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Stories by Laura Lagana
The Field Trip

“Are you ready?” The children nodded as the teacher, Miss MacGregor, demonstrated the use of the spacesuit by placing the helmet over her head. “Put it on like this and once it’s secure, it will click into place.”

A girl sitting along the back wall raised her hand.

“Yes Marianne?”

“What if it’s not on right?”

“Your head will explode, so let’s be sure you have it on nice and tight.” Miss MacGregor slid into the vacant seat next to Marianne and tugged on the helmet to make sure it was secure. “It looks good.” Once the task was complete, Miss MacGregor sat in her chair and buckled the safety belt. She eyed it with a critical eye before calling out to the class. “Is everyone settled in?”

The children all nodded.

A few minutes later, a voice came over the intercom. “Boys and girls, we will be taking off shortly for the outer rim of the Orion Constellation. Please have all tray tables in their upright position and no kicking the seat in front of you.”

The engines of the space ship roared to life. Black smoke and flames poured over the launch pad, blurring the edge of the landscape.

Angus stared out of the window, holding his breath. This was his first field trip with his school in Edinburgh. A knot of anticipation formed in his stomach. He crossed his fingers as the space ship lifted off the ground, shooting into space. Cold blackness engulfed the metallic vessel. Stars twinkled in the distance, beckoning Angus to visit.

“Wonder if there are any aliens out there?” He mumbled the words, fogging the window with his breath. Angus wiped away the moisture with the glove of his spacesuit.

Miss MacGregor waived her arms, trying to get the attention of the children. “All right everyone, who can tell me how cold it is outside?”

Marianne raised her hand and squirmed in the seat.

The teacher pointed at her. “Yes?”

“It is several hundred degrees below zero.”

“And how cold is that?”

Marianne paused for a second. “You’ll freeze to death in a matter of seconds?”

“Very good Marianne,” said Miss MacGregor.

She beamed from the praise.

“Who can tell me when the planet Roland was discovered on the Orion Constellation and who was it named after?” She looked around for a raised hand and saw Marianne’s, but Miss MacGregor skipped the little girl, looking for someone else to answer the question. Her gaze fell upon Angus and she pointed at him. “Can you tell me the answer to my question?”

He looked away, avoiding eye contact and twiddling his thumbs.

“Well, I see none of you have done your homework.” She turned to look for another student.

Marianne raised her hand a second time and calling out, “Pick me. I know the answer.”

Miss MacGregor nodded toward Marianne. “Go ahead.”

“It was discovered by the ship Atlantis Explorer in 2103 and it was named after the president at the time, Roland King.”

“Very good. Now I will give a little history lesson on how we stumbled across this obscure planet.” Miss MacGregor cleared her throat and continued. “The ship had encountered a meteor storm and needed to make repairs before continuing on the journey. The Captain scanned the surface of the planet and found it to be compatible with earth’s atmosphere, but so much smaller. That’s why we missed finding it before now. We are the first civilians to be allowed to explore the planet now that the scientists have catalogued most of the plant life.” She glared at her students. “Don’t do anything to ruin it.”

Angus looked away and stared out of the portal window. Comets and planets whizzed past. He cupped his hands and peered into the inky depths, blocking out the interior light that glared off the window. Angus glanced at Marianne who sat smugly in her chair, gloating over the answers she gave to the teacher. The Captain’s voice called out over the intercom, breaking into his thoughts.

“I need everyone to sit up straight and be very still for the next five minutes. We will be transferring into hyper-drive and if you make any sudden movements, the particle matter of your body could break apart into a million tiny pieces and float about the ship. We would then have to scoop you up and put you in the DNA Strand Re-assembler. It’s painful and takes a long time to put you back together. Besides, we wouldn’t want you missing your field trip now, would we?”

Angus sat still, his gaze wide and afraid. He clenched the armrest of his seat, his knuckles turning white from the strain. Pressure squeezed his chest like a stack of books weighing him down. Glancing at his arms, he saw them stretch out before him like a rubber band. Marcus sat next to him and kept punching Sara in the arm. Angus wanted to yell out a warning, but the Captain’s dire threat rang through his head. Turning into a tiny million little pieces held no appeal. Sure enough, as the ship shot into hyper-drive, a little popping sound drew Angus’s attention. Marcus burst into a million pieces and floated throughout the ship. Angus slowly tilted his head to the left, avoiding a particle that was about to land on his helmet. Five minutes later the ship came to a sudden stop and the children jerked forward in their seats.

Artificial gravity kicked in, but the pieces of Marcus were weightless and continued floating about the cabin.

