Tag Archives: science fiction

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

Shortly, Bo stood at the water’s edge. It wasn’t the larger expanse of semi-frozen water that constituted the ‘sea’ that the museum overlooked: but a smaller body near the old citadel, which (perhaps by coincidence – or by perhaps by design in an earlier time) made a perfect reservoir for the sunken city…

“How was it that female engineer in the museum described Mars?” He asked himself. “Haunted? Well no more. Those ghosts of Mars have been well and truly exorcized.”

He then wandered to the pedestrian entrance beside the ancient citadel gate…

…where the property developer in him reasserted itself.

“Hmm,” he mused quietly, lest some passer-by overhear his verbalised thoughts, “maybe I won’t cadge a lift back to Scroton on the Gravity Whelk after all. This is all prime land now – especially along the sea front. A nice promenade would look charming – and maybe  a pier poking out into the sea – with a funfair at the end of it: that would be nice. And, of course, house prices would go through the roof for such a location. And I have the expertise to make it happen. Yes, ride this wave of good fortune, Bo: you deserve it.”

So, despite his naturally miserable visage, Bo Smidgin was a very happy cable end, as he made his way along the shore to the Future Museum of Mars…

Naturally, that evening, an award ceremony took place…

Sir Dodger Muir made a fabulous speech in which he praised the crew of the Gravity Whelk for their sterling work. Actual awards were thin on the ground, but Treacle Fagging had his engineers manufacture a Golden Welder’s Helmet, which they thought was most appropriate under the circumstances.

Folie – being the de facto ‘skipper’ of the Gravity Whelk – stood centre stage: but it was Bo who rushed forward and claimed the Golden Welder’s Helmet.

“Mine, I think,” he said as he grabbed it and thrust it upon his head, “after all it was my idea and it was me who undid the bolts that held the Gravitonic Multiplicitor to the deck.”

But, sadly the helmet had been designed for an earplug’s head, and poor Bo couldn’t see where he was going. He stumbled around for several seconds before falling off the stage. Placebo couldn’t have been more pleased.

“Serves you right,” he jeered, “you big show off.”

Then it was Frisby Mumph’s favourite part of the ceremony – because on walked El Custardo y Los Natillas…

Of course their guitar strings remained permanently ‘twanged’, and their trumpet mouthpieces would never again accept pursed lips: but they could perform a cappella, and so they did. With much clapping and stamping of feet, the Latin beat got everyone out of their seats…

Frisby was so happy that he didn’t even mind the presence of the plugmutt, Rufus on his precious museum’s red carpet…

…because (when the festivities were over) he was going to enjoy the rest of his life bringing the planet up to a habitable standard. He couldn’t wait for the morning to arrive.

But when that morning did arrive, and with its soft-top roof repaired, the Gravity Whelk launched from Mars for the last time…

In time there would be statutes that forbade loud rockets booming over inhabited areas: but for now Folie was happy to celebrate their departure by letting the motors roar as loudly as they could.

Shortly after the rocket motor’s sound had died away upon a light breeze, in the mists and shadows of early morning William of Porridge used his fine baritone to sing songs of love to Lillie…

And his soulful rendition of the classic What Becomes of the Broken Winded brought tears to her eyes. But not only Lillie’s eyes: a short distance from the shore, two faces emerged from the ‘sea’…

“Honestly, Arthur,” the female said, “it’s not enough that we awaken from a million-year sleep: but we have to listen to that awful racket when we do!”

“I know, Millicent,” the aquatic earplug named Arthur replied, “noisy neighbours are such a curse. But this looks like it’s going to be a vast sea: I’m sure we can find a nice little place somewhere in the depths.”

The End (for now)

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

WELL – DID YOU ENJOY IT? SHALL I DO ANOTHER ONE?

 

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

Within moments the Automatic Pilot brought the ship closer so that the crew could check the Gravitonic Multiplicitor for crash damage…

When it received the information that all was well, it fired up the main drive and eased away…

…before showing off by circling back and performing a fly-past…

Then it left the device alone in the darkness of space…

…which was quickly replaced by the light of the manoeuvring thrusters that Bo had fitted…

Below, in the museum, engineers roved in packs – battening down hatches and turning off the gas, water and sewerage systems…

…whilst Frisby, Lillie, William of Porridge, Charles De Glop, and Tangerine stood idly by and awaited their fate.

High above, the Gravitonic Multiplicitor made its final thruster burn…

…before settling nicely into a high geo-synchronous orbit.

