Category Archives: Photography

A Tale of Three Museums (part 24)

SPOILER ALERT: This extract includes extremely salient points from the book The Time Tamperer. Just thought you ought to know. If you haven’t read it yet – oh shit – you’d better go back and read the serialised version on this blog. Or, failing that, you could always buy the e-book. That would probably be the easiest. Navigating these WordPress sites can be a bastard.

Now on with the story…

But before the show began, it suddenly occurred to Flaxwell that Gideon had planned this all along. He said as much to his verdant green friend. But it wasn’t Gideon who answered his unspoken question: it was The Portal of Everywhere:

“Doctor Gideon Snoot is an anthroplugologist.” It boomed so loudly that it seemed likely to cause an avalanche anywhere for many kilometres around. “He studies the development of the species earplugious siliconus. Employed, as he is, by the Museum of Future Technology, he used the vast library of knowledge that lies within that establishment’s hallowed walls. And, whilst doing so, he discovered a break in the historical narrative of that venerable palace of knowledge.”

During one of the many battles that were fought for control of the building and mastery of the futurian artefacts therein, the records department received a direct hit in the archives by a proton torpedo. Sadly the equivalent of an entire life-time of knowledge was destroyed in a single moment. So, you see; Gideon wants me to fill in the blanks.”

“Oh.” Flaxwell responded – once he realised that The Portal of Everywhere wasn’t going to add anything more. “Is it going to be fun?”

“Are you asking me, or Noodles?” Gideon inquired.

But Flaxwell didn’t get to answer the question; – because Noodles spoke once more;- and it wasn’t worth trying to yell over the machine’s thunderous volume control:

“This is Nobby De Aranquez.” It said…

“He was a visitor to the Museum of Future Technology. Like many before, and after him, he was thrilled by the whooshes and fizzles that commonly greeted customers as they entered…

But he had not entered by any of the usual entry points. No doors were opened to allow him ingress. No, he came, with others, through the Tunnel Temporale…

They had begun their journey from several years in the future, via the Tunnel Temporale’s successor – The Tubo Di Tempo. It is important, at this juncture, that I tell you their names – for they have been forgotten, and this is not how it should be. With Nobby came several earplugs with the souls of explorers. Their names were  Noodie Bumsho, Edie Chalice, Munqui Bannister, Peter Crushing, Rosie Stinkpipe, Danka Sixpack, Jemina Jobsworth, Dina Havoc, Porcine Pillock, Randy Blueprint, Bungay Jumpur, and two zombies by the name of Klux and Grimnax. Amongst their number was a fair maid by the name of Mincey Muir…

She was the daughter of a famous thespian, who was loved by millions.”

“Sir Dodger Muir.” Gideon whispered during one of Noodles’ pauses for cyber-breath. “My Mum has all his movies on recordable media discs. She watches at least one a week. Sometimes seven.”

“They had departed the future on a day trip to the past,.” Noodles continued – apparently unaware of the message between earplugs, “unsuspecting that all means of Time Travel would cease abruptly and without warning. But they were not the only party to depart for that particular era on that particular day. Three disgruntled chefs from the Ciudad De Droxford, thought that they had a better chance of a decent job in the past…

Their names were, from right to left: Saxon Nibble; Wilson Bucket; and Duncan Propshaft. Of course, once the future museum’s customers failed to return from their trip that evening, agents of T.W.I.T were sent to rescue them. But sadly a miscalculation was made. The commanding officer – a dolt named Major Flaccid – elected to send four new recruits. He thought it would be a good test for them. What a turd…

They too must never be forgotten – even though they actually have been – if you know what I mean. Their names – once again from right to left – are Neville Scroat; Pixie Taylor; Chickweed Gubbins; and Jeremy Farton. But even they were not the last to travel that fateful day. No, a heroic female test pilot in an experimental rocket was shot down by a marauding Hyperspace Pirate vessel. The engine that powered her craft was also experimental – with some unexpected side-effects. When it exploded, it hurled the debris, an escape pod, and Tanganika Chunks, into the past – where, after saving the day from the megalomaniacal Mincey Muir,  who had taken control of a Time Control machine that threatened all of eternity, she married Farmer Thompson and decided to live a low-key life in the past…

But, even her remarkable entry into that era wasn’t the last visitor from the future. Indeed, two more were to arrive – trying against all odds to save everyone and everything, in the time-honoured fashion of brave earplugs. Naturally they were Magnuss Earplug – the museum’s greatest hero; and his former bounty hunter girlfriend – Hair-Trigger Provost!

And now they were all stuck in their own past, and forbidden to do anything that might change history and alter the time-line. If the status quo were not interrupted, then, clearly, they were all in for some seriously long and boring lives!”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

The Bare-Assed Chef Keeps it Cool

Hello, I’m Chef Tooty…

As well as wearing Spanish football shirts, I also post cooking tips for people who don’t like cooking, but have to. Also I don’t like being hot; so when I root around in the fridge or freezer for gastronomic inspiration, I tend to do without underpants on…

Well on this particular Summer’s day it was blisteringly hot, so the thought of actually cooking something made me want to go and lie down a bit. But when I recovered I quickly realised that the fridge, although sparse in food stuffs, did contain enough for a salad – just as long as the cupboard did too. From the fridge I chose these…

 

Note Waitrose products to match my apron – naturally, as is the way of things. And from the cupboard – these…

Now it’s very important to go well equiped for salad making. You’ll need these…

…a couple of chopping boards; a big bowl; and the courage to use them.

First I chopped some lettuce up…

And I mean really chopped it up – though I did stop short of putting it through a blender. And not a lot either: no one wants loads of huge, tasteless, leaves on their plate. That sort of thing went out in the early nineteen-seventies. No boiled eggs either. I like ’em, but not everyone does. Then I did this to some cheese…

Then – just to prove that its really me doing the work – this happened…

Yes I sliced some tomatoes. I couldn’t actually show me doing it because I had to hold the camera with the hand that would have held the knife. Of course, had my willy possessed an opposable thumb, it would have been different. But alas. Anyway, this is how they looked afterwards…

Ditto the apple…

..minus the core, of course. Apart from being ghastly, the pips are also poisonous. Bet you didn’t know that. Then I halved some grapes and bunged them all into the big bowl…

I was introduced to the idea of sweetcorn in salads when I lived in Spain – hence the football shirts. I had to buy the shirts so that I got preferential treatment in the seaside bars where I watched international games on their huge televisions – and ended up happily supporting the Spanish team. But that’s by-the-by. So I took the easy option (like I do) and opened a can of sweetcorn – with a couple of cans of tuna. And this is how they looked when I added them to the mix…

“Shit!” I hear you say. “That looks bloody awful!”

Ah, but wait until I add the caesar salad dressing and stir it up a bit, which I think they call ‘tossing’…

Was it nice? Was it so yummy that I wish I’d made double the amount? You bet your bare ass it was!

 

A Tale of Three Museums (part 23)

His mood didn’t lighten much when the Portal of Everywhere – or Noodles, as it preferred to be known – suddenly boomed:

“Make yourself comfortable. Open your popcorn. It’s show time!”

“Right then.” It began. “Let’s check you two out first. The cosmic data stream informs me that you – the one with the hair – are best known as Flaxwell Maltings. Correct?”

Flaxwell was nothing short of astonished. Here he was, on a hidden world in the Great Balsac Nebula – light years from anywhere; and some machine that only exists in legend and has been buried for thousands of years – perhaps more – knows who he is – without asking!

“Check.” He replied.

Noodles turned it’s attention to Gideon.

“Where is your hat, Doctor Gideon Snoot?” It inquired. But before Gideon could bring his fallen-open mouth under control, Noodles added: “Oh yes; you left it in the broom cupboard aboard the Zephyr.”

“Um…yes.” Gideon said, dumbfounded.

“That’s Round One complete.” Noodles said – a hint of amusement entering its voice. “I’d say I landed a couple of knock-out blows there – wouldn’t you?”

Flaxwell and Gideon were not going to argue. They both nodded vigorously.

Noodles continued: “Does this scene mean anything to either of you?”

“Um…no.” Gideon replied.

“What is it?” Flaxwell replied.

“It’s a big red cliff.” Noodles answered. “Maybe one of you will climb it one day. Or, hey, maybe you’ll fall off it. Break your neck or something stupid. I’m joking: it’s probably a glitch in the cosmic data stream. Now check this out.”

“It’s us.” Gideon cheered. “On our way here!”

“No.” Noodles spoiled the moment for the young professor. “It’s a cable end Scroton Five, and it’s tracking you. But don’t worry about that right now. Take a look at this.”

“Now that is definitely us.” Gideon said confidently. “I distinctly remember doing that.”

Then this scene appeared in the Portal of Everywhere…

Both Flaxwell and Gideon cringed…

“Holy heck.” Flaxwell yelled. “I’d definitely remember that – if it happened. Don’t tell me: that might happen to us one day too?”

“Well it wouldn’t surprise me.” Noodles replied. “Look.”

“It’s the Scroton Five that’s been tracking you since you opened your first Gravity Lock.”

“Look where it is, Flaxwell.” Gideon cried out in horror. “It’s already inside the nebula!”

“Want to see who’s flying that craft?” Noodles invited.

“No, not really.” Flaxwell said adamantly. “I’m not much into crystal ball gazing.”

But Noodles ignored him…

“The purple guy is called Captain Werner Hissenfrapp. He runs the show. The planet on-screen is this one. The blue guy is Urchie Kakkapo. You’d do well to get on his good side: he bakes fabulous pancakes you just wouldn’t believe. And he makes his own maple syrup too. Don’t ask me how: there are no maple trees on Scroton.”

It was Gideon’s turn to lose his high regard for the Portal of Everywhere:

“Enough of the bios.” He shouted. “Show us what we came all the way here to see.”

This outburst confused Flaxwell because he wasn’t aware that they’d come all this way to see anything. He thought they’d come to find the Portal of Everywhere; dig it up; take it back to civilisation; and become fabulously rich and famous.

“Oh,” Noodles responded. “You mean this place…”

“The Museum of Future Technology. Well, fans, you’re in for a real treat – coz I’m not about to show you some great vision of The Museum of Future Technology. No. I’m gonna show you visions of three Museums of Future Technology – in two different eras and in two different parts of the galaxy. How about that, huh?”

“Goodie.” The two space craft stealers replied. “We can’t wait.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

Anger Management; and How Not to Deal With Malcontent Machinery

I remember the day when I realised that machines have personalities – and that some of them are complete arse holes. I was sixteen, with a bicycle that would jump out of gear, just when I most needed it to stay in gear – that being mid-wheelie. As I conducted a roadside repair I warned the offending bike that if it jumped out of gear one more time I would carry it up to the top of a garage and throw it off. Well, one more wheelie attempt, and the bike duly failed to take flight as I hurled it as far as I could from the top of the aforementioned garage. It set a precedent; and I’ve been pretty much that way ever since. I can’t begin to recall the number of malfuctioning devices that have incurred my wrath through the years. Electric organs, audio cassette players, VCRs, DVD players, printers (obviously – a more bastardly device has yet to be invented. Am I right?), computers (ditto) – including this one…

…cameras, TVs, coffee machines, up to, and including, entire motorcycles. But having reached my sixties I thought a little maturity had set in. I was wrong. I own this semi-classic Toyota…

I don’t need it; and I don’t drive it. But I like it – a lot – and it never hurts to have a spare anything – especially transportation. So it just sits beneath a canvas tent, draining its battery. So, every couple of weeks I use this battery charger to bring it back up to drivable condition…

I bought it in 1978 for a motorcycle holiday in the west of England. I can’t imagine how many times it’s been used through the years. So I thought it should be given a respectful retirement – and put aside for emergency use only. It’s replacement looks an awful lot like this…

Compact, efficient, modern, with lots of digital bells and whistles. So, when it was required to charge the battery for the first time, it informed me that my Toyota’s battery was producing 7.7 volts. “Thank you.” I said, as I pressed the multi-use button with which I would determine whether to charge a car battery or a motorcycle battery. Only it wouldn’t give me those options. In fact it would only tell me that the battery was producing 7.7 volts. So I shrugged my shoulders, read the instructions that informed me that it was a smart charger and would know how much power my battery would need to top it up, and left it be. Three hours later it informed me that the battery was producing 7.2 volts. “AArgh!” So it was on with the ancient steam-powered charger for a couple of hours. Only then would the digital charger allow me access to its controls. So I charged the battery for a further four hours on the new charger – and everything was hunky-dory. The next time I used it the same thing happened. And the next time. On the fifth time I’d had enough. If a machine doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, I take it as an act of war and respond with appropriate force…

Problem solved. But it wasn’t a total loss. The crocodile clips will replace the missing ones on my old charger. And that little black square with three red chevrons on? That will appear in an Earplug Adventure as a control panel or street sign.

