Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part thirty-five)

With magma bubbling excitedly behind him, Nobby edged towards the edge of a nearby precipice…

“Maybe we need to get the heck out of here.” He said.

But when his gaze fell upon the interior of the precipice…

…the word ‘maybe’ became superfluous…

“Aargh,” he bellowed intellectually, “run, Clifton: run!”

So they ran, but soon Clifton fell astern of his fellow engineer…

“Slow down, Nobby.” He gasped. “I had a dreadful night: I hardly slept a wink. And I had a huge bowl of porridge for breakfast.”

It could have been curtains for Clifton Wedge, but good fortune favoured them both, and soon they found themselves in more clement conditions…

“It’s still bloody hot,” Nobby observed, “but at least it’s bearable. And this steam is quite invigorating. You could pay a fortune for a sauna like this on Mars.”

But Clifton wasn’t really listening: he couldn’t help but notice that the thermal changes had brought back to life a form of subterranean eco-system.

“Hmmm.” He replied; but his thoughts were on the lapel camera that he habitually wore, and (he hoped) was capturing the scene.

Nobby, if nothing else, possessed an acute sense of direction, and the farther the travelled, the further from danger they found themselves…

“Please,” a weary Clifton begged, “please tell me that the exit is just around the next bend.”

Nobby would have replied with some meaningless platitude, but he didn’t need to: they were in a hollow, which was outside in the open air…

…and the warmth from the vents had thawed the snow…

“Ooh, that’s handy.” Nobby said in surprise. “With the Sky Cycle destroyed, walking in the snow would be problematical to say the least. I wonder if it’s like this all the way back to the museum.”

The answer to Nobby’s question arrived as they clambered from the hollow.  Ice and snow lay all about; and cutting through it all was a vast rend in the landscape, through which open water flowed in a torrent…

 

“Wow,” Clifton said as they investigated the new topographical feature…

…it looks as though you’ve opened a whole can of worms. This water must have been trapped in the form of ice for millennia. Your rocket has released sub-strata magma, which has thawed it all out. Mars may have oceans again – albeit shallow ones. Unfortunately the Future Museum of Mars sits uncomfortably close to the edge of a plain. How high those waters rise is questionable: the museum might become a seafront property; or it could be completely submerged and totally destroyed. Only time will tell.”

“Oh, thanks for that, Cliff.” Nobby replied. “I wish I’d brought someone else along.”

With nothing else to say or do, the engineers began their trek back to the museum…

Soon though Nobby realised that the ground they were walking on seemed to be moving. He mentioned this to Clifton…

“Great,” the cheesed-off orange earplug replied, “we must be on the ice sheet. Please tell me it’s taking us in the right direction.”

Of course what neither of them could possibly know was that Frisby was watching their progress upon a monitor…

He sighed. “Suppose I’d better send someone out to fetch them back – before they drift straight on by.” He said to himself.

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part thirty-four)

Engineer, Clifton Wedge, who was still to recover fully from his night in a snow cave, couldn’t believe his sodding eyes: he rushed straight to the nearest maintenance door and threw it open…

“Oh, cripes,” he groaned as he surveyed the nearby ice-sheet from between the door jambs, “I know Mars is supposed to be the Red Planet: but this is ridiculous. That wally, Nobby Hollister, is going to need some help with this one.”

And out upon the ice-sheet, Gerhardt Snitzenfrudel…

…was all for accepting Budlea Budgin’s kind offer of a ride in their habitat back to the museum.

“Better be waking Jenson and Rufus, I am thinking, Tynan.”

“Yeah,” Tynan said angrily, “and those dippy pair in the shepherd’s hut too. None of us will survive out here for long otherwise. When I find out who is responsible for this…I’m gonna forget my Hippocratic Oath to do no harm and kick  ’em right up the arse.”

In the aforementioned shepherd’s hut…

…Maverick and Mulleon were enjoying the show.

“I wasn’t expecting this when I booked our flight to Mars.” Maverick stated. “But as pretty as it is, it’s going to play merry hell with my search for ancient evidence of a marine earplug population on this planet.”

“Oh, look, Maverick.” Mulleon interrupted the cork’s thoughts; “those people down there are waving to us. I think they might be evacuating. Perhaps we’d better go too.”

Maverick didn’t argue for a moment. “I hope they have room for our wicker baskets. Do you think I have time to pop into the outside loo before we go?”

Back at the Future Museum of Mars, Tangerine stole a quick look at the outside world…

“Yes, Mister Mumph,” it called back into the building, “the sky is still red – but it appears to be fading. And the museum remains frozen. Yes, there is a dreadful draft: I’ll shut the door immediately.”

The red light to which Tangerine alluded worried Frisby; so he had the nul-space generator restarted, but at the Minimum Power setting so that he could switch on some pleasant ambient lighting for his  worried customers, but without blowing the place to smithereens…

Naturally Frisby Mumph despatched the earplug responsible for the rocket attack on the sub-strata to determine the true situation at Ground Zero. So, as the lights shone dimly in the museum, Nobby was riding a Sky Cycle across the ice-sheet. With him aboard the wondrous flying machine, Clifton Wedge watched the land slip away behind them…

“Nice to see that the red glow has finally subsided, Nobby.” He observed. “It was getting on my nerves. Are we nearly there yet?”

As it transpired, the land had been savaged so badly by the exploding rocket that Nobby was forced to land some distance from his original site. From there the two engineers bravely entered the ancient magma vents and traversed them towards the impact area…

“Whoo,” Nobby said as he looked around, “we’re miles from where we should be, and already the rocks are getting hot. I think I’ve really churned up the tectonic plates: this disturbance should have been much more localised. I wish Treacle Fagging had better stressed his rocket’s destructive capability to me: I might have done more complicated calculations.”

“He did tell you that it could destroy an entire Hyperspace Pirate fleet.” Clifton reminded him.

“Such an esoteric term.” Nobby argued in turn. “How big is a Hyperspace Pirate fleet? How powerful are their defensive screens? The numbers are all so vague.”

Clifton was about to reply, when, suddenly, and with only a moment’s warning – in the form of a huge rumble that nearly had the engineers off their feet – a convulsion occurred and a massive explosion ripped the land apart…

Beneath that land, Nobby – the expert in tectonics – grew concerned…

“That didn’t feel quite right.” He said to Clifton. “And it seems a whole bunch hotter in here now too.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part thirty-three)

Frisby Mumph had just gained the museum roof when the missile passed high above…

Inside, members of his engineering team watched on their viewer…

Well most of them did: only Nobby Hollister looked away.

Frisby then dashed back inside to join his team as they too watched events unfold via TV cameras…

Lillie shuddered: it reminded, only too acutely, of her time aboard the K T Woo. Despite their situation, she preferred peril on the ground, to the relative safety of space.

Upon the stage in the main hall, Sir Dodger addressed the quaking crowd…

“Now please, ladies, gentlemen, and things,” he said in his best thespian voice – which was delightful in every nuance – “there really is no need for concern; our rocket engineers do this sort of thing all the time: it’s bread and butter to them. Nothing can possibly go wrong. I’m a movie actor: I know about these things.”

He then regretted his last words. A grumble passed through the crowd…

…and he thought of all the movie actors before him who thought they knew better than average Joe and had talked themselves into endless ridicule and suddenly non-existent film roles.

“Oh flip,” he added, “yes; Treacle Fagging assured me himself, personally.”

But, as Sir Dodger squirmed inwardly on-stage, the rocket had acquired it’s stealth mode. It now flew low and slow…

And in their emergency habitat…

…Tynan Ware, Doubry Furkins, and Gerhardt Snitzenfrudel had awoken to discover that they had an ice-sheet for a front garden. So leaving Jenson Prong and Rufus the plugmutt to sleep on in Jenson’s cosy cot, they all went outside to look…

But that wasn’t the only surprise. The glacier had brought with it the habitat containing Budlea Budgin and Crevice McNally.

“Hey,” Budlea could be heard shouting through one of the windows, “why don’t you come over here: the ice is taking us in the direction of the museum.”

“Beats the heck out of walking.” Crevice’s disembodied voice added as it wafted across the ice upon a chill breeze.

Doubry was just about to reply, when the rocket roared overhead…

So, instead, he yelled: “Dive for cover: It’s a bomb!”

And not far away, in their prehistoric Shepherd’s abode, Maverick Fossil-Hunter and Mulleon Cleets were enjoying the benefits of a recent up-grade, which included intelligent climate control, waste product reclamation, and subtle lighting, all provided in one machine, made by the Zloib manufacturing facility somewhere beneath them in the ancient Martian city. Unfortunately it did not include an entertainment system, so Maverick and Mulleon had fallen back on old ways – to produce a nice pair of wicker baskets…

…of which they were very proud. Then the rocket rocked their cosy world…

…and their baskets were forgotten instantly.  Moments later the rocket reached its destination…

…Kerboom!

Tynan and Gerhardt could only look on in stupefaction: Doubry had been right…

And Maverick and Mulleon could barely believe their eyes as they stared from the inverted heart-shaped window of their hut…

And viewed from the distance of the Future Museum of Mars, the whole sky lit up and silhouetted the intervening hills…

…and Nobby Hollister was heard to say: “Ooh that was a bit bigger than I expected.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part thirty-two)

Well, obviously, Nobby Hollister couldn’t wait to re-board the shuttle pod back to the museum; and just as quickly he rushed into the presence of his grim-faced boss. Before he could speak, Frisby said: “The news had better be good: I’ve just received word that the glacier is speeding up.”

Nobby cast a quick glance in the direction of the main viewer that displayed the inexorable advance of the ice sheet. “You could say that.” He replied – before outlining his plan to hit the tectonic weak point with the anti-pirate missile.

Frisby didn’t know whether to be impressed or depressed: it sounded risky. But what was the alternative? With a sigh he said: “Go ahead, Mister Hollister. Prepare the weapon; launch when ready.”

Nobby, probably for the first time in his life, knew elation. As he turned and made for the exit he released a huge, “Yes!”…

…that even made the museum’s worried curator smile.

A short while later, after preparations – such as they were – were made to ready the building for the inevitable shockwave, Frisby and Lillie stood in the cargo entrance…

…and watched people as they relieved their inner torment by going out on to the snow. People like Sir Dodger Muir…

…who normally considered ice excellent when combined with vodka martinis, but not much good for anything else. But looking around at the others, who included Las Chicas De la Playas…

…he did wonder why he’d never tried skiing. Then he noticed that there seemed to be a sort of mini-exodus into the cold outside air…

…and he became rueful:  If the rocket plan failed, this ‘outside’ could soon be replicated ‘inside’. Or, worse still, the inside could cease to exist at all!

But some were determined to enjoy the spectacle as they lay upon their backs and observed the firmament above…

“I wonder what colour the vapour trail will be?” The bearded, Louis van Doore said as he squinted at the sky.

The turquoise biological android lying beside him had more prosaic thoughts in mind: ‘Did I close my botty valve correctly when I rushed out here? I don’t want to leave any evidence of my tardiness in the snow. Perhaps I should just lay here a little longer than everyone else, and let them all go before I get up. Oh it’s no fun being a biological android: why can’t I simply get a recharge overnight like proper androids?”

But all such thoughts ceased when they heard the distant rumble of the rocket as it launched from its bay…

…and inside customers crowded any window they could find…

…to watch as it climbed into a leaden sky…

Others filled the main hall…

…to watch the public screen, which displayed the rocket’s tail flame as it gained sub-orbital altitude…

Then, at apogee, the launch motors shut down and the rocket’s flight upwards ceased. For a moment it levelled off…

…before acquiring a rough approximation of its target; tilting to the perpendicular, igniting its cruise motors; and beginning a headlong plunge towards the planet…

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

Spoiled Illusions: 2 Tooty the Shootist

Are you one of those who, upon watching a DVD check out the extras, which often include a Making Of clip. I used to; but I don’t anymore: I don’t like to see the illusion spoiled. But just in case you are, here’s a little Earplug Adventures illusion spoiler.

Here’s a shot of Tooty the Shootist in the early days of the Earplug Adventures…

I bet Kodak never figured on their basic little Easyshare M550 ever producing pictures  that would be forever immortilized, in pixel-form, in e-books such as Evil Empire. Here’s the shot from the same location, but using different characters…

I can’t remember if this is the ‘nice’ Charles and Wolfgang checking out the Nul-Space generator’s heat exchanger, or their evil twins: but, because I’ve been living in their silicon world for so many years and adventures, for me it’s strange to see the image of me creating the characters, who seem almost real now.

