Captain Connor marched up and down the docks monitoring the loading of his ship, The Chang’e, when one of his crewmen approached him laughing. His name was Rocko, or at least that’s what everyone called him. Grimy teeth grinned in that dark head and with his muscular strides he was in front of the Captain quickly.
“Cap’n, what’s all dis I hear bout some big bunny on board?” he chortled, his voice deep and bellowing.
“Aye Rocko, it’s apparently a highly esteemed bunny from what I hear. It’s been visiting the Viceroys an all. It is our honored charge to bring him home.” The Captain answered, Irishly.
“So we can not eat him den?”
“No Rocko, you can’t eat him.” Then turning to the rest of the crew lounging on the dock he shouted out, “Do you hear that you lot!? No eating the rabbit! That’s the last thing I need.”
“Why all dem importants want to see a bunny?”
“Damned if I know, Rocko. But what I do know is they’re willing to pay his weight in gold, and that’s all that all of us need to know,” the Captain replied, giving Rocko a friendly slap on his shining cheek.
“Alright, up yous get! They’re just finishing up. Get your gear and let’s prepare the ship. Jeffreys! Give me a bell from the engine room when all’s set. UP UP! Ya bunch o’vagabonds! Ole Luna she’s a’waiting on us!” hollered the Captain.
The crew scattered throughout the ship as the last of the cargo was loaded. A clacking and scuffling rattled the walls as gear was chucked into familiar nooks and spaces. Constant thuds of the deckhands moving equipment reverberated. Whistles called uniforms to places. The hum of the starting ship hummed.
The Chang’e left the dock prepared for her forty-fifth return trip of the ending season. She floated under the control of Captain Connor just pass the Outer-ring. A glimmer off the Indian Ocean was blocked momentarily as the colossal Orbital Station 3 passed between The Chang’e and the Earth. Jeffreys watched the Station swing away rapidly on its orbit toward the ever brighter horizon through his porthole.
“Captain, 15 minutes to Sunrise. Ship’s holding steady.” Jeffreys belled the Captain.
“Right, Mr Jefferys, set the Headsail. Rotate her Earth aft,” came the Captain’s disembodied voice.
Rocko chuckled nearby.
“It wasn’t funny the first forty-four times, Mate!” Jefferys cut him off with his mouth open. Rocko still chuckled. “Go check on the crew would’ja? Don’t sit there like a hyena.”
“All twelve of dem?”
“Aye, you know the drill. C’mon Mate. Check all of them this time,” said Jefferys as the the sunlight, just about to come leaping from behind the earth, slid across the walls like little moons. The ship shuddered with expectation. Jeffreys watched as the tip of the first sail turned a brilliant gold.
“Captain, Apollo’s gusting.”
“Grande, Mr Jefferys. Raise the Mainsail.” The course had been the same all season. “Set sail for the Sea of Clouds. Mare Nubium, once again. And Mr Jefferys, please come see me in my quarters once we’re underway.”
Back to the Moon.
As usual at three hours into their journey the Captain was in his quarters smoking his pipe. The thick pink smoke twisted around his head, and with his free hand he spun a Lunar globe that rested on his desk. Though most of the ship maintained the typical metallic look, the Captain’s quarters were wooden and soft. Through his window the Earth looked slightly smaller.
Jefferys entered the room upon a knock.
“Captain, we’ve got considerable speed today.”
“Thank you, James. Have a seat.” The Captain stared the Earth hanging like a piece of fruit in the blackness. “How’s your wife?”
“She’s fine, sir.”
“Doesn’t she give you hell for being away so much?” he asked.
“Aw well, sure enough when it’s time to go, sir. But she understands.”
“Mine did. She sure did,” said the Captain still staring out the window. “I hate it up here.”
Jefferys sat quietly.
“Well, she’ll be sorry,” the Captain swiveled around in his chair. “With the cargo we’ve shipped this season and the rabbit as icing on the cake, I do believe we have done quite well for ourselves this go around. Eh, James?”
“We’ll be up to our tits in the finest things.”
“Aye, sir. Um, Captain. If you don’t mind my asking, sir. What is the deal with the rabbit anyway?”
