Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (episode two)

Meanwhile, in a place that was inconceivably distant from that beleaguered planet, the ageing space vessel, Gravity Whelk, illuminated by the nuclear fires of a nearby star, hung relatively motionless in deep space…

And aboard it, sitting at an observation window, Folie Krimp – co-owner of the vessel…

…recalled how that situation came to be. How he and his friend, Placebo Bison, were gifted the unwanted ship by the Captain of the Brian Talbot, for their sterling work in reuniting the people of Earth’s ruined identical twin planet with their ruler, Princess Cake of Potwell…

But that had been almost three weeks ago; and now Folie wasn’t quite so sure that he should have accepted the gift. At that moment Placebo joined him upon his seat…

He dared voice his concerns to his huge polystyrene pal.

“Yes, I know what you mean.” Placebo replied. “It’s like this ship isn’t really suited to us. It’s as if we’re merely temporary caretakers. Why, only last night, I was so tired that I could barely keep my eyes open…

…but when I went to lay upon the bed that you designated as mine, I was suddenly aware that it had never been designed for me; and that I was not its first occupant.”

“Oh.” A surprised Folie responded. “I always sleep like a log.”

“Hmmm,” Placebo said as he nodded, “I’d noticed that. I can hear your incessant snoring through the partition wall – or ‘bulkhead’ as it’s known aboard ship. But then you’re an earplug. Actually you’re a yellow earplug. The bed was designed specifically for a yellow earplug – namely Beaufort Skail, who happens to look remarkably like you. And, very sensibly, you tore down the posters too: that probably de-personalised the room for you. But for me that is a step too far. My room belongs to Richter Skail: and I can’t forget that…


So I spend my nights standing at the porthole, looking into the depths of infinity, until I’m so whacked out that I collapse on the deck and fall asleep.”

“Oh dear, Placebo.” Folie commiserated with his friend. “How absolutely sodding ghastly for you. But your bedroom isn’t the cause of my doubts regarding the suitability of this vessel. No; for me the perfunctory ‘bridge’ is what rattles my cage…

“I know exactly what you mean.” Placebo hurriedly agreed. “Even when we’re rushing through a dense, foggy atmosphere on some uncharted planet, it never feels like we’re really involved. That we’re just passengers. But that’s what comes with having an auto-pilot that flies the ship for us.”

This time it was Folie who ‘hummed’. He followed it with: “Well that might have suited the Skail Brothers: but it doesn’t suit me. Let’s go there now: I wanna show you something.”

It took several minutes for the two young would-be adventurers to shuffle along a couple of corridors and down two flights of stairs to the forward observation window – or ‘bridge’…

“What do you see?” Folie asked.

“Uh…space; stars; um…” Placebo answered

“And what don’t you see?” Folie inquired…

Placebo’s silence told Folie that his friend recognised a rhetorical question when he heard one. “Controls.” He said. “Read-outs, screens, buttons, levers, knobs, interfaces of any kind. That’s what you don’t see.”

“We have the verbal interface with the Automatic Pilot.” Placebo argued. “We say ‘go in that direction really fast’ and that’s what the ship does.”

“Is that piloting?” Folie asked.

Again Placebo didn’t answer. Well actually he did; but it came after a long period of deep thought. So deep that Folie feared that the sleep-deprived polystyrene blob might have slipped into a coma. “The ship is old.” He said finally. “It needs a re-fit. It needs to be adjusted to suit our collective psyche. And I’d like a bed that fitted my huge frame. And a couple more toilets of course. An ‘en suite‘ would be nice.”

This was just the response that Folie had been praying to the Saint of All Earplugs for…

Daring a sideways glance he asked: “And where do we get an entire ship re-fitted –  bearing in mind that we have no swollen coffers to raid?”

Placebo’s deep thought bore more fruit: “There is only one place that I’m aware of that might perform this great act of kindness for us. A place that is ruled by a brave and wise leader, who happens to like earplugs more than a bit.”

Folie tried to mask the excitement building inside him: “Does this brave and wise leader sometimes wear a huge plume on the top of his lustrous golden head?”

“He does.” Placebo replied as he turned around…

He then added: “Autopilot: start the engines and set us a direct course.”

“Sure thing.” The disembodied voice of the Autopilot boomed. “But where do I set a course for?”

“Scroton.” The friends said as one. “Maximum speed!”

©Paul Trevor Nolan 2021



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