He spun around towards the source of the voice he just heard, but no one was there.
“BUOOOOL-WAAAAHH-AAAHHK!” This time it came from further up the grassy ridge, above Poxner’s head, still hidden in the tall vegetation.
“Show yourself! Fight me like a real chicken!” Poxner demanded, (there will be no mention of trembling or quavering in his voice. Even if there was, a little). Spreading his feet, he hoisted the entire bag over his head in a defiant posture. With the possibility. He decided stand his ground to see if either his stalker or his resolve would falter.
He waited for half a minute.
“KEWRRRRR-HWAAAA-BLAAAHHHHHH…” came the distant reply. It was even further up the overgrown ridge, off to the left this time.
“That’s RIGHT!” barked Poxner, with a little jump for emphasis. “Keep running away! Afraid to come down and fight me, are you?”
Nothing but silence hung in the hot morning air. And stayed there for an entire minute. Poxner was getting irritable.
“Are you still here?” he asked.
“Oh good, you’re gone,” he breathed.
The reply came as a whisper just above his left ear.
Poxner screamed at the top of his lungs (like this: “AAAAAAAAGGGH!!”), and hurled the entire bag of fruit into the curtain of tall grasses behind him. Scooping up his satchel, he scrambled down the knoll and ran as hard as he could.
“AAAAAAAAGGGH!!” (Poxner sometimes likes to repeat himself when he’s scared.)
He did not notice the strange figure walking out of the grass and picking up one of his schematics that he dropped. Unraveling it, the mysterious chicken made some strange clucking noises to itself for a while, before rolling it back up again and stalking down the hill.
Meanwhile, Poxner kept on running, And this time it’s easier to say, “running” instead of more busily describing his downhill journey with, “a combination of stumbling + basic-level tumbling + getting up and rolling sideways against his will + panicking and sliding on the ground with his backside + trying to get up, but having to repeat the whole thing again until he hit something at the bottom”.
So we shall just say it was “running”. It’s a little less embarrassing for him that way. Let’s spare his feelings for a moment.
It also bears mentioning that he hit something. that something was a boot. More importantly, there was someone attached to that something.
“Good morning, young bantam.” The chicken was older than Poxner, and taller. Well, tall for a chicken, at least.
“Ouch-ouch. I wonder if there’s a rib that I didn’t break. Now that’s interesting…”
“Er, do you need help getting up? That was a long fall for a hill-runner. Gods, it was a long fall for a competitive ski-jumper. Are you quite alright?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I’ve never seen boots on a chicken before,” said Poxner, finally getting himself upright, “I’m more of a sandal-fan myself.”
“So I’ve noticed. But these have more grip when touring these hills at the edge of town.”
"Perhaps I could design something as comfortable as a sandal," said Poxner, absently, "but more suited for the rough outdoors-- like your boot. Best of both worlds, as some would say."
“Design, design…Say, you don’t happen to be a professional designer by any chance?”
“Inventor, more like. Poxner’s the name, sir”
“Oh. I see. And am I right in guessing that satchel is full of your… inventions, Poxner?”
“Mostly sketches and ideas. Notebooks and schematics. Minus a bag of perfectly good fruit I was planning to have for lunch.”
“You’ve lost your lunch?”
“It’s a long story. No, wait. It’s a [_short _]story, to be honest. But I think making sense of it would take me too long.”
“I’ve had nights like that myself, believe you me. Say, since neither of us has had lunch, Mister Inventor Poxner, how about we get us a very expensive meal by my office?”
"What can you afford-- approximately?"
“Approximately…I haven’t got any money.”
“Perfect! I’m figuring it will only cost you some light labor in a manufacturing setting.”
“You’re offering me a job? Just like that?”
“Let’s just say there’s a dearth of open minds in Lower Kirkopolis for the time being. And there will be the odd test or two to pass first.”
“What kind of test?”
“It’s a three-step process, and I can’t let you prepare. Ready?”
“Uh. Not really?”
“That’s the spirit! Poxner: First is a fitness test: how well can you run?”
“Without being chased by an explosion? I don’t know, I haven’t really t—”
With that, the odd pair took off. The taller chicken ran with the grace of a muscular, long-strided plains-beast, sweeping across the paths, instead of just mindlessly following them. Poxner flew alongside of him (I am sparing his feelings again. Poxner wouldn’t want you to know that he caught his sandal-toe on a twisty old root and was launched for half a second before he continued his patent move of imitating a helpless wagon-wreck plummeting off a cliff. He was airborne, at any rate, so it could count as flying. Maybe.).
