Lots of talky stuff in this episode. Heck, on a couple of occasions, they even get serious. Moreover – no one visits the lavatory! Read on…
The conversation continued in much the same vein for a few minutes until it became clear to everyone that it had run its course. So as the two officers returned to their office, Lance took Bubbles and Barclay inside the building. In doing so they passed beside Silo Seven…
“What do you keep in these silos?” Bubbles inquired. “Nuclear missiles?”
“Grain.” The short-arsed soldier answered. He then expanded upon his reply, “Silos one through six are empty. We’ve not been able to get a decent harvest in years. Seven will be fully depleted by the end of the week.”
“Oh, Lance,” Bubbles wailed, “that’s terrible. Well at least I think it is. How many silos do you have?”
“Seven.” Lance replied. “The Catering Corps are looking into ways of roasting scorpions and cockroaches, and boiling sandworms; so we shouldn’t starve.”
“Talking of starving,” Barclay interrupted, “I haven’t eaten since breakfast-time yesterday – on Earth: how about some chow and a cup of coffee?”
Bubbles had felt guilty about eating from the cavalry’s meagre supply; but having done so she felt much better physically. She even managed a smile as she stood beside Barclay and did her best to regard the view across the radiation-swept plain upon which Fort Dunderhead had been built…
Her smile was infectious, and as she came close to Barclay, he couldn’t help smiling himself.
“It’s been a funny old sort of day.” He said over his shoulder.
“Not the one I’d imagined.” Bubbles confessed. “And not better either.”
Then, as the exterior lights blazed and turned the dusk beyond the perimeter into night, both terrestrial earplugs turned their gaze away from the window…
…and looked at each other.
“Until we get the Prowler ship-shape,” Barclay said, “their problem is our problem.”
Bubbles opened her mouth to reply, but a sudden power-outage plunged the interior into semi-darkness…
Recovering, she spoke her intended words:
“If we could leave tonight, I wouldn’t. We have a super-advanced alien-based machine at our disposal, built by the Punting-Modesty Munitions Company: surely there’s something we can do.”
Barclay allowed his eyes to range along the compartment in which they stood:
“They have an advanced technological civilisation,” he replied, “and all they can do is either hide or flee. If someone can fix up the Prowler, I think that’s what we should do.” Then, following a pause of perhaps a heartbeat or two, he added: “Alternatively we could use it to good effect. I’ve been thinking about that strange curtain-like thing in space. Something tells me that it’s there for a reason. Or if it isn’t – well maybe we can give it a reason. Let’s go talk to the boss: maybe he knows something about it.”
Bubbles was thrilled by what she heard her subordinate say.
“Oh, Barclay,” she screamed as she cuddled up to him, “what a wonderful idea. Let’s go – right now.”
So, whilst electrical technicians elsewhere struggled to turn the lights back on, Bubbles wrapped an arm around Barclay’s, and together they strode off in search of the Commanding Officer’s quarters…
Although Fort Dunderhead could be described as ‘big’, it didn’t take long for the determined earplugs to find Major Leftfoot-Badger’s office. At first, though, they thought the room was empty. Only the presence of a pair of old-style cavalry hats informed them that anyone was home…
Of course, what neither Punting-Modesty employee could have known was that the Major wore contact lenses, and he and Lieutenant R Swypes were hidden from view as they searched the carpet beneath the Major’s desk for an errant lens. When they became aware that they were not alone, they quickly regained their feet and threw themselves into their chairs in time to greet their visitors…
“Ah, the terrestrials.” Leftfoot-Badger called out, despite the fact that he couldn’t actually see who stood before him. “I can smell the vacuum of space upon you.”
“Whadda ya want?” Swypes added.
As Barclay told the Worstworlders about their encounter in space, both cavalry-plugs donned their hats and came around the desk…
“Lieutenant Swypes,” the Major said as Barclay finished his description, “this is more your area of expertise: how about you strut your funky stuff.”
