Dr. Erin Jeffries pulled her thick mane of strawberry blonde hair into a pony tail. The geneticist loved missions that included a trip to a planet’s surface, and this one would be especially pleasant since Bright Eyes would be there with her. Of all the modifications she had made to the humans who colonized a handful of worlds on their path away from Earth, Bright Eyes became her pet project, someone special, who would continue with the starship indefinitely. She also thought of him as a younger brother.
After a ride in the transit tubes, Dr. Jeffries entered the bridge, gave her orders to the staff, and quietly crept over to the stooped figure of a teen boy. The youth stared intently through one of a dozen view ports spread through the bridge and the geneticist tickled her quarry into a startled leap from his seat.
“Jeez Doc, how come you always sneak up on me when I’m looking for things?”
“Simple, when you’ve got the biggest prettiest eyes on the ship, you are usually looking for things. Besides, I like to keep you on your toes.” She gave the youth a playful squeeze. “How would you like to come along on a field trip?”
“Go down to the planet? I thought VB891 was uninhabited.”
“Drone readings report microscopic life. That’s why I need my Bright Eyes. Besides, there will be nothing to see here, the ship is coming to a stop while we are away.”
The boy looked at his creator, mentor, and friend with a loving gaze. His head was much larger than average, in order to accommodate his namesake feature. Luminous eyes, deep blue, without whites, glowed brightly, the size of ping pong paddles. The geneticist smiled back and kissed him on the forehead. Not only did she feel fond of the boy, but his ability to spot rogue planets and asteroids in the dark expanse between solar systems had saved the starship a dozen course corrections and countless labor hours and raw materials from hull repairs.
Their journey to the surface took nearly eight hours. Bright Eyes kept the doctor awake with a barrage of questions ranging from her original youth on Earth, those hundreds of years ago, to whether she may ever consider marrying someone younger with unique features. Dr. Erin Jeffries and the crew of LARC3 underwent gene therapy in order to reverse their aging process, a therapy she developed with the genes of an Antarctic krill. Someday her Bright Eyes would need the same treatments, she mused that perhaps she could apply the treatments every five years instead of every fifty in order to keep him young and adorable.
Their pilot stayed aboard the shuttle while Dr. Erin and Bright Eyes explored near barren gray terrain in sleek suits which both insulated them and supplied breathable air. Bright Eyes made sport of the planet’s gravity, nearly half that of Earth and their starship. Within an hour’s time the young man’s glowing eyes had uncovered the location of the microscopic life and captured a thriving community for future evaluation back on the starship.
The return journey started quietly, Dr. Jeffries and her young friend slept after a meal of rations. Three hours into their return, the pair awoke to the ping pangs of debris hitting the hull. Before either knew what happened, a loud crunch caused a blossom of fire to erupt from the cockpit, followed by a loud hiss.
“The shuttle is venting atmosphere, put your helmet back on” Dr. Jeffries said, her voice tense and shrill. She called to the pilot, who did not respond.
The pair unstrapped from their seats, and floated momentarily. The gravity generator had been damaged as well. Grasping emergency handholds along the interior of the hull, Bright Eyes and Dr. Jeffries entered the cockpit.
“Is he…” the boy couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence. Bits of blood and electronics floated in the small space.
“He’s alive, but knocked out. I need to put a suit on him before we run out of atmosphere. Bright Eyes, can you see which systems are still operational?”
The boy slid into the pilot seat while the geneticist worked on the pilot. Tense minutes passed. Pings continued to wrack the hull. Both explorers feared another large impact.
“I can get us home” he winked one giant eye and gave Dr. Jeffries a lopsided grin.
“Have you ever piloted before?”
“Sure, those simulators are the best, but this will be different. The scanner is fried, I’ll have to kill the cabin lights and the display panel, and then bring it in on visual alone.”
Silence gripped the cabin for a full minute. “You’re the best person for the job,” she said with a forced smile.
They cut the lights none too soon. The shuttle had drifted toward an impact with an asteroid the size of a diner. Bright Eyes deftly maneuvered the craft out of harm’s way, not even an inch to spare. The boy swore he heard a scratching sound as they passed the icy rock.
Five hours later Bright Eyes breathed a sigh of relief. A tug had been dispatched from the starship and latched onto the damaged craft. Their shuttle’s pilot had suffered a concussion and would spend a night in the ship’s hospital. Their microscopic samples remained in the airtight transport unit, no worse for the wear.
Dr. Jeffries and the boy stripped off their helmets and breathed the familiar air of home. The geneticist bent down and kissed her young friend while cupping both cheeks. She could feel the warmth of his blush on her palms.
“You saved me Bright Eyes.”
“That was great. Let’s do that again when I’m a grown man and we’re married.”
Dr. Erin gulped and nodded. She would eventually have to tell the boy she preferred the single life, but not today.