The sound of a few dozen discussions echoed through the mainly empty hangar located on Cape Canaveral. The discussions between the strangers mainly dealt with where they were from, the reason why they were flown here at the government's expense, and what would be served for lunch.
In front of the crowd of fifty people, composed of an equal mix of men, women, and children, there was an elevated stage with a wooden podium. A middle-aged man with a streak of grey hair walked onto the stage. As he adjusted the microphone on the podium, he started, "Thank you ladies and gentlemen. You are probably wondering why we have gone to the trouble of bringing you all hear at the government's expense."
There were a few confirming nods and mutterings from the crowd. "I'm Dr. Carter of the Explorer program," the man continued, "and you were all selected randomly to come here today. What we are asking is for one family among you to volunteer for the greatest adventure of a life time."
The lights dimmed and a slide projector came on. On the screen was the image of a flying saucer-like space vehicle. "This is the Explorer 1, a spacecraft that will be able to travel to the distant corners of the galaxy. We need a family to pilot it to Alpha Centauri and back. It is estimated that the round-trip will take approximately two years. You will have all the amenities of a comfortable life during the trip and when you return you will be rewarded handsomely for your services. Do we have any volunteers to step forward?"
There was silence in the hangar, followed by the noise of several feet shuffling at the exact same moment. The entire crowd took a large step backward, except for one family.
Homer suddenly noticed that he and his family were not part of the crowd anymore. Instead, they stood alone before the stage. "Ah! We have volunteers! Congratulations!" Dr. Carter announced.
Homer Simpson raised his fist in the air and said, "Woo-hoo!"
Then he said "Hey, wait a minute... doh!" in the next breath.
It was a half-hour before launch time, and the Simpsons were making their final preparations. They had all suited up in the bright metallic silver foil jumpsuits with the black trim and were busily stowing away the gear that they had brought on board. As Marge packed away the freeze-dried space food into the utility cupboard, her eye spied Homer lugging a television set. "Homey!" she called out.
Homer stopped and looked around. "What?!" he said nervously.
"Homey! Dr. Carter said that we're not supposed to bring any extra weight that we don't need!" Marge chastised.
"But Marge! How can we function as a family without the trivial yet amusing antics of the all our favorite programs? How can we live without the warm glow that television brings to our family? And how will we cook our TV dinners. Everybody knows you need a TV for those!" Homer pleaded with those sad-puppy eyes of his.
Marge grumbled. "How are you going to plug it in? There are no electrical outlets on this spaceship. And any extra weight might throw us off course..."
"You're right Marge, I'll take this off the ship," Homer said.
"Thank you, Homey," Marge said to her husband as she pecked him on the cheek.
As Marge went back to stocking the food, Homer laughed quietly to himself "Heh heh heh!"
"Hidely-ho, neighbouroni!" an annoyingly familiar voice called out.
Homer turned around and saw his smug holier-than-thou neighbour, Ned Flanders, in his regular corduroy slacks and green sweater getup. Ned was waving to him and grinning from ear-to-ear. "What do you want, Flanders?" Homer said in a gruff voice.
"Homey, you should be nicer. After all, he's come all this way to say good-bye," Marge said.
After all, you'll never have to see him again for the next two years, Homer thought to himself. Heh heh heh. "Well Flanders, thanks for coming, hope you had fun, watch out for that step on your way out," Homer said quickly.
"Hey hey, Homer! I just go here, you kidder!" Ned said.
Bart reached into his left pocket and pulled out the slingshot he had smuggled onboard. He then reached into his right pocket and pulled out a pebble that he had scarfed on the walk from the shuttle bus to the launch pad. He loaded the weapon and pulled back on the elastic slowly. After carefully aiming at his target, his little sister Lisa, he let fly.
Lisa noticed that she had dropped one of the towels in the bundle she was carrying and bent over to pick it up.
The pebble whizzed over Lisa's head and impacted with the button that activated the rocket's ignition. The button went down and a mighty roar rattled the rocket. The Simpsons stopped what they were doing and stood their awestruck. "Oh my god, it's taking off!" Marge said.
Homer thought for a moment. He then grabbed Ned's arm and started pushing him towards the airlock. "I think you should really get going now!" Homer said.