“Well, it’s very important and very expensive. Truth be told I know nought about it myself. Just keep an eye on it for me. What I do know is the rabble on this ship. Don’t let anyone mess with it. It’s worth a fortune.”
“Aye, Captain. Will that be all, sir?”
A sound like a coin being thrown at the wall rang suddenly. Jefferys and the Captain looked at each other, their eyes got wide. A loud pang followed another and the clatter of more coins.
“Aw damn! Debris! Always in this shitting sector!” yelled the Captain. Jeffreys ran from the room as an alarm screamed. “Engine room! Status report!”
After everything had settled and the damage was assessed, Jefferys glumly returned to the Captain’s Quarters with Rocko.
“Captain, it was a debris hit, as you know. Apparently there are major tears in the sails. Also punctures to the hull, but we have sealed those. No problem there. However, it severely knocked us off course. At the moment, we’re set adrift and every second that passes without functional sails increases our distance to the Moon.”
“Are the sails able to be fixed?” asked the Captain.
“Aye, sir. We have the sisters on it. They can fix anything. Right geniuses the pair. Problem is, Captain, we don’t know exactly how long it’s going to take. It’s a significant tear and we could be off course for days I’m afraid.”
The Captain sighed and looked back out the window where the Earth, now even smaller, was rapidly moving in circles.
“Thank you Mr Jefferys. Rocko, begin rationing our supplies. We’ve got a few days worth. We’ve got to make it last.”
“Aye, sir!” replied both.
Days later the crew moaned in the Messdeck. Any decent food had long since been exhausted and as the hunger increased so did the tension. Fights broke out frequently. To worsen matters the sails were even more damaged than was previously thought. They would be adrift off course for much longer. Rocko did his best to joke and lighten to mood of the crew, but their rumbling bellies were a constant reminder not only of the lack of rations, but of what was in the hold.
The Captain had put both Jefferys and Rocko in charge of the rabbit. He had it moved to its own private quarters under guard.
“Don’t I have enough to do without shoveling the shit of the Captain’s new pet,” was what Jefferys had to say about it later. Most of the duty time fell to Rocko. He would stop by to quickly feed the white rabbit, but after a time he began to stay longer and watch, chuckling at the way she nibbled. Eventually, he began to let her from her luxurious pen, and pet her. He named her Luna and once or twice he lost track of the time while playing with the fuzzy creature, and would get castigated for showing up late for his duties. He asked Jefferys to fill in for him quite frequently, a chore he gladly gave up, and soon Rocko was the sole companion of Luna. Sometimes he caught himself staring at the rabbit for long periods of time and when he realized it, he saw the rabbit staring right back. She liked him, he thought, and that made him happy. On these long days it was nice to have something to care for.
After a considerable time the sisters, who had been working nonstop, completed mending the sails. They were back on their way to the Moon, but it was still days off due to their detour. The crew grumbled in the Mess as the last of the rations were distributed. A particularly hungry and surly crew member slammed his mostly empty tray down on the table with a bang.
“I’m sick of this shit! Let’s eat that god-damned rabbit! The thing’s the size of a dog!”
A significant portion of the crew rang out in agreement. Rocko jumped up.
“Dat bunny is wert more dan your stinking lives! An da Captain said to leave it be!”
“Rocko, ain’t you hungry! Whatever money the Captain gets for that stupid thing won’t be coming to us! Where is it, Rocko?” cried a crew member.
“You’re not getting dat bunny! Leave it!” Rocko yelled, and slammed his fist down on the table. Shoving started and someone toppled over a table. Rocko rammed his fist into the shouters chin. A cacophony echoed though the ship.
“CAPTAIN ON DECK!”
Captain Connor walked through the middle of the brawlers. Everything had ceased and the disgruntled followed him with furrowed brows.
“I know you’re all hungry! But the rabbit is to be LEFT ALONE! I’ve made promises. Money is at stake. You have no idea of what is waiting for us upon arrival. It will be worth it. So, man up! Tighten your belts! People have lasted longer on less. We are on our way. Don’t fuck it up now! Or so help me! I’ll set you adrift!” the Captain hollered.