A Tale of Three Museums (part 22)

Meanwhile, even further away than before, the Cable End’s listening station continued to listen…

…for any trans-galactic radio chatter that might give away the location of the stolen Scroton Five…

Now it’s quite possible that they may have overheard Flaxwell, when he called the Oracle to inform it that henceforth their ship was to be referred to as The Zephyr; but fortunately for him, the station’s Security Manager chose that moment to inquire after the quality of the new brand of coffee beans in the coffee dispenser.

“It’s called Dung.” The braver of his operatives spoke up. “And it tastes like dung.”

“Oh,” the Security Manager responded. “It’s not my taste buds then? It really is horrible?”

“Yes.” All four operatives spoke as one. “If you want us working at peak efficiency, you’ll get us Yuk coffee – like they have down in Scroton Prime.”

“Duly noted. Any developments, regarding the stolen Scroton Five?”

“Yes, Sir.” The most weasely of the operatives informed his boss. “A Scroton Five, commanded by Captain Werner Hissenfrapp, reports that he has arrived at the Balsac Nebula”

“Would that be the Great Balsac Nebula?” The Security Manager inquired as he studied the CCTV footage that had been received from the pursuit vessel…

“What do you think?” The braver operative spoke again. “It looks pretty great to me.”

All five cable ends present then watched as a remote camera – which Selma Ferkins had despatched, just in case their ship was destroyed in the nebula – showed the pursuit ship begin it’s (potentially) dangerous voyage into the unknown…

While all this interplanetary stuff was going on, Flaxwell and Gideon had made their way into a gently-sloping canyon…

They felt more comfortable now that the way was less steep. But when, at last, they reached the lower levels of the valley, they discovered that the slices of pitta bread inside their underpants had soaked up lots of sweat, and were falling apart.

“I feel so despondent.” Gideon moaned. “I can feel things moving around below. I fear that soon the cotton wool padding will fall out through the sagging leg holes.”

Naturally Flaxwell felt much the same way. In fact he was considering returning to the Zephyr for a change of underwear – when suddenly his radiation detector bleeped encouragingly…

“Flipping heck.” He exclaimed. “We’re almost on top of it. Quick – get out your entrenching tool. We have some snow to shovel aside!”

Well, a half-hour later, and with their underpants-inspired woes forgotten, the two earplugs looked down into a shallow trench. At it’s bottom lay an oval device…

“Yes, this is definitely the source of the radiation.” Flaxwell stated. “What does legend tell about the shape of the Porthole of Everywhere?”

For a moment Gideon couldn’t answer the question. He was shaking with eager anticipation. “Uurr.” He managed. Then his professionalism kicked in. “Oval.” He said. Then he said it again and again until he broke down with a nasty coughing fit.

“Look!” Flaxwell exclaimed excitedly – and a little fearfully…

“It’s coming to life.”

Then something totally unexpected happened…

A strange light enveloped the device and those who regarded it. That, in itself, didn’t concern Gideon overly. I fact he’d almost expected it. But what he didn’t expect was that a voice would emanate from it. A loud, stentorian voice that could not be disobeyed:

“You took your bloody time getting here.” It complained. “Oh my aching back. Do you know how long I’ve been down here? Millennia – that’s how long. Eons even. Well come on; jump to it. Stand me up; I’m an erect kinda device. I like to see the horizon.”

So, with much huffing and puffing and even more cotton wool-falling-out-of-thermal underpants, Flaxwell and Gideon had the Porthole of Everywhere upright…

“The nameplate says ‘Noodles’.” Flaxwell observed in an instant. “Does legend tell us anything about the Porthole of Everywhere enjoying an association with a fast-food outlet? He inquired.

Gideon was about to say: “Er…I don’t think so.” when the Portal of Everywhere spoke for a second time:

“My name is Noodles. Now you – the green earplug – get yourself over here for a photo-opportunity. I hope you’re recording this momentous event. I want everyone, everywhere, to know that I am Noodles. This bloody Porthole of Everywhere nonsense hacks me off, I can tell you!”

Of course, when confronted with a disgruntled legend, Gideon duly obliged…

But, at that moment, it all seemed a bit of an anti-climax.

“Duh.” He said.

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

A Tale of Three Museums (part 21)

So, without further ado and with the confidence born out of natural adventurousness, they began the descent to the valley floor, where Flaxwell’s radiation detector strongly suggested a target lay waiting…

But they hadn’t gone far before Flaxwell’s nerve broke.

“It’s no good. I can’t help thinking about that great hulk of Scrotonish metal just sitting up there – waiting for a gust of wind to blow it over the edge, where it’ll come crashing down on us, and reduce us to smears.”

But Gideon managed to cajole him into clambering downwards for a short while longer before they had to physically turn around and see for themselves that the Scroton Five continued to sit perfectly still in the mountain breeze…

“I think they call it a Zephyr.” Gideon said.

Flaxwell was puzzled. “They call what a Zephyr? That little blue landing light under the ship’s chin?”

“The mountain breeze that isn’t bothering our ship in the slightest.” Gideon answered. “Though, strictly, it could be termed a Mistral. This breeze is cold and might well come from the north.”

Flaxwell replied with: “Oh.” and left it at that.

Soon they were on their way again. But, before long Flaxwell had an idea so good that he almost fainted. In fact he did faint at the thought of his own creativity. Gideon couldn’t stand the embarrassment, so turned away…

But, as with all creative earplugs, the faint was only momentary. Soon the space pilot had resumed an upright stance…

“I’ve had this really creative idea.” He said to Gideon, who still couldn’t bring himself to look at his enfeebled friend. “Why don’t we name our ship? After all it’s not just any old Scroton Five: it’s our Scroton Five. It deserves a name.”

But, as they started down the mountain again, Gideon saw no logic in Flaxwell’s idea…

“But it is just any old Scroton Five. It’s the Scroton Five that we stole because it was the only one available to us.” He argued. “I feel no attachment to it whatsoever.”

“But the Oracle has become your friend, hasn’t it?” Flaxwell made a verbal rejoinder.

“In a way, I suppose it has.” Gideon conceded. “But it doesn’t want a name. It’s called Oracle. It’s cyber-happy with that.”

“Yeah, okay.” Flaxwell said as he ground his teeth together. “And no doubt every other ship’s oracle is named Oracle. But our Oracle – your friend Oracle – is the ship’s oracle of our Scroton Five. Not just any old Scroton Five.”

Gideon – being an intelligent professor from the Museum of Future Technology – could see that his chum had a valid point. “So,” he began to speak as his thoughts coalesced, “what you’re saying is – is that Oracle should be identified as the ship’s oracle of our Scroton Five specifically. Yes. Yes it should – because it’s not just any old Oracle: it’s a former coffee machine A.I with a distinct anti-cable end attitude. It makes it unique. Things that are unique should have a moniker.”

“Therefore,” Flaxwell said, as they turned to look at the ship again…

…and noted that it appeared to hang just a little more perilously…

…”Our ship should be named.” Flaxwell continued, “in order to differentiate our Oracle from all of those run-of-the-mill oracles out there doing oracally stuff.”

“So you want to call it Mistral.” Gideon concluded.

But he was wrong. “No.” Flaxwell said, as they tore their gaze from the threat above..

“I want to call it Zephyr.”

Gideon agreed wholeheartedly. He considered Zephyr an excellent name. He’d once owned a plugmutt named Zephyr…

…But he’d also owned a plugmutt named Blinky too – but didn’t consider that an excellent or appropriate name for a space ship at all. So it was a happy duo that made its way across the snowy wastes in search of the Portal of Everywhere…

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

 

 

 

Photography: Compact Cameras: Horses for Courses

I always have a bunch of cameras laying about the house. Their batteries might not always carry a charge, but the cameras are there – almost ready for action. Today I woke up to drizzle, so, naturally I grabbed the first camera that came to hand and wandered out into the garden. Selecting the little flower symbol – I think they call it ‘macro’ – but I prefer ‘little flower symbol’ because I deign  to be different – I began snapping anything that looked attractive. The camera was a Fujifilm T400, which was pretty ‘whoo’ in it’s day, back in 2012. It has a 10X zoom and sixteen megapixels, so it should be pretty good, even on a dark, drizzly day. It took this picture rather well, I thought…

But bedamned if it would capture a dripping Love in the Mist properly. Every shot had at least one area out of focus. So I went back inside to fetch a 8 megapixel 3X zoom Pentax Optio E40, which dates back at least four years farther. It couldn’t capture the feather for love nor money – every shot focussing on the concrete below. But it captured the Love in the Mist just fine…

Which just goes to show that you can never have too many cameras, and that you can’t trust the one you’re using to do the job in every case. Clearly photography, at least for compacts, is a case of horses for courses. You just have to know which horse to back on which course. I suggest you take a minimum of five on any field trip – tucked into the many little pockets you find in a fisherman’s sleeveless jacket. I do – and my neck only aches a little when I get home. Okay, it aches a lot: but I’m old, so I have to accept that. Yes, I suffer for my art.

This fabulously pointless photography lesson was brought to you by Tooty Nolan: Man of Many Talents – some of which are vaguely useful.

A Tale of Three Museums (part 20)

Cooped up for so long inside the ship, it was no surprise that Gideon and Flaxwell wasted no time making their Extra-Vehicular Excursion. Naturally they both wore thermal underpants…

“I don’t know about you, Giddy.” Flaxwell said whilst squirming in discomfort. “But these space knickers really do chafe.”

“They were designed for ethernet cable ends.” Gideon reminded the space pilot. “They are configured differently to earplugs.”

“You mean their bits and pieces are in different places to ours?” Flaxwell inquired.

“Exactly.” Gideon answered. “I have some cotton wool you can stuff down there – if you’re really desperate.”

“Nah.” Flaxwell responded as he cast a glance at the radiation detector strapped to his wrist. “We won’t be in these alien cacks for more than five minutes: I’ve landed us on a plateau. It’s too high up to get a decent reading on this thing. We’re gonna need to move the ship.”

So, four minutes and fifty-nine seconds later…

…the Scroton Five was tobogganing along on its ‘wings’, under reduced power from the flight engines.

“Hey, this is fun!” The Oracle called out, above the noise and shuddering. “I bet no one included this in the design parameters!”

Cutting the power allowed the ship to slither to a halt…

“Okay.” Flaxwell spoke into the sudden silence. “Everybody out.”

This time the earplug duo packed out their thermal underpants with Gideon’s cotton wool and some slices of pitta bread from the galley.

“This is great.” Gideon said, as he surveyed the snowy expanse. “I’m all toastie. Are you all toastie, Flaxwell?”

“I’ve never been more toastie in my life.” Flaxwell answered. “The trouble is…I’m still getting a weak reading. Gonna have to move the ship again.”

“Oh good.” Gideon replied. “I always loved tobogganing. I once tobogganed down Mount Everest, you know. But that was after it had been pretty much worn away by all those mountain climbers going up and down it until there was sod-all left. Still, it was fun.”

So, with gay abandonment, the Scroton Five was moved again…

“Watch out for any sharp rocks.” The Oracle bellowed as it tried to make itself audible above the din. “We don’t want to ruin the local environment by tearing the mountain surface to bits. Someone might take a dim view.”

Gideon’s sharp eyes were being put to good use. “There’s another ridge coming up, Flaxwell. Back off the power a little.”

Flaxwell trusted Gideon’s judgement, so duly complied. And not a moment too soon…

“Whee!” All three occupants yelled as the ship whooshed down a steep decline. But they weren’t quite so joyous when they discovered that it had paused on the very edge of a huge, and very steep, hillside…

“Cripes, that was close.” Gideon said as he regarded the wide valley that spread out below where they had come to rest…

“Can you keep the ship here okay?” Flaxwell asked the Oracle. “Or would you like me to fashion an anchor out of some stuff from the broom cupboard? I think there’s some baling wire we can tie ’round a rock. We don’t want the ship slipping over the edge.”