At the bottom of the hill, which was also the edge of town, the senior chicken did not stop running. He skidded around a corner, sprinted for a block, jumped a narrow ditch, vaulted over a low wall, and then hurried down some steps that led underground.
“Is (gasp)… he actually (gasp)… getting (wheeze)… faster?” growled Poxner, who barely had time to see the stranger disappear around yet another corner.
A few more corners and more stairs (Yup, you guessed it-- falling again. But only on the second short flight, and Poxner figured out he could slide down the metal guard-trails and spare his ribs the trouble of tackling all the bumpy landings) Poxner found himself on a very wide concrete platform with no one else in sight.
“Hey, Stranger? Are you still here?” He called out. “Did I fail the test?”
“Not in the slightest, young one! Flying colors, Poxner!” Came a call from overhead.
His new friend was perched on a narrow ledge, one foot resting on some sort of big switch mounted on the wall.
“Poxner, I would like to welcome you…to our factory floor!”
With a stomp on the ledge-button, and a huge grinding noise that told you there was some local geologic-grade jostling and repositioning going on in the background, the wall split open into massive wings to reveal a busy
hangar/laboratory/factory/office, covering an area that looked to Poxner almost as expansive as Lower Kirkopolis itself. Dozens of chickens were frantically building machines, fixing machines, programming computers, arguing over re-assembly plans, welding strange parts, looking over accounting sheets, and even exercising at a gymnasium.
In the midst of the technological bustle and business, some abnormally-muscular chickens were busy training to look even more muscular and intimidating. Some masked chickens climbed tall ropes, and some somersaulted and kicked at sand-filled dummies. Oblivious to the grunting and shouting, other chickens were occupied with peering at a large floating hologram of a vehicle of some sort, possibly a boat.
Poxner’s mouth fell open, and he began to stammer.
“Sir…I’ve never been here in my life, but, but…”
“Feels a bit like home?”
“Then let us repair to my office for Part Two of your test. Let’s see some of your plans.”
They ended up in a cubicle with clean white walls and long work-tables.
“Roll out a few blueprints here, Poxner.”
A few schematics were already laid out on one end. Poxner gathered up his nerve and reached into his satchel.
“Er. I’ve been interested in flight lately,” he began as he dumped several scrolls onto the table, “um, but this doesn’t seem to be the latest version…Funny, but I can’t seem to find it right now…”
“Here you go, Pox,” said Omeek.
“Hey, thanks Om— GAAAAAAAAKKKK!!!!”
“Do you two boys know each other,” asked the older chicken, while he unrolled the dropped schematic, “or does Poxner here just frighten very easily?”
“A little bit of both, Captain Seijin,” replied Omeek.
“How did you find me here, Omeek,” demanded Poxner, “I could barely follow him!”
“I followed you.”
“And how did you know the captain’s name?”
“The nameplate says it on his desk. Look.” Omeek rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Some genius you are.”
"Now hold on, em-- Omeek. That's your name, right?"
“Yessir. Known Poxner since the orphanage, sir.”
“Then you’ve seen these impressive charts. Has he built any of them?”
“Most of them. Except for big projects like this one.”
“A floating gondola with a giant balloon? Very original. What means of propulsion, Poxner?”
“Actually, sir…” began Poxner, “this is only Version Mark Two. Omeek,can you find the next one I made?”
Yet another blueprint unrolled itself on top of the previous one.
“Well, that was fast. Thanks, Omeek.”
“But Poxner, I didn’t—”
“Oh, my Engineer did that. Poxner, Omeek? Meet Woo-Hah.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Omeek.
“Nice to meet you,” said Poxner.
“Thanks for your help, Woo-Hah,” said Seijin.
Poxner jumped back. “AAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHH! That was YOU in the hills?”
Turning nervously to the source of the too-familiar voice, he saw a small chicken, a little smaller than himself, looking straight at him without blinking. Not very menacing at all. But a bit unnerving.
“Poxner, meet Engineer Woo-Hah. Doesn’t speak much as far as I can tell, but can build anything from a schematic. If you want to see genius, you could do worse than watch Woo-hah at work.”
“Hello…Wurrhah? Uh, we may have already met. I’m not sure.”
Omeek pointed to something hovering above and behind the engineer. “Poxner, look!”
