Read the Prequel

by Jeff Gerke

We hope you enjoy the new Clubhouse comic, Degrees of Kelvin. Here's a prequel about Kelvin's life orbiting the planet Sweetums... and the day he rescued Fluffnark the Magnificent.

Furballs and Fire Drones

“Space kittens for sale! Get your space kittens right here.”

Kelvin walked across the platform of his family’s orbital refinery station and approached the nearest pet transport crate. A fluffy orange puffball looked at him with wide green eyes.

Meeew.

“Aw,” Kelvin said, scratching its chin through the metal grate. “You’re so cute.”

Just a few people walked around the 50 animal crates that were stacked along the wall of the crew apartments. Kittens and puppies, with a few lizards, birds, mice and ferrets, waited to be adopted or go to the next station.

Kelvin touched the microphone activator on his collar. “Dad, come in.”

He heard a crackle, then his dad’s voice, “Whatcha got, boss?”

“Can we get a kitten?”

His dad grunted, and Kelvin heard other voices in the background. “One more pull. It’s loose. Let’s get that panel off.”

Kelvin looked into the blackness above him. Off in the distance, the star Gliese 433 shone like a big red flashlight in the sky.

The real “star” in this part of the galaxy was the planet Gliese 433-b— or, as Kelvin liked to call it, Sweetums. It hung over him like a giant blueberry. Depending on its orbit and the location of the star, the planet could look purple, orange or even gold.

Another crackle. “Say again, Kelvin.”

Kelvin stepped away from the pet transport crates and tried to see over the antennas. A flare of white light from behind the control tower revealed where his dad, mom and part of the crew were working on the communications dish that hadn’t been operational since last week.

“I saw an orange kitten that Mom might like,” Kelvin said. “Do we really have to put all these animals on the next transport?”

“Little busy right now, sport,” his dad said.

If I had that kitty, I’d call him Fluffnark the Magnificent, Kelvin thought.

“What about Widget?” His mom’s voice interrupted his thoughts.

“Aw, Mom,” Kelvin said into his collar mic. “Widget’s so old he has to wear that zero-gravity belt just to get off the couch. Plus, I want a kitten. Cats are cool.”

He ran his fingernail down the ridged edge of one of the crates and looked at Fluffnark the Magnificent.

“Sorry to break in on you guys,” a new voice said. It was Iriel, the woman who ran the tech stuff on the station. “Kelvin, please go up to the perch and see if we’re getting anything through the dish yet.”

Kelvin trudged toward the control tower. “Sure.”

Collision Course
He ducked through a round metal door and started up the narrow spiral staircase toward the control perch. Clang, clang, clang. His feet pounded up the metal stairs.

“There you are, Widget,” Kelvin said. “I wondered where you’d drifted off to.”

Widget, an old basset hound, floated near the top of the windows in the observation tower. He was asleep and, thanks to his zero-gravity belt, upside down.

Kelvin sighed and plopped into a chair. “I so need a cat.”

The control panels in front of him would’ve overwhelmed most people, but Kelvin wasn’t most people. He called up the main communication screen. Nothing but gray fuzz.

“We’ve got nothing, Iriel,” he said into the mic.

“Hang on, Kel,” his dad said. “How about now?”

“No,” Kelvin said. “The fuzz wiggled, though.”

While the crew worked on the dish, Kelvin checked the readouts on their orbital platform. Everything looked fine: gravity, oxygen, thrust, fuel, distance from the planet, rotation—

“That’s weird,” Kelvin said to himself.

He leaned forward and stared at the collision avoidance screen. A blip. He pressed a few buttons and a three-dimensional display shimmered to life in the middle of the perch.

Sweetums dominated the image. Their home, a floating refinery station, orbited around it. What was new to the picture had Kelvin worried. A small spaceship headed straight for the station.

“Um, guys,” he said into his mic. “We’ve got visitors.”

A crackle over the speakers. “Say again?” his father said.

“Incoming vessel,” Kelvin said, trying to sound like Iriel. “Intercept course. Closing fast.”

“Probably the transport,” his mom said.

“Too early,” Iriel replied.

“Unless we missed an update,” his mom said.

“Which is why we need to get the dish back up,” Iriel said, sounding rushed.

Kelvin zoomed in on the image. It was too small to be a cargo freighter. It looked like a one-man ship, sort of like—

“Scourge drone!” he shouted into his mic. “Are we due for a flame-wash?”

Everybody started talking at once.

“Not ready—”

“No pilot—”

“Can’t call it off without the dish—”

“Flash-burn the whole station—”

Kelvin grabbed some zoom-specs and walked to the window. He peered out at the craft. It looked like a regular space fighter: white, with barrel thrusters and purple-striped stabilization fins. But where the pilot’s canopy should be, there was just blank metal. The ship had been retrofitted with a triangular nose cone that spewed chemical flames to burn away the peroxidized buildup from remote space stations... such as the one where Kelvin now stood.