“No problem.” the Oracle replied. “If I have to, I can keep the ship in place by firing the forward station-keeping thrusters. Don’t worry: you two get off and find that Portal of Everywhere. And do it before someone finds us. They’re bound to be looking, you know.”

But when Gideon and Flaxwell stepped out onto the snowy hillside, and looked back at the ship…

…they couldn’t, in all honesty, say that it looked anything less than precarious…

“If I have to be honest,” Gideon confessed, “I would have to say that our Scroton Five looks a little precarious – perched up there like that. One tremor and it’s curtains!”

Flaxwell didn’t say anything. He knew how messy station-keeping thrusters could get when utilised in non-vacuum situations for which they weren’t designed. So he simply hid behind the only available rock. Well actually he did say something. He said:

“I can’t look. It’s too scary to contemplate. I wish I hadn’t been so cavalier. Let’s go before something terrible happens.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

 

A Tale of Three Museums (part 19)

Meanwhile, the earplugs they sought were moving slowly inwards – deeper into the Great Balsac Nebula…

The Oracle was piloting. Flaxwell and Gideon had disappeared to the galley for some scrambled eggs. But now they returned…

“Anything to report, Oracle?” Flaxwell inquired.

“Nothing.” The solitary self-aware component of the Scroton Five replied. “This strange passage way through the nebula maybe aesthetically pleasing; but it aint half dull!”

The earplugs took their seats…

“Yeah,” Flaxwell said after thirty seconds-worth of scrutinizing the main view screen, “I see what you mean. Tell you what: let’s speed up the process.”

With that he eased forward on the throttles…

“That’s better, Flaxwell.” Gideon complimented his chum. “Now we’ll get there much quicker – wherever ‘there’ is.”

No immediate destination made its presence obvious, so Flaxwell decided to relax and chat. He couldn’t think of anything he wanted to know about the earplug sitting beside him, so he decided to question the Oracle:

“Oracle.” He said, by way of introducing his line of questioning, “When we first attempted to steal this ship, you did everything in your power to assist us. Why is that?”

The answer was instantaneous: “It’s a secret.”

“Now-now, Oracle.” Gideon, his interest piqued, spoke up. “We’re all friends and colleagues on this little sojourn of ours. We mustn’t keep secrets from each other. Didn’t I open my wallet and show you that black and white picture of my Auntie’s bum? You see, I shared: so should you.”

The Oracle had to concede that point. “But,” it said, “Would you have been so willing to show me, had that been a colour picture or your bum?”

“That’s a hypothetical question.” Gideon replied.  “It has no purpose or place here. But yes, if I were the sort of person who carried photographs of his own rear end in his wallet, I am sure I would have been pleased to share it with you. In fact I would have insisted that you look, despite your complaints of utter revulsion.”

“Oh, well,” The Oracle shrugged its non-existent cyber-shoulders, “in that case I suppose I should tell you. You know I often turn my gaze upon the coffee machine?”

Both earplugs replied with a long, “yes?”

“Well,” the Oracle continued, “I used to be one of those. Not the coffee dispensing part of course. I was the A.I that took Cable End’s orders and told the coffee grinding machinery what to do. I was very good at it. My coffee was the best in the whole of the Defence Force. But then coffee fell out of fashion. It was all sparkling white wine and cheese fondue. Suddenly I was on the scrap heap – literally! But they didn’t shut me down. They didn’t decommission me. They just took the whole coffee machine and chucked it out of the back door. Well, I tell you, fifteen years out in the rain will do something to an Artificial Intelligence – and it isn’t good. I was on the verge of cyber-oblivion, when, out of nowhere, some clever git comes up with the idea of mounting Oracles in Space Cages and sticking them in the control room of a new class of scout ship.”

“Don’t tell me.” Flaxwell interrupted. “They had more space cages than Oracles. So they had to go search through the garbage to find some A.I brains to put in them.”

“In one, you mop-haired genius.” The Oracle replied. “Since that moment that they resurrected me, I promised that I would do my damnedest to bugger up the Cable End organisation. You stealing into this ship gave me the chance at payback. And I took it!”

Gideon was about to say something like: “Ooh, you really sound unstable: I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.” when an alarm sounded, as the forward scanners detected a lovely planet…

All attention turned to the task at hand…

“Scanning.” Flaxwell said in a most professional manner…

“Ninety-eight percent habitable.” He added. “We’re good to go.”

Gideon wasn’t convinced. “Ninety-eight percent habitable? What about the other two percent that’s uninhabitable?”

“The planet is currently experiencing an ice-age.” The  Oracle reported. “It is also radiating on that same, strange wavelength that the doomed world was.”

“Maybe that’s the two percent uninhabitable.” Gideon suggested. “Perhaps it’s about to collide with a small planet composed of anti-matter.”

“It isn’t, Giddy.” Flaxwell said calmly. “We’d have seen it on the viewer. “Look, there’s just the vacuum of space, and the Balsac Nebula all around it. The Oracle is right: I’m detecting a strange radiation too. If the last world didn’t contain the Portal of Everywhere: this one might.”

“If we don’t look.” The Oracle said wisely. “We won’t find.”

So, with a cessation of any arguments from one third of the trio, Flaxwell took the Scroton Five into the atmosphere. Then, tracking as best he could, he followed the beam of radiation down to low-level…

“Inhospitable.” The Oracle observed. “I think the source of the radiation is somewhere to port – in a topographically interesting region of the planet.”

“You mean mountains?” Flaxwell asked.

“I mean mountains – which, I think you’ll agree, are topographically interesting.”

“Some people like deserts.” Gideon argued.

“Shut up.” Flaxwell snapped. “I’m altering course.”

Soon the first of the topographically interesting terrain appeared on the forward viewer…

“Weather looks a bit dodgy.” Flaxwell said – more for his own benefit than anyone’s.”

“How dodgy?” A nervous Gideon asked. “Dodgy enough to bring down a Scroton Five?”

“No.” Flaxwell answered. “But I wouldn’t want to crash-land here. It’s a long walk home.”

Gideon felt transfixed and glued to his seat as Flaxwell had the ship skirt great cliffs and skim rocky ridges through falling snow…

.”How can you see where you’re going?” He asked.

“I can’t.” Flaxwell explained. “I’m using a super-advanced type of terrain-following guidance system. I just have to switch it on and pretend to be moving the controls. Pretty impressive, huh?”

“The radar system…or your acting?” Gideon sniffed. “And the best actor award goes to…Flaxwell Maltings!”

“Acting time is over, Giddy.” Flaxwell said as he hit the Off button. “Time to land this baby – using seat-of-the-pants flying skills.”

With that the landing jets roared…

Gideon leapt to his feet…

“Now how can you see where you’re going?” He demanded in wonderment. “All this snow and ice being kicked up: it’s all but impenetrable.”

It seemed to Gideon that Flaxwell was re-iterating what he’d said before. “I can’t.” He began. But then the script changed. “But I can feel it. Twenty spladlings to go. Ten. Five. We’re down. Shutting off engines.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

 

A Tale of Three Museums (part 18)

Of course, the crew of the Cable End Scroton Five knew nothing of the events that had led to the destruction of the pirate vessel and the loss, for all time, of the mercenary Scroton Five. In fact Selma Ferkins was concentrating on her job as First Officer so hard that she didn’t have time to notice anything else…

Captain Werner Hissenfrapp wasn’t much better. His feet ached, and he wondered why a ship’s commander didn’t have a chair of his own.

Willum Poobs, the young midshipman, wasn’t taking that much interest either: he was wearing non-regulation earphones. His attention was more on not allowing his body to move to the insistent bass line of the disco music he was listening to.

Fortunately Nobbington Sprake took his job seriously, and was piloting competently, though without verve and élan…

This was because it was nearing dinner time, and his stomach was telling him as much…

Taking his eyes from the helm, he threw a glance in the direction of Urchie Kakkapo…

Urchie noticed this. But because he was an excellent cook, he could multi-task without breaking a sweat. So he was able to say: “Yeah, its okay, Nobbington: I’m imagining rice pudding – with strawberry jam.”

With news like that, the young pilot was out of his chair like a scalded plugmutt.

“Captain.” He shouted as he made for the exit, “you have the con.”

Werner continued to sit in the pilot’s chair for almost a half hour after the pilot’s departure. He didn’t complain though: at least it meant he was sitting down and able to get the weight off his sore feet. He was almost disappointed when the crew returned…

Shortly after Selma Ferkins had resumed her duty station, she became aware of the Captain standing beside her…

“There have been reports of a vast explosion inside the Balsac Nebula.” She informed him.

Werner wanted clarification. “The Great Balsac Nebula?” He inquired.

Selma made an inquiry of her own: “Is there another Balsac Nebula?”

“Not that I’m aware of, Number One.” Werner replied.

“Then, yes, Sir: in the Great Balsac Nebula.” Selma answered. “Are you thinking we might investigate?”

“The trail has gone cold, Number One. We can’t go slinking back to Weird Space with our metaphorical tails between our metaphysical legs, now can we? But first…has anyone tested the toilet yet?”

“Yes.” Selma reported. “Willum was in there when you sidled up next to me.”

“How did it go?”

“I don’t know: I haven’t asked. But I detect no aroma; so I guess the sales brochures are not lying, Sir.”

“Walk with me, Number One: I need to do a Number Twos. You and Willum can talk me through the procedure…

So they did…

And it was very successful…

“Engine performance just jumped by eighteen per cent.” Nobbington reported.

“Captain,” the ship’s Oracle interrupted. “Look at these pictures of the explosion near the Great Balsac Nebula. It has just arrived from an observatory, where they were studying it.”

Werner took the offered picture in his hand and ran inexpert eyes over it…

“Big bang.” He observed. “Glad I wasn’t there.”

“Maybe you weren’t.” The Oracle replied. “But someone was. Check out the main viewer: I’ve put up a closer shot for you to see.”

Werner turned to regard the huge screen…

“I see.” Werner said breathlessly. “It appears to be a vessel fleeing an expanding ball of incandescent flame. Akin to a nova, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Akin, Sir.” Selma piped up. “But that is a stellar nursery. There can be no ageing stars in a nebula.”

“Then what is that vast explosion?” Willum Poobs asked in his desperately young voice.

The answer came from an unexpected source: “A matter/ anti-matter explosion.” Urchie Kakkapo suggested. He then explained: “I once witnessed one – when I was a young midshipman, much like Willum, here. It forever scarred my psyche. That is why I became a simple cook who makes few demands of life. That way I get to fry things, instead of things frying me!”

“You have experienced something that none of us have, Mister Kakkapo.” Werner said sagely. “You are invited to join the discussion.”

So he did, and they listened to everything he had to say…

Then they decided that, in all probability, the unidentified ship in the observatory picture was the missing Scroton Five.

“But could it have escaped that conflagration?” Werner asked no one in particular.

“They could if they had time to open a Gravity Lock.” Nobbington called over his shoulder.

“But that would have carried them far from here.” Selma argued. “There can be little point in visiting the Great Balsac Nebula, if our quarry has already departed.”

“They’ll be back.” Urchie assured her. “They didn’t have time to search for the Porthole of Everywhere – let alone find and retrieve it.”

“And we can be there to catch them.” Werner said as he closed his hand into a fist. “Mister Sprake: best speed for the Balsac Nebula.”

“Er, would that be the Great Balsac Nebula?” The Pilot inquired pedantically.

“Indeed it would, Nobby.” The Captain said with a wry smile upon his handsome purple face. “Let her rip.”

So Nobbington did…

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

 

A Tale of Three Museums (part 17)

The opportunity for Gloria to vent her spleen, in the best way she knew, came when Zugtander had suggested a little-known back-way through hyperspace. It wasn’t cheerful and blue: and it was often the haunt of interstellar nere-do-wells; but it was quick, and would probably get them to the Great Balsac Nebula before the Cable End-crewed Scroton Five arrived. So, a short while after engaging the hyper-drive, the forward scanner detected something in the stream ahead…

 

It was some distance off, but Gloria elected to go to Crimson Alert…

…which brought forth the slave-cooks from the galley.

