Tag Archives: model making

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

But what Folie discovered next couldn’t have come at a better time…

“How fortuitous, Kyboshed.” Folie said with relief. “I was just beginning to feel the pangs of a distended bladder.”

“Oh, no, Sir.” Kyboshed replied. “There was nothing fortuitous about it. Sensors in the floor detected your awkward gait: an algorithm calculated your need for a toilet, and quickly moved one here from another location.”

“Clever.” Folie said as he used the device. “Do other parts of the ship move around like that?”

“Most of them.” Kyboshed answered. “It’s a redundancy thing: if parts of the ship are damaged, other parts can be moved into position to replace them. It’s probably why you have such difficulty finding your way around.”

“It also explains why there are so many airlocks and corridors. I thought I’d seen the same artwork on different walls. Obviously they aren’t prints: they really are the originals: they just move around with the walls. Pity they’re so vile. Now where’s the hand-dryer?

“There will be one along momentarily.” Kyboshed replied.

And there was…

…complete with its own corridor.

“Kyboshed,” Folie said, as a huge hot-air blower blasted him, “I’m not certain I like this moving around malarkey: I like things to stay where they’re put.”

Folie was still feeling vaguely uncomfortable when he re-joined Placebo on the bridge…

He told him of his recent experiences…

“I’ll tell you what you need, Folie, my little yellow earpluggy chum.” Placebo replied cheerfully. “You need a quick blast of hyper-speed.”

Folie tried to forget his concerns with the ships’ re-design. “You could be right there, Placebo, you huge white blob of polystyrene. Let’s do it.”

Moments later, after they had seated themselves…

“It’s very smooth, isn’t it?” Folie observed.

“Yaw compensators.” Placebo explained. “They’re new…

…I read all about it in the manual. Leaves a nice pink trail apparently.”

Yet even going really, really fast didn’t sway Folie from his misgivings. “Automatic Pilot,” he said suddenly, “take us out of hyper-speed.”

A heartbeat later…

“Let’s just hang here for a while.” He added.

Then he was out of his chair. “Placebo, I want to show you Deck One.”

Placebo was slightly disappointed because he’d just noticed some vast cosmic event unfolding before the main viewer’s lens. So he checked that the dash-cam was running, and followed his crew-mate…

“Yeah,” he said, “I can see why you like the finish. Very plush. Nice lighting too. I’ve always had a thing for turquoise.”

As Folie had expected, there was no sign of the toilet. He was about say something, when the Automatic Pilot’s voice rattled his teeth.

“A vast cosmic event has sent a purple asteroid in our direction.” It said…

…”Since you’re the boss, I thought you’d like to tell me what I should do about it.”

“Flee!” Folie yelped.

“Now.” Placebo added. “Any direction except straight at the asteroid.”

The ship’s inertial dampening field was so acutely tuned that neither occupant of the ship felt it lurch aside and accelerate away…

“Wow,” the Automatic Pilot exclaimed, “I was good before; but these cable end guys have made my lateral response protocols nothing short of fantastic. Guys, any other dramatic maneouvres you’d like me to make?”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part forty)

So, as the Gravity Whelk exited the blue star’s realm…

…Folie decided that he would explore all the parts of the ship that he was yet to see. The obvious course of action was to enlist the help of the resident expert of the ships’ re-fit. But Kyboshed had a bent twingle-flange to adjust in the engine room’s klatterbox…

…that required attention instantaneously. He suggested that Folie meet him later – when the task had been completed and tested thoroughly. So Folie continued alone, whilst wondering what klatterboxes were used for…

Many times during his exploration he discovered interior airlocks that led into corridors, the existence of which he hadn’t even suspected…

And on every wall there was more of that damned Anton Twerp’s ghastly artwork. There were even rooms that just looked downright dangerous…

…which made him wonder why they were put there in the first place. A room with no oxygen: what possible use could that be put to? But it wasn’t really very long before he heard Kyboshed calling his name through yet another interior airlock…

“Hey,” he said as Folie entered, “how’d you like to visit the top deck?”

Folie was surprised by the offer: he’d assumed that the forward observation window was located on the top deck. He said as much to Kyboshed.

“No.” The robot replied, “Not any more. There was a stagnancy ballast-drift buffer tank above that deck; but the klatterbox has removed the need for such a large device. So the cable ends have created a nice new deck there. It’s really groovy, with lots of curves and soft textures.”

So, a couple of minutes later Kyboshed introduced Folie to the top deck – or Deck One, as he liked to call it…

“Ooh,” the ship’s co-owner said admiringly, “all soft pastel lighting and no obvious joins between floor, wall, and ceiling. Nice.”

But then he noted an apparent extension to the hull that wasn’t obvious from the outside. Intrigued he started down it…

But when he opened the door at the end; then walked through it, he was greeted with the undiluted sight of naked space – in this case a wondrous nebula…

Of course his rational mind told him that he was in no danger: if he really were in open space, his eyes would have burst instantly; his blood would have boiled; and his brain undoubtedly exploded. But despite the fact that none of these things occurred, he still felt queasy and ill-at-ease. “Is it okay of I come back inside now?” He called along the short tunnel…

Away from the view, Folie quickly settled down again; but not sufficiently to happily pass beneath a transparent roof without comment…

“Who’s the wise guy who thought a sunroof would be a good idea on a space ship?” He grumbled. “I’ll write him a letter: tell him he’s a total twonk.”

“Oh, that’s no window,” Kyboshed assured Folie: “That’s a sliding roof panel. Only the replacement force field is keeping the air, and us, inside the ship.

“What?” The astonished earplug yelled in disbelief…

…”Who has ever heard of a cabriolet space ship? It’s the most stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of!”

He was still complaining as they passed into a more secure-looking section of Deck One…

“You know,” he said, as they rounded yet another curve, “I’m almost scared to see what’s coming next. Are there any secret holes hidden behind holograms for me to fall through?

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

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

But shortly, when they happened upon Kyboshed, he had lowered the blinds on all the windows.

When questioned he cyber-wailed, “I can’t stand it. The Autopilot told me all about Worstworld. The thought of all those people – and whatever else there is down there – all doomed. I won’t look. You know that old adage: ‘what you can’t see can’t hurt you’? Well in my case that’s correct: if I can’t see the misery on the planet below, my psyche is left undamaged. I can just pretend that it’s not happening at all.”

The silicon life-forms smiled at this: clearly the Auto-Pilot had told only half the story…

So it fell to Folie to tell the tale of the Museum of Future Technology’s first successful star ship – Ship Number Fifteen – which (following a battle with Hyperspace Pirates) became lost in the depths of space with an unreliable anti-neutrino drive and a bunch of really bored passengers. So Captain Horatio Noseblower had the vessel put down upon the world that would be later named Worstworld…

Very quickly they discovered that the blue light of the parent star gave off too much gamma radiation…

…and that the indigenous people appeared to be at a technological level analogous to the Wild West…

But later, after lots of adventures for its crew and passengers, Ship Number Fifteen blasted back into space…

…unwittingly taking with them the entire United Stoats Seventh Cavalry and their plugmutts…

…and leaving behind (accidentally) a museum curator in the shape of Hakking Chestikoff…

….who, after meeting with a local dignitary, Busti Misenthrop, discovered an entire civilisation beneath ground, where it sheltered from the radiation and hoped to ride out the storm when the star eventually went nova…

At Hakking’s suggestion (and using blueprints of the foundered Ship Number Fourteen, which had crashed on the planet years previous), the hidden civilisation quickly designed and built a star ship of their own…

…which they named after their favourite rap artist – K T Woo. Then it was a matter of finding a crew and a captain – a role taken by the Sheriff of Busted Gut, Sinclair Brooch…

“And after it launched,” Folie finished…

…the ship became legendary. Why, even now, as I tell their story, the crew of the K T Woo are putting down a civil war amongst the End Caps. So, really, there’s no need to feel sorry for those people down there. Since the K T Woo, they’ve built a whole fleet of ships. When the star looks like it’s going terminally wonky – they’ll simply up and leave.”

