Redoubtable Scientist Susie Derkins crouches under a bush on the edge of a clearing in the remote jungle. She scribbles feverishly in her notebook, cataloguing every nuance of this, her first meeting with a new, hitherto undiscovered, species of ape. She can barely hold herself still to avoid startling it.
Her pen flies across the page, sketching the shape of its profile and noting its long, flexible fingers and the way it stands, poised to escape. She imagines that she must look just as strange and unusual to it as it does to her, and she's delighted to think that she's the one who will get to catalogue every last detail and introduce this new creature to the world.
Concentrating as she is on the fascinating new ape in front of her, she still has some attention to spare for the noises behind her. She recognises a particular high-pitched whining kind of a shriek and her fingers pause. Surely she is not going to be bothered today by the ridiculous screaming and prancing of this other, sadly too well-known, monkey?
She glances away from her new ape to see the other monkey rolling over and over across the grass behind her campsite. Oh yes, it's that rotten stinker of a howler monkey, alright.
We join our fearless explorer, Spaceman Spiff, high above the forbidding alien landscape of Planet WX21-956FJ. Spiff marvels, again, at the lack of originality that astronomers give to planets. From this height, it would be better named Spitball.
Out of nowhere, a meteor shower starts to rain down around him. Rocks hurtle out of the inky blackness towards his beautiful red ship and Spiff slews the craft this way and that to avoid them. One clips his back fin and he spins, cursing the incompetence of those slimy mechanics at the Intergalactic Space Agency. They told him the equilibrium problem was fixed!
Spinning helplessly, Spiff fights for control of the joystick. He brings the craft back under control long enough to level off and slow down. It's still going to be a rough landing. He hits the ground with a thud and skids across it like a top before flipping over a rock and landing.
Jolted and upside down, Spiff doesn't lose his cool. He reaches for the ejector button and lets himself drop out of the capsule and onto the hard, forbidding ground of the planet. At ground level, it's not like a spitball at all. He settles his goggles more securely and sets his blaster to Steam as he sets off to explore.
Redoubtable Scientists never lose their cool. Susie is extremely Redoubtable. She watches the other monkey for a moment as it shambles away, no doubt distracted by some other shiny thing that's caught its eye. She turns back to her beautiful new discovery.
Her new ape is clearly intelligent. It has turned away from her now, and Susie sees, to her delight, that it has been joined by another, much smaller ape. It appears to be scolding the smaller one for something. This makes all her toil worthwhile. She wonders if she can photograph them, or if the clicking and flashing will disturb them too much. She settles on drawing. She'll add the notes later, turning her hasty scribbles into the most important Scientific paper of the year.
A movement in the bushes behind her new ape catches her eye. They part with a crunch of tearing branches and her least favourite howler monkey tumbles through onto the ground. At least he's not shrieking. He seems to be heading towards her, though, and she scowls. She's already lost valuable scientific equipment to this clod-hopping fiend, so he'd better not think that he can get anything from her today.
Spaceman Spiff navigates his way carefully around the alien landscape. Strange, bug-like creatures perch on rocks, waving their shiny black legs in the air. He follows their gaze and sees the matriarch. She is huge and loathsome, with her giant forelegs waving and her clacking pincers opening and closing. She seems to be the queen of these beasts, directing them in their mindless labours. He definitely doesn't want to be caught here, or he'll be turned into one of these hideous drones.
He spots a beast ahead of him who seems to have some kind of rudimentary tools in front of them, and is using them to draw a picture. Perhaps there will be something he can use to fix his craft and get it airborne again before he gets spotted. He quietly sneaks across the space between them.
Redoubtable Scientist Susie Derkins watches the approach of the howler with disfavour. She just wants to finish collecting her data so she can get on with the important business of researching and writing and publishing. She wants to share her ideas and observations with the world.
The monkey slinks along the ground, obviously thinking he's being stealthy. His fingers are twitching and he has a greedy and calculating look on his face. This cannot end well, she thinks, clutching protectively at her pens and pencils.
The howler makes a grab for her pencil case and she forgets her scientific dignity as she flings herself onto the interloper and tries to wrestle it back out of his grip.
Zounds! Who knew foul space beetles were so strong? This one seems determined not to let him take the tools and is threatening him with a pointed stick. She stabs again and again for his eyes and he lets go of her bag of tools in order to fight her off. Spaceman Spiff struggles to bring his blaster to bear on her. He's not going to be outdone by a chittering bug.
Mrs Wormwood turns her head at the sound of the commotion behind her. Calvin is involved, which is not a surprise at all, but seeing Susie Derkins apparently determined to stab him with a crayon is. She bustles over to separate the combatants. It proves unexpectedly difficult. Once again, it is Susie who is the surprise. She has the fingers of one hand clenched tight in Calvin's hair, the better to aim for the eyes. Calvin gives up easily, sagging in her grip and not struggling as she confiscates his water pistol from him.
After sending them both to the principal, she looks at their desks. On Suzie's is her half-finished poster about Jane Goodall, while spread in pieces across Calvin's is something that might once have been the start of a poster about an astronaut. Well, she can see Susie growing up to be a scientist, but she's not sure what's going to happen to that boy.
Susie Derkins shoulders her carry-on bag and walks towards her gate. Planes, she has discovered, are invariably late when she has to make a connection. She's not as frustrated by this as usual, since the connection will be taking her to her first field placement and she's too excited to care much. It's not the jungles of Africa, and prairie dogs are a far cry from great apes, but it's still the start of a lifelong dream for her. Not even a long wait at the airport can dampen her spirits, though she determinedly doesn't think of the inevitable boredom that field research always includes; she's not so romantic that she supposes she'll be exempt from that.
She hears her name called halfway down the hallway to her gate and pauses. She can't tell immediately where the voice is coming from in the noise of the airport lounge, but the thump of footsteps behind her is strangely familiar. She turns her head to see Calvin appear beside her, and it's the perfect surprise for a new beginning.
They stare at each other in silence for a moment, in the awkward way you do when you meet someone after a long absence. Susie hasn't seen Calvin in over a year, since last time she was home for Christmas, and she's not sure where to start. Then Calvin grins and says that he's only catching a plane because his rocket is in the shop, and Susie smiles too. After that, it's easy to hug quickly, punch each other on the arm, get a drink and talk.
Calvin describes the surprising monotony of making storyboards and colour matching, and Susie the grinding tedium of writing population modelling programs. Calvin tells a hilarious story about a co-worker with an obsessive sorting fetish for his pens. Susie tops it with the story of her professor with the racing cockroaches. They grin, and both know they wouldn't change a thing about their lives.
They get another cup of coffee each and talk more. Susie talks about how prairie dogs might be the first step to specialising in primates, and Calvin tells her about the comic he's writing. Susie talks about the lazy misogyny of her computer science classmates. Calvin talks about how he's over drawing violence and wants to try something different. They both realise how idealistic they sound, but Susie doesn't care.
When Susie steps off her plane, finally, and runs madly to her connecting flight, hoping furiously that her luggage makes it, she's still smiling.
Calvin scrutinises the drawing carefully. The Redoubtable Scientist stares back at him appraisingly, like he's a new species that she's interested in measuring. He can practically see her fingers twitch for her camera or her measuring tape. He lays the drawing on top of another one, this one of Spaceman Spiff with his blaster in his hand, and rolls the two together.
Carefully sliding the drawings into a tube, he hums tunelessly and thinks about his latest project, the new comic books he wants to buy, and the game he's planning on watching tonight. He's thinking about Susie too, though, and the time she tried to stab out his eyes with a crayon, and the memory fits perfectly. He hopes she remembers that too.