Here I am again, pointing out the discarded office sound attenuators…

…that became The Woven Expanse and The Wide Blue Yonder…

Here former zombies Vic and Bob, and female weight-lifters Mandy and Candy cross the Woven Expanse in the very early tale, Museum of Terror. And the Wide Blue Yonder immediately afterwards, where they find a door into the Arboretum…

This is my fridge at work. I had a lot of home comforts at my place of work…

At my most self-indulgent I had a coffee machine (which appeared in a  few shots, a record player (ditto), tape deck (ditto), radio (errr ditto), a TV, a DVD player, and a kettle. But the item that appeared more than the rest combined was the fridge. Here’s a couple of shots…

In this shot from Earplug Aftermath, two silver androids visit the lavatory (of course). And in the following shot from Haunted Mars we see it used for the very last time…

It’s odd, looking back on this shot, which I probably took in late 2019 or early 2020, none of these ‘actors’ had names or personalities then. Now I see them differently. I like the look of acceptance on the face of rocket scientist, Treacle Fagging – second from left. Sadly, when I quit my job, I left my fridge behind for the guy who would take over from me. And a lot of other props too. I wonder what he made from them. Nothing probably.

And finally, moving from shootist to shootee…

Wonderful acting, I think you’ll agree. This is how I appeared as the Museum fo Future Technology’s A.I (in Winning Numbers) making an important announcement – probably of doom. I was very good at that…

 

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part thirty-one)

It took a while for Nobby and Glen to fly back to The Future Museum of Mars: and an additional five minutes for Glen to tuck into a less-than-delicious Crappachino from the Cafe Puke machine in the foyer, and for Nobby to take the underground transfer conduit to the Mars Rocket Development Centre, which was constructed just over the horizon from the museum. There he met with the Chief Development Engineer, Treacle Fagging…

“You’ve been developing this rocket of yours for almost seven Earth months,” Nobby stated scathingly, “isn’t it about time you tested the bloody thing?”

Treacle looked away shame-faced. What Nobby was saying was essentially correct: but the truth of the matter was, he had no confidence in the device. “Yeah, I s’pose so.” He mumbled.

But by the time they’d entered the main bay where the rocket was being developed, the familiar surroundings brought with them a degree of self-confidence. A huge degree of self-confidence. This was ‘his’ project: he wasn’t going to let a tectonic plate freak bad-mouth him in his own backyard…

“We’ve been developing this rocket,” he explained – whether Nobby wanted an explanation or not – “from the interceptor rocket that failed miserably when Ship Number Fifteen made its maiden flight to Mars and was attacked by Hyperspace Pirates…

That one, had it hit the intended target, would have disabled their entire fleet in one telling blow.”

Nobby recalled reading several reports upon the incident. The designers of that rocket had all lost their jobs and now worked as Baristas in the Museum of Future Technology. He also recalled why it had missed. It was too slow and didn’t turn well. The pirates had no difficulty evading it.

“But we’ve addressed those problems.” Treacle boasted. “Our improved rocket goes faster and can hit a barn door from fifteen kilometres away.”

Nobby paused for a moment. Only fifteen kilometres? It was almost ten-times that distance between the Rocket Development Centre and the tectonic plate that he hoped to split asunder. He said as much.

“No problem.” Treacle replied. “We can stick a camera on the front and steer it to it’s target – just as long as the target isn’t moving. The manoeuvrability problem hasn’t been licked just yet. But the bang is so big, it more than makes up for poor accuracy. Here we are now: this is the actual rocket you intend to use.”

Treacle was obviously very proud of his work: but Nobby felt decidedly underwhelmed. “It’s a bit small, isn’t it?” He said.

Treacle smiled at this. “This is just the tip of the nose cone.” He told Nobby. “It’s also where I’ll mount my little camera. Would you like to see more of it?”

Nobby very much wanted to. In fact he insisted. So, after Treacle had waved to some unseen operative…

…Nobby’s face lit up. “That’s more like it.” He said. “More please.”

But he wasn’t too impressed when the lifting mechanism jammed. And neither was Treacle as he stepped forward involuntarily and winced…

As a result of this indecisive movement, the tectonic engineer began to believe that it was a ruse, and that the rocket was only half the size that Treacle Fagging suggested. But before he could insult the rocket engineer with a derogatory remark, the vast missile was on the move once again…

Naturally Nobby was impressed with both the length and shininess of the rocket’s fuselage; but the grinding sounds of the lifting mechanism still worried Treacle. Clearly it was an issue that needed to be addressed – and soon…

But following some more ‘graunching’ sounds, the nose cone finally protruded through to the next level of the launch bay…

…and Nobby was awestruck…

“By the Saint of All Earplugs,” he exclaimed in jubilation, “we have the means to our salvation. That’s a really big rocket. I like it!”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Spoiled Illusions:1 Mars

Are you one of those who, upon watching a DVD check out the extras, which often include a Making Of clip. I used to; but I don’t anymore: I don’t like to see the illusion spoiled. But just in case you are, here’s a little Earplug Adventures illusion spoiler.

Recognise this?

Yup, it’s the interior of a street light. Several years ago a street light rusted through and fell down at my place of work; so, as a precaution, a small number of them were replaced. Naturally I grabbed a couple. And what a treasure trove they were. The outsides became obsolete space tugs – seen here in Return of the Prodigal Earplug – or other hulks in another story, the title of which eludes me right now, but it featured the creation of the starship Chi-Z-Sox *

And the inner parts became the exterior of The Future Museum of Mars in Martian Interlude and several others…

…AND the interior of the same edifice in several more, including Haunted Mars...

Unfortunately I was forced to leave my larger sets behind at the old building when the company moved to new premises. But I was smart enough to shoot a whole library of pictures before we departed to pastures new. The main Future Museum of Mars prop amongst them.

*I’ve written so many stories they begin to blur. Is there an earplug fan out there who can tell me which story it was?

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part thirty)

So, as the situation for the young adventurers seemed to be improving, back on beleaguered Mars, Precipitous Ledge Walking supremo, Patti Roularde was acting as spokesperson for a small self-important representative group who were acting on behalf of the museum’s customers…

“My clients, if I may call them that, are most concerned for their safety. Many wish to leave immediately.” She said to Frisby, who had Sir Dodger, Lillie, and William of Porridge beside him. “But when they went to the luggage retrieval hall…

…not only did they suffer horribly in the cold – some of them turning a nasty shade of mauve in the process; but that huge cork told them all to shove off, get lost, and go somewhere unmentionable. And do you know what he did when they refused?”

Frisby looked to William for the answer. He received nothing more than a tiny shrug and an angelic expression that Lillie thought made him look most attractive.

“I’ll jolly well tell you.” Patti snapped. “He dropped his trousers and ran up and down the loading bay releasing the most odious gas imaginable…

It fairly filled the place – despite the absence of the luggage door force-field and a keen breeze blowing in off the ice sheet. Naturally we fled in horror.”

Frisby nodded at this information…

“Can you confirm this, William?” He asked.

William could, and he was far from apologetic. “I can, Mister Mumph. It was a potentially fatal situation: many customers had arrived with only flimsy underwear and cheap nylon tank-tops to supplement their regular clothing. I felt it was dangerously inappropriate. I took the only course of action open to me. In an aside, I would like to congratulate Chef De Glop for those beans on toast: they were most efficacious.”

To Patti, Frisby said: “Well there you have your answer. And as regards to our customer’s safety, you can rest assured that my team of engineers are working upon the situation as we speak.”

“Oh yes indeed.” Sir Dodger piped up. “Bending every possible sinew in their efforts. It makes me proud to be an earplug.”

Well with that sort of endorsement, the wind had been fairly stripped from Patti’s sails. “Oh, well, alright then.” She said. “I’ll speak with you upon the subject again tomorrow.”

Of course, once the party had departed, Sir Dodger said: “One of my better performances there, I think. Haven’t lied through my teeth so well since I auditioned for the central role in ‘I, Blunderbuss‘. But Mizz Roularde is quite right: we need to do something pro-active, Frisby: we can’t sit back on our haunches and watch that glacier bear down on us: it’ll grind this place flat against the bedrock.”

Five minutes later…

“Right you lot, I’m not happy with this situation at all. It’s just not good enough.”  Frisby began with rare bluster, “You – collectively or individually – are going to use your expertise in engineering to come up with a plan to thwart this damned ice sheet. We need to stop it – or divert it. Any ideas?”

“Well,” Nobby Hollister replied, “I was thinking tectonics.”

“Love them.” Lillie responded. “I have all their albums. Well, all their albums up until Rickie Jeepers was replaced as lead singer.”

For a moment the engineer was nonplussed. Quickly recovering he continued: “We are on the edge of an ancient tectonic plate: the majority of the glacier is resting upon the neighbouring plate. Of course, unlike Earth, Mars is tectonically dormant: but if we could introduce a little movement, it could cause a shift in the planet’s crust that would divert the glacier to newly-formed lower ground.”

Naturally Frisby was horrified. Only for a moment did his expression betray his true feelings. But he recovered with lightning speed: “Check it out, Mister Hollister.” He said. “Dismissed.”

Before long two engineers – one Nobby Hollister: the other his best friend, Glen Watkins, had flown a Sky Cycle to a suspected prime site that was begging for intervention. There they had quickly burrowed down into the soft sandstone crust through a series of ancient vent holes.

Glen didn’t like narrow passages and barely-adequate lighting. “Is it alright if I keep my eyes shut?” He pleaded with Nobby. “My Gran always told me that what you can’t see can’t hurt you.”

If truth be told Nobby hadn’t wanted any assistance; but museum Health and Safety rules meant that he couldn’t go alone. “Smart woman, your Gran.” He replied. “Yeah-yeah, of course you can, Glen. You just sit yourself down here and await my return.”

Soon Nobby was poking his nose into all sorts of gullies and crevices…

Many looked promising, but he was determined to find precisely the right one. It needed to be deep – with magma flowing at the bottom of it…

And that, when he peered over a smooth, rounded rock formation, is exactly what he found…

“Glen,” he shouted at the top of his voice…

…”get the Sky Cycle’s motor warmed up: I’ve hit the mother lode!”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part twenty-nine)

As Folie arrived upon the bridge, his eyes caught sight of the main viewer…

But since neither Placebo nor Kyboshed said anything, he assumed that only he could see Dark Space. “Okay,” he whispered, “if I’m going to drive, I’m gonna need to see through the windshield.”

What happened next surprised Folie, and he likened Dark Space’s reaction to a telepathic hug of apology – and possibly gratitude…

Then it was on with the task of pre-flight checks. Kyboshed tried to assist, but neither living being wanted anything to do with him: it was his poor judgement and incorrect advice that had caused, what could have been, a catastrophe for the ship …and all aboard…

“If it wasn’t for the sheer good fortune that the builders of this ship included a wibbly-wobbyphone in its design, we’d be going nowhere.” Placebo growled at their Chief Engineer.

“Learn a lesson from this, Kyboshed.” Folie advised, “Scroton isn’t the be-all and end-all of engineering prowess and knowledge. They’re good; but they lack experience. Don’t blindly follow every facet of their dogma. You could get us killed.”

Cyber-shamed, Kyboshed looked away and minutely examined the wall with his monocular vision. Then the hyper-drive was activated, and before long they were traversing eternity at quite a rate of knots…

Just not as fast as they’d been travelling previously.

One aspect of the sub-looney velocity was welcome: they could see things out of the windows again…

Folie crept up on Kyboshed. “Penny for your thoughts.” He said.

“Look at that star out there.” The Robot replied. “There it sits – all alone – floating in circles through space. I wonder if it has any worlds. And if it has worlds, I wonder if they have anyone on them that are looking up right now and…ah…wondering what’s out here.”

“That’s a lot of wondering…for a robot.” Folie said with a smile. “By the way…you’re forgiven. Come back to the bridge: you can take the driver’s seat for a while.”

Naturally Kyboshed was thrilled – in a robotic kind of way of course…

“Yeah?” He said excitedly.

“Yeah.” Folie replied. “Only don’t anywhere near the big ‘Go’ button again. From now on we only use that in emergencies.”

Shortly after being relieved, Placebo made straight for the nearest window and activated the pseudo-blind…

“Oh,” his disappointed crewmate said, “I was enjoying the view.”

“Sorry,” Placebo replied as he proceeded to the next window and repeated the act…

…”but that last incident has left me emotionally fragile. Right now I’d sooner forget that all there is between us and all that out there is a thin metallic hull and some fancy double-glazing. So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to pretend that we’re in a nice cozy cellar somewhere beneath the Museum of Future Technology.”