“So you don’t really need that blind lowered at all.” Placebo added.

And when he raised the blind once more, Kyboshed was pleased to note that the ship had already departed the doomed system…

“Oh,” he said, “that’s alright then. Guess I’d better get back to doing a bit of Chief Engineering, and lubricate my blanch nodules or something.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

P.S The events mentioned in this episode occured in Worstworld vols 1&2.

Spoiled Illusions 4: Cardboard is My Chum

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

If you’re an Earplug Adventures photographer, one of your best friends is the humble material known as cardboard. With a little imagination and a bit of jiggery-pokery, it can become anything you bloody well want it to. Take, for example this empty insulation pile reel…

Hmmm, lots of potential there. Now let me see; what can I turn THAT into? Well there’s this very nice dungeon/kitchen…

…which appeared in Return of the Prodigal Earplug. It looks like a dungeon – especially with those flaming torches (burning matches) set into the wall. But the story said it was a kitchen: so I guess it must have been a medieval themed kitchen. It appeared again in Return to the Museum of Future Technology as Wilton Carpetti and Vinkie Vinkleton’s test facility – only dressed more futuristically…

And again as Ballington Cork’s temple in Return of the Prodigal Earplug…

Oh look, it’s those flaming torches again. In fact these reels have appeared in so many stories that I’m spoiled for choice. But I’ll make the last example this one…

Yes, it even featured as the K T Woo’s engine room in Stepladder to the Stars. Very versatile, cardboard reels.

But cardboard comes in many guises. Like these strips – wot I cut…

These utilise that old perspective trick that was taught to us in school art lessons, all those millions of years ago. This is how this particular duo of strips looked in the story, Cometh the Earplug

Hair-Tigger wasn’t sure if the building was small and quite nearby, or huge, but a long way off. So she altered her focus, and…

…the latter proved to be the case. Silly, but I like it.

The following picture has been used over and over – almost every time that I need to show the city of Scroton Prime. It was a semi-perminant set at my old ‘studio’ despite the fact that I constructed it in the main warehouse of the factory where I worked. Everyone knew what it was, so left it alone – even the management. I was blessed to work there…

But I often re-dressed it – either physically – or later (when it was history, and all I had were some pictures of it), electronically for different stories.  Here’s how it appeared the first time, in Plunging Into Peril...

It was then re-used a hideous number of times, culminating in (at present) the most recent tale – Haunted Mars...

Will there ever come a time when this shot doesn’t appear ad infinitum? Hope not.

Those cardboard inserts you find in, say, vacuum cleaner or microwave oven boxes are a God-send as well…

If used as interiors, they make excellent caves – as seen here in Stepladder to the Stars, where Sheriff (later Captain) Sinclair Brooch makes an astonishing discovery…

And as exteriors, all you need do is cut a couple of openings…

… and they make perfect mud villages…

…as seen here in The Grand Tour. All in all, a jolly useful commodity for a creative genius, like wot I is.

Of course there are many other cardboard items which are extremely useful for a Earplug Adventure shooter: but I’ll leave them for another time.

 

 

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

Whilst horror rippled through the Museum of Future Technology like an impending belch; and consternation abounded within the Future Museum of Mars in a manner most ungratifying, a bloody long way away the Gravity Whelk was rattling across the Galaxy at a fair old lick; but nothing like as quickly as it had before the encounter with Dark Space…

Neither Folie nor Kyboshed were in a hurry to get anywhere – even Earth – so they sat at the nominal controls; allowed the Automatic Pilot to make all the decisions; and enjoyed the view of the sheer vastness of space…

Had he not been an automaton, it is likely that Kyboshed would have become philosophical or even emotional at the sight. In fact he was considering giving it a go, but…

…Placebo chose that moment to return from the lavatory in Engineering.

“Well that’s better out than in.” He said, upon entering the bridge. “But I think Engineering might be out-of-bounds for half an hour.”

Moments later he’d demoted Kyboshed to the Chief Engineer’s seat on the second row…

Unfortunately Folie’s throat felt like the Gobi desert, and he’d already made up his mind to get a cup of Cafe Blurgh when Placebo returned. “Is there anything you can do about Engineering?” He inquired of Kyboshed.

Kyboshed’s controls were set into the back of Placebo’s seat. “Exposing Engineering to the vacuum of space.” He reported.

“That should do the trick.” Placebo mumbled.

“Re-pressurising.” Kyboshed added. “All good. Nice and habitable again.”

Folie felt a little uncomfortable about what he’d just heard. “Kyboshed,” he said, “I’m feeling a little uncomfortable with what I’ve just heard. What would have happened to me, say, if I was in the loo, but you didn’t know it? Would I have been whisked off into space and thereby suffered a horrible fate?”

Placebo grew concerned himself. “Yeah,” he roared, “what If I’d leaned back heavily in my seat, and maybe a bolt had come loose, and I’d fallen over backwards and pressed the Vent Engineering button as I crashed to the deck? It doesn’t bear thinking about. I’d sooner keep the stench: disable it immediately.”

Kyboshed was still feeling vaguely chagrined, a half-minute later, as he followed Folie into the corridor…

“Don’t worry about it.” Folie said. “But look the other way now…

…I’ve hung an Anton Twerp original on the wall just here. I thought it might brighten the place up.”

Although he’d been instructed to look elsewhere, the vileness of Anton Twerp’s work forced him to turn his gaze upon it. “We have a golden door set into a bright yellow door frame – and you thought the place needed brightening up?” He grumbled.

For the next hour the ship continued to blast at speeds below the threshold where relativity comes into play… 

All the while Folie and Placebo did this and that and generally wasted their time: so eventually they decided to visit parts of the ship that still remained a mystery to them. As they did so they couldn’t believe how many corridors the cable ends had managed to squeeze into such a relatively small vessel. In one of them they discovered Kyboshed not looking at some wall art…

“Hey, Kyboshed,” Folie said as he approached, “what ails thee?”

“This art,” the robot replied, “is so emetic that it’s overloading my neural net. I think my head is going to explode!

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

Spoiled Illusions 3: Potential Noticed

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

Sometimes Earplug Adventure props/sets appear to me in a flash of…um…let’s call it artistic inspiration. Take, for example, this sheet of melamine-coated chip board. Clearly someone has used it as a base for spraying something – and it was the over-spray that caught my attention…

“Yeah,” thought I, “I can do something with that.” So I took a picture of it. So much easier than storing the original. Well, almost five years later, I did. It appeared in A Tale of Three Museums…

…as emergency habitations for the survivors of the ruined world that featured in that tale. And there’s this too…

Sometimes, when things were quiet at work, I would use a rotary saw to slice thin sections from blocks of artistically interesting timber. Here are a couple of examples that, for some reason, I chose to photograph. I remember turning the top one into a desert scene; but I’ve never had reason to use it. The other has sat quiescent for two-or-so years – until I required a scene to depict a newly-formed rift in a landscape. Thank you, slice of wood, for supplying the surface torrent in Haunted Mars...

