Tag Archives: photo-novels

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.

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

Placebo had to agree with Kyboshed’s summation of the artistic merits of Anton Twerp’s work…

“Yeah,” he said, “it does make you want to chuck up.”

Folie was quite annoyed at his crewmate’s behaviour…

“I don’t know what all the fuss is about.” He complained. “It’s just a few pictures. Would you sooner have a boring sparkly gold wall and the majesty of the cosmos to look at?”

Placebo didn’t want to antagonize his chum. “Okay,” he replied, “the pictures stay. Hey, let’s see what Kyboshed isn’t looking at now.”

So they did – and found him – once again – at a window on space…

“Strictly speaking,” he said as his owners approached, “I could survive out there for quite a while. I mean, it’s not like I have to breathe. And I could convert cosmic energy to keep my systems powered. Of course I couldn’t move around, and eventually the hard radiation would penetrate my defences: but until then I think I’d quite enjoy being out there – touching the hand of God or something.”

“Don’t these ruminations exceed your programming?” Folie inquired in a tone that suggested that he wasn’t particularly pleased that a robot could have such free, unfettered, thought processes.

“I sat on a nail.” Kyboshed replied. “It was just after I’d received my initial programming. I was so surprised that I jumped up from my re-charge pad and my head collided with the Institute of Robotics Compete Guide to Programming book that someone had perched on a low shelf there some years previous. Well I had nothing better to do – other than extract the nail from between my buttock crawler plates – so I read it all, cover to cover. Having absorbed the information, when the opportunity arose, I reprogrammed myself with the entire knowledge of the Institute. I find it gives me a little latitude in the thinking process. Is that a problem?”

Folie hadn’t expected such a fulsome reply. “Well, no, I suppose not.”

“Will you still explode if someone tries to change your name?” Placebo asked.

“Oh yes,” Kyboshed replied, “that’s programming that I can’t access. It’s basic core stuff. In any case, if I were captured by Hyperspace Pirates, I’d want to explode. I’d volunteer. Horrible little things: they’re vile.”

Well, after that, there seemed to be nothing more to say, so the owners of the Gravity Whelk returned to the bridge…

“Blimey,” Folie said as they entered, “do the cable ends know what they’ve given us. Kyboshed must be a true one-off. Are we blessed? I hope so.”

Placebo decided that he liked the sight of hyperspace, so shortly after sitting down in their seats, this happened…

Kyboshed, denied a view through the side windows, joined them. But after a few minutes the Automatic Pilot interrupted their reverie:

“Hey,” it said in its bouncy, up-beat manner, “I just found an interesting star. It’s a big blue one. It’s also poking out a lot of gamma radiation. One day it’ll go nova.”

Placebo was vaguely interested. “Shouldn’t we keep our distance then?” He asked / suggested.

“It has a planet.” The Automatic Pilot replied. “An inhabited planet.”

Now Folie grew interested. “I sense an ‘and’ coming.” He said as he sat up straight in his chair.

“And…” the Automatic Pilot paused for effect, “it’s a planet known to the Museum of Future Technology.”

Well Placebo and Folie hadn’t studied at the museum and not learned a few things: they both knew the name of the lonely planet. “Take us back into regular space.” They yelled as one.

A moment later…

…the blue giant was off their port side. And a further hour had the Gravity Whelk in high orbit above a heavily irradiated planet…

Naturally Kyboshed rushed to a window. Folie was only a step behind him…

“Kyboshed,” he said, “welcome to the planet named Worstworld.”

If Kyboshed had possessed a head that could be canted to one side in an inquiring fashion, he would have used the facility. Instead he was forced to use words. Or a word: “Worstworld?”

“Go look it up.” Folie suggested. He then joined Placebo at a second window…

“Well there’s a sight I never expected to see.” He said.

“The fact that it’s still there is a relief.” Placebo replied.

“Did you turn on the dash-cam?” Folie, suddenly concerned, asked Placebo. “I want everyone to see this when we get back to Earth.”

“It’s never off.” Placebo replied. “I record everywhere we go and everything this ship does.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Five minutes later Nobby stood before Frisby…

“Regard the main screen, Mister Hollister.” Frisby said in a calm voice. Too calm for Nobby: his knees began to tremble. Frisby was continuing: “I expected something of a jolt. Perhaps a bit of a slump in the surface of the land immediately beyond the location of the impact. I rather hoped that the glacier would be deflected away from this area entirely. But now, it seems, you’ve freed millions of tons of locked-up water and spilled magma over a vast area. Are you aware of any good news you might dispense?”