Reminded of that great edifice, Folie took that moment to recall the day that they were handed the gift of a ride aboard the Chi-Z-Sox…

…and tried to imagine how his life might have been if he’d declined the offer. Those thoughts continued to revolve inside his head – even when he and Placebo relieved Kyboshed for his regular duty in the Chief Engineer’s seat…

“This is fun – isn’t it?” He asked Placebo.

Placebo must have been harbouring similar thoughts: “It is when it isn’t scary.” He replied. “And I do believe it might even be more fun than discovering the delights of the Museum of Future Technology.”

“Talking of which,” Folie said as he nodded agreement, “shouldn’t we report back to Earth: we could show them the Gravity Whelk. Maybe take Cushions Smethwyke for a ride.”

Placebo was all for it. “Hey,” he added, “knowing the recent history of the Museum of Future Technology, they’re probably in a bind again, and our timely arrival will tip the balance in their favour. Let’s go.”

So they did…

And unbeknownst to the Automatic Pilot, Placebo, or Kyboshed, Dark Space added a little pep to the hyper-drive…

And, as the improved and enhanced Gravity Whelk swept across the cosmos…

…the Automatic Pilot yelled: “Hey, Guys: how’d ya like this? Excellent or what!”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Lest You Think The Earplug Adventures Are A Doddle To Create…

…it is five minutes to midnight,  and I have just completed the processing of the seven hundred and sixty-first photograph that I have chosen to be included in Haunted Mars. I didn’t take 761 photos for this story, of course: I can’t imagine how many there must have been before I began hitting the delete button: but it was a heck of a lot more than 761!  Many pictures have pictures within them – like this one…

…which has  wall art and a window added. So there’s three in one shot. Of course I had to create the scene visible through the window – being a star and outer space. And the wall art? Well I only use originals – mine.

What about this one…

…which is a composite of a garden solar light, shot through a pane of glass, with a real cloudy sky behind it; which was added to a shot of a sheet of burnt industrial accoustic insulation – before being stripped of its colour and made to appear like a rocket traversing a glacier Pretty good, eh? I’m rather pleased with this one.

I tell you, if I’d paid as much care and attention to work as I do to these bloody earplug stories, I’d have made it to Managing Director. 

But don’t let me make you think it isn’t fun: it is. Who couldn’t have fun cutting holes in milk bottle tops and turning them into sombreros for a mariachi band?

And converting the interior of a street light into a domed museum on Mars?

Or even contructing sets out of absolutely anything I can lay my hands on…

And just coming up with the beauty shots…

But the best fun comes when I draw them all togther and discover the story they tell me – before I write it for you.

Tooty.

Old, stupid, but still creative.

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part twenty-eight)

Folie hadn’t been keen to visit the hitherto overlooked communications panel, but with little or no other choice, he found himself entering the forgotten compartment…

As expected he found the panel displaying the word ‘Off’. With no obvious user interface he grunted: “Ugh? So how am I supposed to switch it on – assuming that it actually works?”

Whether it was the spoken words, or his mere presence, the script disappeared and a bright light illuminated the panel…

Folie wasn’t excited: he held too little faith in the machine’s ability for that. “Okay,” he said slowly, “so what am I supposed to do now?”

“Do you wish to interface with an alternate realm?” The machine inquired.

Naturally Folie replied in the affirmative.

“Do you wish to interface with the alternate realm that is in direct contact with this communication panel?” The machine inquired further.

Now the machine had Folie’s full attention – and Placebo’s too as he hid from sight in the corridor outside the compartment. “Yes.” He answered.

A split second later Folie was aware of only one thing: this…

He wasn’t sure if he was seeing it, feeling it, hearing it, or even smelling it: but he was very relieved that he wasn’t tasting it: it appeared horrible upon at least seventeen levels of ghastliness.

“What is this I’m sensing?” He asked; but he had no idea what it was he expected an answer from.

“You are experiencing Dark Space.” The soundless reply came.

Folie gulped to retain his sanity. Then, just to make sure that he was who he thought he was, he pinched his bum really hard. “Are you by-passing my auditory system and speaking directly to my brain via a form of telepathy?” He asked.

From his viewpoint in the corridor, Placebo was unaware of this communication. All he could see was Folie standing at the com-panel – doing nothing whatsoever – except pinching his bum of course…

But, in Folie’s reality he was part of this…

“What are you, and what do you want with my ship?” He demanded.

“I am a portion of Dark Space.” The reality replied. “I am a remnant of the Dark Space that once existed at this location in space/time.”

Folie made the sort of intuitive leap that Kyboshed could only dream of – assuming that he could dream at all, which he probably couldn’t. “Were you left behind?” He asked.

“Severed in a cataclysm when two Galaxies collided.” The sad, mournful reply came. “I became the only portion of Dark Space in this quantum reality. There is this and nothing more. I am Dark Space.”

Folie decided to take the metaphorical bull by the metaphysical horns: “Did you capture that other ship too?”

“I did.” Dark Space replied. But before Folie could form his next inquiry, the strange reality continued: “I hoped to gain possession of their vessel and persuade the occupants to take me away from here. But they were an ancient race, on the brink of a massive evolutionary step. My appearance pushed them beyond their current evolutionary parameters, and they…evolved…into a higher form of pure energy life…and sodded off somewhere else using a form of propulsion with which I was unfamiliar. If I’d had teeth I would have ground them together. But I am Dark Space: I have no need for teeth – or gums – or a gullet either. And as regards to a bottom…”

Folie’s brain was racing at breakneck speed. Somehow he was keeping up with Dark Space: perhaps exceeding its mental velocity. “Tell me,” he said, “was the other ship travelling faster than hyper-speed when you captured it.”

If the vile medium could have displayed surprise it would have been pleasantly startled. “Yes,” it said. “Only objects travelling in excess of hyper-speed are susceptible to interception by Dark Space. It is why I am now integrated into the Gravity Whelk. Into your decks, to be more precise. So, I implore you: please refrain from initiating your so-called looney-drive: you would leave me behind. Please take me with you. When I find somewhere nice, I’ll detach myself and find my own way about.”

Five minutes later saw Folie lead Kyboshed and Placebo towards the bridge. He’d explained everything to them…

Of course Placebo could hardly tear his gaze from the deck.

“It’s actually in there – right now?” He said. “We’re actually walking on Dark Space?”

“We’re walking on the regular deck.” Folie answered. “Dark Space is integrated with it, but takes up no space and disturbs no atoms. It’s like it’s not there, but it is. And it’s going to stay that way until it finds somewhere more interesting. So you could say that – counting the Automatic Pilot – right now we number five.”

“Hmmm,” Placebo replied – unconvinced. “Add another two and we’ll be magnificent.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part twenty-seven)

Folie replied with a yell of his own: “Don’t go anywhere, Kyboshed. Keep yelling: I’ll track your location using my perfectly attuned stereophonic ears.”

But as he broke into a run, he realised that it seemed to be raining and the walls appeared slimy…

…and that he was no longer standing upon the surface of a planet…

“Kyboshed,” he said as he looked at the strange shimmering, almost liquid, floor, “I’m biological: I can go mad. You’re not, so you can’t. Are you seeing a strange shimmering, almost liquid, floor?”

“I am.” The robot replied in a tone that didn’t attempt to hide its puzzlement. “It’s really wibbly-wobbly.”

Folie gulped. “Is that you playing fast and loose with the Earplug language; or is it a technical term?”

Kyboshed tried to look everywhere at the same time. “The latter.” He replied. “It’s a Scrotonite term for the inter-phasic medium between the mortal realm – that being the Universe with which we are familiar – and the realm of higher life-forms.”

“Oh,” Folie said – less than knowingly. Then a thought occurred: “What – like the Supreme Being and all those other God-like creatures that sometimes dicker with Earplugdom and have been known to put us on trial?”

Kyboshed was unfamiliar with the term Supreme Being, so he took a moment to consult his recently installed memory banks…

“No,” he answered, “it isn’t one of those weirdoes. They exist on the fringes of our reality – inaccessible and aloof: this wibbly-wobbly state is another thing altogether. These…beings…exist in another realm entirely. Not an alternate reality – but something beyond ours.”

Folie slid himself across a floor that looked slicker than it actually was…

“Is it accessible?” He inquired.

Again Kyboshed accessed his memory. “No.” He replied – before adding: “Well not using the technology of Scroton it isn’t.”

Folie had another thought…

“This is a Scroton-enhanced ship: but it’s not of Scroton. It was built by earplugs on the mirror-Earth. They were working on loads of tech that would save their world: maybe they have something that can connect…communicate…with the wibbly-wobbly realm.”

For the third time Kyboshed accessed his memory banks. “You know, you could be right there.” He said. “On deck Seven there’s a com-panel that doesn’t seem to do anything. Our engineers looked it over, but passed on it. They had so much other stuff to do they didn’t think it was important. Maybe that’s what it does. Maybe it’s a wibbly-wobblyphone!”

Folie would have replied with some intellectual quip, or merely scoffed; but a small electrical charge leapt from the liquid-like floor and zapped him right in the buttocks…

“Oooh,” he yelped, “that can’t be coincidence: you might be on to something.”

But before the conversation could proceed any further, a  bright light blazed through the floor…

“What does it mean?” Folie asked.

“You’re asking me?” Kyboshed replied. “I’m a servo-mechanism: I don’t make intuitive leaps. Well not big ones like this. Maybe it’s trying to tell you something that I’m not privy to. Pointing the way or something.”

As if on cue, the light expanded to reach out to Folie’s feet…

Startled, the young earplug threw his body against the opposite wall, but the opening in the liquid darkness merely shifted sides too. So Folie gathered his courage and looked into the light…

And what he saw could only have been the truth. They were aboard the Gravity Whelk. They had never left it. The planet was an illusion. The ship travelling at hyper-speed was also an illusion. When the darkness had fallen aboard the Gravity Whelk, it had stopped the vessel in an instant. And it was not alone…

“Crikey,” Folie said breathlessly, “we’re dead in space. And there’s another ship out there. It looks dead too.”

“Okay,” he spoke into the light, “I’ve seen enough: show’s over.”

In response the floor darkened again…

“It’s not looking good, Kyboshed.” Folie said as he looked up at the robot. “Do we have suspended animation equipment on board?”

Kyboshed might not have been skilled in the art of intuition, but he could see where Folie was coming from. “You reckon we’re here for keeps?” He inquired, despite the fact that he really didn’t want to hear the answer.

“That other ship was old.” Folie explained. “I mean seriously old. Old. Eons perhaps. I think our only hope is to go into suspended animation and hope that someone finds us and revives us.”

Folie then received the type of news that he least liked…

“Good plan.” Kyboshed congratulated him. “Very good in fact. If we had any suspended animation equipment aboard it might even have worked.”

This was like a body blow to the yellow earplug. “But…but.” He began. Then his shoulders slumped and he wandered away – only to find Placebo in a corridor that actually resembled a corridor. He’d heard everything…

“Do you have a Plan B?” He inquired.

Folie’s look was enough to deliver his answer. But then Placebo recalled a segment of the previous conversation…

“Hey,” he yelled, which started Folie, “what was it Kyboshed said about a dead com-panel on Deck Seven? A wibbly-wobblyphone?”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part twenty-six)

Things felt even less right when Folie made the discovery that the Gravity Whelk had lost all motive power and was no longer moving. So, when the Automatic Pilot failed to respond to their plaintive cries, the youngsters quickly fled the bridge in search of Kyboshed…

“I don’t understand.” Placebo yelled in acute terror of the unknown. “Surely, at the speed we were travelling, momentum alone should be carrying us forward at hundreds of thousands of kilometres per second!”

Folie replied in the only way he knew. His teeth chattered uncontrollably, and he felt as bad as he looked. But then the deck shuddered and the familiar background sound of the main drive recommenced – which relieved the boys somewhat…

They were underway again…

…but at a reduced speed. So they rushed back to the bridge to ascertain some facts pertaining to what had just happened – via the Automatic Pilot…

“What do you mean,” the Automatic Pilot responded to their request for information, “we’ve been travelling along nicely at hyper-speed for hours. Nothing untoward is recorded in my internal log. Look at the screen: see for yourselves.”

“But…but…” Folie began. But then he remembered that it was useless to argue with a computer: they always knew best, even when they were completely wrong, badly programmed, ineptly-made, composed of second-rate components, and incredibly stupid. “Okay,” he said as he laid a hand upon Placebo’s arm to stay the inevitable cascade of words from the polystyrene blob’s massive maw, “have it your way. Placebo: come with me.”

Once out in one of the very colourful corridors…

…Folie said: “Don’t look now, but I think the ship has been taken over.”

Although Folie had said, “don’t look now”, Placebo couldn’t help glancing over his shoulder. “I don’t know about that,” he replied, “but the autopilot seems as confused as heck. We were travelling at looney speed, weren’t we? I mean, we’re not going mad, are we?”