To put it into perspective, here it is with two characters inserted…

And then there was my daughter’s cast off light shade. That came straight out of the bin, and into my old (and still lamented) ‘studio’…

Does anyone recall what it was used for? Well, more recently, it was what the false Supreme Being turned into after it’s underpants had been blown off in The Grand Tour

And here he is, sans human appearance…

But previously it had appeared as a hot-air balloon. Here it is in Those Magnificent Earplugs

But I think it looked better in Return to the Museum of Future Technology

…complete with its Christmas bauble gondola.

For the final example, this time, regard this…

I wanted a port hole set for a story that took place aboard Ship Number 15. Remember that old bucket? Ship Number 15 was a miserable green – the only colour paint available to me at the time. So I did this to one of the office box files (don’t tell the boss. Oh, it’s okay: he retired a couple of years ago – and he probably knew anyway. He had eyes everywhere). But I digress. Here is that box file in action…

…where it played the role of the Scout Ship hangar in Worstworld. In the end the circular hole wasn’t used as a port hole, but instead played a very nice interior window…

…for Vanilla Redbush to look through, and a lovely shooting embrasure…

…which worked very well, I think…

Pity I destroyed Ship Number 15 during the Battle of The Museum of Future Technology in Liberation. How short-sighted of me.

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

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

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

And out upon the ice-sheet, Gerhardt Snitzenfrudel…

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

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

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

In the aforementioned shepherd’s hut…

…Maverick and Mulleon were enjoying the show.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And in their emergency habitat…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Kerboom!

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and inside customers crowded any window they could find…

…to watch as it climbed into a leaden sky…

Others filled the main hall…

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

Spoiled Illusions:1 Mars

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

Recognise this?

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

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

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

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

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

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part thirty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frisby nodded at this information…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five minutes later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah?” He said excitedly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So they did…

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

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

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

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

What about this one…

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

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

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

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

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

And just coming up with the beauty shots…

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

Tooty.

Old, stupid, but still creative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naturally Folie replied in the affirmative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it accessible?” He inquired.

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

Folie had another thought…

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

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

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

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

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

“What does it mean?” Folie asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In response the floor darkened again…

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you have a Plan B?” He inquired.

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

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

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

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

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

They were underway again…

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

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

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

Once out in one of the very colourful corridors…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Folie?” Placebo snapped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moments later…

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then this happened…

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he was right: it was an emergency habitat…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frisby Mumph received this information with a sagging heart…

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part twenty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upon returning to the presence of Tangerine…

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

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

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

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

And whilst Tangerine returned to its regular duties…

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part nineteen)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Placebo arrived…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part seventeen)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are the choices?” Folie asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“What name?” A puzzled Placebo inquired.

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

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

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

“Kyboshed?” Placebo whined.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part sixteen)

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

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

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

Even the immigrant Ice Worlders were experiencing difficulty…

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

…it began to bury the museum…

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part fifteen)

“Is that a power generation device?” Folie said as he indicated the heavy-looking equipment that stood in the second alcove beside the toilet.

“No, no,” Donny replied, “that all happens behind shielding and stuff. That is a Gravitonic Multiplicitor.”

For a moment silence reigned. Then Tojo spoke: “Want know what is?”

“Please.” Both youngsters replied.

Donny rubbed his hands together – at least mentally: as far as he was concerned, this was the best bit of the tour.  He said: “The idea came from something in the ship’s log. Its previous owners – Beaufort and Richter Skail – were trapped by the gravity of a Galactic Lens.”

Folie and Placebo cast their minds back to the video they had discovered in the depths of space. It mentioned the Galactic Lens…

“Got it.” They said together.

“And do you recall how the ship escaped the Galactic Lens?” Donny inquired.

Both Folie and Placebo screwed up their faces in thought; and it wasn’t a disfiguring effort in vain: “Yeah.” Placebo blurted. “They used the ship’s tractor beam to latch on to a distant planet, and pulled themselves up it.”

“It took months to escape.” Folie added. “And when they got back home they were too late: their eco-system had been destroyed.”

“A very sad tale.” Donny said as his face went all gum and despondent. But then it lightened once more: “Well our engineers have improved on the tractor beam: we’ve made the Gravitonic Multiplicitor.”

The boys had to think about that for a minute. In doing so they absentmindedly turned in the direction  of a second door…

“So it’s really a super-massive tractor beam.” Placebo concluded.

“To do with what you want.” Donny said with a smile. “And, right now, you might have no idea what that will be: but one day, in the future, you’ll be very glad you have a Gravitonic Multiplicitor. And when you finally get to use it – tell us how it went: we’d love to know. Now  I see you’ve noticed that other door. Shall we?”

With that he invited them to join him…

“You gonna like it.” Tojo stated adamantly. “A lot.”

But Tojo’s verbal utterance was the understatement of the year…

“By the Saint of All Earplugs,” Folie yelped as they entered the second compartment, “I’ve died and gone to Silicon Valley!

“It’s…it’s…it’s,” Placebo stammered…

…”a proper bridge!”

With that the two Earthlings ran around the compartment excitedly – jabbering so quickly to one another that Donny, despite his perfect command of Earplug, couldn’t follow.

“Slow down.” He cried. “Slow down. Those buttons on the control panels actually do something. Don’t go pressing them willy-nilly: you might empty the lavatory, fire a neutron torpedo, or something!”

Neither Placebo nor Folie were really listening – either to each other or Donny Woolbadger. But eventually, when exhaustion – both mental and physical – set in, they slowed to a halt.

“Neutron torpedo?” Folie inquired…

Donny explained that, following an intense reverse engineering of the Gravity Whelk’s remaining two proton torpedoes, Scroton engineers  thought they could go one better. Why base your weaponry upon feeble little protons, they considered, when you could introduce the much butcher and generally heftier neutrons? The result, neutron torpedoes: altogether a much more potent form of defence.

“No one kick sand in eyes now.” Tojo remarked.

But this information worried Folie…

“Oh, Placebo, what are we going to do? With great power comes great responsibility. Are we up to controlling something as devastating as a neutron torpedo? Or a whole bay of them in the bowels of the ship – just waiting to be unleashed! Will it drive us to the edge of madness? Do we have the necessary credentials in the wisdom department? I have my doubts.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part thirteen)

With so much snow falling around the Future Museum of Mars…

…Frisby Mumph couldn’t resist responding to a call from the Muffins and their robotic servants, and soon found himself frolicking in the snow with them…

But he knew it was a just a brief reprieve from his responsibility for the well-being of the building and everyone inside it.

“This is fun, guys,” he chuckled, “but Tangerine and I must be on our way now. You all get back to your sunken city and wrap yourselves up nice and warm: I think this mini-ice-age is gonna be a doozey!”

Of course Frisby’s customers had no idea how bad conditions would become. This particular individual was lucky to make it through Buttcleft Pass before it became impassable…

Sensibly most remained close to safety. If things worsened noticeably, they could simply step inside through one of many emergency exits that had been left ajar for them…

Several groups of Ice World immigrants from a couple of years previous had paid the fare to Mars in the hope that the winter there would remind them of their home world… 

Unfortunately one of them had forgotten how fridged air accentuates the aroma of escaping bodily gasses…

…and how they become visible to the naked eye.

Charles De Glop had stopped enjoying himself, and went back to work. But when he tried to pick some rosemary and thyme for his latest gastronomic wonder, he found it submerged and frozen solid…

“I will not lower myself to use frozen food.” He said to himself. “It is beneath me. But I do have that half-sachet of drinking chocolate at the back of the cupboard: it’s only a couple of years out-of-date. Hmmm, perhaps this is the right time for Charles De Glop to become experimental once again.”

Outside the kitchen, on the concrete apron, a pair of cyclops earplugs made their way back from a pleasant stroll in the snow…

“I wish this stroll would never end.” The grey cyclops said through a small smile.