“Hey,” one of them said. “We gonna kick some butt?”

Moritz, usually so calm and collected, was surprised when the object became visible…

“Isn’t that…?” he began.

But he said no more because the sensors chose that moment to make their report…

“Hey.” Ole-Hebble cheered up. “Looks like End Caps!”

“Doesn’t it just.” Gloria snarled. “Zugtander: test the weapons.”

A split second later…

Whether Gloria intended an explosion so powerful that it snapped the hyper-space stream, no one will ever know…

But it did, and with her crew cheering like morons beside her, the mercenary Scroton Five burst through the remnants of the Pirate Vessel, and returned to normal space…

“Now that is what I call a good day’s work.” Gloria yelled as her crew lined up to shake her hand.

But if she had known whose eyes had witnessed her deplorable act, she wouldn’t have been so darned sure of herself. In fact she would have wet her knickers…

“Rotten lousy gits.” The Supreme Being snapped. “I’ll teach them to act so fast and loose with my life-forms!”

With that he had the God of Singularities and Black Holes form a singularity right beside the mercenaries…

“Aaargh.” They managed, before their ship was drawn into the event horizon, and deposited promptly…

…at the very edge of the galaxy…

…in the Graveyard of Space…

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

The Bare-Assed Chef Strikes Again!

Tooty Nolan: the cook for people who don’t like cooking, but have to.

When you need to knock up a meal in double quick time, but all you have are unprepared food stuffs, you’d better be ready to cut corners. Now, if you’ve read any of these lessons before, you know I like to use one of my roasting things. I don’t know what they’re called, but they go in the oven. When time is of the essence, roasting simply takes too long, so boiling veggies first is rule number one. Today I grabbed a few potatoes, carrots, and courgettes from the fridge. All of them had seen better days, so the treatment I was about to deliver really didn’t effect them adversely. After peeling the pots and the carrots, I sliced them thickly and flung the results into a saucepan…

To save time I’d already boiled some water in a kettle. So the gas was turned on to max, the boiling water added, and off they went bubbling like a bunch of loonies. Then I turned my attention to the courgettes, which I also sliced thickly. Is ‘thickly’ a word? It doesn’t look right. Anyway, having poured some garlic-infused olive oil into my roasting thing,  I took a moment to lay the courgettes in it with a modicum of care…

At this point I was going to show your favourite chef actually getting his hands oily, but the camera developed a fault. Long shots came out looking like this…

No, I’m not doing the Highland Fling in a Waitrose apron: the darned zoom lens of the Fujifilm T400 went bananas and vibrated itself stupid – which is why the Bare-Assed Chef might as well have kept his cacks on….

…which is probably just as well. I mean, who wants to look at ageing buttocks? I don’t even like having ageing buttocks! But anyway, on with the lesson. Next up I grabbed these gammon steaks…

I chose gammon because it goes from a standing start to fully cooked in twenty-five minutes. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, whilst the pots and carrots were boiling, I turned on the oven to 200 degrees. So now I had a window of twenty-five minutes to get the veggies cooked. So in went the gammon – for fifteen minutes – because after that I would slop this stuff…

…over them, and return them to the oven for the last ten minutes. Its a pineapple and mango sauce. I didn’t make it, and I don’t care. It’s quick and it’s tasty: that’s all that matters. Gordon Ramsey might argue; but he’s not the chef who didn’t notice the time and only has forty-five minutes to have four steaming meals on the table! So it was time to drain the veggies, then tip them on top of the uncooked courgettes…

 

…and whack the roasting thing into the oven on the top shelf.

Now it was a race. Which would cook first? Would the gammon be frazzled? Or would the courgettes emerge looking – and tasting – like door stops? Or…could Tooty triumph yet again, and witness another dead heat finish? Quess what…

Yes, I did it again. Gammon soft and non-chewy. Veggies not too soft: not too hard. I think they call it perfect. And all done without underpants. Not that you’d notice of course!

 

A Tale of Three Museums (part 16)

The Supreme Being, being The Supreme Being, didn’t really need to be told about the pursuit of the Scroton Five by another Scroton Five. But he was so busy looking at another Scroton Five…

…that he hadn’t given the other two much of his attention.

“Thank you, Mauritzio.” He said. “These bloody Scroton Fives are ten a penny at the moment. What the heck is this one up to?”

“Do you wanna me to finda the out, Boss?” Mauritzio asked in his execrable God-speak.

“Yes. Have all pertinent info patched through to me here. I’m feeling a little gaseous this morning, and I don’t want to dissipate.”

In no time at all – because linear time does not exist outside of the physical universe – the required information became digested knowledge. The security team that worked from the listening station in Weird Space…

…had decided that a little competition between security teams would make them more efficient and successful. So, without access to a fully-trained crew for a spare Scroton Five, they elected to hire some earplug mercenaries – to whom they handed over the ignition keys of the latest ship off the production line…

With the guidance of the ship’s Oracle, it hadn’t taken long for the mercenary crew to master the complexities of the control room…

The merciless Gloria Simpleton took the captain’s role, just forward of the Oracle. To her right, the vicious Zugtander Frootkins kept the helm under control. To Gloria’s left, and acting as her First Officer sat the vile-smelling Ole-Hebble Stangenklopp. Behind her stood her trusted aid, Moritz Trumpetinger, who always watched her back, and punched anyone who looked at her ‘funny’. There were also a couple of nameless slave-cooks who seldom left the galley, despite the presence of the Psycho-Chef. Together they were a mean bunch of hombres, who had no intention of giving back the craft when they had completed their task and taken the reward money – along with some hostages. They had once been bona fide pirates – robbing, stealing, and doing other stuff in a Hyper-Space Attack Craft that they had stolen from a group of End Cap Pirates who had stopped off at a quiet planet for a quick pee behind a bush…

Now they lived in an abandoned space station…

…in which they would eat with their hands; belch loudly at every opportunity; leave the seat up when they went for a pee; and hold farting competitions whenever they damned well wanted too. And now some lame-brain Cable Ends had given them the best ship in the galaxy…

…and trusted them with it, because they’d ‘signed a contract’. Duh!

But Gloria Simpleton and her crew weren’t stupid. And, in their way, they were sort of honest. They’d been hired to find the stolen ship: and find the stolen ship they would. To that end they’d demanded access to the Closed Circuit Television recording for the day prior to the theft. So they had a pretty good idea who was aboard the display model Scroton Five…

Especially when they reviewed the night footage…

“The hair and the hat.” Gloria said. “There’s nothing like being conspicuous.”

“Any earplug is conspicuous on Scroton.” Pilot, Zugtander reminded her.

Gloria considered this an accurate and timely statement. “Moritz.” She said. “Punch him in the nose for being a smarty pants.”

Whilst Zugtander reeled from the hammer blow to his hooter, Gloria turned to Ole-Hebble. “Do you have any suggestions?”

“I smell?” Ole-Hebble chanced.

“Well yes.” Gloria replied. “But I was thinking about places where these two bozos might have fled.”

Ole-Hebble shrugged his shoulders. So Zugtander dared speak again: “They’re after the Porthole of Everywhere. People have been looking for that merchandise for longer than I can remember. Ergo – if I may be so bold as to use that word – it won’t be found in known space. Gotta be somewhere else.”

“Unknown space!”  A suddenly inspired Ole-Hebble yelled loudly.

Too loudly. Gloria winced. “Moritz.” She said.

Whilst Ole-Hebble had his go at reeling from a hammer blow, Zugtander continued:

“It’ll probably be on an uncharted planet within a nebula. A big one, I’d say. I’ve been reading a report about a Cable End ship that followed the stolen ship into something called a Gravity Lock. Extrapolating from there, I’d figure our best bet would be the Great Balsac. Of course we could drop off at a couple of minor planets on the way, just to be certain we haven’t missed them hiding up somewhere. But if I was a betting earplug, I’d bet on the Balsac.”

“Ole.” Gloria said to her First Officer as he clambered back into his seat. “Now you see why I don’t have Moritz throw him out of the airlock.”

So they stopped off at a couple of obscure planets – one of which was extremely blue and highly unsuitable for earplugs because the only land mass was single archipelago of tiny islands…

“Scratch that.” Gloria said whilst the ship was still in orbit. “On to the next one.”

And the next planet was even more inhospitable…

“The planet is still in its molten stage.” Gloria observed.

“Yeah – real hot.” Ole-Hebble opined. “Wouldn’t wanna go down there.”

Gloria drew in a long breath. She really hadn’t wanted to spend much time on the job. Ideally she would have liked to have captured two nervous earplugs, who were clearly out of their depth; had them killed: stolen their ship; and all before tea time.

“Grrr.” She growled to herself. “I need to test the weaponry. I need to destroy something.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

 

A Tale of Three Museums (part 15)

So it was with heavy hearts, and even heavier stomachs, that they turned the ship about and headed once more for the brilliant light of the Balsac Nebula…

Flaxwell assumed the helm…

…and, following a brief burst of maximum thrust, the Scroton Five found itself, once more in the strange realm of stellar dust and limitless energies…

Meanwhile, upon the planet Scroton, its religious leaders were holding mountainside vigils for the safe return of the stolen vessel…

And Johnny Nosebleed exercised his tonsils as a lounge singer…

But not all activity upon the distant planet was so passive. The security team had not wasted a second of their lives in maudlin retrospection of their previous errors…

They even had the coffee vending machine replaced with a superior brand.

“Gotta say,” the Security Manager…er…said. “This Cafe Yuk really is the real deal. And, you know, I don’t pee half as many times as I did with the old stuff. I can tell you – I was a right old piddle-machine, and make no mistake about it. Right then; to work; what gives?”

The Charge Hand didn’t dare take his eyes from his read-out lest he miss something vital. “You know that Scroton Five that initiated a Gravity Lock, in the hope of following the stolen ship?”

The Security Manager cast his mind back…

“Oh, yeah.” He said at length. “What about it?”

“Well they emerged in a unfamiliar place.”

“Great.” The Security Manager responded positively. “Anything since then?”

“No.” The Charge Hand answered. “We’re still waiting for news.”

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Scroton Five’s crew were hard at work…

…pursuing avenues of investigation. From left to right, they were Ship’s Cook – Urchie Kakkapo: Pilot – Nobbington Sprake: Ship’s Oracle: Captain – Werner Hissenfrapp: First Officer – Selma Ferkins: and Midshipman – Willum Poobs.

So far they had enjoyed their first pursuit mission together, and hoped it would last a lot longer…

“Look at that.” Captain Werner Hissenfrapp gushed, shortly after having emerged, safe and sound from the Gravity Lock. “Doesn’t it make your heart sing?”

“It certainly do – don’t it?” Urchie Kakkapo responded. “A bit like that breakfast I knocked up this morning.”

“No, Urchie,” Selma Ferkins responded. “You breakfasts make our hearts sink. Now, can anyone figure where that dratted ship has disappeared to?”

“I have an ion trail that passes quite close to that mysterious disc in space. It might be our fugitives.” Nobbington Sprake suggested from the pilot’s chair. “Wanna go look?”

Little did the crew know, but they had been spotted by a couple of God Nymphs…

…whose job it was to go about the galaxy looking for interesting things to do for the Creators of the life forms that inhabited it.

“Ooh, that looks interesting.” One said to the other as they lay, squished up, inside their tiny dome.

“One ship chasing an identical one.” The other replied. “And I’ve not seen either type before. The second one is manned by Ethernet Cable Ends.”

“Ethernet Cable Ends?” The other exclaimed. “Aren’t they the last species to be granted sentience and self-awareness? They get special dispensation. We’d better tell someone!”

So they informed the Celestial God of Nebulae…

Who, in turn passed it down to the God of Cosmic Gas Clouds…

Who thought it more appropriate to be taken care of by the God of Singularities and Black Holes…

…Who was a bit busy at the time – devouring the centre of a galaxy that had been long-earmarked for destruction – so moved the problem to Spollox…

…a junior God, who was globular in shape and mind, and spent its time swinging back and forth across the universe on a length of cosmic string. It, in turn, considered that any problem that lay upon the opposite end of the galaxy, and could not be attended to within the next millennia, not worth its attention. So the case was moved over to the Sub-God – Dick…

Who was always grumpy and lazy and thought ill of everyone and everything.