Miss MacGregor leapt out of her seat and ran to the cockpit, pounding on the cabin door with her fist. “We have a problem, Captain.” The door opened up and she pushed her way inside. The voices of Miss MacGregor and the Captain mumbled over the intercom.

Angus craned his neck to better listen to the conversation as tiny drops of Marcus continued to swirl around the room. He tried to dodge the wayward particles.

“One of the students blew apart into tiny pieces. What do we do now?” He heard Miss MacGregor’s irritation while she complained to the Captain.

The Captain turned to the co-pilot and grumbled. “There’s one on every trip.” A few seconds later, shuffling and banging came from the cockpit. Angus leaned to the side of his seat, watching the chaotic scrambling.

The Captain said to Miss MacGregor, “Here, use this to suck up all the pieces, and then put him in the DNA Strand Re-assembler. You can’t miss it. It looks just like a trash can. Be sure the lid is sealed tight.”

Miss MacGregor arched her brow. “What exactly does the DNA Strand Re-assembler do?”

The Captain answered, keeping his impatience at bay. “It rebuilds…the DNA…strands.”

“So, you don’t know what it does either, do you?” She snickered at the Captain as she returned to the seating area and turning on what looked like a hand-held vacuum cleaner. Miss MacGregor waved it back and forth in the air, sucking up the larger pieces of Marcus. Turning around the room, she found the DNA Strand Re-assembler, popped open the lid and dumped Marcus inside. Miss MacGregor pressed a red button, jumping back at the sound of the grinding noise.

“That is why you need to pay attention.” Speaking to the students, Miss MacGregor pointed at the container, and said, “Now he will miss the field trip.”

Turning his head away, Angus heard the worry in Miss MacGregor’s voice as she muttered her complaints about Marcus and buckled herself into the seat.

“How do I end up leading these field trips? I’m having a long talk with the principal when I return.” With one final huff, she leaned back in her seat and crossed her arms over her chest. “This will be the last one.”

Angus glanced at Marianne. She sat in the seat, thumbing through the pages of her schoolbook. The engine thrusters came on and the whole ship vibrated. Angus prayed that the ship would hold together.

The Captain called out over the intercom. “Boys and girls, we will be touching down on the planet’s surface in just a few minutes. I need you to stay seated. We do not want another incident like the last one.”

Angus tugged on his belt and gripped the seat of the chair, clenching his eyes shut. The process of landing was not nearly as fun as he imagined. Marianne chuckled at his fear. He glared at her.

The ship’s thrusters pointed toward the terra firma, descending at a rapid pace. A few minutes later, the ship came to an abrupt stop. Miss MacGregor unbuckled her seatbelt, checked on the DNA Strand Re-assembler and saw that Marcus was not finished being put back together yet. She shrugged and turned back to the children in the class, accidentally bumping the machine with her hip.

She pressed the intercom button and said to the Captain. “Is air pumping into the cabin yet?”

“Yup. You should be safe.”

Miss MacGregor rolled her eyes. “I need everyone to take off their helmets and place them in their seat. When the Captain opens the door, we will walk down the stairs and stop at the edge of the ship.” She pointed her finger at a friend of Marcus’s. “That means no wandering off, Thomas.” He looked away.

Angus did as he was told and stood in the aisle, waiting for the others. At that moment, the lid to the DNA Strand Re-assembler popped open and pieces of Marcus blew out of the top and scattered about the ship. Miss MacGregor shrieked, yelling at the Captain not to open the ship’s door.

He did not hear her cry.

She stumbled around the cabin, searching for the vacuum cleaner and waved it in the air. “Quick everyone, grab the pieces.”

The students lurched like drunken sailors, grasping for the particles and shoving them back into the DNA Strand Re-assembler.

Thomas sat on the lid, trying to keep what was left of Marcus in the machine.

Angus ran after a handful of pieces and bumped into Marianne, knocking her down.

“Look what you made me do. Now we’ll never find all of him.” Marianne watched the pieces of Marcus fly through the spaceship door.

“Yes we will!” Angus yanked Marianne to her feet, dragging her through the door. He pointed at several pieces floating across the field. Angus took a deep breath. The air smelled sweet, like candy. “This way. Come with me.” Keeping a wary eye on the lush plant life that surrounded them; he shoved his way through trees covered with purple and orange leaves.

Marianne ran behind him and lunged to the side. “Here’s a piece.” She cradled the particle in her hand before handing it to Angus to put it his back pocket.

They jogged past bushes the color of yellow lemons, hanging over a golden pond filled with white frogs and blue fish. Angus stepped on a rock and held out his hand, rescuing a piece of Marcus from a blue fish that jumped from the water to eat it. “Oh no you don’t,” he said.