“I agree,” the larger of the two replied. “It has been so pleasant in your company. I say, as long as conditions don’t worsen, we should stay out here for as long as we can.”

But then the heavens opened…

“Bugger this,” he added, “let’s get inside now!”

The sudden change almost caught Doubry Furkins and Jenson Prong out too…

“I’d like to see any Company cameras that can spot us through this.” Jenson moaned at Doubry. “No more arguments: get inside now!”

“Oh flip,” Charles whined as he made for the kitchen door…

…”perhaps baked beans on toast isn’t such a bad idea after all!”

Fortunately, in the lee of the nearby hills…

…where the wind blew less strongly and the snow fell a little less intensely, Nobby Hollister had used his experience in lower gravity to escape the clutches of Patti Roularde…

Alone for the moment, he paused for breath and to take the opportunity to enjoy the sense of freedom…

…where he considered leaving Patti behind. Then, through a cleft in the rocks he could just spot the museum, as snow swirled around its futuristically curved flanks…

…and he was certain that it was the right course of action. But then he heard a familiar voice on the breeze…

“Oh there you are, Nobby.” Patti said as she sauntered by. “I thought you’d fallen off a cliff or something.”

But then she dropped the type of bombshell that no desperate engineer that has taken a job on Mars because his bank account is empty and his divorced wife has left him in debt wants to hear…

“I didn’t let on earlier,” she said, “but I am a very experienced Precipitous Ledge Walker. I have walked upon many of Earth’s most precipitous ledges. I learned my craft in the Atlas Mountains. I then moved on to the Alps, the Himalayas, and finally Antarctica. I wrote several books on the subject. I have my own TV channel that specialises in extreme sports. I am a very rich woman. I came to Mars to find a daring, handsome husband with nice buttocks and a kind heart. I thought that earplug was you. But when you used your low-gravity experience to leave me behind, I knew that you were not that earplug. Nobby – you’re matrimonial toast. See you later – not!”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part twelve)

Of course, back on Mars, events were moving…perhaps not apace, but certainly moving forward…

William of Porridge sidled up to Lillie Whitewater and expressed his reservations regarding the only other cork in the Future Museum of Mars.

“He’s a fruit cake.” He finished.

But Lillie wasn’t really listening: she’d spotted someone on the crimson boulevard that set her knees to trembling and fillings a-rattling…

She went all gooey-eyed and called out Sir Dodger’s name, which really annoyed William because the retired thespian was old enough to be Lillie’s grandfather, and also because he thought the former bridge crew member of the K T Woo should have more self-control and a better sense of professionalism.

“Oh do shut up.” He snapped uncharacteristically

But Sir Dodger’s thoughts were mired in doubt and worry about the hiking sewage union reps. He didn’t have his hearing aid switched on either. So, consequently he walked straight on by without acknowledging Lillie in any way…

Naturally Lillie was crestfallen. She was also crushed. She wished the deck would open up beneath her and consume her entirely.

“What a git.” William said as he cast ethereal daggers in the movie star’s direction. “At least he could have said, ‘how do you do; might I say how delightful you look in that tatty old pressure suit’, but he didn’t. That’s actors for you!”

To which Lillie responded thus: “Do I really look delightful in my tatty old pressure suit, William?”

Meanwhile, out on the plain, Doubry Furkins and Jenson Prong noticed the first real signs of the approaching winter…

“Survey over for the day.” Jenson said in a manner that would brook no argument.

But Doubry, fearful for his job, did so anyway: “But the Company might be watching us from the TV relay station on Deimos.”

Jenson scoffed. “It costs a fortune to rent electronic space on Mars’ moons: they are not going to be checking in on us. Now let’s get inside.”

Sir Dodger’s concerns over the sewage workers union reps was well founded…

“Oi, Marty,” Tandoe Crimplehorn called from the rear of the party, “your oxy-suppository fits my botty to perfection: but judging by the way you’re leading us in ever decreasing circles strongly suggests that mine doesn’t fit you at all well. Are you suffering from hypoxia?”

“Shut your face.” Marty Friedpants snarled his reply. “It’s this bloody snow: it’s smudging my contact lenses. I can’t see where we’re going!”

At much the same time, the falling snow excited the normally taciturn Charles De Glop into schoolboy-like behaviour…

“Whee!” He cried as he danced about on the concrete apron outside the kitchen.

It even brought smiles to the faces of the engineers that had decided that their chances lay better with a return to the safety of the museum…

One of the engineers who had been stationed in the museum took it upon himself to clamber into the nearby hills to find any customers who might be in need of guidance back. His name was Nobby Hollister, and it was his misfortune to  discover Patti Roularde as she enjoyed herself conducting some Precipitous Ledge Walking.

“Follow me.” He instructed her.

So she did…very closely indeed…

…which didn’t please Nobby. “Give me a little space, will ya.” He grumbled. “This ledge is getting more and more precipitous.”

The museum’s roof became a magnet for winter sports fans inside the museum. Two sewage worker union reps who hadn’t bothered to join the others on their hike, dashed there to enjoy the view…

“Ah,” one of them sighed, “after years of dealing with so much filth and ghastliness, its wonderful to be somewhere so fresh and clean.”

To which his colleague replied: “Yeah. Like the purple roof panel too.”

Below them, and out of sight around the corner, Las Chicas De La Playa had stripped down to their bikinis, and were now hard at work on their tans…

“La nieve no es buena para brocearse.” Carmen said to the others. “Hagamos otro cosa.”

To which the Chicas’ sole male representative, Jorge, replied: “You’re right, Carmen:  we are not going to get a tan this way at all. Like you say, we should do something else. Any suggestions anyone?”

Thirty seconds later…

“Yeah, snowball fight.” Lucia bellowed in a most un-girly manner.

“No shoving snow down the back of bikini bottoms, okay?” Jimena added wisely.

Further around the corner, where the prevailing winds blew most powerfully, the stone entrance to the ancient citadel steps was becoming treacherous with compacted snow and black ice…

…which didn’t please the Muffins working there on a restoration project one little bit…

And Maverick Fossil-Hunter, when he emerged from a hot-dog vendor’s tent inside the citadel, was appalled at the changing conditions…

“How am I going to find the catacombs now?” He wailed. “The big X marked on my map will be covered in snow!”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part eleven)

Such was the fun, and so intense were the thrills of discovery, that the cable end team continued until sunset, where the light of Scroton’s primary star shone serenely through the semi-opaque shell of the dry dock…

But they now knew what they needed to know – if you get my meaning. Plans and blueprints were already forming inside their fertile engineering minds…

“From now on,” a tan coloured cable end, named Rooru Betts, stated, “this coffee machine will dispense Blurgh brand coffee. And if the owners don’t like, they can bloody well lump it!”

And the sage Sven Kahzi opined that the bell on the welcome mat should be replaced by a buzzer that gave off an electric shock and made girls skirts fly up around their neck.

And still the upgrade continued. The information matrix globe was downloaded; then uploaded with everything that the scientists of Scroton knew…

“It only seems fair.” Humper Humpington said. “We take, therefore we give. It is the way of Scroton. A mugger takes my sausage sandwich: I give him a punch in the mouth.”

“It is the way of Scroton.” Deuce Wayne uttered well-ingrained dogma. “By the way: isn’t this a charming shade of yellow? I’m thinking about doing my bathroom in this colour.”