The force of the engines pushed the rocket spaceward and forced the airlock door shut before Homer could push Ned out of the spaceship, trapping them all inside. As Homer watched the clouds appear outside the window of the airlock, he screamed "Noooo!!!!!"
They had been in space almost a week. Soon after lift-off, the extra weight of the television and Ned Flanders had begun taking the Explorer I off course. Not long after, Homer spilled his beer onto the control panel, shorting out the on-board radio. So now the Simpsons were wandering the galaxy off-course and unable to contact Earth.
"Let's go Lisa, his stories suck," Bart said as they both got up disgusted by Ned's moral tales of modern Christianity.
On the launch day, Ned had accidentally been launched with them when he had only come on board to say good-bye. And now here he was, part of the crew, an unofficial member of the Simpson family. Whereas Marge had accepted him and treated him with respect, the rest of the family still ostracized him. But Ned kept up the stiff upper lip, and added extra syllables to his words, as though nothing was wrong.
Barney stumbled out of Moe's and staggered into the empty and dimly lit street. His hair was haggard-looking and his orange T-shirt hung about loosely over his bloated form. A few seconds later, he succumbed to the force of gravity and fell onto the cold and rough asphalt. Laying on his back, he let out a loud belch as he stared into the sky, clear and starry.
The crickets chirped and the sounds of distant sirens echoed through the empty city streets as Barney lay there, oblivious to the world, caught up in his own alcohol-induced stupor, too intoxicated to notice the bright light that descended from the night sky.
The flying saucer descended from the sky and hovered over Barney, bathing him in bright lights. Small flashing lights encircled the rim of the flying saucer, which seemed to be made of a ceramic-type material. Barney began to rise off the street and float slowly towards the flying saucer. As he rose towards the UFO, Barney let out another large belch. A small circular hatch opened on the bottom of the flying, which then closed once Barney had ascended into the belly of the spacecraft.
Detol looked at the human specimen lying on the strangely organic-looking examination table. His co-worker, Midol, used his tentacle-like appendage to pick up the portable scanner. As Midol scanned the human specimen, Midol said, "Yes, this body possesses a plentiful quantity of the ethanol we need to fuel our reactor. This ethanol level exceeds any other specimens that we have captured."
"Heeeyyy... what are yoooou doinnnng?" Barney said as he began to sober up and squirm around.
"Silence human!" Detol said angrily, "Begin the transfer process immediately before we run out of gas."
Midol floated to the control panel at the side of the examination table and pulled a lever. A green beam passed over Barney, sucking out the intact alcohol molecules that were in his blood, skin, organs, and fat cells. "Heeeyy... that tickles," Barney said, just before letting out another belch.
"We are at full capacity, now, Detol," Midol announced, "we have enough fuel to last us a hundred years!"
"But the specimen still has reserve capacity!" Detol said in awe as he examined the read-out on the small display.
"What shall we do? This specimen will be of use to us in 100 years!" Midol said.
"We will place the specimen into a preservation suit and leave it on an abandoned planet. That way, when we return in 100 years, we will be able to extract more fuel from him," Detol said, as he pointed at the black metallic suit in the corner.
The Explorer I landed on the rocky surface of the small planet orbiting a dim star. As the roar of the retro thrusters died down, the hatch opened up and a ladder was dropped. Ned looked out into the dark landscape through the visor on his spacesuit. As far as the eye could see, the orange sand stretched out to the horizon under a black and starry sky. Craters and jagged mountains dotted the planetscape. "Hidely-ho, strange new world. This being a momentous occasion of arriving at a new world calls for a few important words..." Ned started as he cleared his throat.
"Out of the way, Flanders!" Homer and Bart said as they rushed passed him and down the ladder.
Flanders sighed as Homer and Bart looked about and kicked the orange sand around. Lisa helped Maggie down the ladder and they went about exploring the lifeless planet.
"Hey Homer!" Bart yelled, "Check this out!"
Homer rounded the small hill and saw what Bart had found. It was about six feet tall and metallic black. It had two legs and two arms, though the arms ended with metallic claws instead of hands. The head was made of glass, through which Homer could see the inner working parts. Two antennae sat on the object's head, constantly spinning. "Oooh, a vending machine!" Homer said.
As Homer began bashing the metal object in an attempt to get a free soda or some spare change, Bart said, "Homer! It's a robot!"