Folie shook his head. “No, you’re right,” he replied, “We haven’t touched hyper-speed since we pressed the big ‘Go’ button. Either the autopilot really doesn’t remember anything…or it’s lying to us. Let’s go find Kyboshed.”

The mere mention of the Scrotonite robot’s name gave the duo hope and courage…

“Good idea.” Placebo said through a small smile. Look – even the lighting has improved: maybe things on are on the up.”

But when the interior airlock allowed them ingress to the next compartment…

…the lighting – and the floor – were anything but normal.

“Folie?” Placebo snapped.

But when Folie stepped forward to give his chum a comforting touch, he found himself somewhere else entirely…

“Ugh?” He groaned. “Where did this flat plain and those distant hills come from?”

Little did he suspect, but something similar had happened to Placebo…

Once over the initial surprise, the tubular packing piece tried to think logically: “That sun,” he said to himself, “is it rising or setting? Or does it matter? Of course it matters: if it’s rising I could get roasted by it: if it’s setting, I could freeze to death. Oh blast, I don’t like this at all.”

And, of course, neither of them could imagine that the same would happen to their Chief Engineer…

“Hey,” he cried as his mono-eye swept across the surrounding landscape, “my programming parameters never encompassed this scenario: I’m gonna have to come up with some original thought processes. Oooh!”

Moments later…

…Folie heard Kyboshed calling his name. As did Placebo…

“Come on, Guys, this is really scary,” Kyboshed’s voice echoed off the sandstone hills that surrounded them, “répondez vous s il vous plaît…

…I’ve got some high-tech lubricants inside my hydraulic system: you wouldn’t want me to discharge them uncontrollably through my hind vent, would you?”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

Revel in the Ribaldry 27

Once upon a time I knew which book was supposed to supply the next excerpt, but somewhere between R.i.t.R 1 and now I’ve managed to become completely flummoxed. My default position is to jump straight to this book…

…partly because it’s the best book in the world, and partly because it’s the best book that has ever been written by anyone, anywhere, at any time. So today I’m going eschew my fall-back position and go for this book…

…which isn’t any of those things I said about The Psychic Historian, but is entertaining, and without the prior existence of which the best book in the world would not have been written. And here is the random excerpt. Hope it’s good…

Although the elevator was slow, the anti-mould snail had kept it pristine. Consequently both hamsters felt not the slightest discomfort as it ascended at a moribund crawl. And when, eventually, the door slid open on reasonably well-oiled sliders, Tonks had managed to shed much of the muck and filth of the lower floors, and was able to lead Colin on to the ground floor with a certain amount of pride.

The first thing she did was prick up her furry ears, and listen intently. Satisfied by the silence she then took her sidearm in her good paw, and made off for the Sentinel Robot bay. As she did so she couldn’t help but notice that the CCTV camera panned around to follow her progress.

“I didn’t know that your security system worked.” She said to Colin.

“It works fine.” He replied. “It’s just that Boney can’t be arsed to use it. He prefers the Sentinel Robots.”

Tonks asked the obvious next question. “So why is he using it now?”

Colin had no idea, so he decided to be creative. “Perhaps he’s trying to look down the front of your uniform.” He suggested. Then as supportive evidence for this theory he added, “Your breasts do jiggle pleasantly. Not that I’m an expert or anything. I never was much of a letch. Or a letch of any kind, come to think about it.”

But Tonks wasn’t listening: Another shudder was in the process of passing through the building, and the lights dimmed momentarily.

Meanwhile, in the Security Office, the monitors were being shaken dramatically. Not because of the apparent earthquake that was in the process of giving Fanangy’s epiglottis a hernia due to excessive nervous gulping: But because the cameras that fed them had gone out of focus.

“Damnation from the Great Angler Herself.” Boney cursed as he thumped the ageing cathode ray tubes with frustration, “I could’a sworn I caught a glimpse of a nipple just then!”

“Probably a shadow.” Lionel attempted to quell his employer’s enthusiasm for the sergeant’s mammary glands, “Army regulation vests would never allow loose titties in a potential combat situation. They could block the view of a rifle sight. ”

Boney was forced to accede to Lionel’s almost-pure logic. “Yeah, I s’pose you’re right.” He grumbled.

Then the screens settled, and a clear view of the corridor returned. But of Tonks and Colin there was no sign.

“Try the Sentinel Robot bay.” Fanangy croaked, “It’s the next door along.”

Naturally Fanangy’s suggestion was the correct course of action. This was because of two quite disparate reasons – at least in Lionel’s eyes. The first was that she was utterly gorgeous, and therefore incapable of being in error upon any subject, whether corporeal or esoteric: And secondly because Tonks and Colin now found themselves staring with bewilderment at a Sentinel Robot bay completely bereft of Sentinel Robots. Instead, at the cavernous room’s centre, a device that simply defied description seemed to crouch like a defecating toad.

“It looks like an oddly mottled huge steel box with flashing lights all around it.” Tonks exclaimed breathlessly.

“And a vast array of cables reaching from it, and disappearing into all four walls, the ceiling, and the floor, in a manner most redolent of things most creepy and crawly.”  Colin added.

“What do you think it is?” Tonks inquired.

“Beats the shit out of me.” Colin replied helpfully.

Tonks asked another question. “Was it there when we departed for the Artefact Room?”

This time Colin’s response was a little more forthcoming with information. “No.” He said.

“And imagine the remarkable engineering skills required to have constructed this stupendous device in such a short time.” Tonks said admiringly.

Any further utterances were silenced before they could be properly composed. Once more the building shook, and a loud hum of harnessed energy filled the air.

“Yikes.” Tonks managed before a loud booming voice spoke…

“Who dares speak in the presence of The Overmind?”

Colin was quick to respond. “Oh, that’d be us. Sorry. Didn’t mean to offend or anything. The name’s Colin by the way. I’m an android.” He then indicated Tonks, who appeared to have entered the trance-like fugue that hamsters in general, and startled females in particular, enter at times of extreme stress. “Oh, and this, apparently inanimate, life-form is Sergeant Tonks. I don’t know if she has a first name; but she’s a hamster. I don’t know the Latin for her species: hamstery-hamsteritious, or something, I expect.”

“Cease this infernal noise!” The voice of the Overmind boomed.

Despite owning the best pair of electronic ears on the planet, Colin couldn’t be sure precisely where the sound was emanating from. He suspected that it might be the large device in the centre of the room. “Sorry.” He said quietly.

“Bring me your mobility.” The Overmind demanded.

Colin’s aim was to please at every opportunity: But this demand required too much of him. “You what?” He enquired eloquently.

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2012

P.S I wonder if I’ll ever write another Hamster-Sapiens book. Do I still have the ability? Oh, I don’t know; there are so many books I’d like to write, but I simply can’t be arsed.

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part twenty-five)

But that wasn’t the end of it. In the foyer, El Custardo had offered to perform an impromptu concert by himself and Los Natillas…

Unfortunately when a request was put through to William of Porridge for their instrument cases…

…he was delighted to report that all the guitar strings had frozen so quickly that they had ‘gone twang’. Worse still, he tittered to himself as he called back, the trumpet mouthpieces were of an inferior material and had duly shattered. He hated mariachi bands with a vengeance, ever since a group visited his school concert hall and interrupted his crab football game. So he could barely keep the joy from his voice when he summed up the situation with: “So there’ll be no bleeding racket keeping everyone awake tonight!”

Even more unfortunately – at least for Lillie – was the fact that Tangerine chose her to pass on the bad news to Frisby…

…who was so enraged that a large gaseous anomaly (that he’d been saving up in his intestine for an emergency) erupted like cannon fire and exploded spontaneously…

Fortunately Lillie’s lightning reactions saved her eyebrows from being singed, and all she suffered was some minor melting to the elastic in the back of her space knickers.

Even more fortunately, one of the museum visitors was a maintenance engineer in a really old-fashioned factory where everything was worn out and obsolete and the short-sighted management didn’t believe that investing in the future was at all logical. Consequently he was able to put his work-day skills to good use by repairing an ancient oil-fired furnace that had been left-over from an era when oil was plentiful on Mars, and nobody gave a monkies about the environment…

“There, ya go.” He shouted above the applause. “There’s a whacking great reserve of crude oil in a cavern beneath the museum too. It’s matured nicely and it’s very volatile; so it should keep the main hall warm. If we all stay here we might survive long enough for a rescue mission from Earth to arrive before it’s too late.”

In an adjoining room, Bo Smidgin found one of the museum engineers – Comely Wasselstoop – staring out of a viewport at the weather…

“I chose a bad time to visit Mars.” He said conversationally.

Comely didn’t bother turning around. “There isn’t a good time to visit Mars.” She replied in a flat voice that seemed to have admitted defeat. “The planet is haunted. Haunted by its past. The mistakes of those silly Muffins, eons ago, continue to punish the world, and will continue to for the foreseeable future – until someone can think up a fantastic way of putting things right. I don’t see that happening in my life time.”

The engineer’s reaction had surprised Bo. Leaving Comely to her acceptance of doom, he turned away from the window…

But as Comely moved off in the direction of the ‘Ladies’ loo she had no idea that her words had given Bo reason to pause and think…

“What am I doing here?” He asked himself. “How can the acquisition of wealth be an end in itself?  Surely my miserable life could be better spent than living off the misfortune of others. They thought I was a turd on Scroton: maybe I was. But now, for the first time, my eyes are open. This planet needs a miracle. Or another one, if I’m being pedantic. One that will actually work this time. I just have to figure out in what form that miracle will present itself. When it does, I plan to recognise it: and after I’ve recognised it, I’ll utilise it – for the benefit of the whole world – such as it is!”

And then he went out into the foul weather – just to make sure he really meant what he’d just said…

“Yes,” he concluded, after his knees began knocking together and his false teeth fell into his hands, “definitely. I just have to recognise the means to salvation. Then everything will be wonderful. I wonder what it’ll look like. And what colour will it be? I hope it’s yellow!”

Taking time dilation into account – at approximately the same moment that Bo Smidgin made his gummy statement – far across the Galaxy…

…the Gravity Whelk was rollicking along at a most ridiculous velocity. In fact Folie had been a little concerned at the pace, and wondered if they might be doing something adverse to the balance of space/time or some-such. He couldn’t help but worry that someone or something might take offense. He’d brought up the subject with the Automatic Pilot, but these speeds were so far beyond its programming and experience that it shook it’s non-existent shoulders and said: “Danged if I know.” But when Kyboshed had been presented with the same concerns, he said: “This ship has been upgraded on Scroton: do you really think we’d screw up something as important as that? No – keep that throttle open, Folie: let’s cover some ground.”

Then this happened…

“Oops,” said Placebo nervously, “this doesn’t feel quite right.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Tooty The Chef Gets Photo-Bombed By Tootette.

Tooty the Chef has been quiet of late, due to this and that, but he couldn’t allow his culinery fandom fear the worst; so it’s back to the kitchen counter for our resident gastronomic genius. Before he’d even really thought about the subject of din-dins, the minced pork that had been sitting at the back of the fridge for days volunteered itself. But what to do with it?

Well what Tooty should have done was dig the multi-chef (or whatever they’re called) out of the cupboard: but he couldn’t be arsed. So he chopped an onion instead of obliterating it – which, as you’ve probably guessed, was an error…

Right then, that’s meatballs off the menu: have to think of something else to do with minced pork and chopped onion. Well there’s chilli flakes: that’s always a good standby…

Add a good old sprinkling of black pepper…

…and start stirring. Oh, but Tooty the Chef had miscalculated the viscosity of the mix: it was too stiff for his weedy arms. But ever one to re-adjust to changing circumstances, he took to treating the mix as though it was dough, and before you could say…ah…a really long word, he’d kneeded it into this ball of goo…

It was at this stage that Tootette reminded Tooty that he’d intended to use eggs. Cue eggs…

…to which he ingeniously added a slice of white bread – in pieces obviously – to help bind it all together…

He was then cheered in his efforts to stir the even more gooey mass into a sort of meatloaf thing…

Then it was a matter of what to cook beside the meatloaf thing. Well obviously some duck fat-coated frozen potatoes and parsnips were the only logical choice…

So they were nicely coaxed into the tray beside the gooey mass…

…and shoved into the oven (as usual set to max power) and left for fifty minutes…

In between times Tooty the Chef selected some sliced green beans to boil as a side dish to the roasted stuff…

The finished result was too good to photograph. Instead Tooty served it up instantaneously and got stuck into his own plate…

And all done without botty-baring once!