Uncertain what to do next, and not wanting to be alone with their thoughts and fears, many of the museum’s engineers joined their boss in one of the halls…

“Won’t be long now, boys and girls,” Frisby said in a grim voice. “We have plenty of cameras: we shouldn’t miss a thing.”

It was at this point that the Gravitonic Multiplicitor swivelled upon its axis…

…and selected a distant point upon the surface of Mars that was its intended target. Then came a pause, and it seemed that the stars themselves dimmed in recognition of the immensity of what was about to unfold…

Then, when everyone watching finally ran out of breath and gasped for air, this happened…

Quickly followed by this…

And those who weren’t already screaming, decided to. Especially when the gravitonic beam hit the planet…

Scur-runch!

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

 

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

Shortly after that the Gravity Whelk launched upon its historic mission…

As it passed from the atmosphere into the airlessness of space, Dark Space visited Folie…

“I am leaving you now, Folie.” It said. “Thanks for the ride – and for opening my intellectual eyes. I am not the same alternate realm I was when I snared this vessel. You have given my existence purpose. Or you have given purpose to my existence – depending on how you like your grammar. Now complete your mission: eject the Gravitonic Multiplicitor.”

By now the Gravity Whelk had come to a full stop far from the influence of Mars’ gravity…

“Decompressing Engineering and cutting artificial gravity.” Folie announced.

A split second later everyone heard an impact and the rending of metal. Instantly the ship went to Crimson Alert…

“What is it?” Folie yelped. “Is it hung up on something?”

But a quick look at the main viewer told him that the Gravitonic Multiplicitor was free from the ship’s restraint…

“Looking good.” Bo Smidgin said calmly. “Lots of metal fragments – all from the Gravity Whelk.

“Yeah, that’s what worries me.” Folie replied. “I’m going to take a look.”

Moments later the young earplug poked his head into what remained of Engineering…

“Well it’s re-pressurised okay.” He called back into the bridge.

Then he looked up…

What he saw made him wander farther into the compartment; lean back; and make a serious survey of the damage…

“Oh, Guys,” he called again, “you know that soft-top roof we have on Deck One? Well now we’ve got one here too!

And please tell me no one was using the toilet when we decompressed.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

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

It was snowing again, some while later outside the Future Museum of Mars…

…when Frisby, accompanied by his right-hand-girl, Lillie, stood at a cargo door and watched the weather. But neither of them noticed the inclement conditions. They were there, trying to clear their minds before they had to announce the great plan of planetary salvation to the museum’s visitors. Frisby decided to play it straight…

“Right, you lot,” he said to the small knot of customers who had bothered to respond to his summons on the public address system, “I’ve got some scary news for you all. I want you to listen carefully.”

The word ‘scary’ brought forth an influx of eager visitors…

“Yeah,” he continued once the resulting hubbub had lessened, “really scary.”

This time the word impinged upon the consciousness of three members of Las Chicas De La Playa as they went in search of a nail varnish machine…

With no nail varnish machine within sight, they turned their attention to the growing crowd…

“In fact,” Frisby added for emphasis, “it would probably be a good idea to carry at least one change of underwear wherever you go.”

“And some moist toilet tissue.” Lillie added helpfully.

Well this had everyone hooked. Silence reigned like never before…

Then Frisby told them of the plan. “It’s gonna get rough.” He concluded without hesitation. “I don’t know how rough: but moving an entire planet closer to the Sun doesn’t come without massive disturbance.”

“There’s bound to be a lot of wind.” Sir Dodger informed them. “And not all of it outside the museum.”

“And tectonic movement.” Lillie added.

“Not all of it outside the museum too, I’d wager.” William of Porridge whispered in her ear.

“Dinner’s off.” Charles De Glop announced. Then by way of explanation he added: “I can’t work whilst all my utensils are being cast around the kitchen like disturbed spirits.”

“In summation, the only positive thing I can say,” Frisby finished, “is that there shouldn’t be any plague and pestilence.”

“Unless, of course, the tectonic movements disturb some long-buried virus below ground that rises up and wipes us out.” William added. “But I feel that’s unlikely.”

So the crowd broke up in sombre mood. But Lillie was anything but. She dragged William along to a Ladies Outfitters…

“Right then, William.” She said, “I’m going to go inside this futuristic changing room: I want you to look the other way.”

William did as he was bid…

…but he felt terribly tempted to take a peek. So, to calm himself he wandered to and fro…

…and wondered why it took so long for one female to try on one garment. Then, as his patience neared breaking point, he heard his name whispered. Turning around he was smacked in the face by astonishment…

“Lillie,” he yelled, “you’ve ditched your tatty old pressure suit!”

