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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

 

 

Tooty the Chef in ‘Root Canal: Toots Banal’

After several days of the abject misery that comes with having unrelenting toothache, Tooty the Chef went for a quick bit of root canal work. Finally, after so many missed lunches and dinners, he could let his culinary imagination loose. Only, when the time arrived, he seemed strangely lacking in that department. Late week meals are usually a special time when he uses up the remnants in the fridge, and his imagination is allowed to soar into the gastronomic stratosphere: but this time around the fridge was replete with perfectly usuable stuff that wasn’t out of date. So, rather reluctantly, he chose these very sensible items…

So what do we have? L to R = sliced pork, courgettes, breadcrumbs, eggs, ras el hanout, dessicated cheese sauce, cheddar cheese, olive oil, and cauliflower.

Naturally time was of the essence, so it was out with the microwave cooking thing…

…into which he placed the chopped-up cauliflower, and placed into the microwave oven for nine minutes…

Then Tooty the Chef laid into the courgettes, slicing them into thick slices with gay abandon…

Quickly followed by the breaking of eggs into a bowl and the addition of a generous sprinkling of ras el hanout, followed by a quick whisk of the ghastly mess that ensued…

But, of course, he didn’t choose sufficient eggs. He never does. Fortunately he had another in the fridge…

Then it was dip-the-courgettes-in-the-eggs time…

And again with the slices of pork…

At this point the microwave went ‘beep’, so the good chef tipped the super-heated cauliflower into a roasting thing…

Tooty absolutely hates making sauces from packets; but being a really good egg who always does the right thing, he went straight ahead without complaint…

By the way, here’s a simple cookery tip to save time and retain your sanity. When you’ve poured the sauce over whatever it is you pour sauce over, don’t use a spoon to retrieve the dregs: use a spatula. Cuts down on time and energy and waste…

Of course, as you’ve probably discovered yourself, cheese sauce by itself is utter shit: you must add grated cheese to it. Now normally Tooty would have gone straight to the nearest packet of pre-grated cheddar from either Sainsburys or Waitrose: but he only had a bag of Cheddar and Mozzarella, which, as you also have probably discovered, is like super-powerful spiders web when cooked. So there was no other course of action open to him: he had to open the fridge, select a lump of cheddar…

…and GRATE IT HIMSELF! Aargh! Then he sprinkled it on the steaming cauliflower….

So, having prepared one element of his wondrous meal for the oven, he returned to the pork/egg amalgam, which he coated with the breadcrumbs…

Likewise the courgettes, which he placed into an olive oil lined roasting thing…

Of course, assuming that pork and courgettes cooked at the same rate – but having no evidence to support this belief – he placed the pork into the roasting thing beside the courgettes…

And being a waste-not-want-not kind’a guy, he poured on the egg dregs…

The oven, which had been maxxed-out for a good fifteen minutes, then welcomed into its bosom the two roasting things…

This gave Tooty the Chef time to sit down for a while – forty minutes actually – to jeer whatever annoyed him on TV, which is most things…

After that it was a  simple matter of retrieving the perfectly roasted cauliflower…

…selecting some Pimms Number One to accompany his regulation sugar-free Sprite…

…grabbing the pork/courgette mix and slapping it on to the pre-heated plates…

…then adding some coleslaw…

…before sitting down to discover that he is the jammiest chef in Britain. Somehow it worked out  fab yet again!

 

Spoiled Illusions 4: Cardboard is My Chum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and they make perfect mud villages…

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

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

 

 

The Art of Aesthetic Laundry

You may have noticed that I’m prone to banging on about aesthetic parking – for example HERE – and about colour co-ordination in general. Well I think I may have over-stepped the mark. Taken it to excess, even. Check out my Art of Aesthetic Laundry…

Well if you have to hang your hanky and socks out to dry, you might as well try to make them look nice – don’t you think?

 

Spoiled Illusions 3: Potential Noticed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here he is, sans human appearance…

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

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

…complete with its Christmas bauble gondola.