Near the ceiling, there was a tiny floating, boat-shaped vessel fastened to a balloon shaped like a bloated lakaya-fruit, but with little metal ribs along the skin.
“Captain,” started Poxner, “those nacelles under the gondola assembly. I just drew those in the other day. And the hull shape, it’s just off by a fraction of …”
“And the small maneuvering thrusters on the underside, I didn’t draw them in until later.”
“Look closer at your schematic, Poxner,” said Omeek.
Instead of just Poxner’s regular blue or black lines, there were also numerous tiny critical marks in red and green. One thruster was moved forward a bit, and another pair was X’ed out. Parts of the ribbed hull were made a bit smoother and more aerodynamic.
“Did you do these?”
“But hardly anybody ever understands my drawings!”
“See, young bantams?” Beamed the captain, “With Woo-Hah’s builder-magic and your design talents, you are bound to do incredible things.”
“And I,” rejoined Omeek, all too eager to make a contribution, “can test pilot anything …as long as it’s remote. Watch me fly that thing.” Omeek grabbed the controls before Poxner could stop him.
“My favorite is this classic maneuver is called the Pickelmon, you may have heard of it,” lectured Omeek proudly, “It’s tactically formidable, but it’s also glorious to wa—”
“Omeek, I really need to point out—”
“Not NOW, Poxner!”
Poxner huddled behind the office chair and gestured to Seijin and Woo-Hah to crouch with him him, to the Captain’s bewilderment. The strange engineer, sensing something wrong, ran around the desk and jumped on top of it.
The little balloon-boat did a bizarre jump of its own, to Omeek’s great surprise. Instead of climbing into a half-loop and impressively un-inverting itself at a higher altitude, the craft hurled itself into a loud nose-dive, trailing small fiery contrails as it spiraled towards Omeek’s audience of three worried, open-beaked chickens.
Explosions are a funny thing. One second you’re making small talk about design detail with a captain you’re hoping to impress, and the next second you find yourself violently wrestling with his fancy medal-sash in order to pull him behind a small coffee table. Then the world goes black for a long quiet slice of forever.
“Poxner! Poxner! Wake up!”
“Your miniature boat blew up and knocked you out.”
“Nghhhhh… Oh. Is that all?”
“Yes, that was all. Wait. Are you implying that this is going to happen a lot to you?”
“Well, I could instead just admit that only yesterday, Omeek and I found ourselves suddenly covered in wox—”
“OMEEK! Gods be merciful, we forgot about him. Poxner, help me find your friend.”
The two swiveled their heads towards one of the office’s smaller walls, and found themselves staring at the empty blackness of space.
“Captain,” said Poxner breathlessly, “Are we…where I think we are?”
“Where do you think we are?”
“It looks like…deep space…”
“I don’t think so. This facility is underground.”
“I thought…” said Poxner, barely whispering, “well…you could almost touch it and fall right through…”
“I wouldn’t recommend that, Poxner.”
Before Poxner could take a step into the jagged portal to the infinite, a piece of outer space peeled itself from the blackened wall and fell to the floor.
That section of space went, “PLOP!” Poxner wasn’t sure if that’s what space does.
It left a chicken-shaped patch of white spackle where Omeek had been plastered to that side of the office.
“Omeek! Omeek, wake up!”
The sooty shadow on the floor answered with a cough.
“Yes, wake up!” shouted Seinin. “What have you got to say for yourself, o master helmsman of disaster?”
“(Cough! Cough!) Guys! (Cough!)”
“Would you classify that as a launch problem, or a design problem?”
“I would classify that as a demolished-my-office problem, Omeek!”
“Omeek, this would be a spatial interface misalignment issue.”
“Say again, Poxner?”
“You were holding the control pad backwards, Omeek. I tried to tell you.”
"Oh well?" Roared Captain Seijin, "One side of my office is charred worse than the inside of a blacksmith's nostril, and the other end has just become the world's largest pet door-- if I owned giant prehistoric proto-birds from the Noa-Szambrian era. And where's my engineer? You may have to scrape out all this burnt muck to find out."
“Sir, the last thing I knew was that Woo-Hah leaped to block the explosion and save me. But the jump was too high and the mini-blimp was already swooping too low…”
"So where is --"
Another shadowy shape peeled off from the blackened surface and plopped onto the debris-strewn floor.
“Poxner? Did my body go ‘plop’ like Woo-Hah’s when I hit the floor or was it just m—”
“Engineer! Front and center! Report, please.”