But more important tasks were being performed across the entire vessel. Cutters and welders sparked incessantly – for hour upon hour…

And the transfer conduits saw an unending army of engineers and vast tonnage of material pass through them…

…though you wouldn’t know it from the outside. But, as is the way of every day, the end finally came…

…and dusk settled upon the scene of such frenetic activity green and torpid. But the following morning all of that toil and labour was given the ultimate scrutiny. It was test-flight time…

One of the first up-grades checked was the lavatory with a revolving door…

“The pink light.” Tojo Winterborn noticed. “Does it indicate that the loo is empty – or that someone is inside?”

Donny Woolbadger was too taken with the majesty of the floor covering to bother turning around. “The latter.” He answered. Then: “This floor covering reminds me of the royal palace.”

“Well spotted, Vice Chancellor, “Tojo replied, “Nigel has just had the royal out-house sofa re-upholstered: we didn’t like to waste the old material; there’s years of use left in it yet.”

Other parts of the ship were also being examined…

“Nice blue inter-compartmental air-lock.” Deuce congratulated its designer, Woolston Skipyard. “Very safety conscious. And the deck colour?”

“That’d be mine.” Humper Humpington volunteered. “I based it upon my own skin – then darkened it by several shades, using a freebie program that I downloaded from the Scroternet.”

By now the ship had travelled sufficiently far to take its occupants beyond their familiar Weird Space…

“That looks weird.” Deuce said as he gazed out through a charmingly oval (and very new) view port.

“No it doesn’t.” Humper argued in error. “It doesn’t look anything like Weird Space. It’s all black and white for starters!”

“No,” Deuce explained. “I mean it looks weird because it doesn’t look like Weird Space. It’s not multi-coloured.”

Woolston Skipyard was passing by. “Perhaps we should rename Weird Space. Who gave it that weird name anyway? It doesn’t make sense.”

Donny was having problems with the view as well…

“Tojo,” he said in a voice that fairly dripped with panic, “tell me when that light goes out: I think I’m going to throw up.”

And so it continued from one corridor to the next…

“Just smell the quality of this carpet.” Bertie Bumbledope said to his twin, Snarlston. “The Golden One has really pushed the boat out with this re-fit. He must really like earplugs.”

“Oh well,” Deuce said to Humper as they took one final look through one of the many oval portholes, “it was fun while it lasted.”

“Come along, you two.” Tojo Winterborn snapped as he passed the malingerers. “Time is money, and Nigel’s not made of the stuff – even if he is golden coloured.”

And before long the new and improved Gravity Whelk re-entered Scroton’s atmosphere…

…its Flying Certificate signed, sealed, and despatched electronically to the authorities in Scroton Prime.

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part ten)

Whilst all this Marsy stuff was happening, far, far away upon Scroton, Vice Chancellor Donny Woolbadger and Chancellor Tojo Winterborn summoned Folie and Placebo to Government House…

“Boys,” Tojo opened in Scrotonic, “we’re not entirely sure what it is you want: would you care to pop back aboard your ratty old bucket of junk and scribble notes on the wall in felt-tip pen? It would be ever so helpful.”

Naturally Donny translated his instruction verbatim, before departing for areas unknown. Equally naturally Folie and Placebo were thrilled that they were, effectively, being given a blank cheque…

“Whoo-hoo,” Folie cried as they returned to the shipyard, “this is gonna be fun!”

And equally, equally naturally, they had to enter their ship during the night, when the roof had been closed and all the workers had gone home…

But, as a result of the lateness of the hour, and after a long day, both Earthlings were a little tired. Placebo found that he couldn’t concentrate and kept thinking he heard strange noises echoing, ‘spookily’, down the multifarious corridors…

And Folie wandered around feeling foolish because he couldn’t figure out how to remove the pen lid…

Luckily the Automatic Pilot was still active and suggested that they tell the cable ends to check out the ship’s log. So, the next morning, Folie and Placebo did just that…

They were a little surprised to be admonished for their tardiness and were told that they were lucky that the ship came equipped with such an excellent Automatic Pilot.

“So does that mean that Autopilot stays?” Placebo inquired after Chancellor Winterborn had finally run out of breath.

“Oh, undoubtedly.” Donny Woolbadger concluded the meeting. “Without it you two would be dead within hours. Immediately after lift-off, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Well actually he did have one more thing to say. He said: “Now sod off to Scroton Prime for some sight-seeing; and leave the ship to our engineers, designers, and delightfully talented whizz-kids.”

A short while after that a team of cable ends entered the ship and were now accessing the ship’s log, which told the vessel’s tale from its original launch – to the moment it set down in the dry dock…

“Jeepers,” orange engineer, Bertie Bumbledope cried out as the information passed before his eyes, “this log is a treasure trove of celestial and technological data. This is gonna bring our tech forward in a quantum leap.”

“I’m just glad that I live in an era when this happened.” The green engineer, Humper Humpington gushed as he studied the information matrix globe. “I’ll be able to write in my memoirs.”

“And look at this.” A grey-hued designer named Borgoise Johanson marvelled at the door mat, which rang a bell every time someone entered the room. “The red chevrons: they’re so exquisite. And they light up too!”

“This information matrix globe is so soft and comfy.” A paler grey designer, named Woolston Skipyard remarked. “I wonder if it was designed that way, or just a happy accident.”

“That’s nothing,” a brown engineer who enjoyed the moniker Deuce Wayne, spoke from inside the colon evacuation unit, “I feel several kilos lighter already – and I’ve only just switched this thing on!”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part nine)

A half-hour then passed in which Mulleon had taken a bite to eat; gone to the lavatory; changed his underwear; and managed to lose Rufus. Of course the first three acts had been necessary; the fourth less so, and he cursed himself for not keeping his big gob shut when he’d hatched his plan to use the plugmutt in such an underhand manner. So it was alone that Mulleon followed the blueprints of the museum that Maverick had paid a fortune for to a pair of dubious underworld characters called Wilton Carpetti and Vinki Vinkleton. Now he entered the lowest foundations of the futuristic abode…

A single light illuminated the way, and soon he spotted the hatch that led to the supposed caverns below…

…and, in a trice, was through it…

Looking around him, Mulleon wondered at the sheer volume of the cavern. He’d expected to find it damp and cramped. Instead it was dry and spacious.

“Huh, not bad.” He said begrudgingly. “Now I know why they use the term ‘cavernous’.”

He then set himself to address his immediate concern: which way to go?

Several storeys above Mulleon, William of Porridge congratulated himself on a job well done…

“Will you look at that!” He said to no one but himself. “All packed away in Bays Six and Seven: and you’d never know it to look at it. Pristine. Will, baby: you are the cork!”

But when he dropped from the platform, onto the delivery buggy track…

…he noticed the luggage service platform arriving unexpectedly. Even more surprising was the fact that it was carrying a passenger…

Of course William couldn’t possibly have known that Maverick had followed Mulleon into the bowels of the building – to make certain that the yellow earplug hadn’t reneged on their deal; pocketed the money; and ‘done a runner’. Now he’d made the mistake of being lazy. If he’d bothered to take the stairs, no one need ever know that he’d been anywhere but the public areas. Now that big lump of a luggage cork was calling out to him. Moments later he was joined upon the luggage service platform…

“Hi,” the new arrival said chirpily, “my name’s William of Porridge: what’s yours?”

Maverick had expected admonishment; not a warm welcome. He was caught off-guard by William’s approach: “Errrr.” He said. “Um…” Then he thought that honestly would be the best tactic. “Maverick.” He replied. “Maverick Fossil-Hunter.”

William nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah – thought so.” He said – which surprised Maverick even further. “You believe in ancient astronauts and all that guff. Yes, I saw your interview with Rupert Piles. You maintain that Mars was colonised by an early earplug civilisation that was aquatic in nature. You suggest that the Muffins are the result of an artificially altered genome that allowed later generations of those colonists to live on a planet that was rapidly drying up.”