For the final example, this time, regard this…

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

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

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

…which worked very well, I think…

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

Task Almost Complete

When I wrote my last Earplug Adventure – A Tale of Three Museums – it was against the clock. You may have read my post referring to it. If you haven’t, it’s a bit sad, but if you want to see it, click HERE. Time truly was of the essence. Well for Haunted Mars the pressure was reduced somewhat. But with Covid 19 still on the rampage (and me at a higher risk level than average), I really wanted to get it out there before I (potentially) succumbed. Well it’s done: all the episodes are complete, spell-checked and all that guff, and scheduled for release on this blog over the next few weeks. There are sixty-two episodes in all. And the megabyte-age is so vast that, once again, the story has needed excising in half – creating two volumes for the e-book version. Witness the preliminary e-covers…

 

For anyone who doesn’t want to wade through the serialised version, I intend to get the e-books out via LULU a.s.a.p. They won’t be expensive. Watch this space.

Spoiled Illusions: 2 Tooty the Shootist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally, moving from shootist to shootee…

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and Nobby was awestruck…

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Spoiled Illusions:1 Mars

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

Recognise this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about this one…

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

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

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

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

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

And just coming up with the beauty shots…

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

Tooty.

Old, stupid, but still creative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naturally Folie replied in the affirmative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

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

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

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

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

They were underway again…

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

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

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

Once out in one of the very colourful corridors…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Folie?” Placebo snapped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moments later…

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then this happened…

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Tooty The Chef Gets Photo-Bombed By Tootette.

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

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

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

Add a good old sprinkling of black pepper…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And all done without botty-baring once!

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he was right: it was an emergency habitat…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frisby Mumph received this information with a sagging heart…

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Tooty the Chef: Still Down, But Not Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So they did – in a totally random direction…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part twenty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upon returning to the presence of Tangerine…

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

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

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

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

And whilst Tangerine returned to its regular duties…

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part nineteen)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Placebo arrived…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Horror on an Earplug Adventure Shoot!

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

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

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

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part sixteen)

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

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

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

Even the immigrant Ice Worlders were experiencing difficulty…

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

…it began to bury the museum…

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part fifteen)

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

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

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

“Please.” Both youngsters replied.

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

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

“Got it.” They said together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With that he invited them to join him…

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

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

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

“It’s…it’s…it’s,” Placebo stammered…

…”a proper bridge!”

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

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

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

“Neutron torpedo?” Folie inquired…

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

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

But this information worried Folie…

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Aesthetics: The Art of Considerate Parking 4

I’d just dropped into the driver’s seat of my car, and was about to press the Start button, when my eyes alighted upon a trio of cars parked in the next aisle of the underground carpark. “What’s this,” I cried, “have people taken on board my pleas for aesthetic parking?” It certainly looked that way. In an ocean of dull grey, silver, black, white, and turgid cars (mine included – you can just see my car’s paintwork through the windscreen), these three shone like a beacon of colour, elan, and parking verve. Aesthetic Parking X 3…

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part thirteen)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and how they become visible to the naked eye.

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

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

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

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

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

But then the heavens opened…

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

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

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

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

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

Fortunately, in the lee of the nearby hills…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part twelve)

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

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

“He’s a fruit cake.” He finished.

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

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

“Oh do shut up.” He snapped uncharacteristically

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Follow me.” He instructed her.

So she did…very closely indeed…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thirty seconds later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Photography: A Bit of Un-maligning to Do

Recently I blogged about my latest acquisition – this…

I wasn’t very complimentary – comparing it badly with a much older camera from Ricoh. Well despite some time with the Samsung I still can’t get it to shoot into the sun at all well; but for close-up stuff – such as Earplug Adventures photos, it had become my go-to camera. It is just excellent in difficult lighting situations. It seems to know exactly where I need it to focus: and the way it ignores the wavy effects created when I use a TV or computer monitor as a back-drop cannot be bettered by any camera in my collection…

 

And now I find that it can do this sort of thing – on a preposterously dull grey February afternoon…

And this, which I’m sure will come in very handy in a future Earplug Adventure story…

Plus a load of other stuff. So, all-in-all, it’s a thumbs-up for the WB30F: my new best friend.