“KREWWWWIPP. GA-BOONG. CLANGCLANG. WHIZZYUPP. HEEEE.”
“Gods, why did I bother to ask? I can’t even…”
“Sir,” proffered Poxner, “it sounded like Woo-Hah is reporting that the escaping gas could have been better contained by a more rigid superstructure, using lightweight metal ribs to further brace the balloon-lattice.”
“Poxner, you can understand all that?”
“I thought everybody could. How did you deal with it before today?”
“Trial and error, Poxner. Mostly error.”
Even Omeek was amazed. “Pox, not even I could understand that. Maybe the explo—”
“(Ahem) Speaking of explosions, boys…”
“Which of you is going to pay for all this damage?”
“What? You mean you’re not insured in case of accidents?”
“Only when the damage is caused by employees.”
“You only lost some office supplies,” Poxner pointed out, “I can find you, say, a cheap replacement desk…”
“That rare, pre-extinction palaika-wood desk was a graduation gift from my late grandfather. It was an antique. Last of thirty on the planet. And now,” Seijin adds with a big sigh, “only twenty-nine.”
“Ah. Not so cheap. Or replaceable, then. Well… you still have two good legs on this table…one and a half, if you look hard enough. Just have to knock off the soot with a stick. With any luck…”
Poxner barely had to kick at the desk when the remaining table leg disintegrated into an ashy cloud, and blew away into the hole in the wall, coating the shiny metal fixtures and equipment in the gymnasium, infuriating the poor janitor polishing the machines.
“You boys have some damage to pay for, or we’ll all be in big trouble. “
“All of us, sir?”
“Yes, Omeek. Without a complete and proper work environment, there will be a lot of delays around here, and we’ve already gotten plenty behind.”
“Perhaps, ventured Omeek, we can work something out?”
“Yes, that’s a great idea. I have just the thing in mind. “
Leaning his head out the door, Seijin called out to a passing technician who was pushing a cart full of metal gadgets.
“Ah, Azambi! Just the tech I was looking for. Come in here, I need your muscle to to escort these two, right after I’m done with them.” Azambi was towering, muscular type. The type that relaxes by piking fights with boulders. And wins.
“(Gulp!) Where…um…exactly are we…”
“To the Academy, Poxner. For young chickens just like yourself.”
"Is...is that like, um... (Gulp)... prison?" It was Omeek's turn to gulp. But Poxner was also gulping-- mentally, as it were. Chickens don't generally thrive and flower in a prison setting.
Seijin stared at the two for a few seconds. And Azambi kept on towering and glaring. Just for dramatic effect.
“Perhaps. It’s a vocational institute, on the ground level. Just on the other end of this compound. Free meals and living quarters.”
“Doesn’t sound so bad after all then, eh, Poxner?” Omeek seemed to brighten up a bit.
“Omeek, you forget: we don’t have so much as a corn-sandwich between the two of us, much less money for tuition to some Academy. AND we still have to pay for the precious antique desk.”
“Poxner, why do I think we’ve fallen into an even deeper pile of woxon sh—”
“It’s time to work out a work-credit plan for you, eh, boys? Omeek: fearless and willing to take risks, you will get formal instruction in piloting. Poxner, your design ideas are elegant and useful. It’s engineering for you. And when you two aren’t studying to get top marks in class, you will be training here, learning everything from sub-assemblies to janitorial skills. All of it will be important.”
“Gee…kind of does sound like prison, Pox.”
“I dunno, Meeks. You did demolish this office pretty badly.”
“Hey, I wasn’t the one who designed upside-down controls!”
“C’mon, think of it this way: we work off the cost to fix this place, and at the same time get training for useful jobs… and it won’t cost us anything! “
“Except a lot of sleep.”
“Still, not a bad first day in the big city, right, Meeks? Besides, what would you rather do… sleep? Or become a real pilot?”
"That's right, my fledgling helmsman, " said Seijn, "when we're done with you, you'll be able to pilot anything from an ocean liner, aerial tank-transport monsters, all they way down to a three-legged quintasaurus-- if you really need to. But maybe you'd rather fly back home, eh?"
“Uhhhh…nothing for me back home, either, sir. In fact we’ve left behind a little property damage at the church there as well. And we have yet to pay for that.”
“Well, if you fly away from here, future pilot, I’d say you and Poxner would be turning down something good. And I can pay for the damage you’ve left back home.”