During the five minutes since he’d been collected from the ice sheet via Sky Cycle, Nobby had been wracking his brains for just that. It was Clifton who had unwittingly provided an ‘out’ for the beleaguered engineer:

“It seems to me,” he’d said as the air rushed past their earholes aboard the Sky Cycle as it swooped in to land, “that the liberated water is acting as a lubricant for the glacier – which is now following the line of least resistance and slipping sideways on to the plain. It appears, Nobby, that despite this ecological disaster, you’ve saved the museum from utter destruction.”

Nobby related these observations to Frisby, but omitted to mention the earplug responsible for them. The curator seemed content with this explanation, and duly dispatched Nobby to the cafeteria for a well-earned cup of cocoa and a slice of lemon drizzle cake. But less than an hour later, Frisby had pulled his terraforming machine from its garage; shoved the first member of staff he could find into the passenger seat below his; and driven it out on to the snow…

After just a few minutes into the journey he pulled up and allowed Charles de Glop out of the vehicle…

“Charles,” he said, “sorry to be an imposition: but can you confirm what my eyes are telling me. Are there really nasty, sooty geysers erupting from beneath the virgin snow?”

“Err, I think so.” Charles replied. “But this might be localised. Elsewhere the impact on the atmosphere may not be as bad as it appears right here.”

In response to this, Frisby drove to another location…

“And now, Charlie-boy?” Frisby growled menacingly.

“Best of three?” Charles suggested.

But Frisby’s mood hadn’t improved any when they arrived at a third location…

“I’ve spent years terraforming this planet.” Frisby roared above the hissing and rumbling of the volcanic geysers. “I’ve tried to make it habitable again. I’ve laboured long and hard and seen some miracles. And now that dolt of a tectonic engineer has ruined everything. Look at the sky: if this doesn’t stop soon, the air will become unbreathable. I’ll tell you this, Charles: from now on that Nobby Hollister is not being left anywhere near a calculator. As far as I’m concerned, he is being promoted to Chief Lavatory Bowl Washer. And don’t tell me that they are futuristic and self-cleaning: I’m pulling the fuses out!”

Charles sucked in some acrid air through his teeth and turned in the direction that Frisby was looking. The view wasn’t good…

“Perhaps we’d best be getting back to the museum.” He said. “I’m sure the company of the lovely Lillie will cheer you up.”

Frisby was astonished by the suggestion, but did it anyway: and Charles was proved correct…

…he did feel better with the former astronaut at his side – not that you’d know it to look at him. Together they visited one of the entrances…

“What do I do, Lillie?” He asked, his fury spent, and despondency his only friend.

“It might not help any, but maybe you should report to Cushions Smethwyke.” Lillie replied as she shivered in the icy air. “She has that Omnipresent Scanner thing that she spends her time sitting around on: maybe she’ll spot something that’ll help us. You never know…”

Frisby grabbed this like a drowning plugmutt refuses to let go of its owner and drags them under too. He almost ran to the com-panel…

The news shook Cushions so badly that she forgot to pretend that the video link was down and couldn’t be fixed for weeks – perhaps months. “Oh Frisby, my friend and colleague,” she yelled across the millions of kilometres that separated her from Frisby, “you just sit tight; do everything possible that you can think of to stay alive and well; and leave the rest to me. I’ll think of something.”

Then, shortly after signing-off, Cushions turned away from her com-panel with a look of horror on her face…

“How?” She wailed. “How am I going to back up that load of baloney? What can I possibly do to save the Future Museum of Mars and everyone in it?”

She then activated her inter-curator com-panel. “All curators to the Omnipresent Scanner.” She said calmly. “Priority One. We have a potential write-off on our hands.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

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

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

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

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

…the word ‘maybe’ became superfluous…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

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

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

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

And out upon the ice-sheet, Gerhardt Snitzenfrudel…

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

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

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

In the aforementioned shepherd’s hut…

…Maverick and Mulleon were enjoying the show.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and Nobby was awestruck…

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

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

 

 

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-three)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Systems check.” He snapped.

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

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

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

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

“Nope.”

“Nor me. Shall we proceed?”

“Yup.”

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

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

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

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

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

He then counted the seconds until this happened…

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

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

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

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

…to enjoy the view ahead…

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

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

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

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

And they bloody well were too!

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

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

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

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

…and he felt shame at misjudging Tynan so badly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

…emerged a certain cork and yellow earplug…

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it moving?” Mulleon asked.

Maverick shrugged his shoulders…

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

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 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 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 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 four)

Naturally it took a while for the transfer buggy to deliver the customers to the reception point inside the museum. It gave Frisby just enough time to persuade Charles De Glop to join himself, Lillie, and Tangerine in welcoming them…

Already they had fixed their smiles, and it wasn’t long before they could hear the hissing and grinding of the airlock as it allowed ingress to the travellers…

…one of which almost tripped on the ageing red carpet that wouldn’t lay flat.