The flame-wash had to be done every couple of years or space gunk would begin chewing up the metal surfaces. Kelvin actually loved watching it. But he was supposed to watch from inside the command center, a safe distance away. If the drone burned the station now, many of their supplies would be roasted. Kelvin and Widget would be safe, but anything on the deck would go up in flames.

Including the space kittens.

“Mom, I’ve got to do something!” Kelvin screamed. “Fluffnark is out there!”

Rescue Plan
Kelvin was already halfway down the circular staircase before anybody could respond. He couldn’t let those innocent animals be burned up. But moving 50 crates in five minutes seemed impossible.

Oh, dear Jesus, what should I do? Kelvin prayed.

As he burst out the circular door onto the platform, words popped into his head.

We walk by faith, not by sight.

It was the verse from 1 Corinthians that his mom had him memorize this week. He’d been reading it on the bathroom vid-display as he got ready each morning.

OK, Kelvin thought, but that doesn’t exactly give me a plan, does it?

He ran to the stack of crates and tried to pull out the one with Fluffnark inside, but it was in the middle row under a crate with a heavy dog.

By faith, not sight, Kelvin thought. God, I trust that You have a plan, but right now I can’t see it.

He put his feet on the bottom crate and yanked down the dog, not too gently. “Sorry, pooch. Come on, Fluffy.” He grabbed Fluffnark’s crate and ran toward the control tower door. He looked up.

The drone craft slowed and settled into orbit around the station. Kelvin could almost feel its sensors scanning the surfaces. The ship’s blaster started to glow red.

“No, no, not yet!”

By faith, not by sight. Not by sight. Not by s—

Kelvin froze. “Of course!”

He dropped Fluffnark into the stairwell of the control tower and shut the circular door. Kelvin ran across the platform—right under the nose of the fire drone—to the tube-pipes from the station’s exhaust system. He wrapped his arm around one of the pipes and yanked. Nothing. He pulled again. It bent toward him, but it didn’t tear free.

This has to work, he thought.

Kelvin let go of that tube and grabbed the next one. He tore with all his might. The flexible tube ripped in half and spewed foul-smelling smoke out like a fog hose.

Yes!

Kelvin watched the smoke billow around the platform like a small cloud, but it wasn’t nearly enough. He grabbed the third tube-pipe and shredded it in one pull. This smoke was white, and there was lots of it. He coughed and pulled his shirt over his mouth and nose.

He had no idea if this would work, but at this point, he had to go on faith.

In a Fog
Kelvin ran around the platform tearing pipes and filling the deck with smoke. The atmospheric bubble around the station kept it all in, which helped his plan. He was careful not to tear the oxygen lines. He did want to survive this, after all.

Kelvin checked the drone. Shrouded behind the fog, it sat in what he figured was an assessment loop. Seeming to have made a decision, the drone swiveled and dropped to the underside of the platform. All Kelvin could see was a red glow of fire as the drone cleaned the hull of the station.

“Kelvin!” His father’s voice finally cut through to him. “The drone is coming topside. Get off the platform, now!”

Kelvin’s legs and arms burned. His lungs and throat stung from the acidic smoke. He stumbled toward the control tower. He tried to pick up the large dog’s crate, but his muscles were spent. Giving up, he ran the final few steps and fell through the circular door. It clanked shut behind him.

The fire drone rose above the main platform like a dragon, wide wings swathed in smoke. Fire in its throat.

A fiery glow rose at its cone, but nothing came out. Stabilizing in flight, the drone scanned the smoky deck. Kelvin thought he could almost see it scratch its little computer head. Its instruments could see nothing but fog.

Then, as if someone had flipped a switch, the fire vanished and the drone leveled off and seemed to go to sleep.

“I knew it!” Kelvin shouted to nobody. “Shut down and wait for instructions. Gotcha, robo-boy.”

Cat-astrophe Averted
Thirty minutes later, the dish had been restored and the drone had been instructed to sit in silent orbit until the crew readied the station for the rest of the flame-wash. Kelvin sat with his parents at the dining table in the commons area. Widget floated in the air over the table, his long ears hanging straight down.

Kelvin looked at his parents doubtfully. “More safety lessons?”

“No,” his dad said. “I know we’ve talked about the dangers of what you did. But it was also extremely brave and clever. You showed a lot of faith.”

“And,” his mom said, putting an arm around his back, “to help you remember that God always wants your best, your father and I wanted to give you something.”

She nodded at Kelvin’s dad, who brought up from under the table something special, orange and cute.

“Fluffnark the Magnificent!”

Space kittens rule.

Look for more adventures every month in our new comic, Degrees of Kelvin.

This story first appeared in the January 2015 issue of Clubhouse magazine. Copyright © 2015 Jeff Gerke. Used by permission. Art © Erwin Madrid.