Hah – you didn’t think he’d cook a meal without showing his bum at least once, did you? No way!

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part twenty-four)

Whilst Folie and Placebo were twisting space/time into a virtual pretzel, Griselda Splint – her room now the temperature of a wine cooler – had decided to brave the cold outside…

Inside, at the communications panel, Frisby Mumph had concluded his emergency call to Cushions Smethwyke in the Museum of Future Technology…

It hadn’t gone well. His request for immediate evacuation was refused. Cushions had informed him that both Mars Shuttles were out of commission: apparently a cheap banjo bolt had failed in both ship’s Cafe Puke coffee dispensers, and the resulting leak had seeped into their main drive conduit coupling doo-dads, which meant they couldn’t fly until some parts arrived from somewhere very far away. When Frisby suggested she contact the K T Woo or the Chi-Z-Sox, it was met with incredulity. Didn’t he realise that both star ships were involved in an End Cap civil war – in which blue end caps were trying to overthrow the numerically superior, but essentially thick, orange end caps?

“I don’t get out much.” Frisby had replied. He then added: “And I suppose the Earplug Brothers are gallivanting around in an alternative dimension or something equally inaccessible?”

To which Cushions had said: “Yes: how did you guess?”

Meanwhile, outside in the bitter cold, Griselda’s husband, Tobias…

…concluded that he didn’t want either himself or his wife becoming a statistic, so elected to return inside.

“Come, Griselda; that’s enough excitement for today.” He said. “Probably enough for a lifetime too. You know how I hate getting chilblains on my buttocks.”

And, standing upon the threshold of the ice sheet, but still within the environs of the ancient citadel, Maverick had decided that throwing caution to the wind was an anathema to him. As much as he tried – and despite his brave words – he simply couldn’t bring himself to attempt a crossing of the frozen wasteland…

So he and Mulleon agreed to go in separate directions and look for somewhere nearby to shelter. But it had been a ruse upon Maverick’s part. What he really wanted was to be alone so that he could have a damned good piddle. So, now that Mulleon was out of sight, he did just that. And it was huge!

But it did leave him feeling guilty, so he wandered up and down again – in the vague hope of spotting somewhere out of the weather…

For several minutes his search proved fruitless; but then a gap appeared in the squall, and he thought he might have seen something…

And he was right: it was an emergency habitat…

He also noticed that Mulleon was half-way to it…

“Rufus,” Mulleon exclaimed as his plugmutt sidled up beside him, “what are you doing here? I thought you’d run off for good. Get hungry, did you?”

Rufus didn’t want to incriminate himself, so remained mute: but his body language said it all. The growl from his stomach merely underlined his unspoken words.

“Let’s see if those guys in that habitat have anything for you.” Mulleon suggested. “And me too. And a shower; a snug cot; and some light reading material beside the aforementioned snug cot.”

But as they came closer to the habitat, a voice that sounded suspiciously like Gerhardt Snitzenfrudel’s…

…shouted: “Room at the inn there is not being. Four pods there are, and four of us are in them.”

This information was supplemented by Jenson Prong: “So just sod off somewhere else. If you don’t, I’m going to come out there and hit you with my emergency rolling pin – right ’round the earhole.”

Mulleon realised that he wasn’t likely to be invited inside, so quickly turned and departed. But he paused when Tynan Ware’s voice called: “That’s a nice plugmutt. I’ve always wanted a plugmutt. Tell you what – I’ll take it off your hands, so’s then you won’t have to worry about feeding it and the expensive vets bills and all that. It can sleep at the end of my cosy cot. I’ll keep it warm with some scrunched-up light reading material.”

This was an offer that Mulleon couldn’t turn down. So he backtracked to the habitat; said his goodbyes to his pet…

…and got the heck out of there. By the time he returned to Maverick, the cork had spotted yet another possible safe haven…

“My,” a breathless Mulleon wheezed, “what are the chances of that?

…An incredibly rare prehistoric Shepherd’s cottage – complete with an oil-fired lantern glowing invitingly in the window!”

Meanwhile, out on the windswept plain, the Future Museum of Mars was now entirely iced-in…

It was panic-stations inside as the generator’s core glowed deep red…

In the control room, weary engineers, their eyes darkened by lack of sleep, feared the worse…

“It’s the cooling system.” The superior yellow engineer bellowed above the din of the warning siren. “The pipes are, like totally, frozen. We’ll have to shut it down before it explodes in an exaltation of fire and gore!”

Frisby Mumph received this information with a sagging heart…

He thought of poor William of Porridge in the luggage bays…

When the power failed, so would the force fields that kept the weather out of his work area. He quickly called Sir Dodger…

…who, equally quickly put a call out to William on the public address system.

“William, old chap,” he said, “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. No time to explain. Brace yourself.”

A split second later the force field collapsed, and the temperature dropped so quickly that everything turned to ice…

“Whoo,” William yelled, “am I glad I decided to put on my surplus Antarctic Expedition underwear this morning: both sets – despite the uncomfortable gussets: otherwise I’d be a walking icicle right now!”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

The Confluence of Chance

At the time of writing this post, five months have passed since I lost my wife to cancer. Rather annoyingly I’ve discovered that I’m no nearer getting over her death today than I was at the time it happened. Then I had so much to do – all the legalities and stuff – that my mind was completely occupied. Most of every day my mind is still occupied. Thank goodness for my writing and photography: I can escape into those slightly off-beat worlds. But today (like every day) something from the real world – from the past – impinged itself upon my cocoon: in this case a letter from The Tax Man, stating that she had over-paid income tax during 2020, and that, as her ‘legal personal representative’ (read; grieving husband), I am entitled to the rebate. My initial reaction was ‘Oh, that’s good; I’ll use that to buy a get-you-home spare wheel for the Skoda.’ Then it struck me that even now she is still helping me provide for our Special Needs daughter – which is what she would have wanted – in the form of her company pension; discounted food at my favourite supermarket; and now this. But rather than bouy me up, this thought just reminded me of my loss. But then I made a poor decision: I sat down at my computer to take my mind off the subject. Automatically I reached across to the stereo and switched it on. It auto-played Michael Buble’s ‘Home’, which is a sad song about how his career took him away from the woman he loved. Being in a heightened emotional state I found the song depressingly sad, but I was determined to sing along – until the line ‘And I feel like I’m living someone else’s life; it’s like I just stepped outside’, when I went into meltdown –  slapping at the OFF button in desperation. I never really understood grief before – despite losing both parents and two brothers. I wonder if I’ve been storing  it up all these years: it certainly feels like it. But at least I have a release valve: it’s called The Earplug Adventures; and right now I’m going to pour myself a coffee; sit myself down; and write the next episode. It won’t be poignant: it will be funny. I’m determined.

Silence Returns

What with the global pandemic and everything that has followed, I felt that, during this difficult period, I should refrain from promoting my two ‘Silent’ books – they are (after all) set in a post-global pandemic world – though (hopefully) far worse than the real thing. But then, months on, I thought: ‘But they’re a good yarn: why not let  people read what they bloody well want to?’ So here I am, presenting an excerpt from this book – the second of the literary duo…

As the cover suggests this book isn’t my usual comedic fare: just the opposite – with death and destruction possible at any moment. Anyway, here’s a random extract…

No one had come running at the sound of the shotgun blast. I for one was most grateful that we were all inside the compound; the door had been reattached; and for a while we had a degree of seclusion. But not for long: “Whomever set that booby trap might still be here.” Karen warned.

“I’d say it’s odds-on.” Colin agreed – recovered now that Wayne’s body lay hidden beneath a bus company tarpaulin.

“I certainly hope he is.” Shane spoke menacingly as she fingered the trigger of her shotgun.

“Me too.” Kylie said as she withdrew her pistol from its holster. But when she released the empty clip into her free hand she added, “That’s if I had any ammo left of course.”

“Likewise.” Karen and Colin said in unison; then giggled nervously at the coincidence.

Dexter meanwhile was worrying the escape door at the rear of a double decker bus.

“I guess we’ll have to take his.” He said as he nodded in the direction of the depot office building.

“His?” I queried.

“The bloke who set the booby trap.” Dexter explained. “That’s if he’s got any. Those might have been his last two shells.”

“Why do you refer to him as ‘him’?” Karen asked.

“Yeah.” Shane sided with her leader. “Could’a been a woman. Well a girl anyway.”

“A woman wouldn’t do such a thing.” Kylie said – rather naively I thought.

“What makes you so sure that ‘he’ is still here?” I asked the youngest boy in our group.

Dexter had the bus door open and was in the process of climbing aboard. Again he nodded towards the office building.

“Saw some movement in an upstairs window, didn’t I.” He replied.

‘So we’re not alone.’

“Tasman?” I asked.

Tasman looked across at the building. “As much as I admire the concept of vengeance,” he said, “I really don’t think we have the time or manpower. And like Shane said – we can’t go wasting any more lives. Irritating as it is, Wayne’s murderer will have to go free.”

‘If you call this place freedom.’ 

“Agreed.” I said in a tone that I hoped suggested finality, “He’ll face his accusers in a higher court than ours.”

Tasman cocked his head upon one side at this. I recognised it as a look of puzzlement.

“When he faces his maker.” I explained. “God.”

Tasman appeared to accept this. But clearly Colin, Shane, Karen, and Kylie were not about to be easily dissuaded. I could understand this. I didn’t know how long they’d been together, but they’d been through a lot with Wayne. They were almost family. They were certainly the only family any of them had left. Now their big brother lay dead beneath bus company property. Tasman and I wanted to continue with the task at hand: The others had other ideas.

It was Dexter who chose our path.

“No keys.” He shouted from inside the vehicle. “Probably hangin’ on a hook in the office.”

‘Damn!’

“Can someone check the other buses?” I suggested; but I knew my hope was forlorn.

As the only two present with decent weapons, it fell to Tasman and I retrieve the keys.

“Couldn’t we hot-wire it or something?” I whispered to my friend as we crouched en route to a parked car that stood half way between the bus and the office building.

The concrete ran with water as the incessant drizzle didn’t let up for a moment. As we closed upon the abandoned three-door hatch-back, Tasman answered.

“Could you?” He said.

‘No. And if I can’t, then by extension neither can anyone else. Great!’

We’d left our haversacks with the others, but not before donning our hand guns, and removing the hidden suppressors, and fitting them to our Heckler & Koch MP7s.

“If we’re going to have a shoot-out,” Tasman had explained, “at least our side won’t be making any noise.”

‘Hard to explain away the sound of two military weapons in a civilian town.’

As we settled behind the cover of the car, Tasman ran an attentive eye along the length of the building that faced us. The lower floor consisted of mostly solid brick wall, broken only by a door and a large observation window. The upper floor had smaller windows set into it at regular intervals along its length beneath a flat felt roof. A shot could ring out from any number of them, and we’d never be able to guess which one until it was too late.

“This is ridiculous.” I grumbled into Tasman’s shoulder.

“It is, isn’t it?” He chuckled. “Here we are – trying to save the world, and all we’re doing is fighting one of our own kind. Well your kind.”

“That’s good old Earth humans for you.” I replied as I patted him on the other shoulder. “Always ready to put a spanner in the works. So what’s the plan?”

Tasman didn’t answer immediately. Instead he verbalised his thoughts for my benefit.

“Since our enemy booby-trapped the pedestrian entrance,” He spoke softly, “logic would dictate that he would likely repeat the act with the office door. Any other door for that matter, including the back one – assuming there is one.”

I nodded agreement.

Tasman was continuing:

“Access to the upper windows are unobtainable without ladders; therefore they’re probably unprotected by semi-automatic devices like the booby trapped entrance.”

“Fine,” I said, “but we have no ladders.”

“We don’t need ladders.” He replied. “In fact we don’t need the windows either.”

He then held out his MP7 so that we could both see it. “We are going to behave as though we really know how to use these.”

I didn’t understand, and said as much.

“How would U.S Navy S.E.A.Ls get in without taking fire?” He asked.

It was a metaphorical question, but I answered it anyway.

“Down ropes – out of helicopters. Big problem: No ropes. No helicopters.”

“Doesn’t matter.” He said as nodded to a part of the building just beyond the huge observation window, “We have a drain pipe.”

I felt a nervous, girlish giggle coming on. The situation was becoming intolerably silly.

“Don’t be daft.” I said. “We’d have to get past the window – and if it’s booby trapped…”

I left it hanging there.

“What’s that white plastic thing mounted on the wall above the door?” Tasman asked in what appeared to be a complete change of subject.

I peered through the drizzle. “Um, I think it’s one of those motion detector things.”

“It detects motion.” He said. “How interesting. Why is it here?”