“Oh cripes.” Maverick said sotto voce. Then more loudly he added: “Well, essentially, you’re right. I do. May I say – thank you for actually listening to my half of the interview. Most people agree with that camera-wielding oaf, Rupert Piles. His open guffawing at my statements almost ruined me, you know.”

“So now you’re here to prove him wrong, huh?” William urged.

“Oh yes indeed.” Maverick said as he turned his gaze away from his thoughts, and in the direction of William…

“I’m going to humble him. I’m going to make him eat every one of his words. I’m going to make him choke on his guffaws. I’m going to bestride the academic world like an earplugologist colossus. Everyone who ever said I was a kook and nutter is going to regret their foolish tongues ever spoke those words. I’m going to kick several scientists and academics right up the metaphysical arse. Then I’m going to kick them up the real arse too!”

Maverick hadn’t noticed, but his tenor had quickly shifted in an upwards direction towards falsetto. William had.

“Oh, right. Yeah, great.” He said as he took a backward step. “Be careful on this lift: it isn’t really for people. See ya.”

With that he was gone, and Maverick could continue on his way – his recently pent-up stress levels magically salved.

Below, and unobserved, Mulleon was continuing onwards; but his thoughts were of turning back. If he could just think up some sneaky excuse…

William of Porridge had, until encountering Maverick Fossil-Hunter, been relatively unconcerned with day-to-day problems of the Future Museum of Mars. But a mad cork on the premises made him nervous…

He could well remember the tales of Ballington Cork’s attempts to take control of the Museum of Future Technology. And he wasn’t too impressed with the disco cork king – Hambledon Bohannon – either…

He would need to speak to someone about it. And straight away!

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part eight)

So, as everything seemed to be falling into place for the two young MOFT employees – out on a ‘jolly’ in their own personal space craft – back at the Future Museum of Mars the two mining company representatives – Doubry Furkins and Jenson Prong – felt a tad apprehensive upon the neighbouring plain…

“I know that I agreed that this time of year is probably the best time to visit Mars – what with tourist numbers down because of the approaching winter: “Doubry said through chattering teeth, “but, flipping heck, this ground is so darned cold.”

“You’re telling me.” Jenson retorted. “It must be locked-in frozen carbon dioxide. My rock-testing chisel is so cold I’m afraid to use it, just in case it shatters.”

At that moment, but further away, in an unnamed desert, Marty Friedpants was leading his fellow sewage union reps on their first hike…

“Come on, boys,” he called enthusiastically, “keep up.”

“That’s easy for you to say;” Tail-end Charlie – Tandoe Crimplehorn – gasped his reply, “but your oxygen suppository fits you better than mine: my bottom is feeling seriously oxygen-depleted.”

Marty, being an unusually fair-minded trade union earplug, was about to stop and offer to swap oxy-suppositories, when he was accosted by none other than the MOFT curator, Sir Dodger Muir…

“Dodge,” he said with surprise evident, “what the bloody hell are you doing all the way out here? I know you’ve got some new knees and all that: but you’re no spring plugmutt. You could keel over at any moment, and no one would be any the wiser.”

Sir Dodger was well aware of his advancing years, and was only present because he felt an absolute need to be there. But that didn’t stop him raising a characteristic eyebrow…

“Well here’s the thing, old chap.” He began. “It’s the new knees that have sent me out here. Not literally, you understand: they didn’t just waltz off with me an unwilling passenger. No; what I mean is…well all this metalwork inside me is reacting to the changing climatic conditions. If I read the sensations correctly – which, because I’m intelligent enough to have enjoyed a long successful acting career, and then became a curator at the planets’ most famous and most envied museum, I believe I am: we’re in for snow. Probably lots of it too. So, Marty, if I were you, I’d think about making plans for an early return to the museum. I’m off there now: you can follow in my footsteps, should you care to.”

Meanwhile, even further distant from the museum, the Scrotonite, whose name was Bo Smidgin, was conducting a reconnoitre of a suitable spot for his planned holiday-housing development…

And he too felt a chill wind blow up his metaphorical kilt that sent a shudder down his spine and gave him cause to wonder if he might have the talent of prescience.

“Hmmm,” he mused to himself in near silence, “if Venus wasn’t so damned hot, with an ammonia-rich atmosphere, I think, on balance, I might prefer to knock up some (fundamentally balsa wood and fabric) shacks there. Somehow this doesn’t feel right.”

But not everyone was out and about. Others chose (at least for the while) to remain inside the museum. Others like the huge cork, to whom William of Porridge had spoken in the reception area, whose name was Maverick Fossil-Hunter. Also a yellow earplug named Mulleon Cleets; and Mulleon’s pet plugmutt – Rufus…

As they stood beside a Cafe Puke coffee vending machine they discussed the matter that had brought them to Mars.

“It is clear,” Mulleon said, as he looked up at the cork that towered above him, “that the remnants of any oceans that Mars ever possessed would now be far below the surface.”

“I’m certain of it.” Maverick replied. “I would stake my reputation upon it. And here, beneath the Future Museum of Mars, marks the likely entry point to any access tunnels that might still exist.”

“Yeah- yeah, I get that.” Mulleon groaned. “But what makes you so sure that these tunnels lead to the ancient city of the Muffins?”

“Proximity, Mulleon,” Maverick answered. “They wouldn’t build their homes far from the water supply. Only really stupid people do that.”

Mulleon thought about that for about a nanosecond, before replying with: “But they are stupid: they destroyed their entire world by igniting a massive fart. A global fart, no less. I mean, what kind of intelligence does it take to ignite so much methane that it strips away most of the breathable atmosphere?”

Maverick ground his teeth together: this was an argument he’d heard many times before – mostly from his peers, tutors, and TV interviewers – especially that pesky Rupert Piles…

The answer came easily to his lips: “They were smarter in the olden times. They hadn’t invented daytime TV. If it hadn’t been for the development of social media, Mars would probably still have a vibrant society and a healthy planet. They wouldn’t have felt the need for a world-wide farting contest. So my idea is right.”

Although Mulleon agreed with Maverick, at least on a basic level, he didn’t much like the cork’s initial plan of action. Maverick was to go to the old citadel of the Muffins, whilst he found his way there via the subterranean tunnels and passageways beneath the museum.  He was about to offer an argument, just for the sake of it, when he had an idea of his own: he’d send Rufus in first: if he didn’t get eaten by anything, it was probably safe for him to proceed…

 

So he agreed financial terms, and Maverick departed…

…whilst he dragged Rufus in the opposite direction…

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part seven)

Well it was just as the Automatic Pilot had suggested: there was no need to fire off their remaining pair of proton torpedoes: Scroton’s gravity was sufficiently powerful to pull the ship towards it.

Although the nova had ruined the star drive, the Gravity Whelk’s uncomplicated atmospheric-flight pulse drive had been unaffected by the solar convulsion: so, after obtaining permission to enter Scroton’s atmosphere, the boys took their positions in the forward window and watched the air rush past…

“I like air.” Folie informed his best friend. “I like the way it makes lots of noise as it rubs on the ship’s hull. And buffeting too: it really makes me feel euphoric. I think it’s a visceral thing.”

“I like it because it’s breathable.” Placebo replied. “Even at this altitude it’s a lot better than outer space.”

But it wasn’t long before the ship was rushing across the landscape towards its final destination…

Of course the boys had been so busy talking inanities that neither of them noticed that permission to land had been granted. Fortunately for them the Automatic Pilot was more professional. So soon the Gravity Whelk had nestled into a dry dock that overlooked  the city of Scroton Prime, and before you could say ‘Magnuss Earplug: what a guy‘ personnel transfer conduits had attached themselves to the airlocks on the lower hull…

“Straighten your ties, boys.” The Automatic Pilot bellowed, “we’re down.”