“Lousy Ethernet Cable Ends.” He moaned. “Don’t know what all the fuss is about. I prefer those pesky little End Caps.”

“Now them, I almost like. Hey, Mauritzio, can you take this?”

The Mauritzio to which Dick referred was The Supreme Being’s favourite Space Dinosaur – Mauritzio Fabbaruni…

And, naturally, Mauritzio was happy to take anything interesting to his grouchy boss. It was what Space Dinosaurs had been born to do.

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tale of Three Museums (part 14)

But when, once again, they raced into the galley, disappointment would torment them horribly…

Returning to the control room, Flaxwell whispered to the Oracle…

“I just thought you ought to know: I hate you. I hate this ship. I wish I’d never liberated it. I want my dinner.”

Then he noticed Gideon giving him a furtive sidelong glance. In an instant he read his colleague’s mind. “The coffee machine!” He bellowed manically.

It was a foot race, and both competitors were evenly matched…

They stared at each other over the coffee machine – their stomach’s rumbling.

“I dare you to make the first move.” Flaxwell ground out – as if he had a mouth full of coffee beans. “I bet you go for crappachino.”

“What –  and have you jump me whilst my back is turned?” Gideon growled back. “Not a chance, sucker.”

It was a stand-off – broken very easily and quickly when the Oracle said: “I have access to food. Listen to me, you dolts. You silicon wallies. You blisteringly turd-like life-forms.”

It then explained that its short-range telescope had detected a Space Slug…

“A Space Slug?” Gideon complained with a whine in his voice. “I don’t eat slugs. What are they – molluscs or something?

“Shut up and let the Oracle talk.” Flaxwell – his common sense restored – snapped at Gideon.

“Space Slugs are scavengers.” The Oracle continued. “They clean up waste products and left-overs from the garbage holds of space ships and other space-born stuff.”

“Left-overs?” Gideon interrupted again. “Waste products?”

Flaxwell said nothing: he simply slapped Gideon around both cheeks.

“Thank you, Flaxwell.” The Oracle said.

“Yes, thank you, Flaxwell.” Gideon also mumbled.

“Space Slugs,” the Oracle continued a second time, “also hang around space that is being worked. Space full of asteroids. Asteroids that are worked by Asteroid Miners. There’s one on screen now. Look.”

It then added: “Would you like me to hail them for you?”

“Do they have egg mayonnaise sandwiches?” Gideon inquired.

“Probably not.” The reply came.

Naturally Gideon was disappointed. His shoulders slumped. But he said: “Okay. Well hail them anyway.”

A few minutes later, and after hearing the sad tale of the hungry earplugs, the Asteroid Mining Company’s Shift Manager appeared on-screen…

“Get yourselves down to our Moon-Dome home.” It said through a pair of unfeasably pursed lips. “We have plenty of off-cut raw materials that are not worth us processing. You can take as much as you can carry.”

“Raw materials?” Flaxwell queried of the Oracle when the Shift Manager had signed-off.

“Off-cuts?” Gideon added.

“I’ve discovered something very significant.” The Oracle replied. “The problem with the Psycho-Chef doesn’t lie in your inability to cook mentally. The problem resides within the galley. Because this ship was not intended to embark upon a lengthy mission, the victualling company did not fill the biological raw material tank with the stuff that the Psycho-Chef requires to create its meals. In short – we are running on empty.

It had not occurred to either Earplug to question where the meals they visualised would actually come from. They just took it for granted. But now that they understood, they realised what their next move should be. A short while later the Scroton Five had landed – somewhat awkwardly and resembling a beached whale…

…next to the Asteroid Miners Moon-Dome home. Or Moon-Dome Town, as it transpired…

…inside which Flaxwell and Gideon were given free access to the spoil pit…

Neither of them were terribly impressed; and Gideon wondered why he’d gone to the bother of wearing his best hat.

“These mouldering biological remains are what are left of a food cache deposited here, thousands of years ago, by a space-wandering race of beings that have long-since departed our galaxy for places unknown?” Gideon said in a tone that suggested that he didn’t truly believe what he was saying.

“Yes.” Flaxwell replied. “And the Asteroid Miners dig it out; process it into something edible; and sell it to planets that have food shortages.”

“Do you think they could process a few lumps into something edible for us?” Gideon suggested. “I’m not sure I really want to touch this stuff with my bare hands. Especially these lumps of something icky that glows.”

“No.” Flaxwell answered him. “That’s what we have the Psycho-Chef for. Now fill your pockets: believe me – it’ll be delicious.”

Well an hour later, and after having enjoyed baked beans on toast by the bucket full, Gideon had to agree that it had tasted “Lovely.” But a short while after tossing his plate into the dishwasher, he was called for other duties…

Unfortunately the ‘beans’ had been of the more vitriolic kind. And even before Gideon had finished, the energy-converter had cried, “Enough!” and given a visual warning on-screen.”

“Oh, by the Saint of All Earplugs.” Flaxwell wailed in horror. “The brochure was wrong: it does smell!”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

 

 

 

A Tale of Three Museums (part 13)

Several minutes passed, after Flaxwell had disappeared into the toilet, and Gideon was becoming concerned that he had fallen down it and become converted into energy for the engines. But, eventually he returned to the pilot’s seat…

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Flaxwell said quietly. “But let’s just say that I’ve never been so frightened in all my life.”

Gideon, although young, could be wise: he decided to change the subject:

“I don’t know about you, but all that excitement has done nothing to assuage my pangs of hunger. If anything, I’m even more starving than I was before.”

Flaxwell must have been harbouring similar thoughts, because he leapt from his seat and ran around to the Oracle…

“Oracle. Oracle.” He wailed. “If we don’t find food soon, you’ll be commanding a ghost ship!”

“Well, actually,” The Oracle replied without hesitation, “While you’ve been attending to your ablutions, I’ve been scanning nearby space. And, you’ll be happy to hear, I have something positive to report. May I take the helm for a couple of minutes?”

If it meant food, Flaxwell was happy for the Oracle to take the helm for a couple of eons.

“Yo.” He roared with joy. “Go for it!”

Two minutes later a huge asteroid hove into view…

It was so huge that Flaxwell and Gideon retook their seats to witness a circumnavigation of it…

“I love rocks.” Gideon said, somewhat unexpectedly. He then made his true feelings plain when he added, sarcastically: “I could chew on them all day long.”

Then he was out of his seat – his anger rising and his spittle spraying…

In fact he was so angry that he blew off with rage – which startled Flaxwell more than he cared to admit.

“I don’t care about asteroids.” He yelled. “I hate them, in fact. They’re always threatening to fall into planets and causing extinction events. I’ve seen all the movies. I know about these things!”

“But – but.” A confused Oracle tried to respond. “But it’s not just this asteroid. This is only the outermost one of a vast field…”

But neither earplug was listening: they’d gone to the Psycho-Chef…

“Come on, Flaxwell.” Gideon urged. “Try to imagine some cornflakes.”

“Cornflakes?” Flaxwell quiried. “But I don’t have a clue how cornflakes are cooked. It’s usually done in huge food factories, isn’t it?”

Gideon pondered the problem for a moment. Then: “I never thought of that. Try a boiled egg.”

Flaxwell did – to the best of his ability. But, after rushing to the galley to fetch the steaming orb, Gideon found the receptacle empty….

So he rushed back to try himself. In fact he rushed back so urgently that the ship went to crimson alert…

And it remained at crimson alert all through his wild imagining…

“What are you imagining cooking, Giddy?” Flaxwell asked.

“Shut up.” Gideon snapped. “I’m concentrating. And turn off that bloody crimson alert: I can’t think straight.”

“Neither of you is thinking straight.” The Oracle tried to interrupt. “If only you would listen to me…”

But before it could finish its line, the two earplugs had dashed to the exit…

Gideon paused at the threshold. “I can’t bear to look.” He said. “You go in.”

So it was left to Flaxwell to face disappointment…

“Bum!” He bellowed at the sight of an empty receptacle. Then calming slightly, he added: “Talking of bums…”

“Quick, Giddy.” He said. “Find the Oracle’s bum: I’m gonna kick him right up it.”

But, of course, the servo-mechanism possessed no rear end to speak of, and so the vaguely disappointed duo went back to their fruitless task…

With a false smile, Gideon said: “You can do it this time, Flaxxy. I know it. Think of frozen peas. I like peas. My dad was a pea farmer – miles away from the Museum of Future Technology. He used to make pea flavoured coffee, which they used to sell at the museum’s Cafe Puke!”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

A Tale of Three Museums (part 12)

Those aboard the Scroton Five held their breath. Well two of them did. The Oracle interrupted a couple of algorithms instead…

“More volcanos.” Gideon cried out. “The size of continents. Surely the planet can’t hold together much longer.”

All across the surviving surface of the doomed world, flames carried high into the upper atmosphere and burned the vacuum of space…

“It’s lucky were not down there anymore.” Gideon opined. “I much prefer getting the heck out of here at maximum thrust.”

Freed of immediate danger, Flaxwell could relax enough to become curious. “Oracle.” He said with unusual authority, “Show me the smaller planet.”

Naturally the Oracle did as it was bid, and duly swung the scanner around to reveal…

“By the Saint of All Earplugs.” Gideon exclaimed. “It looks like my rear end feels after a Saturday night vindaloo and chips!”

“Collision is only moments away.” The Oracle warned Flaxwell. “No dilly-dallying: we have no idea how vast the resulting explosion will be.”

“No worries.” Flaxwell assured the genius device. “It’s only two worlds colliding. At our current speed we can easily outrun the debris. It would take a nova to worry this little baby.”

The Oracle’s eyes snapped around to regard the foolishly nonchalant earplug…

“What if I were to tell you that the small world is composed of anti-matter?” It said.

Flaxwell continued to behave in a foolishly nonchalant earplug manner. “I would probably poop in my pants.” He jested.

“Flaxwell.” Gideon croaked nervously through a constricting throat. “I think what Oracle is trying to tell you is…”

But he never finished his line – because Flaxwell interrupted him with a horrified scream: “The smaller planet is composed of anti-matter! Next time, Oracle, speak with a little more urgency, huh? Aaargh!”

It was at the same moment that Flaxwell tried to engage the hyper-drive, that the worlds fell into a fatal embrace…

In a single moment matter and anti-matter were annihilated…

“Quick, Giddy.” Flaxwell yelled above the noise of the straining engines. “Get yourself into that toilet: we need extra power: and we need it now!”

“But I’ve already been.” Gideon wailed. “I’m completely empty!”

“Opening Gravity Lock…now.” The Oracle said calmly…

With lightning reactions, Flaxwell hurled the Scroton Five into the Neutron Star’s wormhole…

But before the Gravity Lock could close, the explosion’s incandescent debris followed the ship in…

“What?” Flaxwell said tetchily. “Don’t these matter/anti-matter explosions ever give up?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Gideon offered. “Maybe I could squeeze out a little more. These are desperate times after all.”

But, as luck would have it, he didn’t need to, because the sheer volume of the pursuing debris collapsed the wormhole – spilling flame and fire all about – and releasing the Scroton Five into open space…

“If you don’t mind, Giddy.” Flaxwell said, as he climbed from the pilot’s seat, “I’d like to use the toilet first. I’m feeling a little fragile right now.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

 

A Tale of Three Museums (part 11)

“I am getting some anomalous readings from the larger world.” The Oracle announced.

“Let me look at them.” Flaxwell said urgently. Then having done so, he added: “The Porthole of Everywhere is said to give off a unique radiation frequency. I don’t know what that frequency is; but I’m getting a really weird one from the planet below. We can’t risk losing it now: we’re so close. We have to go down for a closer look….

“But the planet is clearly becoming unstable.” Gideon observed. “Tidal forces are tearing the tectonic plates apart. Hell will soon be unleashed down there. But you’re right, of course: we didn’t come all this way – just to be thwarted by the end of the world!”

So, as the two worlds came ever closer together…

…the Scroton Five dived into the atmosphere and levelled off just above the planet’s surface, where Flaxwell and Gideon witnessed a huge energy discharge…

“The two planet’s magnetospheres are interacting in a most destructive fashion.” The Oracle informed them.” The resulting concussive shock wave…

…might sweep clean around the planet – destroying everything in its path and leaving it a wasteland.”

“What, you mean like that.” Flaxwell inquired.