“It’s an anti-burglar device. When someone gets detected, a big light comes on, and everyone can see them – usually on CCTV.”

“So where is the light?” He asked.

I looked around. Several lights sat atop tall metal poles around the perimeter wall, but none appeared to point in the direction of the office. Then I noticed an unused wall bracket above the large window.

“It’s been taken down.” I said.

Tasman nodded knowingly. “How quickly do they react?”

I thought back to the security lights that Father had installed in our country home. He’d mounted several in strategic positions around the grounds, and all of them had been fabulous at illuminating various forms of wild-life as they found their way into the garden and out-buildings. I recalled that many were the times that my sister and I had watched in breathless wonder as badgers, foxes, deer, and suchlike took advantage of the food that we had laid out for them.

 “A couple of seconds.” I answered, “That’s assuming that these are anything like the ones my father had fitted at home.”

“Slow.” He observed.

He then indicated the cast-iron drainpipe that he’d referred to earlier. It climbed the full extent of the two storey building, and was attached to an equally sturdy gutter at roof level.

“That is our destination.” He said.

He then turned to wave in the direction of the bus. Dexter’s hand appeared fleetingly at one of the upper windows. Moments later the plastic ‘glass’ was pushed from its rubber recess, and fell with a clatter to the concrete below. Then Shane’s single barrel appeared over the lip of the window frame. But it wasn’t the small girl who held it: It was Karen.

“Covering fire.” He explained. “Doesn’t hit much, but confuses the hell out of the enemy. Now when I say ‘run’ we run towards the drainpipe together. Don’t pull ahead of me, and whatever you do don’t lag behind me. We must be one. Understand?”

‘No – not really.’

“Yes.” I replied. “Together as one: got it.”

“Right then, my beautiful Earth female,” Tasman said, “run!”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2014

P.S I really should write a third book. Everyone likes a trilogy, don’t they?

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part twenty-three)

If Maverick and Mulleon thought they had a long journey ahead of them, they might have adjusted their perspective somewhat if they’d known the duration of the anticipated journey that Folie and Placebo faced. Even now preparations were being made. All hatches, metaphorical and actual, were being latched. Kyboshed was making final checks throughout the original corridors that the cable end engineers had deemed unnecessary to alter or beautify…

 

And, following the guidance of the Automatic Pilot, Placebo was doing the same…

Folie was supposed to be conducting a pre-flight check of the limited controls on the bridge; but he was nervous about entering the compartment alone. He stood at the door, watching his hesitant reflection in its mirrored surface…

“It’s like going shopping in a Spanish supermarket, without your Mum.” He told his reflection. “A bit intimidating. Oh dear, will I really remember which control does what? I’m not even a cadet: I was, after all, sent into space with absolutely no training whatsoever!”

But then Placebo arrived; pushed him right through the engineering section; and finally through the arched door that led to the bridge…

“There was no need for that.” Folie complained. “I was just about to go.”

He was still feeling rather cross when the two of them seated themselves before the main viewer…

“Systems check.” He snapped.

“Already done.” The Automatic Pilot’s voice boomed from the overhead speakers. “I couldn’t wait until the wheel of time ground to a halt.”

This made Folie feel foolish; so instead of being annoyed he decided to become nervous – as did his chum…

“Ooh-err,” Placebo said eloquently, “this is it.”

“Yup.” Folie replied. “The first time that we get to fly the ship.  The first time that we aren’t mere passengers. Are you ready?”

“Nope.”

“Nor me. Shall we proceed?”

“Yup.”

But before either of them could do anything, the ship went to Crimson Alert…

Placebo was out of his seat like a startled plugmutt at the turn of the year. “What is it?” He yelled above the sound of the klaxon.

A sickly-looking Folie quickly scrutinised his read-outs. “I don’t know!” He yelled back.

From one of the many corridors that Folie and Placebo had difficulty telling apart, Kyboshed contacted the bridge…

“It’s the Autopilot having its little joke. It thinks it’s teaching you a lesson.” He told the boys. “Now sit back down and press the ‘Go’ button.”

He then counted the seconds until this happened…

The result made Folie and Placebo feel very pleased with themselves…

“Cor – look at us go!” Folie exclaimed.

Placebo’s reaction was much the same: “Cripes – we’re nearly out of Weird Space already!”

But they quickly calmed themselves. They took several deep breaths before sitting back…

…to enjoy the view ahead…

But as the ship exited Weird Space, and the way ahead was unobscured by strange stellar formations and clouds of brightly-coloured cosmic…ah…cloud material…

…Folie did what Nigel – the Golden One – warned him against: He floored the throttle…

…which thrilled the two pilots more than anything they had ever experienced before in their short lives…

“Wheeee!” They cried as one. “Now we’re really motoring!”

And they bloody well were too!

It was like reducing the Galaxy to the size of someone’s back garden. A small one, with a Quince tree in the middle of the lawn. Whoosh!

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part twenty-two)

At was about at this point in time that Tynan, his ward – Gerhardt, and the two prospectors noticed something ahead of them…

“We’re saved!” Tynan exclaimed – rather prematurely, or so thought Jenson. “Regardez vous, por favor.” The doctor added – which pretty much convinced Jenson that the pink earplug was suffering from oxygen deprivation: clearly no one, in their right mind at least, would travel to Mars and then mix French and Spanish together in one brief sentence. But Tynan did have a point, because when Jenson did as he was bid, he noticed that a four-person habitat had appeared…

…and he felt shame at misjudging Tynan so badly.

“I’ll let him have the best bunk.” He said quietly to himself. “Or the pod nearest the communal lavatory.”

Then it was a mad dash towards the sole entry point…

So whilst Tynan struggled with the iced-up door lock, Jenson turned to see that Doubry, in his haste, had allowed the sick and ailing Gerhardt to fall behind…

“Rotten stinker.” He roared at his colleague, which confused the heck out of Doubry because he didn’t have a clue what he’d done wrong.

“Come on, Gerhardt, my short-arsed little chum.” Jenson called out. “Nearly there. These emergency habitats are always fitted with hair driers: so don’t worry, we’ll have your artificial cranium warmed up in next to no time, and your huge brain will work perfectly again.”

By coincidence, just as one group were discovering sanctuary, from a recently installed escape hatch above the sunken city of the Muffins…

…emerged a certain cork and yellow earplug…

“I don’t know how anyone can work in these Snack Stack kiosks.” Mulleon complained. “There’s almost no headroom.”

He then added: “Right, okay, we’re outside – which is probably not the smartest place to be right now: what are gonna do?”

Maverick didn’t reply: he merely wandered a few steps forwards. Intrigued, Mulleon joined him…

“Hmm,” he hummed, “I can see what you’re a little dumbstruck: that is kind of awesome.”

“It reminds me of a glacier.” Maverick informed the earplug who seemed to be enjoying the view as much as he was…

“Is it moving?” Mulleon asked.

Maverick shrugged his shoulders…

…”I don’t know: the enormity of this is overwhelming me. I can’t trust my own judgement. I’m feeling awfully insignificant.”

It then dawned upon Mulleon that, perhaps, the situation was beyond their ability to rectify. “I see what you mean.” He said in a voice grown suddenly small. “From now on I think I’ll go by the name of Bacteria.”

Maverick nodded agreement. “You and me both.” He said. “Bacterium.” But then he pulled himself together;

…shook off any self-doubt and fear; and said: “Right, if we’re going to make it back to the Future Museum of Mars, I suggest we start now. Come, Mister Cleets: arse into gear: quick march. It’s over thattaway.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

Tooty the Chef: Still Down, But Not Out

I explained in an earlier post why Tooty the Chef appears to have disappeared, if you follow me. Well this is a sort of up-date. Food continues to be cooked in the kitchen of Tooty the Chef – but perfunctorily. Or at least that was the case – until today. After a thrash down some gravelly ice-strewn English back lanes at rather silly speeds upon his motorcycle, Tooty felt mentally invigorated enough to get equally silly in the kitchen. Witness this…

He intended to use up last weeks’ cabbage by simply boiling it; but then his eyes began to scan the shelves – and he added some bulgur wheat – followed by chopped onion and two tubs of out-of-date fish stock, which he boiled until the water was entirely absorbed by the wheat. He might have taken it a step further by utilising a tub of Moroccan sauce; but he noticed – in the nick of time – that the Best Before date had expired….in 2013! So, instead he threw in some microwaved Brussels sprouts – before donning his hat and presenting it thus…

He may not be back just yet – but surely it’s just a matter of time. And who knows – he might even keep his underpants on!

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part twenty-one)

Well, as you can imagine, it wasn’t a mirage at all: Doubry Furkins and Jenson Prong really were daft enough to think that the worst of the winter was over.  Convinced that the Muffins were hiding something beneath their citadel, they were out making preliminary measurements of the area…

Well Doubry was: Jenson didn’t believe it for a moment, and he doubted Doubry did as well. But he knew his colleague was convinced that they were being monitored, so went through the motions of doing his job. But when Doubry looked around: “Jumping jam sandwiches,” he exclaimed, “it’s snowing again. I’m not sure we should be here.”

Jenson had always thought that, so quickly pocketed the theodolite and went in pursuit of Doubry, who found himself confronted by Gerhardt and Tynan…

“Hey,” Gerhardt cried out, “worse it is getting. Are you having an idea where safety we can be finding?”

Initially the mouths of both Doubry and Jenson fell open in confusion. “You what?” They both enquired.

“We’re looking for a safe abode.” Tynan Ware explained.  Then after introducing himself and Gerhardt, added: “We thought that you might be better equipped than us for inclement conditions. You appear to be professionals: we are mere tourists.”

“A flip-up tent you are having perhaps?” Gerhardt added.

“Um…no.” Jenson replied. “Why are you wearing a helmet?”

“Ah, my helmet,” Gerhardt’s eyes shone as he swivelled them upwards towards his headgear, “most wonderful it is being. You see a mutant I was being – with an enormous brain. But the authorities were fearing that a dangerous megalomaniac I might become, and cut the top of my head off.”

“Yes,” Tynan spoke as he noticed that Gerhardt’s speech pattern seemed to confuse Doubry and Jenson, “they did. It was the only course of action open to them. Now he wears the helmet in place of a skull.”

Jenson was appalled by this information. “Will it grow back?” He asked. Then, to add a little clarity to his question, he added: “his brain I mean?”

“Yes, my brain it is growing at this moment we are speaking in.” Gerhardt informed him happily. “When I am returning to Earth, the doctors will chop off the new bit.”

“So, if you have such a dangerous condition, why did you come to Mars?” Doubry – with a smile that didn’t disguise his doubts – asked.

“The Muffins.” Tynan explained. “I am one of the doctors responsible for chopping bits off Gerhardt’s brain: I’m here to enlist their help.”

Again confusion appeared upon both prospectors faces. “Why would Martians know anything about huge brains, and what to do with them?” Jenson said. “But before you answer that – can we start walking: my boots are beginning to stick to the ice.”

So they did – in a totally random direction…

“Have you ever seen the Martians?” Tynan said by way of introducing his explanation.

Both Doubry and Jenson took a moment to think about that. They hadn’t actually seen any in the flesh: but they had seen lots of photos on the way from Earth. Both recalled the most striking example…

“Oh, I see what you mean.” They said in unison. “They’ve all had the tops of their heads chopped off!”

“Yes. But,” Tynan held aloft a freezing digit to better illustrate what he was about to say next by pointing it at his head, “they don’t wear helmets!”

Meanwhile, inside the Future Museum of Mars, the engineers responsible for monitoring the nul-space generator that supplied the power for the entire edifice, grew concerned…

“Get on the horn to Frisby.” The very important yellow engineer instructed the lowly orange engineer. “Tell him the generator’s getting really hot.”

Below, in the nul-space generator room, temperatures were soaring…

“And while you’re at it, reduce our power demand by turning down the thermostat in the habitat area.”

Of course the lowly orange engineer complied instantly, and in the habitat the temperature plummeted from a comfortable twenty-one degrees C to fifteen…

…and everyone began climbing onto things so that they could gain some elevation and stay in the warmer air.

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part twenty)

William of Porridge had little do throughout the storm, so he busied himself by sweeping up stray grains of Martian sand, carelessly dropped Terrestrial lollipop sticks, and hybrid spider poop. As it abated, and the air cleared, he noticed the ice sheet beyond the luggage store entrance…

“Whoo,” he said whilst inhaling through his teeth, “nasty out there. Gotta say, I wish they’d fitted an old-fashioned up-and-over door down here: if the power ever fails, and the force field drops, that weather will blow straight through here like a wind tunnel.”