Then the summons came. Five minutes later Folie and Placebo stood at the ceremonial gate to the city.

“Hello, brave young earplugs.” A brown cable end said in a pleasant baritone. “I’m Vice Chancellor Donny Woolbadger. This is Chancellor Tojo Winterborn: he doesn’t speak any earplug language I’m afraid: so I’m here to interpret. Your Automatic Pilot informs us that you need a re-fit.”

“A rather extensive one, I believe?” Tojo Winterborn added – though, of course neither Folie nor Placebo were aware of that.

But Placebo – being a non-earplug – had learned to read body language very well. “Yes.” He guessed correctly and replied directly to the chancellor. “A bloody great big one – with all the bells and whistles you can muster.”

When Donny had translated this, the chancellor appeared very impressed. “Now I can see why our great and glorious leader is so enamoured with these Earth beings: they’re a clever bunch of bleeders. I’m not so sure about the little yellow one though. Looks a bit thick to me. But he’s cute, so we’ll let my reservations pass on this occasion. Tell them to follow us.”

“Walk this way.” Donny invited the new-comers. “From this relatively low vantage point you can see your tatty old ship in dry dock.”

He was right too. And just to impress the two space-farers further, sparkling cutting torches could already been seen in action…

“Oh, good.” Folie said appreciatively. “The first thing to go is that useless sodding excuse for a bridge.”

But Folie and Placebo were soon to be impressed even further, because, at that moment, Nigel – The Golden One – proceeded through ranks of his security forces…

…for a meeting with his visitors from far away across the void of interstellar space. He elected to meet them in the industrial zone immediately adjacent to the dry dock…

“Do either of you know Magnuss Earplug?” He inquired once introductions had been made. “I’m a big fan.”

Folie would have liked nothing more than to have answered in the affirmative; but sadly he’d never met the Museum of Future Technology’s greatest hero. “Sorry, but no.” He said. “But I do have a framed pair of his underpants – under glass and hermetically sealed.”

“Yes, and we have met Cushions Smethwyke.” Placebo blurted.

Nigel appeared a little confused. “Cushions…urr…Smethwyke?”

“She’s the boss of the MOFT.” Folie explained. “I guess you could say she’s Magnuss’ boss.”

Had Nigel possessed an eyebrow he would have raised it.

“My,” he said, “she must be quite a gal. Magnuss Earplug’s boss, eh? Perhaps I should take the time for a royal visit. Thank you, lads: you’ve given me food for thought. Well I’ll leave you in the Chancellor’s capable hands. Whatever you need…ah…it’s yours. I’ll see you again when the job’s complete. Bye-ee.”

©Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part six)

Meanwhile, so far across the gulfs of space that numbers become incomprehensible, the Gravity Whelk was well into its long journey to Scroton…

Although the ancient vessel was travelling at full speed, Folie and Placebo found that they had lots of time on their hands. And since the Automatic Pilot…um…piloted the ship, they chose to watch the view through the front window of the nominal ‘bridge’. And it was whilst they were positioned thus, that a distant star exploded…

“Cripes,” Folie yelped, “I hope that was farther away than it looked!”

Placebo would have responded, but his thoughts were interrupted by the Automatic Pilot: “Immediate course change required. Initiating.”

“Obviously it wasn’t farther away than it looked.” Placebo said finally. “I guess exploding stars are pretty dangerous to old tubs like this one.”

“They’re also extremely rare.” Folie said confidently. “Cams Layne, aboard the Brian Talbot, told me that his crew had flown for loads of light years and had never seen a single one. Same goes for the crews of the Chi-Z-Sox and the K T Woo.”

“That’s comforting to know.” A relieved Placebo replied. “I hope we got it on the dash cam: I’d like to play it back for Mister Layne, when we see him next.”

Folie then suggested that they might witness the star’s final throws from one of the side windows; so they quickly made their way to an observation point…

“Nice.” Folie opined after five minutes of scouring all visible space with his sharp eye sight. “But hardly spectacular.”

“Yeah.” Placebo sighed. “I guess the show’s over. Fancy some spaghetti on toast?”

Naturally Folie would have said: “Sho’nuf, big fella: lead me to the galley.” But his reply was quenched when, without warning, another star exploded…

“I’ll take a rain check on that right now.” He said as he buckled on his seat belt. “That is definitely much closer than the first one.”

The Automatic Pilot had just enough time to plot an evasive manoeuvre, when the ship was struck by an energy wave cast out by the nova…

“Aargh!” It managed as electrical conduits sparked and fizzled. “Flipping heck – we’ve lost the main star drive. You two: get aft. We have to know how badly hurt we are before I can try a re-start.”

Under normal circumstances, the young owners of the Gravity Whelk would have welcomed something useful to do: but these weren’t normal circumstances.

“Ooh, blimey,” Placebo said as he studied a set of really important read-outs, “this panel is completely dead.”

Folie wasn’t doing any better in his section of the ship…

“Ditto.” He reported. “I’m on emergency lighting down here too.”

But as they checked other compartments, the situation seemed slightly improved…

“Ah, there’s a  bit of luck,” Placebo noted. “The outer hatch on the toilet tissue store hasn’t opened to space.”

Folie too had good news…

“And the pumpkin farm is fine as well.” He said. Then, after a moment’s consideration: “Hey; how about we microwave a pie?”

But then the ship began to yaw and the artificial gravity became unreliable – alternating between Earth standard and Luna standard. This fluctuation made Placebo feel quite nauseous…

“Flipping heck, Autopilot,” he mumbled between bouts of gagging, “can’t you get us underway somehow? Isn’t thrust a good alternative to fluctuating artificial gravity?”

“Very good, Placebo,” the Automatic Pilot’s stentorian voice echoed down the (now silent) corridors, “you appear to have studied basic space faring stuff. Unfortunately the only way your wish can come true is if I release a proton torpedo into the rear expansion chamber of the main drive, and ignite it.”

“It’s either that,” Placebo groaned testily, “or I throw up all over your shiny bulkheads.”

“Initiating proton torpedo release.” The Automatic Pilot said with a trace of panic in its cyber voice. “And igniting it.”

A split second later…

…the ship began to move.

“Another one.” Folie shouted above the noise of a ship trying to shove its blunt-end through its pointy-end.

Given an explicit command, the Autopilot did as it was bid – and continued in that way for several days until the Gravity Whelk blew itself all the way to Weird Space…

“Are we nearly there yet?” Placebo inquired from the galley.

“Kind’a.” Folie replied. “But space is awfully big.”

But, just of a handful of days later, the Gravity Whelk nosed into semi-familiar territory…

“Well whadda ya know?” The Automatic Pilot spoke over the general address system.” We’ve only gone and done it. And with only a couple of proton torpedoes remaining on the inventory. It’s all downhill from here. Guys; welcome to Scroton.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part five)

Soon both Mars Shuttles had disgorged their loads and set metaphorical sail for Earth – leaving behind them a milling mass of silicon life forms…

Frisby – quickly realising that the dull light of the Martian sky was permeating the museum’s shell with its depressing lustre – decided to switch on the artificial lighting. He selected the blue of Earth…

“Well it’s not like its going to raise the electricity bill.” He explained to Tangerine. “We have a nul-space generator. Power isn’t a problem.”

Soon guests were swarming all over the museum – despite the fact that it still held no exhibits, or seemed likely too in the short-term…

“Don’t you just love this lower gravity on Mars?” Sir Dodger inquired of an attractive female guest on one of the main walkways. “I do believe I feel thirty years younger – if you catch my drift.”