“They’re almost here.” Frisby said quietly to Lillie. “You can do it. Just move a little closer to the door.”

“Okay.” Lillie replied in a tiny voice that belied her real capabilities.

Frisby could never forget that his assistant had seen real space combat experience. She had done things that most earplugs couldn’t even dream of. He was also aware that she had her frailties – perhaps as a result of those experiences. “Have you remembered to put your space knickers on this morning?” He inquired.

But it was too late for Lillie to reply: the first of their guests had arrived…

“Hello everyone.” Lillie began her welcoming speech. “We’re ever so pleased that you’ve managed to cross the vacuum of interplanetary space without suffocating or anything like that.”

But no one was listening: they’d spotted Tangerine…

…and, as anyone who knows anything about the history of the Museum of Future Technology, futuristic robots are often looked upon as potential threats and considered very scary indeed!

“Don’t worry about Tangerine.” William of Porridge spoke to the huge cork standing beside him. “He’s one of the good guys. He’s been with Frisby Mumph since the Future Museum of Mars was sent back in time from the future. He has no  ulterior plans for domination or anything.”

Lillie picked up on this. “That’s right.” She almost squealed with delight. “Tangerine is just a big cuddly lovey-dovey!”

“Well said, Lillie.” Frisby whispered to her. “You have great improvisational skills. Have you ever considered un-scripted stand-up comedy? I think you’d be wonderful at it.”

Lillie was too embarrassed to reply; so it was a timely moment that M.O.F.T curator, Sir Dodger Muir, chose to introduce himself…

“My, what a charming greeting.” He said in his beautifully cultured thespian voice. “I’m Sir Dodger Muir, by the way. I’m here to see how things are getting along. You can call me Dodge.”

Lillie was too young, and originated upon a distant world, so she didn’t have a clue regarding the famous Sir Dodger: but his demeanour and the tonal qualities of his aged, but still powerful voice made her knees tremble. And even Charles De Glop seemed pleased to meet the former matinee idol and TV thriller star…

“Great….Dodge.” Frisby said with a stupid smile upon his face. “No doubt you have a master key to the museum; make yourself at home.

By now others were beginning to crowd the narrow entrance…

“Indeed I have.” Sir Dodger replied. “I also have a full set of new artificial knees, so I’m not slow and creaky like I once was. As a result I like to show off a bit. How would you like me to show your guests to their quarters? I’m sure William of Porridge wouldn’t mind.”

“Thank you…ah…Dodge.” William spoke from amongst the group. “That’ll give me more time to stow everyone’s luggage properly.”

“Jolly good.” Sir Dodger replied, then had a thought: “Oh there’s one more thing: I don’t know if you’re in the know; but a second shuttle took off just after us…

…It should be landing any time now.”

And so it came to be. Once more the welcoming committee took up their positions – this time facing the eastern entry point…

“You know, Mister Mumph,” Lillie said as she composed herself following Sir Dodger’s departure, “I’m rather enjoying this. It’s so much more rewarding than raising defensive electro-magnetic screens, making evasive manoeuvres, and firing proton torpedoes.”

Then it was on with the task at hand: the airlock had opened again…

But it wasn’t the sight of some uncertain and hesitant customers that that made the museum staff smile…

It was the arrival of Frisby’s favourite mariachi band…

…El Custardo y Los Natillas!

Now, for the first time, Frisby Mumph was glad to have paying guests. He just prayed that William of Porridge didn’t damage either their guitars or their trumpets. He adored ethnic Latino music!

© 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

 

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (episode two)

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

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

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

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

He dared voice his concerns to his huge polystyrene pal.

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

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

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

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you see?” Folie asked.

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

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

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

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

“Is that piloting?” Folie asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

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!

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (episode 1)

SPOILER ALERT: This prologue contains information about earlier tales. If you haven’t read them, and don’t want to know what happened in one or two of them (in a very brief summarised form, that is) look away now!

Before the tale proper can begin, Dear Reader, you must first be reminded of just how the planet Mars became the Mars that the curator of The Future Museum of Mars – Frisby Mumph – so adores, and for which he would gladly give his life; his generous pension benefits; or tear off his famous old pressure suit and show everyone his bare buttocks.  It goes like this: Mars…

…is dark, cold, foreboding, and miles from anywhere. A world that was seemingly lifeless. So, in their infinite wisdom, those beings from the future who gave us the Museum of Future Technology…

…that fabulous emporium of technological wonders from the future that have been sent back through time for safe-keeping in the past – decided to build a smaller version on Mars  (just in case Earth blew up or something) and awaited the successful terraforming of the red planet, before they delivered any artefacts worth paying good money to see. So, for many years, the Future Museum of Mars…