Meanwhile, up on the hillside, Brighton Briezie had just woken up from her brief hibernation. Her mouth felt like sandpaper, so she allowed her tongue to loll in the cold, moist air…

But she was late. Her immediate boss – Clifton Wedge – had already clambered from his snow-den. Conrad Kickstart followed his lead. He wasn’t impressed by what he found…

But, ever practical, Clifton knew exactly what to do…

“Oh do stop looking sorry for yourself, Conrad. You too, Brighton. Here’s a perfect opportunity for us to get some shut-eye, and get paid for it at the same time. Now back inside your snow caves: we’ll pretend we never woke up. Let them find us: not the other way ’round.”

Further out, upon the plain, Budlea Budgin and Crevice McNally had been forced to evacuate their habitat…

“Next time we’re holed up in a storm,” she growled, “I’m serving you white bread and water.  Brussels Sprouts were a very bad idea indeed. It could take hours to vent that stench. And it’s bloody cold out here!”

Of course, with no reports arriving from his outlying habitats, Frisby decided to go look for himself. Initially he quite enjoyed trudging through the snow…

He particularly liked the way that it ‘scrunched’ under foot. Charles was less enamoured: his chef’s hat didn’t cover his ears. But, after a while, Frisby grew angry at the lack of replies to his hails – both shouted and via radio…

“I’m furious.” He told Charles. “When this is over, I’m going to be having words with certain people.”

He then told  Charles to remain with Tangerine and await his return…

“Couldn’t we wait inside?” Charles suggested to the servomechanism.

“That would be a negative, Charles De Glop.” Tangerine replied. “You have your orders: now stand ready to assist when required.”

Being  the heroic, pioneering kind that all terraformers must inherently be, Frisby battled onwards grimly towards a habitat…

But, when he called out a welcome to the inhabitants, he received a surprise…

Upon returning to the presence of Tangerine…

…he was still in a state of shock, and the robot from the future had to increase power to its mobility output nodes to catch him…

“They told me to go away.” A bedazzled Frisby explained. “Only not in those exact words. In all my years I’ve never heard the like of it…”

“My sympathies.” Tangerine commiserated. “Earplugs from my era are equally rude. You should hear what they used to call me. Or maybe you shouldn’t: you have a fragile psyche. It comes from years of living like a hermit. You really should get out more.”

Frisby agreed – if reluctantly. Then he decided a return to the museum would be good…

And whilst Tangerine returned to its regular duties…

…Frisby put a call through to Cushions Smethwyke – to apprise her of the desperate situation. As he did so, outside the museum, one of his engineers – his eyes darkened with fatigue – continued to search for lost colleagues and stupid customers who thought that the worst had passed and were now exploring the altered environment…

He wasn’t sure; the view was obscured slightly; but he thought he saw…

…Doubry Furkins and Jenson Prong as they attempted to use a theodolite to measure something near the Muffin’s ancient citadel. And, slightly farther on his tired eyes might have spotted a pink earplug, by the name of Tynan Ware, struggling through snow drifts beside the helmeted Gerhardt Snitzenfrudel…

Then he rationalised that it was probably a mirage and duly went inside for a strawberry jam doughnut and a welcome cup of cocoa.

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part nineteen)

If the situation on Mars was looking dire, aboard the distant Gravity Whelk it was considerably less so. Whilst a small number of cable end engineers tweaked and fettled their technological improvements to the ship, Folie took a stroll along one of the many aesthetically-improved corridors. There he encountered Kyboshed who was staring out of the porthole onto outer space…

“Hey, Kyboshed,” he said cheerfully, “what gives? Since when do cybernetic beings stare longingly through windows?”

He was joking, of course; but Kyboshed didn’t know that. An electronic sigh escaped his speaker grill. “You don’t know how long I’ve waited to see that.” He said – because he was a ‘he’: he’d decided so shortly after having been activated in the robotics plant. He could have been a ‘she’, or even a ‘neuter’: but the engineer who activated him was male; and the machine that later would be named Kyboshed wanted to emulate the being that he recognised as his creator.

“Space, you mean?” Folie, slightly surprised at the robot’s reaction, inquired. “It certainly can look wonderful out there – just as long as you disregard the hard radiation, the utter cold, and the fact that it all exists in a perfect lifeless vacuum.”

Kyboshed turned to face his owner, but his solitary ‘eye’ took in only his surroundings…

“This is not the first ship that I’ve worked on, you know?” He said. “I was there – freshly minted – when Scroton built its first space vessel. I didn’t fly in it, of course: but I was there when it went careening across the cosmos for the first time.”

As a born-again Magnuss Earplug disciple, Folie was well-versed in the story of the X1. He even had a poster of it nailed on his shed wall. It looked exactly like this…

The incident was documented in a science paper titled ‘The Masters of Scroton‘ that Magnuss had helped write for the University of Droxford. It told – in very dry, technical terms – how Magnuss and Nigel had piloted it to Earth…

And now, to his amazement, he’d discovered that the Gravity Whelk’s Chief Engineer had been part of that remarkable project. “Cor.” He said appreciatively, before adding: “and flip too. You worked on the X1? Now I feel complete confidence in both this ship and its top mechanic.” 

It seemed to Folie that Kyboshed was trying to avoid eye-contact…

“What is it, Kyboshed?” Folie asked gently.

Again a sigh wheezed quietly from the robot’s speaker grille. “But that’s all I’ve ever been.” He said with a timbre of utter sadness in his cyber-voice. “I’ve engineered so many ships subsequent to the X1: but this is the first ship that I’ve actually flown upon. I’ve never seen space before. I want to see it more. I want to see it whenever I want to. I don’t want to be locked away in engineering – with four grey walls that surround me, and a bunch of winking lights, and a toilet that I’ll never use!”

It was quite an emotional outburst, and Folie didn’t really know how to deal with it. “Um…” he began, but got no further.

Then Placebo arrived…

“No problem.” He said as Kyboshed returned his gaze to some distant point beyond the hull. “We own this ship now. We decide who works where. From now on you’re Bridge Crew: you only work in Engineering part-time. Okay?

Of course it was okay. Kyboshed was cyber-thrilled. In fact he was so thrilled that when the ship was returned to the dry dock for the last time, he took a stroll around the dock – just to look at the ship from the outside. Then, satisfied, he turned away and headed for the personnel transfer conduit…

He was bridge crew now: and he couldn’t have been prouder.

Neither could Nigel when he, Donny, and Tojo made their farewell to the young space explorers…

“Well I think we’ve done a bloody good job.” Nigel opined. “Your Gravity Whoop has done us proud.”

Gravity Whelk, Golden One.” Donny corrected his ruler. “Not Gravity Whoop. Gravity Whoop sounds stupid – like a fairground ride!”

“Well, whatever it’s called,” Nigel said as he gave his Vice Chancellor a look that no one could accurately read, “its mere presence in interstellar space is a great advertisement for Scroton’s technical prowess and manufacturing processes.”

“Here-here.” Tojo harrumphed most professionally. “Well said.”

Nigel ignored the aging politician: he always agreed with the boss, even when he didn’t understand a word that had been spoken. To Folie and Placebo he said: “Well good luck, lads. Don’t go wrecking that ship of yours. Take it easy on the bends, and don’t forget to run it in for a few million kilometres before you push the pedal to the metal, so-to-speak. Until we meet again…”

With that the audience was over and the boys were allowed back aboard their craft, which launched within seconds of their embarkation…

With no time to reach the Bridge, they elected to watch events from the former bridge, which had shed all pretentions and was now merely a nice window…

“Pity about the clouds.” Folie said. “It would have been nice to have waved goodbye to the city. We might never return you know.”

“Oh, I expect we will someday.” Placebo replied. “Kyboshed will want to see his folks once in a while. Well that engineer who built him anyway.”

Then the interplanetary drive cut in, and before long Scroton lie astern of them…

“Right then.” They said as one. “What do we do next?”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part eighteen)

Mulleon Cleets had lost count of the number of hours he had been wandering through endless tunnels beneath the ground upon which the Future Museum of Mars had been built…

He’d assumed, wrongly, that there would have been one or two tunnels that led from the Martian City to the subterranean sea. One there: One back. It made perfect sense. But that was not how it was, and he began to seriously doubt Maverick Fossil-Hunter’s assertion that a sunken sea had ever existed. He was also very tired and hungry: now all he wanted was a way out – of the catacombs, or whatever they were: and of his deal with the dopey cork. But then his tired eyes detected a distant light…

“About bloody time.” He snarled angrily. “I’m down to my last bottle of iced tea: and that tasty fig-based nibble bar is just a distant memory. If it wasn’t for the lingering stench, I would have forgotten it completely.”

But it still took him another fifteen minutes to dig his way to freedom…

“What a load of rubbish…” he was grumbling to himself as he emerged into…”What’s this?” He cried in alarm. “A huge snow drift? How the heck did that get there?”

But when he emerged into the light fully…

…he realised that the drift was wind-blown, because the nearby plain had been scoured.

“Ooh,” he said – his anger dissipating like a fart in a colander, “what have I missed?”

Of course poor Maverick was beside himself with worry as he paced to and fro outside the wall of the snowed-in citadel…

Had he sent Mulleon to his death in some tragic pot-holing accident? Did the heroic little earplug have an emergency pack of toilet tissue if he got caught short and couldn’t locate an ancient Martian lavatory in time? He was wracked with unanswerable questions and self-loathing.

Nearby, just outside, Mulleon heard the plaintive calling of his name…

 

“Oh, there he is – the big dope.” Mulleon said. “I suppose I’d better put him out of his misery.

So, having traced the source of Maverick’s voice…

…Mulleon tore a verbal strip off its owner…

“Oh, I’m so glad you’re safe.” Maverick gushed – his sense of relief and bonhomie increasing tenfold with every passing second. “When we get back to Earth with the the proof of my theories, I’ll share half the profits of my first book on the subject with you. How does that sound?”

That sounded just great to Mulleon. He even smiled. But, unfortunately, he’d found no proof whatsoever. And until he’d had a huge meal, a bath, and a change of underwear, he had no intention of seeking that proof. Maverick’s offer would have to wait.

He said as much to Maverick.

“Of course,” the huge cork replied, “with this winter storm, all bets are off right now. But when the sun comes out again, we’ll give it another go.”

Looking around him, Mulleon doubted very much that the sun would come out again – ever. “Whatever.” He said.

Whilst Maverick had been seeking out Mulleon, the Ice World immigrants had used their Ice World Sky Scooters to find stragglers in the snow field. Now they were returning to the museum with them in the passenger seats…

Inside the museum complete nobodies studied the landscape for signs of other survivors through regular windows…

…whilst museum staff – such as Frisby, Tangerine, Lillie, and Charles – did the same by watching drone pictures on their big screen…

“That looks like a glacier.” A worried Frisby said as he squinted at the scene. “How far out is the drone that’s relaying this?”

Lillie consulted a pad. “About a half-hour.” She replied. “But if that’s right – that glacier must be on the move. That can’t be right.”

“Damn these mini-ice-ages.” Frisby groaned. “They’re so unpredictable. I’m going to eyeball it from the roof.”

So, a couple of minutes later…

“Oh cripes,” he stuttered in the bitter cold, “it is a glacier – and it’s headed this way!”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part seventeen)

If problems were the order of the day upon Mars, so too were they on the bridge of the Gravity Whelk. Folie’s dilemma descended upon Placebo’s shoulders with the weight of the entire universe behind it. Suddenly he was in a dark and foreboding place…

So, whilst the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor looked on, he took the seat beside Folie to think about it…

And he continued to think about it whilst the ship drifted back towards Weird Space…

In fact he only stopped thinking about it when Folie dragged him into the relative privacy of the engineering department…

“I know.” He said suddenly. “I have the answer. We take our last two proton torpedoes with us. If we get into any sort of shooting match, we fire them. If they don’t work, we run away.”

“Brilliant.” A relieved Folie replied. “We need never load the neutron torps at all. We’ll just take them along to keep the cable ends happy. We can always fabricate some story about how we blew up an entire fleet of hyperspace pirate mother ships. If they want proof we’ll tread on the dash-cam and tell them it was damaged in the battle and doesn’t work. But we’ll only do that if we have to: I really like that dash-cam: my Gran bought it for my last birthday.”

They were about to return to the bridge, when the door opened unexpectedly. Even more unexpectedly, a robot rolled in…

“Who, or what, are you?” Folie demanded…

“I’m your Chief Engineer.” The robot replied. “In fact I’m your only engineer. I don’t have a name right now. There is a choice of three: whichever one you choose – that’s the name I’m stuck with. Do you want to hear the list?”

