“Battle stations!” the ships AI called out automatically as a small collection of ships jumped into close proximity of the fleet.
“What the hell is going on Lieutenant Daniels!” Rear Admiral Menzies called to his radar officer from his station by the holo-table.
“Several small craft…no check that. A small ship towing a line of cargo containers jumped right in on top of us.”
“None sir, scans show no weapons…,” Daniels hummed as he scanned the displays before him, “Sir, that thing is a piece of shit. The jump drive is powering down and leaking radiation. If anything is alive on that tub, I don’t know how. Its trailing atmosphere and water as though the stuff grows on trees.”
“Comms,” Rear Adm. Menzies called to his communication officer, “hail that tub.”
“I have her sir,” Ensign Runnings responded after a few seconds.
“Do you have visual?” As though an afterthought, Rear Adm. Menzies furrowed his thick grey eyebrows at the claxons still sounding across the ship, “and silence those damn alarms…stand down.”
“Aye Sir,” Menzies heard two officers reply.
“Send it to the holo-table.”
As he waited for the comms officer to comply, Rear Adm. Menzies pulled off his duty hat and scrubbed his thinning gray hair. Too long we have been out here, he thinks. Stretched his broad shoulders, and replaced his cap.
The bust of a portly little man appeared above the holo-table, supplanting the tactical display that usually resided there. The man wore a bright yellow derby, a shock of red hair sprang from under the edges, thick red eyebrows arched over deep blue eyes. A goatee that matched the unruly hair was speckled with the first hints of gray. His canary yellow tie matched his derby. Rear Adm. Menzies fought the urge to slap the simpleton look off the man’s face.
“I am Rear Admiral Menzies of the SFISN Pluto, who dares encroach on my fleet with such disregard for safety and protocol.”
Rear Adm. Menzies question was answered with various octaves of static and a warbling of the man’s image, then a voice broke through the static.
“This is the P. T. Barnum, and I am Dr. Feld. I did not mean to startle you Captain, we are scheduled to perform for your fleet this evening.”
Rear Adm. Menzies face flushed with anger at the sound of Dr. Feld’s bumbling manner and devil-may-care attitude.
“We almost blew you out of my space Dr. Feld!”
Feld looked back at the captain with a simple inquisitive expression.
“You jumped right in on top of us. Any closer, and your rabble of…of…,” Menzies looked to the holographic display of the ratty looking ship and its trail of leaking cargo containers, “space faring junk and one of my cruisers would have become colliding matter.”
“Aren’t we on your schedule?” Dr. Feld asked, a pouty expression revealing his cluelessness.
The captain looked to his XO, who nodded in acknowledgement to Dr. Feld’s question.
“That is not my point Dr. Feld. There are protocols, safety protocols. You don’t jump into the middle of a fleet.”
“Noted Captain,” Feld held the captain’s eyes for several seconds, as if waiting for something.
“Yes?” Menzies finally asked.
“Where do you want us?”
Rear Adm. Menzies wanted him out of his space, but his crew needed the distraction. This had been a long cruise, and they were still several months from any potential shore leave.
“You will be performing on the carrier Midway. Comms will transfer you to her captain, and from there you will get instructions for coming alongside.”
“Thank you, Admiral,” Feld replied and tipped his hat, showing a glistening bald pate.
* * * * *
Rear Adm. Menzies stood off to the side of one of the bleachers erected on each side of the three-ring show. He leaned heavily onto the wall with his left shoulder, arms crossed.
Sailors representing all the ships in his fleet filled the bleachers, cheering, or uttering sounds of awe, and occasional laughter at the antics of the multicolored creatures in dazzling unitards. These creatures held Menzies attention above all else going on within the circles that defined the performance arenas.
He could not distinguish whether the skin was naturally hued, or if they sported full body tattoos. One was purple, another, aqua, while another the same shade of bright yellow Dr. Feld wore during their first meeting. Though they were bipedal, they moved with a limberness that defied any skeletal structure.
Some of their falls would brake a man’s bones, the captain thought.
In addition to their garish uni’s, they wore oversized shoes and white gloves that looked inflated, giving the appearance of cartoon hands. Upon their heads was a myriad of hats. One wore a three-pointed thing with bells at the pointed ends. Another, a tall top hat, from which it occasionally pulled white birds, or furry creatures.
Dr. Feld called them clowns, Rear Adm. Menzies reminded himself.
As if on cue, Feld finished introducing an act under an intense spotlight centered in the closest ring, then waddled on legs so short, it seemed impossible they could carry Feld with any speed. Yet, before Menzies could excuse himself, the little man was standing under his nose.
“Captain Menzies, I see you are enjoying the show.”
Rear Adm. Menzies looked toward the cloned tiger act Feld just introduced, then to Feld, “It is quite the spectacle.”
“Thank you, Captain, it’s taken me ages to put this together.”
“The men and woman of my fleet really needed this distraction,” Menzies stood tall, crossed his arms, and gazed down on the small man, “and to think, I almost blew you and your rabble out of existence.”
“My crew is working on the jump drives as we speak. I assure you Captain, I won’t make the same mistake twice.”
“Something wrong with your jump drives?”
“The ship is old,” Dr. Feld shifted his feet, taking on a defensive pose, “but it gets me around. Gets my show around.”
“That didn’t answer my question, Doctor.”
“I assure you Admiral, next time we approach any of the Federations fleets, it will be at sub light speeds.”
Rear Adm. Menzies knew Feld was being evasive. He looked to the clowns, then back at Dr. Feld, “Are those genetically modified organisms?” He asked nodding towards the closest group of them.
“Noooo, that would be illegal,” Dr. Feld replied without hesitation, much to Menzies surprise, the doctor looked him right in the eyes when he answered.
“I have been from one end of the known galaxy to the other Dr. Feld, and never did I see any creature such as those.”
“Admiral Menzies, there is much more to this universe than our known galaxy,” Dr. Feld turned to leave, then over his shoulder said, “It’s a big ass universe.”