…sat quiescent – awaiting the lifetime’s work of the aforementioned Frisby Mumph to come to fruition.  Frisby…

…enjoyed the company of his huge robot – Tangerine – and an idiot assistant, named Badgerlilly, whom he kept in permanent suspended animation. He also enjoyed going to the toilet. But most of all he enjoyed trundling about the barren landscape aboard his terraforming machine…

…with which he hoped to transform the planet from a dead, barren landscape, into a thriving eco-system. Although most of Mars remained utterly lifeless, some areas began to show promise. Tough, wiry mosses began to take hold…

Although Frisby was unaware of the fact, he had been under surveillance from the day he’d landed upon the red planet. He continued to remain blissfully unaware until Magnuss Earplug and his protégé, Yabu Suchs, discovered the ‘Muffins’ in a buried city beneath the rusty sandstone surface…

Eventually the native beings became allies of Frisby – reactivating their advanced scientific laboratories (that had lain inactive for millennia following the destruction of the Martian civilisation by a cataclysmic accident when the combined gasses, produced during a global farting contest, had been ignited by a cooker’s gas ring, the owner of which had forgotten to turn off whilst boiling an egg ) and setting to work on realising some of the brilliant ideas they’d been dreaming up before being forced into uncounted centuries of suspended animation…

One particular device came in jolly handy -at a time when the staff of the Museum of Future Technology were battling robots from the future for control of that vast edifice. The significance of the device was so…ah…significant that the Earplug Brothers were sent to Mars to see it for themselves…

Long story short – the device allowed earplugs to transit between quantum realities. But, more significantly for Frisby and the ‘Muffins’, it was discovered that it could also shift worlds between quantum realities. So they chose a better, more suitable Mars, and swapped their knackered old version for a nicer one from a different reality…

And for five minutes the future looked rosy. For the first time the light outside shone blue through the museum control room’s translucent walls…

But, unfortunately, they’d randomly selected a world that was in the midst of an ice-age; and soon Mars began to freeze over…

Soon the museum became entombed in ice…

And recent arrivals from Earth found themselves up kaka creek without a paddle…

Of course, the locals had never before seen snow, and (as they slipped and slid down the ancient citadel steps) they didn’t much like it…

Frisby and Tangerine were aghast and mortified. They wandered about in the snow drifts, looking for their lost customers. But without success…

More fortunately Captain Sinclair Brooch, of the Worstworld star ship K T Woo, arrived and released a volley of well-aimed proton torpedoes…

…which exploded beneath the ice…

…and melted it – creating a dramatic climate shift…

…that brought forth great horticultural wonders. The areas in which Frisby had been working so hard for so long, bloomed with native growths…

And following a period of incessant rainfall…

…the sole curator was delighted to discover that his hardy Earth plants were doing okay as well…

So, all in all, it was a happy ending. Or was it? Mars, unlike Earth, lies outside the ‘Goldilocks Zone’. The Sun is much farther away. Mars, despite its new look, was still a cold world: and, with every passing year since ‘The Miracle’, winters seemed to be getting longer and starting sooner. Oh flip!

©Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

 

Another Earplug Adventure Perhaps?

The last time I shot a new Earplug Adventure photo was probably early in 2020 – maybe late 2019. As chronicled on this blog on several occasions, the intervening period has seen difficult times for me. I haven’t really been in the mood for anything creative. But today is the three-month anniversary of my wife’s passing, and as I made breakfast this morning  I found my thoughts wandering to a what-happened-next scenario for two of the main characters in the last tale – A Tale of Three Museums – those being  Placebo Bison and Folie Krimp…

So I took a peek at my library of unused earplug shots that are currently available for the next story. Sorry to say the catalogue is woefully brief. But those that exist might just inspire me with some ideas. Here’s a few of them…

 

I can’t let those go to waste, can I? Time to put on my literary genius cap and charge up those camera batteries, methinks.

 

If One Was Great: Two Must Be Fabulous

Remember how much you enjoyed those serialised Earplug Adventures? Weren’t they…ah…great? Of course they were. But sometimes the episodes could be a bit short. Just as you were getting your metaphorical teeth into them, they were over. Well today is your lucky day, coz here’s two episodes of The Time Tamperer placed back to back – for extra length and emotional comfort. Episodes 12 & 13 to be exact. Read on…

But Gregor wasn’t finished. There was far more interesting news for him to impart. “Yeah, right on. What a groove.” He said. “And there’s far more interesting news for me to impart too.”

With that he called in Police Constable Salisbury Wilts as a witness and led the curators to an adjacent room, where he introduced them to…

…Runt and Twinkles, who, in turn, presented a new piece of hardware.