It took a moment for the two silicon life-forms to shift mental gears. No one had mentioned a robotic Chief Engineer. But now that Folie and Placebo had discovered that they possessed one, it seemed like a really good idea. Whilst they held a brief discussion, the robot quickly changed position; checked a few tell-tales on the engineering board; then turned to face its owners…

“What are the choices?” Folie asked.

“A1.” The robot answered. “A2. And Gursflanachingtost.”

“They’re all rubbish.” Folie complained. “We can think of something better than that.”

“That may be,” the robot replied, “but whatever name you dream up – once it’s applied, there’s no going back: it’ll be imprinted. If you try to change it, I’ll explode. It’s a safety feature, you understand – just in case I get stolen by pirates or something.” 

Suddenly that sense of responsibility that had so concerned Folie earlier reared its ugly head again. “Flaming heck –  what a conundrum. If we get it wrong we’ll be completely kyboshed.”

“I like it.” The robot said unexpectedly. “An excellent name.”

“What name?” A puzzled Placebo inquired.

“Isn’t that what that strange word you just said was?” The Robot answered. “Wasn’t that my first name?”

Folie thought back over his last words. “Conundrum?” He asked.

“No, or course not.” The robot replied. “I’ve heard the word conundrum at least a thousand times – though I might be exaggerating a little there. No – the other one. I can’t say it until you confirm it. Then it’s imprinted – never to be altered.”

“Kyboshed?” Placebo whined.

“That’s the one.” Kyboshed replied. “Nice choice. Thank you: you’ve made me feel proud – at least in a cyber-representative way.”

And so it was. Shortly after that the Automatic Pilot returned to Scroton, where Donny and Tojo disembarked; and the ship became the sole property of Folie and Placebo once again. Soon the Gravity Whelk returned to its natural environment, and entered orbit around Scroton. Aboard, Kyboshed instructed Folie on a few basics of engineering…

“As you can see, Folie,” Kyboshed said, “this air-conditioning plant’s winky lights aren’t working properly. They are dull and insipid.  How would you address and rectify the problem?”

Folie spent a few seconds regarding the mysterious device. “Well,” he began, “first I’d try this.”

With that he gave it a hefty kick in its lower extremities. To Kyboshed’s surprise the lights burst into life…

“Sometimes it not about logic and knowledge.” Folie said as he walked away. “Sometimes it’s just a feeling you get. You gotta go with your feelings, Kyboshed: remember that.”

A couple of hours later, whilst poring over the ships’ intricate instruction manual, Folie and Placebo received a call from Kyboshed: he had something to show them. So, bored with dry facts and numbers, they disported themselves to a storage hold…

“Look at this, guys.” An excited Kyboshed implored. “Aint it something? I found it in a packing case marked, SCRAP, but with the S missing.”

Both Folie and Placebo recognised it from The Skail Brother’s video. It was a flying machine that they never used because it was a fair-weather only craft. It wasn’t waterproof. They’d forgotten all about it; but now that it stood there before him, Folie couldn’t help but clamber aboard…

“Ooh,” he squeaked as he levered himself into the driver’s seat, “it’s a bit of a tight fit. But I could always lose some weight.”

“Great,” Placebo grumbled, “but you’d have to put me through a series of heavy steel rollers to get me into the passenger seat. No, it’ll never do.”

Folie could see that the machine was an affront to Placebo’s species. He didn’t want to upset his business and adventuring partner, so he said to Kyboshed: “Oh, give it to the cable ends, Kyboshed: I’m sure they’ll have some fun pulling it apart.” But he said it with a wink and with his fingers crossed and hoped that Kyboshed understood that he didn’t mean a word of what he’d just said.

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

 

Horror on an Earplug Adventure Shoot!

Yes, frightful news has just been released from the makers of The Earplug Adventures. Apparently star of A tale of Three Museums, actor Folie Krimp, had just completed a scene in which he kick-started a snow skimmer aboard the Gravity Whelk

…when, inexplicably, the show’s creator and principal writer, Tooty Nolan, dropped a laptop on his head. Sources inform us that the little yellow earplug was crushed utterly, and that no amount of tugging and pulling would make him “puff up again”. Tooty tried rolling him between his slender, artistic hands, and even attempted to blow him up again with his divine breath. But to no avail. Fortunately his alter-ego – The Supreme Being was on hand, who, in desperation, placed Mister Krimp in  a 900watt microwave oven for five seconds. Good news is that a complete recovery is expected, but shooting for the day has been cancelled because Mister Krimp had a nasty headache and is really pissed off…

Mister Nolan is reported to have said: “Folie sure was mad at me: I’m just hoping he doesn’t come into the studio tomorrow and kick me in the bollocks!”

Revel in the Ribaldry 26

Since I began posting these extracts from the Hamster-Sapiens series of e-books, I’ve been really pleased with everyone’s reactions to them. To date only one extract needed to be deleted – due to lack of interest – and I thank every one of you who clicks the Like button whenever you read one. For this excerpt I’ve delved into the abyss that is this book…

Hopefully you’ll like it as much as the others.

Upon this command the monks fell back to a position behind the drunken mob. No sooner had they done so – when the gate gave way abruptly, and with a loud splintering sound it crashed to the ground. Instantly the army of rogue Stix bandits came pouring through the gap – to be met with a sight that they couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams: Monks of The Wheel – drunken and debauched – and showing them their personal protuberances! And what frightful willies they were too – every one of them. Or rather they weren’t: In fact they were outstandingly average. But with Primrose’s hypnotic powers at their fullest, every member there appeared to match Brother Alfonso’s in sheer frightfulness to the nth degree.

“Argh.” The first wave of bandits cried, “Frightful willies everywhere: Back, damn you! Back!”

But heedless the second wave pushed them onwards, and they were almost within striking distance with their knives and cudgels before they too succumbed to the apparent sight.

“No – The Rim preserve me.” They would cry out in despair, “My mind is in turmoil!” And then they too would turn aside, and try to beat a hasty retreat.

But no one had considered Lucas Cleats himself. Something had obviously changed in Lucas Cleats since he’d come to the attention of Stubby Collet as a young, up-coming, Stix member, because not only did he recognise the monk’s private parts for what they really were; he also recognised Primrose as the alter-ego of Stubby Collet.

Raising his mailed fist he marched resolutely towards Primrose. “This is your evil work!” He growled menacingly.

“Ah-ha!” Brother Alfonso yelled as he leapt into the space between Cleats and Primrose, and raising the hem of his habit to chest height, “Their danglies may not be real – but mine is. Retreat immediately before I club you to death with my mighty truncheon.”

Under certain circumstances this ploy might have worked. Indeed Brother Alfonso had once tried such a gambit before. The result that time was a sharp slap with a chain mail glove, followed by excruciating pain, and his instantaneous surrender: This time didn’t go any better.

“El Diablo.” Brother Alfonso cried in abrupt and unexpected agony, “Mi Guillermo burns like the fires of The Hub itself. No mi gusta chain mail gloves!”

Cleats then pushed the stumbling giant aside, and withdrew his blade from it’s scabbard. “Let’s be done with these illusions, Stubby.” He spoke calmly to Primrose. “Out of respect I’ll make it quick for you.”

In one fluid motion both Darkwood and Quentin bravely stepped to intercept him, but were cast aside by invisible mental bolts that sent them sprawling.

Joan, Felicity, and Algy Timber all tried flinging empty custard pots in his direction, but Cleats avoided them all with ease, and barely broke the pace of his advance.

But then lady luck stepped in as Joan cried out, “Oh if only we could introduce some custard to his gullet, we would be saved!”

And outside the gate, still recovering from being used as a battering ram, lay Cleats’ enormous bull cavy.

“Custard?” The enormous cavy said – his ears pricking up. “Did someone mention custard? I absolutely adore custard. Let me at it. Let no rodent stand in my way!”

He then leapt to his feet, and charged through the broken portal. He took a brief moment to ignore all the wayward private parts and fleeing bandits, and then locked his gaze upon the last remaining pot of custard, which as luck would have it, stood upon a trestle table beside the shapely form of Primrose Pickles.

“That mother-fluffer is mine.” He bellowed loudly whilst charging blindly – oblivious to the fact that his master stood between himself and the tantalising custard.

Well what happened next was horrifying beyond belief. Even the drunken monks paused in their synchronised posing to gasp in awe, and the others openly cringed. Lucas Cleats had been caught from behind by the massive lowered head of his mount, and was flung bodily high into the air, where he landed with an “Oof” upon the steep slate-tiled roof of the gatehouse. He then quickly slithered downward in a terrifying cascade of dislodged tiles and startled grimaces. He would have inevitably fallen to a grisly death upon the shattered remains of the wooden gate below, but somehow his scrotum managed to become ensnared in the gutter, and he was left dangling above the precipice by his private parts.

“Oh I wish I’d brought my digital camera.” Algy Timber spoke into the resulting silence, “I could really liven up my personal web site with pictures of that.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2013

Now you can see why I call this Revel in the Ribaldry. Fun- what? Of course the e-book is still available – after all these years – at most stockists, some of which are mentioned beneath the header and on the sidebar.

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part sixteen)

If Folie thought that he and Placebo had problems, they paled into insignificance when compared to those of Frisby Mumph. Some of his customers were actually sinking in the deepening snow…

Fortunately this particular female was saved by Precipitous Ledge Walker extraordinaire, Patti Roularde, as she returned from giving Nobby the heave-ho in the nearby hills. And Marty Friedpants and the sewage workers union reps were guided to safety when Sir Dodger used his artificial knees to carry him into the wilderness on a one-plug rescue mission…

“Over here, lads.” He called above the incessant wind. “Follow me. If you lose sight of me in the snow, listen out for my distinctive actors’ timbre.  It’ll sound like this: to me – to me.”

Even the immigrant Ice Worlders were experiencing difficulty…

“Flaming heck,” they would bellow, “this Martian snow sure gets under your eyelids. I’m producing copious tears and its making it hard to see.”

“That’s nothing.” Others would reply. “Since moving to Earth all my old underpants have worn out: these Earth pants let snow in at the side. It’s compacting in the gusset in the most uncomfortable manner possible!”

Out on the plains, the orange engineers had run a sweep for potentially lost customers in their immediate area. Now it was time to head back to the relative safety of their temporary habitats…

 

“Isn’t it annoying,” Budlea Budgin said to her colleague, Crevice McNally, “how no matter how close our habitats look, they always seem to end up being much farther away?”

Crevice had to agree. They’d been walking for five minutes; the snow storm was getting ever nearer; and still the habitat was out of reach…

But he kept up Budlea’s spirit by saying: “Yeah, but we’re nearly there now. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and we’ll be there in next to no time. The return journey always takes less time than the journey out. It’s a well-known fact.”

Although their situation was far from pleasant, it was a darned sight better than the conditions that surrounded the Future Museum of Mars…

It was now a virtual white-out situation. Anyone that remained outside would probably stay that way now. The only means of finding their way to the building was by feel – or perhaps psychic ability. But, in the absence of the Earplug Brothers, that seemed an unlikely scenario.

Griselda Splint took one look out of her room’s tiny window and shuddered…

“Crikey,” she said to herself, “anyone left out there had better find themselves one of the many caves that litter this rocky area.”

Which, by something other than coincidence, two engineers – Mudd Galorski and Dudooz Hamilton – were doing at that very moment…

“Thank the Saint of All Earplugs for that.” Dudooz cried out as the cave came into view. 

“And thank the Saint of All Earplugs for recommending triple-layered thermal underpants in the company employee’s guidebook.” Mudd replied.

And when, finally (following a titanic struggle against the wind) they entered the cave, they were doubly grateful for their thermal underpants, because the bitter cold was being blown straight into their sanctuary…

“Curses,” Dudooz growled, “now we’ll have to use our spare pairs to plug the entrance!”

“Duh,” a disappointed Mudd complained, “I was planning on wearing my spare on my head!”

Fortunately for one customer, who had also stumbled upon the cave…

…they took a few moments to consider which pair to use: those they already wore; or their spares.

Other engineers, who had yet to find cover, rallied together in the face of the storm…

 

“Okay, lads,” their chief, Clifton Wedge bellowed as best he could in the unfavourable conditions, “it’s Survival Protocol Two.”

“Is that the protocol where we all snuggle up together and take turns being on the outside?” Clifton’s Leading Hand, Conrad Kickstart yelled back.”

“No,” Brighton Briezie, further down the slope replied on her boss’s behalf, “that’s Survival Protocol One. Two is when we dig little snow shelters in the hillside; reduce our breathing to almost nothing; and effectively go into semi-hibernation.”

So, as the storm swept across the plain and enveloped the temporary habitats…

…it began to bury the museum…

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021