Lillie was as thrilled as William. “Yes,” she squealed with feminine delight, “I’m wearing regular ‘girly’ stuff. What do you think?”

“Think?” William responded. “I can barely think at all. I am overcome by your loveliness. By the Saint of All Earplugs: I was proud to have you on my arm before: now…

…I’m going to parade you around the museum for all to see!”

“And this outfit is thermal too.” An excited Lillie replied as they made their way to the exit. “We can outside, and I won’t freeze to death.”

So they did…

…and William suspected that Mars had never seen such beauty walk its surface.

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

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

A half-hour later Frisby and Bo explained to Kyboshed that they had finished unbolting the Gravitonic Multiplicitor from the deck…

“Now we can jettison it into space.” Frisby finished.

“But I don’t understand.” The robot replied. “This is Engineering: we have no cargo door or aperture large enough to allow egress for the Gravitonic Multiplicitor.”

“We didn’t say it was going to be easy,” a surprisingly ebullient Bo answered, “it will require some lateral thinking.”

“Ah,” Kyboshed said, he thought knowingly, “you’re going to dismantle it and pass it through the Space Vents in the ceiling; then reassemble it in the vacuum of space whilst wearing pressure suits.”

Folie overheard the unfamiliar term, Space Vents, and duly went to inquire…

Looking upwards he saw – for the first time since coming aboard the vessel weeks earlier…

“Hey,” he complained loudly, “I had no idea that vents opened directly onto space from here. It’s a terrible design: we could have been sucked into space without a moment’s warning. Also I note that the vents appear to be open: why aren’t we out there in space?”

“Force field, Folie.” Kyboshed explained. “It’s always on. It even has its own battery back-up in case the main power fails. And the vents automatically close in that eventuality too.”

“Great,” Folie said as he calmed down, “but why have them in the first place?”

“Two reasons.” Kyboshed explained further. “One: in the event of an uncontrollable fire in Engineering, the oxygen required for combustion can be vented into space instantaneously. Two: if we’re boarded by Space Pirates we can retreat to the bridge and blow them into space from there.”

“Oh, I like that.” Folie said as he felt himself warming to the design feature. “So we’re gonna dismantle the Gravitonic Multiplicitor and poke it out through those, are we?”

“No.” Bo replied. “I’ll explain on the way back to Mars.”

As they approached Mars, Folie still couldn’t quite believe what Bo and Frisby planned for the Gravitonic Multiplicitor.

“We can’t reassemble it in space.” Frisby had explained before disappearing into the toilet. “It’s too complicated. And we don’t have space suits. Well I do, but it’s old and tatty and not worth a fart.”

“We’re gonna cut the artificial gravity,” Bo said, “and let it float out through the openings.”

“But it’s bigger than the openings.” Folie pointed out the obvious.

“No problem.” Bo had replied. “The Gravitonic Multiplicitor is made on Scroton from a very dense material. It’s much stronger than the metal used on the Space Vents. It will simply barge its way out of Engineering. We can fix the vents later at the Future Museum of Mars.”

It was all perfectly logical, and soon the Gravity Whelk began its descent to the planet’s surface…

Once back in the museum, Frisby made contact with the Muffins in the ancient citadel…

He spoke with the blue-brained scientific chief, Gargling Vastium…

After explaining their plan he added: “Well, what do you think, Gargling?”

Naturally Gargling was excited at the prospect of a huge scientific experiment that pushed the boundaries of what was practicable. “Yo, man,” he cried, “go for it. But you’d better check with the politicians first: they might get really miffed at being left out of the loop.”

So it was a call to the uniped, Klurk that Frisby made next…

Naturally Klurk took some advice from his aid, Radvalve Thermostatic, before replying…

“We have no concept of a dual party political system on the planet you know as Mars,” Klurk informed Frisby and those watching, “so if anything goes disastrously wrong, the opposition can’t haul us over the coals in parliament for making a bad decision. We trust you, Frisby. You have our permission to save the world.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

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

Naturally Bo shouted: “Abort! Abort! Get us the heck back to Mars!”

Equally naturally Placebo had already reacted to the potentially disastrous situation by turbo-boosting all the way to the doomed planet in a blind panic, and soon the Gravity Whelk was descending gracefully through a surprisingly azure sky upon Autopilot…

“Well that didn’t work.” Folie complained as he wiped sweat from his brow, “I suppose we’ll have to think of something else. It was such a good idea too: what a shame we can’t make it happen.”

Placebo might have replied with some inanity designed to calm his friend’s tattered nerves; but Folie never heard it, because…

…he found himself ensnared within Dark Space.