“Ladies, Gentlemen, and P.C Wilts,” Runt spoke clearly above the building excitement that ran like a raspberry ripple through the assembled V.I.Ps, “may I present to you the Tubo Di Tempo. It’s a new, mini version of the Tunnel Temporal – designed by the brilliant Italian scientist, Piggies Du Pong.”

“If you don’t mind me saying,” the charming (if ancient) former movie star, Sir Dodger Muir…

…interrupted, “Piggies Du Pong doesn’t sound overtly Italian. Rather, I’d wager the fellow hails from either Belgium or France.”

“In your era, perhaps.” Runt replied. “But in Piggies’ era he’s Italian; so shut it, okay?”

Sir Dodger was about to author a dazzlingly witty riposte, when his train of thought was interrupted by the activation of the Tubo Di Tempo and the arrival of two bug-eyed weirdos from another time zone…

Instantly the newcomers addressed Cushions Smethwyke. With a curt bow the smaller-nosed of the couple introduced itself as Glumb Kimball and it’s huge-hootered associate as Hombolt Whale. “Greetings from the future.” It added. “What do you think of the Tubo Di Tempo?”

Cushions wasn’t sure how to respond: and P.C Wilts’ expression betrayed his instant dislike of the pretentious twerps from a clearly technologically superior era.

“Er…very nice.” She managed. Then growing in confidence she added: “A lovely shade of blue. My favourite. Well my second favorite actually. I’m rather partial to a warm orange glow.”

“How wonderful.” Hombolt Whale squeaked through it’s huge, but obviously restricted, snozzle. “Because when it’s turned on at this end it glows orange. Regarde s’il vous plaît.”

Moments later the Tubo Di Tempo did just as Hombolt had promised.

“There.” Sir Dodger grumbled. “Told you it was French.”

But even as the ageing thespian was speaking, so too was Glumb Kimball: “Well we’ve left a copy of the owners’ manual with your Time Techs, so, if its alright with you, we’ll be on our way to our own era. It’s much nicer there, by the way. By-ee.”

With that the time-travelling duo stepped into the tiny maw of the machine and disappeared in an instant…

Naturally Cushions rushed forward to deliver a blistering farewell insult, but she was too late and needed to be consoled by the former bounty hunter and part-time curator, Hunting Provost: “Don’t concern yourself, my delightful love interest.” He whispered into Cushions’ ear. “They were ugly sods with big bulgey eyes: the future’s welcome to them. And they’ve left us with something really valuable.”

 

“They have?” Cushions inquired as everyone crowded around to take a look at the wonder from the future…

“Of course.” Hunting spoke in a conspiratorial hush. “Now we can start charging visitors for trips into the Museum of Future Technology twice. Once in this era; and again when they go into the past. I bet, if we take a look at our bank accounts, we’ll find that we’ve already begun amassing a vast wealth before we’ve actually begun sending anyone through. All we need to do is actually set the metaphorical ball rolling. We need to find new-arrivals with no prior knowledge of our earlier time travelling problems.”

“Yeah.” Cushions replied as she let her gaze wander past Hunting. “People who aren’t scared of visiting the past and run the risk of getting stuck there. And I think I know the very people.”

Naturally Cushions had the security forces round-up a number of the morning’s intake of visitors. Fellow curator, Winston Gloryhole appeared uncomfortable when he and Cushions were required to answer some searching questions…

“How do we know it’s safe?” The white female named Dina Havoc demanded.

“That’s right,” the vaguely brownish-purple Edie Chalice threw in her two penny-worth. “This is a new and un-tested technology.”

“Yeah.” The helmet-wearing Peter Crushing added as he gazed upon P.C Wilts shiny police helmet with avarice in his eyes. “Just coz it works in the future, it don’t mean it’ll work in this era.”

“We’re not stupid.” The yellow-headed Noodie Bumsho snapped angrily. “We know what you’re up to. We’re just a bunch of unpaid test dummies.”

Several times the turquoise android curator, Montagu, tried to interrupt the tide of accusations. But despite his best attempts, which consisted mostly of “Excuse me,” and “Oh for flip’s sake!”, the barrage continued:

“You ought to be taken out and shot.” the small mauve guest, Bungay Jumpur snarled from behind Edie Chalice. “We’ve spent our hard earned cash to come here today; and all you want to do is get us killed in an experimental time machine.”

“It’s not good enough.” The tall yellow earplug with blazing red eyes, named Randy Blueprint, bellowed as he stood beside the inactive Tubo Di Tempo. “We demand an immediate apology.”

“And our money back too.” The immeasurably sad-looking blue earplug named Porceen Pillock suggested in a manner that couldn’t be ignored. “With an ice cream cone from Cafe Puke thrown in for good measure.”