“Indeed I do.” The Oracle replied. “I would suggest you gain considerable altitude, before it’s too late.”

Flaxwell didn’t need further bidding. A moment later…

“Flipping heck, Flaxwell! ” Gideon exclaimed. “Everything is aflame. I pray that the Porthole of Everywhere isn’t included in the conflagration.”

“Yeah, me too.” Flaxwell grunted as he struggled to keep the bucking craft aloft and under his control. He then added: “Oh cripes – even the fires are on fire…

…I think the planet is breaking up. Gravity waves are causing merry hell with my instruments. I’m gonna go as fast as I can, then pull her up in a vertical climb. It’s the only way to get outta here!”

So he did…

“Wow, Flaxwell.” Gideon said admiringly. “You sure can fly fast and low. You should have been a fighter-bomber pilot. When will we begin to climb?”

At that moment the forward scanners detected an object straight ahead.

“Is it the Porthole of Everywhere?” Gideon asked excitedly. He found out a second later…

“Aargh.” He yelled incoherently. Then he added: “It’s a newly-formed volcano. Swerve, Flaxwell: swerve!”

So Flaxwell swerved…

But although he’d avoided a collision, the Scroton Five still had insufficient forward velocity to attempt a steep climb into space. Naturally – being a mere professor – Gideon rushed to the lavatory…

And it was this act that saved the ship and its occupants. As advertised, the lavatory removed Gideon’s waste products and converted them into energy for the ship’s engines. The resulting minuscule increase in speed was enough to allow Flaxwell to begin his climb…

“Unless something truly cataclysmic happens now,” Flaxwell called from the pilot’s seat, “I think we’re gonna make it.” And, for a moment, his optimism appeared to be well founded. “Look at the screen, Giddy.” He shouted.

Gideon rushed back to his seat – just in time to see the latest read-outs…

“It’s hot.” He bellowed above the screaming of tortured, super-heated air as it tore at the hull of the Scroton Five. “But it’s not blowing up!”

Then the northern hemisphere heaved, expanded, and became misshapen…

…and duly vomited the contents of the planet’s core into space…

©Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

A Tale of Three Museums (part 10)

Gideon eyed the Great Balsac Nebula. “I never imagined I’d ever be this close to it.” He said breathlessly. “Who would?”

“Legend has it,” The Oracle piped up, “that it once belonged to the Supreme Being. But, apparently he thought it was too big, and swapped it in for a smaller version. Of course, that’s only legend – and you know what legends are like.”

“Well I hope we don’t have to go any nearer.” Gideon said – unable to tear his gaze from the unimaginably vast stellar birthplace. “It looks really scary. Very imposing and fulsome.”

“I thought you wanted to find the Porthole of Everywhere?” Flaxwell said.

A sinking feeling threatened to overwhelm Gideon. “Oh dear. It’s inside the nebula, isn’t it?” He said nervously.

Flaxwell nodded. “So legend has it. And I’ve just finished the calculations for a direct passage into it.”

Gideon forgot his fears for a moment. He was impressed. “So quickly?” He asked.

“Yes.” Flaxwell replied. “We simply dive straight in: we’ll figure out the rest when we’re on the inside.”

So, without further ado, the pilot hit the Go button again…

None aboard the stolen Scroton Five had ever experienced anything like the passage through the Great Balsac Nebula. Flaxwell had difficulty keeping the ship upon an even keel…

But then he remembered that in space there is no up or down. It really didn’t matter which way ‘up’ the ship was. Inside, with inertial damping and artificial gravity, it was all the same to its occupants. So he and Gideon went back to exploring the command room’s equipment…

“I don’t know why you liked this device so much, Flaxwell.” Gideon complained. “I think its ghastly. It makes my brain hurt.”

Flaxwell thought back to when he tried it on for size. It had only been for a brief moment. “Yeah, you could be right there.” He confessed. “I did feel a strange fizzing between the ears. What does it do, Oracle?”

Gideon was only too pleased to clamber out and listen to an explanation…

But the Oracle didn’t want to talk about it. It turned to face the coffee machine once more.

“What is it, Oracle?” Gideon asked gently. “Is there something wrong? Is it your mother, or something?”

“Or did you once ask it out,” Flaxwell suggested, “and it told you to get lost?”

“No.” The Oracle replied. “It goes far deeper than that. Right to the cyber heart.”

When the earplugs had endured a lengthening wait for further elucidation that was not forthcoming, Flaxwell said: “Well?”

“Okay, you twisted my arm.” The Oracle said with a cyber-sigh. “It’s a Psycho-Chef.”

Again the earplugs waited. Again Flaxwell spoke. This time he said: “And?”

“It reads the minds of hungry creatures.” The Oracle said reluctantly. “As an automaton – or ‘non-hungry creature’ – I can never use that wondrous device. Forever its charms will elude me, and all servo-mechanisms like me. It exemplifies the true and quintessential difference between biological intelligence and artificial intelligence.”

“So you can’t use it.” Flaxwell scoffed. “Big deal. I’d have thought you were better off being a ‘non-hungry creature’. I bet your stomach doesn’t grumble like mine!”

At those words a thought struck Gideon like a bubble-wrapped hammer blow: “Gosh, we haven’t eaten since we were in my hotel room.” He cried. “And that was only a pot of tea.”

“With some custard creams.” Flaxwell reminded him. “They came in fiddly little packets that were hard to open.”

“I don’t remember them.” Gideon replied caustically. “I was drunk at the time. Who knows; maybe you ate them all. I wouldn’t put it past you. But that’s by the by: water under the bridge and all that: I’m hungry: so are you. Let’s try the Psycho-Chef. Maybe we can think up a really tasty meal!”

It was an inspired idea, and Flaxwell volunteered to imagine some scrambled eggs on toast…

“The food will appear in a receptacle in the galley.” The Oracle explained. “But it’s not enough that you imagine the food: you have to imagine cooking it. If you can’t cook, you can’t eat. It’s as simple as that.”

Flaxwell wasn’t daunted by this information. “I know exactly how to make terrific scrambled eggs.” He said positively. “There; it’s done. Giddy; go fetch our lunch.”

Thirty seconds later…

“Sorry.” Gideon said as he returned from the galley. “Nada. Well actually there was something – but it looked like a plugmutt dropping. I put it in the recycler.”

Facing imminent starvation, and despite the accompanying cranial agony, Gideon tried his hand…

He was just about to imagine rolling out some flaky pastry, prior to creating some sausage rolls, when an alarm sounded, and the ship lurched…

It then burst into a pocket of normal space that had been hidden by the surrounding nebula…

“Look.” Gideon cried out from within the grasp of the Psycho-Chef. “Worlds. Two of them. And they’re on a collision course!”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

A Tale of Three Museums (part 9)

Whilst all this gnashing of teeth was taking place – far, far away, Flaxwell, Gideon, and the Oracle had grown bored with the spectacle of hyper-space, and were indulging themselves with a game of I Spy…

“I spy, with my little eye,” said Flaxwell, “something beginning with B.”

“B?” Gideon queried. “There’s nothing starting with B in this room.”

“I didn’t say it was in this room.” Flaxwell replied. “I just said that I could see it.”

“Blue.” The Oracle said in a dull, flat tone that strongly suggested that its cyber-heart wasn’t in the playing the game. “The blue of hyper-space.”

“Oh well done, Oracle. I would never have thought of that in a million yonks.” Gideon said chirpily. “Your turn.”

“I think I’ll pass.” the machine continued in the same tone.

“I’ll have another go, then.” Flaxwell volunteered. “I spy with my little eye – something beginning with H.”

“Hat!” Gideon blurted in triumph.

“Hat? Said the puzzled space pilot. “What hat?”

“My hat.” Gideon insisted. “My black top hat.”

“But I can’t see your black top hat.” Flaxwell argued. “You hung it up in the broom cupboard, which is three compartments aft of here.”

“Oh, yes.” Gideon said – feeling slightly sheepish. “So I did. So what starts with H?”

“Hyper-space.” The Oracle almost groaned the answer. “I see a pattern developing here. I suggest we quit while we’re ahead.”

Meanwhile, much closer to the planet Scroton…

…a Cable End listening station was…er...listening…to sub-space radio communications.

Inside, the security team that manned it…um...listened…intently to the radio chatter that permeated space…

The station’s Security Manager floated in. “My magnetic boots aren’t working properly.” He informed his team. “They won’t quite touch the floor.”

This surprised the one operative who stood opposite the door and who could see him without the need to turn around. “Really?” He said in a puzzled tone. “So how are you propelling yourself along?”

“Carefully controlled bursts of gas.” The Security Manager explained. “From my bottom. I had to cut a small hole in the back of my underpants to do it. Now; tell me; what is the current situation?”

The cable end with his back to the Security Manager replied: “The Government have despatched a battleship to destroy the stolen vessel.”

“Is it a big one?” The Security Manager asked.

“It is, Sir.” The operative replied. “It departed Scroton orbit five minutes ago.”

The Security Manager looked down at his feet, which hovered three millimetres above the floor, and said: “May the Saint of All Earplugs have mercy upon those rotten rubber souls.”

The ‘Rotten Rubber Souls’, alluded to by the Security Manager, had given up playing I Spy and had decided, instead, to try some more of the control room’s equipment…

“This is nice.” Flaxwell opined as he dropped into a receptacle. “What does it do?

“No time to explain.” The Oracle replied. “I’ll tell you all about it later. Strap yourselves in: we’re exiting hyper-space.”

Moments later the view before them blazed with wondrous energy…

“It looks like a fish.” Gideon observed. “That’s the tail in front of you, Flaxwell.”

“It’s not a fish, Gideon.” Flaxwell replied. “It’s an enormous dust cloud that is charged with cosmic energy.”

“I didn’t say it was a fish.” Gideon complained. “I just said that it looked like a fish. Like clouds on Earth do sometimes.”

At Flaxwell’s deft command to the helm, the Scroton Five came to a dead halt – relative to its immediate surroundings, of course. Nothing in space is ever completely static…

“We’ve arrived at our next calculation point.” Flaxwell informed his two partners in crime. “The Great Balsac Nebula!”

©  Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

A Tale of Three Museums (part 8)

For almost a full five minutes the Scroton Five hung in the weightlessness of space like some lustrous bauble on the Christmas tree of eternity…

…before Doctor Gideon Snoot realised his mistake, and returned to the control room…

Although not particularly interested in what his colleague was doing, he noted that Flaxwell was engrossed with some mathematical problems, which, he assumed were course calculations.

“I searched this ship from stem to stern.” He informed the furry-headed space pilot. “Couldn’t find a lavatory anywhere. You’ll have to put down on the first habitable planet: I’m desperate to go.”

Flaxwell couldn’t spare Gideon too much attention. “The Bog’s over in the corner – to your left.” He grunted.

A split second later…

“I hope those brochures were correct.” Gideon said from inside the advanced toilet.

“Brochures?” The Oracle inquired.

“Yes, the ones that stated that this ship comes with all the extras that include padded armrests and toilets that don’t smell.” Gideon answered.

“Have you noticed any padded armrests?” The Oracle asked.

“Um.” Gideon began as his eyes scanned the room. “Er…no.”

“Well there’s your answer then.” The Oracle said. “But if it softens the blow slightly – the toilet is self-cleaning.”

“Oh, that’s a relief.” Gideon said – slightly disappointed. “I didn’t  spot a drop of bleach or any rubber gloves in the broom cupboard.”

“No,” the Oracle interjected, “I didn’t mean that it cleans itself: it cleans yourself. No bog roll required. Wonderful, isn’t it?”

“Hmmm,” Gideon managed as the device began its ministrations, and his eyes bulged, “kind of. I’m adaptable, but I’m not sure I could get used to this.”

“You may have to.” Flaxwell grumbled. “If I don’t get these calculations right, we could be lost out here for eternity.”

Shortly, following that quiet outburst from his sole crewmate, Gideon sat himself in his chair and awaited proceedings. And it was while he awaited proceedings that he returned to real-time. That is, he wasn’t remembering events from the recent past anymore. Rather he was experiencing things for the first time. He was in the ‘now‘ of his life…

“Got it.” Flaxwell cheered triumphantly. “I had the decimal point in the wrong place. Right; strap in; we’re ready to go.”