“The colors are so bright here.” Marianne paused and stared at the landscape. “It looks like a rainbow threw up everywhere.”

Angus yanked her hand. “Come on. We don’t have time for sightseeing. I think I just saw a couple of pieces fly down that way.” He shoved aside a leaf covered with blue bumps. The leaf flew back and smacked Marianne in the face.

“Ouch!” She scratched at the blue film covering her cheek.

“There’s another piece of Marcus.” Angus bumped into a tree covered with orange spikes on the trunk and leaves as fat and round as coconuts. He stood under the tree and pried loose the piece caught on one of the spikes. “I thought it would be sharp. It’s not.” His finger rotated the pointed end.

Marianne kept looking back over her shoulder. “Okay, you’ve found that piece, now let’s get the rest of him.”

Angus snipped out. “Just a minute. I want to be sure I have every bit.” He grabbed a twig lying on the ground and poked at a leaf. Liquid poured out and splashed him on his head. He grimaced and stepped back.

Marianne narrowed her gaze, leaning in to say, “Now can we go?”

Wiping off the drops of moisture dripping into his eyes, he turned to grumble at Marianne. “All right. Let’s go.” He looked at her face and cringed.

“What?” She rubbed her cheek and felt the bumps on the side. “Oh no. What are these?”

He poked at a bump. “It looks like blue warts.”

Marianne glared at him. “This is all your fault. If you hadn’t dragged me off the ship and through this jungle, I wouldn’t look like this.” She stopped her tirade and stared at his hair. “You’re not going to believe this, but your hair is turning purple.”

He groaned. “I think this is the last piece of Marcus. Let’s get back to the ship and get off this stinking planet. I’m starting to think this field trip wasn’t such a great idea.”

She rubbed her face. “Me too.”

Angus turned on his heel and dodged to the left. “I think we came from that direction.” He shoved the pieces of Marcus that he had pried from the tree, into his pocket. They walked through the jungle for ten minutes, but nothing looked familiar.

“I know that path is here somewhere.” Angus scratched his head, looking to the left and then to the right for any signs to guide his way.

“We’re lost.” Marianne shoved his back. “I can’t believe you got us lost and now we’re going to die.”

Angus rubbed at the painful stinging on his arm. “You worry too much. We’ll find the ship.” He stared at the flattened pink grass. “This is starting to look familiar.”

“Are you sure? We were running through the jungle to find Marcus. I didn’t get a good look at the place. Did you?”

He shook his head.

Half an hour later, Marianne started whining. “I’m so tired and hot. You can’t find the ship, can you.” She plodded along behind him.

Angus stopped and covered her mouth with his hand. “Shush. I think I hear something.”

Marianne paused. Her eyes grew round and she pulled his hand away. “Do you think it’s our class?”

“I hear growling and I don’t think Miss MacGregor growls. Do you?”

“Well that depen—"

Angus cut off her reply by grabbing her hand and dragging Marianne toward the sound.

They burst through the jungle and into a small clearing. A furry creature no bigger than the palm of Angus’s hand, sat on a small rock, chewing on a flower. Angus stopped and eyed the creature.

“Oh, how cute!” Marianne clapped her hands together and rushed forward. “Do you think I can pet him?”
Angus shrugged. “It looks harmless to me.”

With both hands, she scooped up the creature and cuddled the fluffy beast.

Angus stroked the creature’s head and a growl erupted from deep within its throat. He backed away from Marianne. “I think you should put him down and back away slowly.”

She continued to nuzzle the creature. “What are you talking about? He’s cute and furry. I think we should keep him.”

“He’s not cute and furry anymore!”

Marianne pulled the creature away from her face and looked into angry red eyes. The fur changed into spikes and the cute smile was now several rows of razor sharp teeth rotating in a circle. She shrieked and dropped the beast on the ground, backing away slowly. “You’re right. It’s not cute anymore.”

The creature came toward them, growing in size with each step. It gnashed its teeth back and forth. Marianne’s scream pierced the air.

“Don’t just stand there, run!” Angus shoved her forward and they crashed through the jungle, the creature hot on their heels.

“Don’t eat us…don’t eat us…don’t eat us!” Marianne chanted the plea when they jumped over the stream and ran toward a clearing through the trees.

Angus looked over his shoulder and saw the row of teeth snap at Marianne’s head. “I don’t think it’s listening to you.” He pushed her to the left and dodged out of the way. Running in a half circle he met up with her. Angus pointed at the end of the clearing. “There’s the ship.”