Cushions cast a quick glance at Hunting Provost. At first his grin appeared to be fixed, much like that of a cheerful manikin. But when Cushions looked a little closer she noticed that his lips moved almost imperceptibly: “Tell them that we’re sending them to an era when custard wasn’t outlawed and that the Cafe Puke of that time was named Cafe Blancmange.” They said.

Cushions could see their potential wealth draining away before her eyes. “Custard.” She shouted. “It’s really tasty in the past.Vanilla. Chocolate. Rum and raisin. Turron, Honeycomb. Cinnamon. You name it; they’ve got it. And it’s free too.”

Moments later…

“Have fun.” Twinkles Forgetmenot called as the visitors moved by him into the Tubo Di Tempo. “Yum yum!”

And after the last visitor had disappeared into the past; and the curators had gone for a celebratory run across the Woven Expanse, Gregor, Twinkles, and Runt…

…congratulated themselves on a job well done. But, as they turned away…

…their smiles felt a little forced. Although not one of them would admit it to the others, they all shared the same nagging doubt: what if they had tightened one bolt too loosely? What if one of them had stripped back a length of insulation by one millimetre too much? What if one of them had crossed-polarised the jim-jam waffle valve? What might the result be? It didn’t bear thinking about. So they didn’t.

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2018

Of course the best way to view this story is by purchasing the e-book of the same name…

It’s available at almost all e-book sellers. One of them must be right for your device.

 

The Grand Tour Has Toured Off

By that I mean that room for new stuff on this blog had to be found, so  the serialised version of Junior Earplug Adventures: The Grand Tour has been sacrified. Still, it’s not the end of the world. The lovely pair of e-books is very much available at most e-book retailers…

And the book version is better anyway – with improved grammar and fewer typos, so it’s probably a good thing.

A Tale of Three Museums (part 66)

The Zephyr remained quiescent for another hour – cooling down and shedding any residual radiation. But shortly after fifteen o’clock a group of guards came for the thieves, and soon had them marching into a long, low-ceilinged room that lay in the heart of Scroton Prime – where they were surprised by a phalanx of Ethernet Cable Ends that stood silently at attention at either side of them…

Naturally the un-worldly-wise Gideon assumed the worst:

“Oh lummy, Flaxwell.” He groaned. “It’s a firing squad: and just to make sure they don’t miss, they’re going to shoot us from both sides!”

But Flaxwell wasn’t overly concerned: he’d already noticed the absence of weapons. He also noted that not one cable end looked grim and determined. Or if they did, it was because they weren’t used to standing to attention for any period of time beyond a couple of minutes, and their feet hurt like heck.

“Nah, Giddy.” He replied. “I don’t think so.”

This relieved Gideon somewhat, but a ripple through the right-hand rank made Flaxwell begin to question his optimism…

But a second ripple, through the left-hand rank, returned his sense of well-being. Clearly someone important was about to appear; and, as everyone knows, important people get less important people to do their dirty work for them…

And both earplugs confidence grew when a third earplug, who introduced herself and Wilma Lozenge – Ambassador from Earth, joined them in the spotlight…

“I’m here as a witness.” She said with a soothing tone of voice that Gideon, in particular, found most attractive.

“Goodie.” He said. “Wilma is such a lovely name.”

“Just not quite so sure about ‘Lozenge’.” Flaxwell joked.

But neither earplug was prepared for what happened next…

Walker Crabtrouser, the Chief of the Scrotonic Armed Forces, kissed them on both cheeks and said: “It is an honour – brave earplugs.”

Surprise then turned to astonishment, when the founding father of Scroton – The Golden One – or Nigel, as he preferred to be known – approached them…

As Nigel stopped before them, Gideon and Flaxwell gulped as one…

“I once knew Magnuss Earplug.” Nigel said to them. “I believe that we were friends. Well I let him use my lavatory several times, so I guess you could say we were friends. He was a great ally to Scroton – at a time when our fledgling world most needed one. Together we flew in Scoton’s first space vessel. It was quite a ride – I can tell you. And you’ve had quite a ride yourselves – so they tell me.”

Nigel paused – hopeful of some response. But Gideon and Flaxwell were too enthralled to think sensibly. “Ooh – right.” They said. “Yeah.”

The bright spotlight then dimmed…

“Doctor Gideon Snoot and Space Pilot Flaxwell Maltings,” the ancient cable end spoke with surprising volume, “you are exonerated from any blame regarding the ‘theft’ of the Scroton Five, henceforth to be known as ‘The Zephyr’, and the abduction of the vessel’s A.I – also known as The Oracle. Furthermore, you are both to be applauded for returning the aforementioned vessel – complete with special guest – that being The Portal of Everywhere.”