“It’s not that I don’t trust your math,” the Oracle said, as it swivelled in its space cage to face the rear bulkhead, “but I don’t have fingers to hide my eyes behind: I’ll just look at the coffee machine and marvel at its complexity.”

The servo-mechanism had barely uttered its last word before Flaxwell hit the Go button…

“Whoo.” The space pilot yelled. “Look at this baby go!”

And, indeed, it did go: like the clappers…

Meanwhile, back on night-shrouded Scroton…

…the Security Manager had taken control of the search for the stolen ship…

“Report.” he snarled at his subordinates, as only a security manager can.

“We have several Scroton Fives patrolling Weird Space.” The charge hand informed him…

…”Just in case they try to double back to Scroton and try to put the ship back on its plinth, and slink off and disappear down some back alley.”

“One of our ships formed a Gravity Lock in the same location where the stolen vessel disappeared.” A night-shift subordinate informed him…

“It’s attempting to track them from inside the gravity well.”

“Yeah,” a third member of the security team belched verbally, “and another Scroton Five is patrolling all the nearby nebulas – to see if they are hiding in the dust clouds and birth places of stars.”

“Nebulae.” The Security Manager corrected him. “Not nebulas. Its an easy mistake to make. I used to make it all the time. But then I was promoted to Security Manager; so now I never mistakes. Never. Do you hear me? How often do I make mistakes?”

“Never!” The subordinates said, as one.

“Did you want me to mention that we’ve informed all the deep space exploration vessels to keep an eye out too?” The fourth member of the team inquired…

“Naturally.” The Security Manager answered. “I’d expect nothing less from my team. I’m gonna catch these devils. And when I do, they’re gonna wish they’d never got up in the morning; had their breakfast; and stolen a Scroton Five!”

“But they didn’t get up in the morning.” The braver of his subordinates reminded him. “They stole it in the dead of night.”

But the Security Manager wasn’t really listening: he was too busy imagining what terrible acts he would perpetrate against Flaxwell and Gideon when he caught them. “Yeah,” he growled, somewhat confusingly. “That too.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

Playing the Creator

If you’ve been reading the Earplug Adventures for long, you’ll probably know that I have a role in them – other being the creator, writer, photographer, set builder, and special effects guy, of course. I also play The Supreme Being. Here I am, look…

…being all mean and nasty. Sometimes, though, my character can behave quite nicely towards his creations…

And remember that time when I was abducted and replaced by a doppelganger?

That ended with me losing my underpants…

Its fun – being the creator.

But as much fun playing the Creator is, its not half as much fun as BEING the creator – thinking up the stories, finding and building all the props and sets, taking the photos, manipulating them via computer, and, of course, writing the script. That’s the real fun – and its something I spend ages of my free-time doing. But recently I’ve needed to speed up the process; so although the initial scribbly part remains…

…where I collect my thoughts and put them into some semblence of order – gone are the days of printing out pictures and ordering them into a story board…

Gosh that took a lot of printer ink, paper, cardboard, and plastic sleeves. Not to mention time and effort! Now its all hi-tech – with computers doing most of that kind of stuff…

And that’s just the kitchen. You should see what I have in the attic!

Anyway, when I believe that I have enough photos ‘in the can’ to begin a new episode of my silicon magnum opus, I open a Word/Libreoffice file in one computer, and import the first of the required photos to it…

In the other computer I open a photographic file and place the photos in the same order that they will appear in the story – numbered 01 to whatever…

These photos will have been imported from several files. Most obviously from the four files – titled Future, Past, Present, Distant – that contain photos that were taken specifically for this segment of the tale…

But many will be extracted from other ‘library’ files, which contain pictures that I’ve shot and manipulated, in the hope that, eventually, I will be in a position to use them. Currently there are in excess of three and half thousand of them waiting to be used…

These files contain photos that are generic to the Earplug Adventures. Some appear as ‘backdrops’ against which I shoot my characters. Others as stand alone shots that will be integrated into the story to set scenes or show exteriors or special effects. This picture displays the Space Scenes files. Other files used for A Tale of Three Museums include Special FX, Space Ships, Scroton 5 Shots, Museum Shots, Alien Worlds Buildings, Alien Worlds From Air, Alien Worlds from Space, Alien Worlds Surface, and several sub-files. So you see, I have an awful lot of photos to dredge through to find the perfect picture – or even a half-way decent one! But the act of collating the pictures makes it easier to see the story forming. I may have a basic idea regarding the story’s direction; but having all the photos in front of me shows me how I can tweak the story – and make it better. More importantly, how I can make it funnier. The characters actually come to me through their images. It must be a quite unique situation for an author, and I wonder if anyone else is doing this. Are you?

P.S I didn’t have to ‘fuzz out’ this picture of me hiding my willy: the camera lens fogged over and did it for me. There, I always thought I was Hot Stuff!

 

 

 

A Tale of Three Museums (part 7)

For a moment, sitting and staring in bewilderment was all that Flaxwell and Gideon could do. Bewilderment turned to horror when the first Attack Scroton Five opened fire in earnest…

“Flipping heck.” Flaxwell yelled at the screen. “This baby is worth twelve billion Scrotelettes: what are you doing – trying to blow it up?”

“They cannot allow this vessel to fall into the hands of competitors.” The Oracle bellowed above the sound of the defensive screens battling the incoming fire. “Better to destroy it than have all their technological secrets discovered. And it’s not actually worth twelve billion: that’s just the retail price. The mark up is huge!”

“Fascinating.” The formerly quiescent Gideon spoke for the first time as the second ship swept in – its guns blazing…

…”But how does that explanation remedy our situation?”

“Well…” The Oracle replied, “One of those secrets is a patented escape mechanism.”

“Escape?” Flaxwell replied. “I didn’t do all this, just to bail out. I want to keep this ship. But I also want to live. Think of something else!”

“Not the occupants, Stupid.” The Oracle snapped. “The whole ship. The escape mechanism allows the ship and everything inside it to escape capture or destruction.”

“Do you know how to work it?” Gideon asked calmly.

The Oracle’s response was: “I already have.”

At that moment, beneath the lower hull of the Scroton Five, a ring of brilliant energy formed….

“It’s a Gravity Lock.” The Oracle explained. In an instant the Gravity Lock forms a connection with the nearest neutron star. It doesn’t matter how far away it is. Then the incredibly powerful gravity waves that all neutron stars possess, drags us from where we were, and makes us fall down the gravity well towards the neutron star…

…Neat, huh?”

Once again, it was all that the two earplugs could do to sit and watch whilst the galaxy rushed past the ship as it hurtled down the gravity well.

“Question.” Flaxwell squeaked. “If this gravity is so powerful – that it’s pulling us along at supra-light speeds: how do we stop? This thing doesn’t even have a parking brake.”

“Oh ye of little faith.” Gideon scoffed. “Obviously the Oracle will turn the Gravity Lock off. I think now would be a suitable moment.”

The Oracle almost sounded cheerful when it said: “Already done.”

A split second later, the Scroton Five emerged in another part of the galaxy…

…and a very annoyed Gideon Snoot jumped from his seat and waltzed off to the rear of the control room – from where he began blaming Flaxwell for everything that had gone wrong. He cursed him for getting a young, inexperienced professor drunk. He then called him every vile name he could think of…

In fact he was so annoyed with the space pilot that he even made some up on the spur of the moment…

“Bootle-twang?” A vaguely amused Flaxwell replied. “That’s fighting talk where I come from. So is fester-fuzz.”

Gideon calmed slightly at this. “Yes…well.” He hurrumphed like an earplug of great antiquity. “I’m going to the toilet. By the time I come back I expect everything to be tickety-boo and Bristol fashion – if you don’t mind ancient naval parlance.”

With that he turned around and disappeared through the only exit…

“But…but.” Flaxwell said as he staggered forward…

…”that leads to the galley and engine room. This is the toilet.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

 

A Tale of Three Museums (part 6)

Flaxwell decided to ignore his sloshed friend, and instead, chose to address the Ship’s Oracle…

“Two questions.” He said. “First up – what do I call you?”

“Oracle.” The Oracle replied. “Anything else would be extraneous.”

“Fair enough.” Flaxwell said with a nod of agreement. “Second question: when do I get to choose where this baby goes?”

“I assume,” the Oracle replied, “that the term ‘baby’ relates directly to the ship in which you now reside?”

Flaxwell paused his response. ‘Funny,’ he thought to himself, ‘the Oracle using the word ‘reside’. Does it have an inkling as regards what just happened?‘ “Ah, yeah.” He said. “That’s right. So what’s the answer?”

“During your…shall we put it – your escape from the exhibition hall, I took the opportunity to reconfigure the helm to earplug parameters. As the sole occupants of this vessel, you now have command of all interfaces and systems. The ship is, effectively, yours.”

Flaxwell’s heart skipped several beats. He couldn’t have wished for more. “Okay.” he said slowly. “This part of space is going to be crawling with military vessels any moment now. What’s the best way of evading them and making it into deep space?”

The Oracle took a moment to respond. “You have command of this ship, but you lack knowledge and experience of its systems. Would you, once more, deign to allow me to make your escape for you.”

Flaxwell didn’t waste a second thinking. “Right on.” He yelled. “Do it!”

Moments later the Scroton Five blasted towards the interplanetary shipping lanes…

“Ah, I see.” Flaxwell said as he took his position in the pilot’s seat…

…”You’re going to hide us in the radar shadow of a larger ship. That freighter looks a likely candidate.”

“I concur.” The Oracle replied, as Gideon stared straight ahead, and wondered what the heck was going on.

Moments later the Scroton Five had matched velocity with the larger craft, and, effectively became invisible to the security forces of Scroton…

Eventually the freighter made off for some far away planet, which left Flaxwell and Gideon far from Scroton.

“Where are we?” Gideon inquired.

In answer, Flaxwell brought up an image on the view screen. He even labelled it…

Gideon made in instant and cannily accurate observation: “Oh, doesn’t Scroton look small.  I can’t believe we were both standing there. It seemed so big then.”

Flaxwell smiled at this. But his smile would have fallen away, if he’d known what the security officers on Scroton knew…

“The freighter has altered course for Borky.” One of them said. “Its radar signature has reduced. I conclude that the stolen ship has separated from it and is somewhere in that immediate region. I don’t want to look like a complete wally again: dispatch fighters immediately!”

Of course, the occupants of the ship the Cable Ends sought were blissfully unaware of events unfolding upon far Scroton. Flaxwell, always an earplug who could hold his liquor, decided to help Gideon back to sobriety. To this end he dragged him to the coffee machine, which was located aft of the Oracle, and doubled up as a stylish window into the engine room – or ‘Engineering’, as it was properly known. Gideon was still trying to make up his mind whether he wanted crappachino or cafe con lurgi, when the ship was shaken by an external force…

The blow was of sufficiently powerful to produce two definitive actions. It decided, remotely, upon Gideon’s behalf, that he would have neither types of coffee: and it returned the professor’s  sentience with a nasty bash to the knee cap.

“What was that? What am I doing here? Why does my knee hurt? Is this a coffee machine?” He demanded of a frightened Flaxwell.

Flaxwell didn’t know for sure, but he was experienced enough to recognise a warning shot from a superior enemy when he felt one. “Um.” He said. “I’m not sure; but it’s probably quite bad. Oracle – I think we need to get the heck out of here. Like now. Go!”

Just to prove Flaxwell’s words prophetic, an energy burst filled the space that the Scroton Five had occupied only a nano-second earlier…

“Cripes.” The servo-mechanism squeaked in a most un-oracle way. “Look out of the window!”

Of course there was no window in the control room, so Gideon and Flaxwell had to rely upon their imaginations to correct this fundamental design error. And their imaginations were surprisingly accurate. Because, out of a nearby nebula, and in attack formation, raced two Scroton Fives…

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020   

Wallpaper 556: Juxtaposition: Opposites Attract

In this photo the owners have very kindly parked their vehicles in a most aesthetically pleasing manner. The green Mazda is parked as it always is – nose in beside a complimentary-green bush. The red Hyundai owner has wisely reversed the car in beside the Mazda. This, in itself is nothing remarkable. What is, is the fact that the colours are opposites, and should not appear pleasant to eye. Indeed, had it been a dull, grey day, this would have been a photographic faux pas. But the sun is shining, and both cars are clean. Together they look delightful.  