Homer stopped, and said, "I knew that... just testing you, son. Hmmm... a robot. You will make a good slave!"
The black robot came to life and in a high-pitched whiney voice it said, "Heeeyyy Hommmerrrr! It's meeee, Barrnnney!"
"Did you hear something, son?" Homer asked Bart.
Bart pointed at the robot and said, "I think the robot said something, Homer!"
"Hooommmmmeeeerrr! It's me, Barrrnnneeeyyy Gumble. I was at Mooooee's and then I was resting and then this biiiiggg flying saucer came down and kidnapped me. They put me in this tin can and left me here," Barney said, followed by a belch.
"Let's get him onto the ship!" Bart said.
Homer and Bart began pulling Barney slowly towards the ship. "Geeeee Hoommmeerrr, you're a swellll guy! <belch>"
Despite all the collective brainpower they had, the Simpsons were unable to figure out a way to release Barney from the metal construct that the aliens had encased him in. The locking mechanism was something that they had never seen before requiring a complex set of mechanical motions to defeat. However, Barney adapted to life within the suit. He learned to walk and pick up objects and use the various equipment that came with the suit, including the early warning system and sensors.
It was after dinner and Marge and Lisa were putting away the dishes. "Well Marge, that was a simply scrumptious de-light!" Ned complimented as he drank down his glass of milk.
"Why thank you, Ned. I'm glad you liked it," Marge answered.
Homer approached Barney, who stood silently in the corner of the dining area. He stood next to him and said, "Hey Barney, would you like some beer instead of oil?"
"Ooohh, yooou don't have to ask me twice, Hoommerr," Barney answered, "but aasss loonnng as I still get the oil. <belch>"
Homer went to the fridge and grabbed a can of Duff beer. He opened it and passed it to Barney, who's claws were twitching open and closed. As Barney grabbed the can with his right claw, a small opening popped open on his chest. He then threw the entire can into the opening and then it closed. There were some grinding noises and Barney began vibrating. After several moments, the grinding and vibrating ceased and Barney said, "Aaahhh, that suuurrrre hits the spot."
In the large living area of the spaceship sat Marge in front of the giant screen that displayed images of the ship's status, the exterior, and it could even display television images from Earth. As Marge fiddled with the controls, she managed to lock onto an image. "Homey!" she called out excitedly, "I've got a signal. I think it's a Gloria Swanson movie!"
"Mmmmm... Swanson dinner," Homer, mumbled as he stood lost in his own thoughts and foaming at the mouth.
Barney was busily stacking boxes of fresh fruits that the Simpsons had picked on the planet that was thick with vegetation. After putting away the entire load, he stopped and said to himself, "Boooyyy, is it getttting hhhottt in here."
He then took off the helmet of the preservation suit and wiped his brow. After wiping the sweat from his forehead, he replaced the helmet on his head. "Dad!" Lisa yelled.
"What is it, Lisa?" Homer asked.
"Barney just took his helmet off!" Lisa exclaimed.
"Don't be silly Lisa. We couldn't find anyway to remove the helmet," Homer answered.
"But didn't you see him wipe his brow?" Lisa said.
Homer turned toward Barney and said, "Hey Barney! Did you just take off your helmet?"
"Nooo waaayy Hommmeerr," Barney answered.
"See Lisa," Homer said, "you just have an overactive imagination."
Lisa and Bart came running in, obviously in distress. "Mom! Homer!" they shouted.
"What's wrong?" Marge asked.
"There's this big space alien with tentacles and a single eye in our bedroom!" Bart shouted, "And it ate Grandpa!"
Marge and Homer remained silent. "And it's coming for us, now!" Lisa shouted.
"Danger! Danger! Danger! <belch>" Barney said.
"Aaaahhhhh!" Homer cried out as something grabbed his leg and he hit the floor with a thump.
"Homey!" Marge yelled as she covered her mouth and saw the big space alien enter the living area.
"Ned! Do something!" Homer shouted to the man sitting in the back of the room, reading the Bible.
"Sorry Mr. Simpson, I don't narily-darily interfere with this alien's culture!" Ned said with a smile.
"Must fight big slimy alien... must not be eaten," Homer said as he desperately tried to grab something to hold onto.
. But it was all for naught as the slimy alien pulled Homer into its maw.