“Oh, thank goodness!”

They dashed across the field and a tiny piece of Marcus flew out from Angus’s back pocket. The creature made one last jump and opened its mouth wide, the piece of Marcus flying inside its mouth. The creature stopped, and started chewing on the tiny morsel, purring at the delectable taste.

Marianne and Angus screamed as they ran up the stairs, and shouted at Miss MacGregor. “Close the door.”

The door shut behind them and Angus sighed, leaning against the cold metal. Relief washed over him.

Miss MacGregor glared at Angus and Marianne, watching them shuffle down the aisle toward their seats. Her words stopped them in their tracks. “It’s about time the two of you showed up. We’ve been waiting here for almost thirty minutes. I hope you didn’t get into any trouble while we were busy collecting all the pieces of Marcus.”

Marianne took one step away from Angus and pointed. “He made me do it.”

“Gee, thanks.” He nudged her in the ribs. “Here, we found some more of Marcus.”

“Put him in there.” Miss MacGregor pointed to the DNA Strand Re-assembler. “Thomas, get off the lid for a second.” She drew up, her attention caught by the sight of the two wayward students. “What on earth happened to you? Marianne, why do you have blue warts on your check and Angus, why do you have purple hair?”

“We ran into some trouble outside.” Angus rubbed at the liquid stuck in the strands.

The teacher shook her head. “How do I always end up with the problem class?” She yelled out to the Captain. “We have another problem.”

He called out over the intercom. “What is it this time?”

“One of my students has blue warts on her cheek and the other has purple hair.”

The Captain stomped out of the cockpit, carrying a metallic cloth. He handed the cloth to Miss MacGregor. “Here, use this to clean up the mess.”

She eyed it with skepticism. “What does this do?”

He turned on his heels and headed back to the cockpit, calling out over his shoulder. “It cleans…the mess.”

Mumbling under her breath about the incompetence of the Captain, she handed the cloth to Marianne. “Here, see if this will remove the blue warts and get rid of the purple hair. I will have enough to explain to the principal about Marcus without adding you two to my list of mistakes.”

Turning to the rest of the class, she said, “Because of the incident with the DNA Strand Re-assembler, we will no longer be able to tour the planet. We used all of our time finding Marcus. I want everyone to sit down and buckle up. We leave very shortly.” She gathered the children together and shuffled them toward their seats.

Angus plopped down and buckled up.

Marianne did the same.

“Miss MacGregor?” Angus raised his hand to get the teacher’s attention.

“Yes?” She buckled herself in and looked up.

Angus glanced out the window and saw the creature stand to its full height, eyeballing Angus through the window. The creature was almost three stories high and opened its mouth while running toward the ship. Angus could swear he saw it lick its lip. “Can we leave now?”

Miss MacGregor called out. “Captain, you can take off at any time. We’re ready to leave.”

A message boomed out over the intercom, from the Captain. “Boys and girls, buckle your seat belts. We are preparing for take off.”

The children settled in their seats as the ship’s engines roared to life. Angus leaned back and caught sight of the creature chasing after the ship, its razor teeth flashing in the sunlight. He glanced at Marianne, who sat with her fingers crossed hoping that the creature would not catch them. It was a close call. The ship shot into space and then into hyper-drive. Once earth came into view, the ship returned to normal speed. The beeping on the DNA Strand Re-assembler notified Miss MacGregor that Marcus was reassembled.

She unbuckled her seatbelt and walked toward the machine, popping open the lid. Marcus stood. He rubbed his eyes and stared at everyone on the ship. Miss MacGregor pointed to his vacant seat. “Sit down. We’re almost home.”

Marcus sat down, looking confused. “Did I miss anything?” He held out his hand and noticed that one of the fingertips was missing. Raising his other hand, he called out to the teacher. “Miss MacGregor, where’s my fingertip?”

She strapped herself in and said, “You ignored the Captain’s warning and blew up into a million tiny pieces. We were bound to miss a piece or two. Next time you’ll listen, won’t you?”

He nodded and leaned back in the seat, staring at his hand.

Angus coughed, trying to cover his guilt.

Marianne leaned over and whispered. “What’s wrong?”

“I think that was the piece the alien ate right before we ran onto the ship.”

“Serves him right for almost getting us eaten alive. He’s lucky it wasn’t something worse, like at eye or an ear.”

A few minutes later, the ship touched down on the landing pad. Angus was never so grateful in his life for his home planet. As he headed back to the Aero-pad check-in station, Angus glanced over his shoulder one last time at the ship that almost changed his life. He was certain about one thing; this was the last field trip he would ever take.

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