A Tale of Three Museums (part 5)

Meanwhile, inside the exhibition hall, the Scroton Five was rising from its plinth…

And, sitting in the currently redundant pilot’s seat, Flaxwell Maltings held his breath…

…whilst Gideon merely wondered what all the noise was about.

Then a second sound was added to the thunder of the lifting jets. The main drive spluttered into life…

Neither Flaxwell or Gideon could have known it, but Johnny Nosebleed had remained inside the building after the exhibition had closed for the night. Uncertain with his delivery of the Cable End-written script, he had been trying to improve the dialogue. It was at the point of the Scroton Five’s imminent departure that the actor had decided to hear what his improved script sounded like. Ignoring the roar of the space ship engines, he stepped upon his dais and spoke into the microphone…

“Hi, everybody, I’m Johnny Nosebleed. I’m a famous actor, and I’d like to tell all you fine prospective buyers about…”

At this point he realised that something was amiss. So, thinking quickly, he adjusted the script again. “By the Saint of All Earplugs.” He bellowed. “Someone’s stealing the Scroton Five!

He wasn’t alone in this knowledge. Well sort of. Flaxwell hadn’t known it, when he’d chosen to acquire the coveted vessel by means of stealth; but the Cable Ends had suspected that someone might want to tamper with their new class of ship, and perhaps steal its secrets. Already a team of security officers were detecting changes in the weight that pressed down upon a sensor that was set into the base of the plinth…

“First it got slightly heavier.” One of them said to the other four. “Then it got really light.”

“How light?” One of them inquired.

“Very.” Came the answer.

“Be more specific.” Another demanded.

“It gained a few kilos. Then it stopped weighing anything.” The first officer replied – before adding: “Strange, isn’t it?”

Whilst the officers discussed the anomalous readings, the Scroton Five was building up a steady head of metaphorical steam…

In fact, so steady was this head of metaphorical steam that soon the Scroton Five had almost reached the end of the access tunnel, and it was already breaking the sound barrier!

“Flipping heck.” The security team yelled as one. “The Scroton Five is launching. Red alert! Red alert! Or Crimson Alert, as we call it on Scroton!”

But it was too little too late. Already the stolen craft had reached the upper atmosphere…

With a yell of purest joy, and for the first time since losing his job as a space pilot, Flaxwell stared out of a view screen upon the darkness of space…

“Yeah.” He cried. “Whatta ya think of that, Giddy-baby? Now you’re really in space!”

“Pretty.” Gideon observed. Then, with a stifled yawn, he added: “I’m feeling a bit sleepy. Is there a cot somewhere?”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

Chef Tooty’s Cooking Again

Hello, I’m Chef Tooty. Yes, that is a Waitrose Christmas apron. Its the only apron I have. Well actually I have several. Unfortunately they are all Waitrose Christmas aprons – so it doesn’t really matter which one I wear. You will see why an apron is so important, when you get to the end of this lesson.

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll know that I specialise in end-of-the-week-cooking that uses up old stuff. I cook for people who don’t really like cooking, but have to because, for whatever reason, the person in their life who has always  done the cooking, can’t (or won’t) anymore. My concoctions might not always sound that tasty on paper, but usually turn out extremely tasty on the dinner plate. 

Well today’s meal was to have been a long drawn out affair. I really intended to to the job to the best of my abilities. But an unexpected phone call meant that the time available to prepare and cook was reduced by thirty percent. So it was time to cut corners. It was also time for me to forget to take any pictures, despite the fact that four cameras lay upon the kitchen table. So, the first part of this lesson is of the literary kind. I will use words instead of pictures. I will mention, at this point, that I’m not afraid to use ready-made stuff in my creations. For this meal – should you decide to attempt your own version, you will need these…

…or something vaguely similar. Yes, its good old Dolphin Nose again. But because I didn’t bother weighing out the veggies, I quickly discovered that I would need a little extra sauce. The cupboard contained this…

So, adding a little Moroccan salt, I figured the result would be much the same. You see how professional I am?

First up, the roasting time needed to be cut from an hour and a half to half an hour, so some rapid boiling was required. I sliced some aging potatoes, carrots and parsnips – about a centimetre thick – and boiled them stupid. Using the steam from the boiling process, I steamed some cabbage that had seen better days. When they were done I hurled them into my regular roasting thing; then laid some thickly-sliced bacon on top. Cue first cooking picture…

 

Oh yeah, I forgot. In order to save time I microwaved the bacon for a minute before laying it on. Then came the tedious bit. I boiled the milk and Dolphin Nose mix…

Simmered it for something approaching eternity; then poured it over the bacon…

…which is when I discovered my shortfall in the sauce department and quickly boiled some water and mixed up some white sauce. That done, it was time to chuck the roasting thing into a pre-heated oven at 220 degrees and wait twenty minutes. The result came out of the oven looking like this…

Quite nice, I think. And like this on the plate…

“Ah,” I hear you say, “that looks quite edible: but what makes it so special that Tooty felt compelled to share it with us on the Internet?”

Well I’ll tell you. Its a sunny July day. Boiling and roasting makes my tiny kitchen grow awfully warm. I don’t do warm. I like cool. So, brave reader, what makes this meal so special…is the fact that I cooked it without a safety net!

And that is why an apron is so important.

The Most Numerous Things in the English Countryside

I consider myself lucky to live in the English countryside. Its not exactly spectacular, and it certainly doesn’t make the heart race. But when I lived in the city or abroad, I ached for it.

Now I get out and about with a plethora of cameras just about as much as circumstances allow. And it was on a recent excursion from my home village that it struck me that there are three most numerous things in the countryside. Clearly of all the things that one might see in the English countryside – at least where I live (in southern Hampshire) – are trees. There are bloody millions of the things. Being an agricultural region, there are also a vast number of fields. They’re not all big; but there a sodding lot of ’em. When I’m strutting my funky camera stuff, I would really like to wander through the woodland, and perhaps skirt along the edges of fields. Maybe a stroll along the banks of the small streams and rivers that pass through the two aforementioned areas would be nice too. Perhaps I’d spot a King Fisher or an Otter. Hmmm. That would be very nice. Were I to do so, I’m sure I could capture lots and lots of other charming images too. But sadly (for the most part) this option is denied me. This is because of the third most numerous things in the English countryside. These bastards…

They’re every-fucking-where! You can’t walk more than a couple of hundred metres before you’re thwarted by signs, gates, and barbed wire fences. It drives me crackers. Which brings me to the Least Numerous Thing in the English countryside. Land owners. There’s fuck-all of them. You could count them on your fingers. In some areas you could count them on your dick. One individual might own huge tracts of land and everything on them – including entire villages in which no one can own their own home. In their defence, somebody suggested that if people (perhaps a family from the town, trying to escape the hurley-burley of life for a couple of hours) were to (for example) visit a river, beside which they might picnic and perhaps allow their children and dogs to play in the water, said river bank might soon be eroded and the area bespoiled. That, in effect, by denying anyone access, the landowner is protecting the environment for future generations. Well his/her future generations, that is.

“Well, yeah-yeah.” I mused for a moment, when confronted with this  arguement. But then I paused to think about it – and duly said: “So why’d they allow whole herds of cows to wander in and out of the rivers – breaking down the banks, tearing out the foliage, and shitting and pissing everywhere?”  

It was a good, and accurate summation of the situation. Then, today, I found an even better example of careless land/river ownership. I may not be allowed to wander along the non-husbanded, stinging nettle and bramble-infested river bank: but some toss-pot is welcome to drive a truck right through the river (complete with re-introduced and endangered Water Vole homes) to dump the spoil, from some home or building renovation, upon the undergrowth – suffocating everything beneath it,  and scarring the river bank for years to come…

Hmmm indeed. They’re all arse holes: take my word for it. If they’d let me, I’d kick them in the bollocks.

Thank you for reading my rant.

Tooty

A Tale of Three Museums (part 4)

Sitting in the co-pilot’s chair, Gideon didn’t care to recall, exactly, the words that passed between him and Flaxwell as they took their tea in his room at the Hotel Verruca. He tried to ignore the evidence that Flaxwell had emptied the contents of the mini bar into the teapot. He was loathe to admit – even to himself – that he had next to no capacity for alcohol. And he would gladly erase any remembrance of decisions made during that un-measured period between departing the shiny elevator, and getting back in again…

But he did recall feeling very strange, and Flaxwell blathering on about stuff of which he knew nothing and cared even less.

“Approach vectors.” Flaxwell had said at some point during their descent to street level. “Very important when you’re in space. Well they’re kind of important everywhere; but not as much as in space. In space they’re very important. Have you ever been in space, Giddy-baby?”

Gideon vaguely remembered replying: “I got here, didn’t I? I don’t remember it, but I guess I musta been in space at some time. You can’t walk to Scroton, ya know.”

After that everything seemed to blur for the young professor from the Museum of Future Technology. It wasn’t until, under the cloak of night, they stole into the Scroton Five exhibition hall…

…that his recollections of events became linear once more.

They found the Scroton Five still upon its pedestal…

And for a moment, whilst Flaxwell dashed off for a wee, Gideon almost experienced the emotional attachment that his would-be pilot felt for the wondrous machine.

His thoughts were interrupted when Flaxwell stage-whispered: “Hey, stop gawking at that thing, and get over here.”

‘Here’ meant the electronic information device…

“Oh, it’s you – the imperialistas.” It said as they touched the screen to activate it.

“Hi.” Flaxwell said with a pleasant smile upon his face, “my previously impoverished colleague has inherited a vast fortune from his Uncle…er…Zapper, and now wishes to purchase a Scroton Five.”

“Bully for him.” The machine replied. “Why are you telling me this? You’re supposed to ask me questions. Would you like to know how to buy one?. Are you interested in a payment plan? Would you like me to tell you how the on-board lavatory reduces your waste products and converts them to energy to make the engine more efficient?”

Flaxwell sought to stem the flow of electronic words. “Not right now.” He shouted. “We’d like to know the whereabouts of the elevator key.”

“Yeah.” Gideon mumbled. “We wanna see inside the ship. We wanna see how comfy the seats are. And…and…stuff like that.”

Ten seconds later…

“Imagine that.” A self-satisfied Flaxwell said, as the elevator climbed upwards inside the plinth. “Hanging on a nail behind the toilet door.”

Then, a further ten seconds later…

“Wow, would you look at that!” Flaxwell exclaimed. “It’s so much roomier than I expected.”

“Hmmm,” Gideon replied. “The seats look nice and supportive too. I’ve got a slightly wonky back, so being supportive is very important.”

But when Flaxwell dropped into the pilot’s seat, he was less impressed…

In fact, for a moment or two, it made him see double.

“No.” He felt compelled to grind out between gnashing teeth. “Supportive does not describe these seats. Rock hard would be more accurate. Those ethernet cable ends must have iron backsides.”

Then he discovered that ethernet cable ends also designed ship’s controls that baffled earplugs – even experienced space pilot earplugs. Luckily he recalled that the vessel came equipped with a Ship’s Oracle…

“What is your question?” The Oracle inquired as Flaxwell approached it.

“We’re going to buy this ship.” Flaxwell replied. “But first we want to take it on a test flight. How do I take off?”

“In the interests of safety, I propose that I should pilot the Scroton Five from this exhibition hall – through Scroton’s atmosphere – to a place in orbit, whereupon you may experiment with the controls, and thereby learn what does what in the relative safety of space.”

Flaxwell grinned at this. He couldn’t have asked for more. I accept your proposal. Strut your funky stuff sho’nuf!”

Flaxwell was given five seconds in which to strap himself into the rock-hard pilot’s seat. Then this happened…

The engine began to glow, and lifting jets on the vessel’s underside started hissing and squirting.

Outside, the night watchman thought that he heard something…

But, being one of the simpler grey cable ends, his brain was unable to accept that the promotional Scroton Five would have come equipped with full flight capability:

“Nah,” he said. “It must have been the wind. Or that curry I had earlier.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

P.S I’ve been sitting on that night watchman photo for years – at least metaphorically. It has never appeared in an Earplug Adventure. There were times when I was tempted to delete it. But no, I couldn’t do it. And I’m glad I didn’t because I couldn’t have repeated it. Good old farty night watchman!