“Noodles.” Gideon interrupted.

“Noodles?” The Golden One questioned.

“Noodles?” Wilma Lozenge and Walker Crabtrouser queried as one.

“Poodles?” The twin phalanx of soldiery mumbled.

“No – Noodles.” Gideon corrected them.

“It’s all in the ship’s log.” Flaxwell offered. “I entered it when we were in hyper-space – just after escaping the pursuing Scroton Five.”

“Oh,” Nigel nodded his head in understanding. “Noodles it is then. I really must get someone to read that log. Quite an oversight on our part.”

Nigel then added:

“Now, if you would care to walk with me, I have someone who would like to have a little word in your ear.”

So they did…

…and before long they found themselves confronted by Captain Hissenfrapp…

…who introduced himself and his crew to the two earplugs.

“You two led me a merry dance.” He said. “By rights your atoms should be spread across the cosmos; but when my crew and I discovered that you had allies from an entirely higher plain of existence, we realised that resistance was futile, and so made directly for home.”

“Only to get straight into a fight.” Urchie Kakkapo chipped in.

This seemed to embolden the others.

“One we were quickly losing.” Nobbington Sprake added.

“Until you arrived with all blasters…ah…blasting.” Selma Ferkins said as she shivered with goose bumps at the recollection.

“Yeah,” the young midshipman, Willum Poobs said eloquently, “you blew the crap out of them. Their sort won’t bother Scroton again – I can tell you!”

“Oh, thanks very much.” Gideon replied. “It was a lucky shot. Well, when I say ‘lucky’: I was aiming. It’s not like I closed my eyes and hoped for the best or anything.

“No, I’m sure you weren’t.” Nigel said with a chuckle. “But neither of you needed to risk your lives in a fight that wasn’t yours. But you did: so if it’s alright with you, I’d like you to walk ahead of me…

…towards the exhibition hall.”

With twin fixed smiles the daring duo did just that.

“Why are we going to the exhibition hall, ah…Golden One?” Flaxwell asked.

“Because,” Nigel replied slowly, “you are going to be reunited with your ship and it’s crew.”

Our ship?” Gideon said incredulously. “You’re giving us the Zephyr?”

Both earplugs were so surprised that they began to dawdle. In fact they slowed so much that Nigel had to give them a gentle kick up the arse…

“Oh, I’m so happy,” Gideon yelled as the phalanx applauded their departure, “I could vomit!”

“Me too.” Flaxwell yelled back. “Only without the vomiting bit of course. Imagine the sort of places we’ll be able to go.”

“I am.” Gideon replied. “I am.”

And he was too!

The End

©Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

The three e-books that comprise this trilogy are dedicated to my late wife, Linzi, who (for years) not only put up with me shooting the pictures and writing Earplug Adventure manuscripts; but actively participated – finding props and earplugs for me.

 

 

A Tale of Three Museums (part 65)

Before long the planetary tractor beam had pulled the Zephyr down to the surface. In fact the space craft had arrived in the industrialised zone of Scroton Prime…

…and now hovered scant microns from the hard concrete-like ground. Naturally Noodles – the Portal of Everywhere – was less than impressed with the smoke and particulates in the air, and duly said as much…

“A civilisation that relies upon agriculture is a civilisation that is going nowhere.” The Oracle argued. “Everyone knows that.”

“That’s right.” Gideon said from his seat beside Flaxwell. “I’m an anthroplugologist: I know all about this sort of thing. It doesn’t matter what life-form it is – without technology, its inhabitants will remain firmly planted in their point of origin – never learning anything of what lies beyond their horizon – both actual and mental.”

“Without industrialisation,” Flaxwell added, “you’d still be face-up in that ditch in the Balsac Nebula.”

“That would be the Great Balsac Nebula.” Noodles reminded the redundant pilot. “But I take your point. It’s just a pity that it has to be so harmful to those using it and the environment. And you’re wrong about all life-forms, Gideon. If I get the chance I’ll show you a species that grow earthquake-proof sky-scrapers out of their own excrement. Quite remarkable.”

“Also quite a business opportunity for any air freshener manufacturers too.” The Oracle quipped.

“Hmm,” Noodles replied, “you’ve got me thinking there. I can show you the pictures and present the sounds of anywhere in any era: but the aroma of a scene is always absent. An oversight, by my creators perhaps?”

“Maybe you could hand out some of those cards that people can scratch, then sniff the artificial pong that relates to the current scene.” Flaxwell suggested. “For example, were you to display the tower blocks made from plop, the scratch card could smell of…”

But he got no further, because the Zephyr was being drawn through the city at a most amazing velocity…

   

“Some ride!” Gideon remarked. “I wonder where it’s taking us.”