“Oh I do, Sir Dodger.” She replied. “When my elastic snapped just now, my pants refused to fall down. I was very grateful to be here, and not Saturn or one of those large planets.”

“Oh, absolutely.” Sir Dodger sympathised. “I’d hate to think what might have happened on one of those gas giants. I’ve heard their moons are very pleasant though.”

Several months earlier  the Museum of Future Technology had dispatched a team of engineers to assist the native Martians – or ‘Muffins’ as they preferred to be known – with their attempts to resurrect thier  civilisation. They were easily identified by their orange colouring. Although most were on assignment upon the plains, others remained inside the museum. Some of them were delighted to see an influx of new people…

But they were not always best pleased when the aforementioned ‘new people’ brought their bad habits along with them…

But at least the engineers weren’t expected to guide them when they became hopelessly lost in the vast edifice…

There were just so many levels…

…that guests quickly tired and had to be taken to the dispensary for a pick-me-up. But other engineers managed to find fault with certain guests who failed to read the signage properly…

“What?” They would cry in despair. “You did what in the Tinkle Point? Don’t you realise the problems you’ve caused? It’s gonna take a team of eight to unblock this properly.” And: “No, Tinkle Point does not mean Toilet: it’s Martian for urinal!”

But out upon the Martian plains, engineers who lived in temporary shelters began to grow nervous…

There was a decidedly nippy breeze blowing in from both poles…

…and one or two of the gangs wondered if they should think about packing their haversacks and head back to the museum.

But new arrivals were unaware of the subtle shifts in the climate. They were just so glad to be able to get outside and experience the real Mars. People like the Museum of Future Technology’s sewerage workers union representatives who were enjoying a hiking holiday paid for by their union member’s union dues…

And former M.O.F.T visitors, Las Chicas De La Playas…

…who were fans of El Custardo y Los Natillas, and who believed with all their hearts that it was possible to get a tan from the Martian sun.

And amongst the shuttles manifest a small mineral prospecting company had dispatched representatives to discover what mineral wealth Mars still possessed…

 

But, perhaps, the most striking passenger, and therefore museum customer, was a property developer who had fallen foul of the  authorities on his home world, so pulled up his roots; put on his hard hat; and now sought to make his fortune at the expense of the natives of a different world entirely…

He was an Ethernet Cable End, and his home world was none other than Scroton!

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part three)

Meanwhile, upon Mars, the brief cold Summer was coming to a close. As is usual for the planet, Autumn was certain to be skipped, and the world would soon be plunged into a long, stunningly ultra-arctic winter. But, for the moment, the temperature at the equator hovered at zero degrees…

Inside the communications room of the Future Museum of Mars, its sole curator – Frisby Mumph – received an anticipated call from the Museum of Future Technology…

…informing him that more paying guests were en route from Earth aboard a Mars Shuttle.

His assistant, former bridge crew member of the K T Woo – Lillie Whitewater – was quietly going about her work in the hydroponics bay, where she experimented with Earth plants and Martian chemicals…

As usual she was disappointed with developments.

“Oh bum.” She snarled daintily. “Nada. I knew Frisby was wrong when he said that I needed neither air nor water. Next time I’ll listen to my inner voice.”

Frisby’s other assistant – that being the robot named Tangerine…

…was making its ’rounds’ – searching for leaks, blockages, and other annoying structural abnormalities.

“Check.” It would say. “Check. Lovely.”

And in the subterranean storage facility, the giant cork – William of Porridge – was making sure that he had sufficient room for their in-coming guest’s luggage…

“Hmm,” he muttered to himself, “might have to open up Bays Eight and Nine. One can never be too careful. Don’t want to get pinched for space. Best to avoid a panic. Yes, I’ll open Bays Eight and Nine. Oh yes; and I’ll keep Bay Ten as an over-spill area.”

Shortly, the radio message completed, Frisby turned away from the panel…

“A second Mars Shuttle is due as well. Oh, that’s going to stretch us thin. Guess it’s all those thrill seekers – hoping to catch the beginning of our murderous Winter, and hoping they’ll have a tale or two to tell for their friends, work colleagues, loved ones, and anyone who will listen to them yammer on incessantly about how they almost got frost bite and how parts could have fallen off, but actually didn’t.  If I’m honest with myself, I’m not really cut out for this touristy stuff: I liked it when I was terraforming a dead world. It was a worthwhile job that I enjoyed. Now it’s all…oh I don’t know…different. In a way I’m quite grateful for these mini ice-ages: it keeps the riff-raff out.”

But he’d managed to pull on his smiley face by the time he encountered Tangerine…

“A second shuttle, Sir?” A surprised robot responded to the news. “Methinks the Museum of Future Technology is running short of funds: they wouldn’t normally pack in two vessels this late in the Martian year. Have you had words with Cushions Smethwyke upon the subject?”

“I have, Tange.” Frisby replied cheerfully. “I told her where to shove the third shuttle. I think she took my displeasure on-board.”

Lillie – ever the professional – had listened in on the inter-museum com-chat, so had already been apprised of the situation. She decided to go do something else. Origami sounded quite appealing…

And in the storage bay, William of Porridge had similar thoughts. But he was more realistic…

“Oh, I suppose I’ll have to play the role of of doorman again.” He said with a sigh. “How very tedious. Perhaps I’d better visit the lavatory first: as much as I detest our guests, I don’t want to offend them with violent gaseous outpourings.”

It was about this time that Frisby encountered Lillie upon her balcony…

“Good news, Lillie.” He said without preamble, “You’re promoted to the role of Welcome Plug. It’ll mean a raise of pay and the key to the executive toilet. Starting today – with the very next shuttle in!”

Lillie didn’t know what to say. She’d paid her way out of the Worstworld military because she didn’t like responsibility: now she was going to have to smile and say meaningful things to complete strangers.

“Crumbs.” She managed. “What an honour.”

Then it was on the Charles De Glop – the museum’s chef…

“Hey, Chuck, baby.” Frisby cried out as he entered the super-futuristic kitchen from the…ah…future…

…”you’re going to need a bigger ladle.”

Charles De Glop was a fastidious chef: he didn’t like non-gastronomes in his facility. He didn’t much like Frisby either. He hated the smell than often escaped from his superior’s ancient (and superfluous) pressure suit…

“Impossible!” He snapped. “I do not have the herbs I need. Lillie has failed to supply me any from her hydroponics bay. And I will not open a single can of baked beans.  It is beneath me. I would rather perish on an open plain!”

“I wouldn’t ask you to.” Frisby replied. “But whatever you do decide on, make up your mind: I can feel a ship landing upon the landing mound as we speak.”

And he was right too.  Mars Shuttle One had landed…

©Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

 

Now The Real Work Begins

The opening episode of Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars used re-worked stock-shots. Today I began shooting originals and generic stock-shots with serious intent. It’s slow and sometimes frustrating. And, as you can see, a little cramped too…

It has been four months since my wife, Linzi died, and (as you can probably imagine) I haven’t really been in the mood (Tooty the Chef aside); but the bug is finally biting again. And, for the first time in my life, I don’t have to create the time to do it. If I feel like it, I just clamber up into that attic and get going. Here’s a shot from today’s work – as seen in the making-of shot (above). It features an (as yet un-named) engineering robot that has  been discovered by Folie just staring out at space from a view port set into the side of the Gravity Whelk…

As regards the Gravity Whelk: I can’t wait to start telling tales featuring that old tub again…

So hopefully you won’t need to wait too long for Episode Two!