“You’re giving us a LOAN?“gawked Omeek.
Seijin beamed so magnanimously he was practically phosphorescent.
“Fine, let’s call it a loan. So… you boys are out of excuses? So…”
“Academy for you two?”
“It’s all agreed, then, “ declared Seijin, “Tech Azambi, give me those papers you have, I’ll take care of them, and you can accompany these two new Academy boys to the Admissions and Processing office. Then come right back here, please.”
With a silent bow, the technician passed the important-looking sheets of paper to the captain. Poxner, Omeek and Azambi headed back upstairs, leaving the captain and the engineer in the still-smoldering office.
“Woo-Hah, when Azambi comes back, please tell him to get the replacement desk from storage, and move my, um, surviving equipment into the corner office.”
“I’ve always wanted that office. And you can have this one when we fix it up next week.”
“It’s okay. The insurance can pay for it. So win-win, right?”
“Yes. I know. Employee damage only. Lucky thing those boys were hired on the spot, eh?” The captain unfolded the paperwork that Azambi had given him, and produced a pen. “How do you spell ‘Omeek’ again? And remind me to back-date these employment forms to yesterday. Or a few days before this incident.”
“I know, I know, Woo-Hah, it IS a dirty trick. But we need more risk-taking pilots like that boy. And did you notice how easily that Poxner fellow could understand you almost instantly? No offense, but as pleasant as it is to have someone my age around, I’m getting too busy to work directly with you, sans interpreter.
“Poxner’s going to be really useful in that department, too. Not to mention his designs are highly original; we need more of that kind of thinking around here. You’ve seen his scrolls. You wouldn’t have taken that scroll if you didn’t like it.”
“Glad you agree, Engineer. Tell you what: you can have this office as a second workshop, but only if you work with Poxner and train him up. Deal?”
“Come on. I can tell you like the way he thinks, or else you wouldn’t have taken one of his scrolls. He’s a little rough around the edges, but that’s to be expected of anyone from the rural areas.”
“Ancient City. That road only leads to and from that backwater town. I spent some time there myself, many years ago.”
“Remind me to go up there soon, I need to see exactly what those boys did to the church. If FluffNest is still the head pastor up there, he may still owe me a favor.”
“Did you say Bonko? How did you know about Bonko? Oh well, you must have gone up there at one point or another. He’s kind of hard to forget, isn’t he? Well. More like the smell. Nobody forgets the smell of that cart. It’s practically a cultural institution there. Priceless in its own right.”
“How should I know how long it takes to pay off antique furniture? No idea. Long enough for you to train another senior ship-engineer? Or my newest pilot?”
"No, I don't feel bad about the desk. Just cheap pinelarch and pressed ply. Palaika wood doesn't quickly catch fire, not in any small gas explosion-- you should know that."
“Another dirty trick, I admit. But we need all the personnel we can find, and there is something about those two. The last two applicants, we lost to a wagon-testing factory, if you can believe that. I like them, and you like them, sometimes that’s all you need to know. That, and they’re definitely trainable, maybe even already ahead of their class. “
“POPPOP. BILLEEK. GOOROOO-HOO.”
“Glad you think that way. You know, this might be the start of a beautiful crew-staffing.”
“Now come on. This planet doesn’t have a lot of time left. And these spaceships are not going to build themselves.”
About the author:
Jon Torres is the author of “CHICKENS: A Space Adventure” which is available on Amazon.
In addition to launching poor chickens into space, he also enjoys reading science fiction (surprise), jogging and occasionally writing computer code. He lives in Southern California.
He is can also be found on facebook at
Meet young chicken Poxner, budding inventor and engineer extraordinaire. Okay-- not everyone says that. His neighbors mostly say that if anything is labeled as idiot-proof, that means they haven't checked with Poxner yet. His best friend Omeek doesn't say that, though. He mostly says, "You better let me drive, Poxner, you need a helmet for this one." This day finds Poxner at the edge of a building, testing a new glider in the center of their village. It's hastily built, but don't worry-- it's badly put together as well. One small step for this chicken could lead to a giant leap into disaster! To round out the inventory, the village also has a smelly cart, a bad-tempered priest, and a creepy stalker in the hills near the big city. We'll work in a gas-explosion as well if time permits. This story has been written by Jon Torres, author of the novel "CHICKENS: A Space Adventure" available on amazon.com in print and e-book formats.