But then, just as quickly as it had begun, the journey ended…

“You realise where we are, don’t you, Giddy?” Flaxwell cried out.

“Oh, the irony of it.” Gideon replied. “Oracle – do the Cable Ends understand irony?”

“Irony?” The Oracle responded in a puzzled tone. “Is that a less advanced form of steely?”

“I imagine – if that is possible for a Portal of Everywhere,” Noodles spoke, “that the owners of this craft are merely being practical. This vessel is a sales model: it belongs upon a pedestal where prospective buyers can study it. Oh look, as usual, I’m right.”

With those words still reverberating around the control room in a cacophony of echoes, the Zephyr settled upon its plinth…

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

 

The Tale Wags Again

Were you to visit my publishers – Lulu.com – you would discover that this e-book…

…is now available to buy, at a very reasonable price. And were you to purchase said literary and photographic wonder, you would be pleased beyond measure.

P.S Other distributors – like Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple, etc to follow shortly

A Tale of Three Museums (part 62)

But, just as the Cable Ends thought they were ready to re-enter hyper-space, something rather dramatic happened…

“Uh-oh.” Captain Hissenfrapp groaned. “Now we’re in the deepest kind of kaka.”

Of course, the young and inexperienced midshipman had no clue what he was looking at. Selma noticed the puzzled expression in his beady little eyes: “It’s a space-farers legend, Willum.” She said quietly. “They call it the Galactic Eye.”

“Uh-huh.” Willum replied as he assimilated this information. He then added: “So what is it looking at us for?”

“Looking’s fine.” Urchie half explained. “It’s when it blinks, you have to worry.”

Willum was about to ask what would occur should the Galactic Eye blink, when the eye blinked. And, in the blink of an eye, the ship and crew found themselves somewhere else completely…

“Oh for flip’s sake, Nobbington roared, “it’s sent us to the very edge of the galaxy!”

“It’ll take us years to fly back through hyper-space!” Selma wailed. “What are we gonna do?”

“No problem.” Urchie chirped up from where he stood beside the Oracle. “At the centre of every galaxy lies a singularity – or ‘black hole’, as it is more commonly known. All we need do is open a Gravity Lock on the centre of the galaxy, and the black hole will pull us back – at incredible velocity.”

Hissenfrapp looked at the cook with open admiration. “The next person who complains about this guy’s paella, or his special vegan sausage rolls, gets a punch on the nose from me – okay?” Then, to his pilot, he said: “Nobby – scan for a black hole and then open a Gravity Lock.”

“Getting something.” Nobbington informed the captain. “Putting it on screen.”

But it wasn’t a singularity that the sensor had detected; but a ghastly face that scared the heck out of everyone who saw it…

“Oracle,” Hissenfrapp yelled. “What the heck is that?”

The A.I didn’t even bother to turn around in its space cage. “It’s nothing, captain. It’s the God of All Things Arboreal – or ‘Wooden Face’ for short. It means that whomever is thwarting us, is running out of available gods. Find your singularity, Nobby: that thing can’t do anything except make us poop in in our space suits.”

Meanwhile, aboard the Zephyr, Noodles had noticed the view through the main viewer…

“Is that what space really looks like?” It said. “I had no idea it was so beautiful.”

Gideon was surprised by this reaction to the sight of open space. “But you can see everywhere.” He said. “Nothing is hidden from you. Not even the toilet!”

“Or underpants.” Flaxwell added.

“I can show everywhere.” The Portal of Everywhere explained. “But I can’t actually see it. Not first-hand, in the raw, as it were.”

“But you’re a window on all reality.” A puzzled Flaxwell said. “I don’t get it.”

Gideon didn’t hear Noodle’s reply: Flaxwell’s words had got him thinking. Five minutes later he, Flaxwell, and Noodles stood before a large viewing window in the rear of the ship…

“This is not a digital representation?” Noodles inquired.

“Nope, you dope.” Flaxwell answered it. “It’s a transparency. On the other side of it is nothing but vacuum, radiation, and the depths of interstellar space.”

Noodles was clearly moved because it went to an involuntary Rose Pink Alert…

“Nice, isn’t it!” Flaxwell said by way of understatement.

But when the Portal failed to respond, the earplugs switched off the light and left it to gaze upon creation – and finally to truly ‘see’.

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020

 

 

 

 

The First Tale is Wagging!

By that I mean  that the first of three volumes of A Tale of Three Museums has been published in e-book form at Lulu.com. Yee-hah!

It looks an awful lot like this…

Volumes 2 & 3 will appear before the final serialized version excerpt appears. Are the e-book versions better than the on-line versions? Of course they are!

P.S Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and other versions will follow shortly.

P.P.S The world may be a shit hole right now; but I’m doing my best to make it better.