II. Out Of Orbit

He had to hurry. Toogo glanced at the sky, a sinking gray billow of clouds looming down upon the earth. A rumble of thunder vibrated through his bones; a flash of lightning threatened in the distance. Almost there, he thought desperately, hurriedly screwing in the last screw with a long (and very strong) fingernail. The final bolt was bolted, the latches shut firmly, and a windshield wiper was installed for good measure. (You never knew what you might need in Space, after all.)

A scattering of light drops was beginning to dampen Toogo’s head, but no: he refused to wait this out, not this time. It was time to go home, and nothing would get in his way, not even the very heavens opening and dumping their accumulated contents on him and his Ship!

That’s what he thought.

Then he saw the Paunchy Man. The one with the foul breath and foul teeth and inexcusable love of all things bureaucratic.

He was running as fast as his chubby little legs would carrying him, waving his arms in Toogo’s general direction. “That’s odd,” thought Toogo- but what became abundantly worrisome, very quickly, was the little crowd of equally paunchy, but well-dressed, followers hurrying in his wake. They seemed to be in a dreadful frenzy, and quite...angry.

“You there...forbidden.!...Form 221-B...classified junk..!” He could just hear their voices above the whip of the wind.

“Hm,” Toogo thought. “Potentially problematic. Best be going!” He wrenched the door open, stuffing in his sack of belongings, which was quickly becoming soggier by the minute, and clambered into the control seat. It was a bit cramped, and Toogo had to angle his neck just so; but the Ship came to life under his fingers, and that was all that mattered. It thrummed and purred, sending the vibrations up through his body. He patted the wheel fondly. “Ok, Ship,” he said, “Ready to go?”

“All systems online,” bleated the Ship, “Activate launch in 3...2...1...”

He chose that moment to glance out the window, and was horrified to see that the pack of angry little bureaucrats were just barreling over the crest of the closest junk pile! They were so close that he could even see their quivering moustaches and furious blotchy faces, all screaming displeased words in his direction. The raindrops had reached the size of jelly beans, and that combined with the threat of ham- fisted punches raining down on his beloved Ship made him incredibly nervous. He punched the buttons a little harder, just in case it might get the Ship to go faster.

“Please do not punch my buttons. It is not polite.” said the Ship.

And with those reproachful words, the Ship lifted slightly, to hover over the mounds of junk. The crowd had stuttered to a halt as the engine roared to life, daunted by the flames issuing from the exhaust- but not for long. The breath was knocked from Toogo’s lungs as the Ship lurched to one side, his head slamming none too gracefully against the ceiling. Slowly, sickeningly, with the weight of many bulky bodies clinging to the exterior, they gained height. Toogo desperately righted himself, slamming his foot on the gas and hoping against hope that they could just lift...a bit...more! The bureaucrats had gained purchase on the left wing, one shaking his fist savagely and frothing at the mouth. “No help for it,” thought Toogo, rolling

down his window quickly and swatting at the closest man with the discarded manual from the glove compartment. “Terribly sorry!” Toogo called, as the angry little man fell to the earth with a cry and the Ship careened forward into the buffeting wind, the rain clattering fiercely down, threatening to deafen him.

Below, far below, as the Ship gained height, Toogo could see the huddle of sad looking figures taking shelter from the storm among the piles of junk, until they skimmed just above the trees and the whole dump disappeared from sight. But there was no time to relax- they slapped past enormous leaves that waved in the increasingly violent wind and up, up, they went, ever higher, until they were deep in the midst of enveloping clouds. The air was so close, and yet so thin- not at all like the oxygen-rich air Toogo had gotten used to- and so it was quite lucky that breathing wasn’t quite as much a necessity for him as it is for you and I- and the Ship began to shudder and moan under his feet as they rocketed upwards; he clutched at the wheel with no direction other than up, up! Toogo felt the air begin to constrict around him; the metal beneath him grew hot to the touch and he hissed in pain, his skin beginning to blister- the windshield wiper flew this way and that madly, and he began to feel as if he might be sick-

And then he became quite sure that he was going to be sick and wished whole-heartedly that he had thought to bring something to be sick in-

But then, but then- the Earth fell away, and the vibrating shuddered to a halt, and the blissful silence of Space surrounded them.

Toogo found himself suddenly weightless, and not very sick after all. He unbuckled his seat belt and bobbed up towards the ceiling, marveling in the lightness of being he felt. He peered down on the Earth through the window, and was astonished to see a beautiful blue and green marble, swirled with clouds so large and magnificent that he suddenly felt very, very small.