Swypes turned his attention to the visitors. “I believe you speak of the Veil of Shytar.” He said. “So named by a solo adventurer, by the name of Augustus Pronk, who flew his tiny one-earplug vessel from our world, in search of another upon which he could live in splendid isolation from his overbearing wife and soul-crushing off-spring. He was seated upon his tiny vessel’s sole lavatory, when the veil swam into view and startled him mightily. He decided to name the apparition after the lavatory seat upon which he sat. But, being a prudish society we altered his original nomenclature for the space anomaly to Shytar. The difference in pronunciation is slight, but it makes all the difference when discussed during a dinner party, governmental general assembly, waiting in line at a check-out, or whatever.”
“Fascinating,” Barclay interrupted rudely, “but what the flipping heck is it?”
“We have no idea.” Swypes replied as he sniffed disdainfully. “Since Augustus Pronk embarked upon a second journey to rendezvous with it – and never returned – no one has dared go near it.”
“Oh,” Bubbles said in surprise, “so you have no idea that it rejects sensor scans and cannon fire?”
“Er, no.” Swypes replied. “Um…what of it?”
“I’ll tell you what,” Bubbles snapped, “instead of cowering in the shadows and accepting defeat, the people of Worstworld should be trying anything and everything to make sure this planet survives the coming holocaust. The Veil of Shytar can deflect energy. How much energy? Could it stand against a nova? Shouldn’t someone be looking into the idea?”
The Major felt it his duty to take control of the conversation:
“Perhaps it is, young female,” he said in a not altogether stuffy or pompous manner, “but until this moment, no one has ever thought of it.”
Stepping from his desk he stood and spoke directly to Bubbles…
“We no longer have the capability to make this study.” He said. “Time is not on our side.”
Meanwhile Lieutenant Swypes was regarding a container of redundant machine guns. Barclay noticed this. “You should use whatever weapons you can on such an implacable foe.” He said.
“Major,” Swypes addressed his superior, “might I suggest we do everything in our limited power to assist these wonderful earplugs in their efforts to utilise the Veil of Shytar against the coming nova?”
“What do you mean, Lieutenant?” Leftfoot-Badger responded hopefully.
“That we send a team of engineers to get their vessel fixed and fit to fly.” Swypes replied. “Bubbles and Barclay are our only weapons against the inevitable. We must send the willing conscripts into battle!”
These were rousing words spoken well in a surprisingly stentorian tone.
“Jeepers, R.” The major exploded, “you’re absolutely right. Enough of wasting our lives away sodding about in armoured vehicles: let’s give ‘em a fighting chance. Are you up for it, Bubbles?”
Bubbles, caught slightly off-guard, responded thus:
“Ugh, yeah…whatever. Let’s get down!”
The Major was thrilled by this reaction, so, only moments later, Lance Ottershoe arrived to escort their visitors from the office…
“You two hang around outside in the corridor.” He said as they headed for the door. “I’ll go rustle up some engineers and armoured personnel carriers.”
© Paul Trevor Nolan 2022
In the early Earplug Adventure stories all the photos were taken at random. Then, when I figured I had enough shots, I would arrange them so that they told a story of sorts. It was a bit Stream of Consciousness, but trammelled by the pictures available to me. Later I reversed the process – thinking up the story and shooting appropriate photos. But the picture in this episode that features the box of machine guns in the Major’s office returned me to my roots. I had no plan to use the gun’s presence the story; but their mere existance gave Barclay the opportunity to make the Lieutenant reconsider his position. A significant and timely result of this appears later in the story – you’ll know it when you see it. If I hadn’t included that box (as window dressing) in the scene when I shot it in my attic ‘studio’, the tale might have taken another path entirely. Stream of Consciousness continues to have a place in my stories. I think it’s a good way to write – at least for me, who can’t abide rules and restrictions: it allows an alternative narrative to exist.