“Lucky it wasn’t me piloting.” He complained. “Snatching me away like that…well we could have piled into the Martian surface and become a flaming ruin.”

Dark Space decided to ignore the earplug’s outburst: “That experiment was foolhardy.” It said. “Had I not been there to use my vast gravimetric energy to save the Gravity Whelk impacting on the Sun, it would have been a complete failure – as well as a disaster for you, Placebo, and everyone else.”

Folie was placated in an instant. “That was you?” He said gratefully. “I thought it was just blind chance – or maybe the legendary Saint of All Earplugs.”

Again Dark Space ignored Folie: “But it did give me an idea. I am aware of your attempts to save the planet below from ecological disaster – again. The Scrotonite’s plan for using the Gravitonic Multiplicitor is ingenious – but flawed. Without something that has greater gravity than Mars for it to anchor itself to, the planet cannot be moved.”

A slight pause developed. Folie filled it with: “And?”

“I can be that greater gravity source.” Dark Space finally volunteered.

Folie, being surprisingly quick-witted when in the company of Dark Space, thought he could see a flaw in the alternate realm’s logic: “But you have no mass.” He pointed out. “You’re integrated into the deck, yet you disturb no atoms and add no weight to the ship. In fact, instead of slowing it down, you make it go faster.”

“Exactly.” Dark Space said with a hint of triumph in its telepathic voice. “I make it go faster by adding my great gravitonic energy to the thrusters. Of course it will mean that I will have used up most of my energy reserves; but, hey, someone’s gotta stop roving some time: and this Solar System of yours looks kind’a nice: A pleasant blue habitable world full of interesting intelligences: two – if I strut my funky stuff sho’nuf.”

Folie didn’t require any further convincing…

“Placebo,” he yelled, “don’t land: get this ship back into space!”

Placebo, slightly annoyed at the loud shouting in his ears, trusted his friend’s judgement implicitly and hit the launch motors. Seconds later the ship was clawing its way spaceward…

In the Fantadanta Room, Frisby and Bo were caught off-guard…

Bo expressed some little-known Scrotonite expletives, and Frisby asked: “Hey, what gives?”

Folie quickly explained.

“We’ll be right there.” Bo replied.

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

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

Naturally Frisby – himself no slouch when it came to engineering – and Kyboshed bent themselves to the task of assisting the being from Scroton. It continued that way for an unmeasured amount of time…

Eventually Bo was forced to call a temporary halt whilst he stopped for a lavatory break…

“Would you look at that!” He exclaimed on the way to the toilet with a revolving door and a pink light above it. “We’re in space, and I didn’t even feel us launch.”

Frisby was a mud-plugger: he didn’t like the limitless openness of outer space. “Yeah,” he grumbled. “Great innit?”

But he was even less impressed when he discovered an original Anton Twerp hanging on the wall. In fact he was so less impressed that he walked on by without making mention of it…

But Bo felt differently. “I like this.” He gushed. “I really, really like it.” Then he had a thought: “Kyboshed; do you think Folie and Placebo would mind terribly if I purloined this? It would look wonderful in my toilet.”

But soon it was back to work…,

Bo felt the need to survey the situation from every observation point available to him. Even really high ones with no safety rails or parachutes…

And it helped too! “Hmmm,” he hummed. He then expanded on his thought processes: “The Gravitonic Multiplicitor should be pointed at Mars and activated. With any luck it should latch on to the planet in exactly the same manner that the tractor beam did in the Galactic Lens – all those years ago for Beaufort and Richter Skail.”

Frisby foresaw a problem. “But all that will accomplish is the ship being pulled down towards Mars’ surface quicker than its engines can keep it up here.”

Bo hadn’t thought of that. “I hadn’t thought of that.” He confessed. “It’s what comes of taking a cable end out of his natural environment and turning him into a property developer with no imagination or soul. Okay, let’s think about this. What do we need to make this work?”

“Something heavier than the ship and Mars for the Gravitonic Multiplicitor to pull against.” Kyboshed suggested.

Bo threw a glance out through a high window in the Fantadanta Room. “Yeah,” he said, “we’ve got one of those.”

Two minutes later the Gravity Whelk was passing behind the Sun, directly opposite the orbit of Mars…

“We’re in position.” They heard Folie’s voice over the ship-wide intercom…

“Excellent,” Bo said without looking up from the Information Matrix Globe, “now point the Gravitonic Multiplicitor at where I’ve calculated Mars should be, and give it a half-second blast.”

A half-second (and the time it took for Placebo to line up the Gravitonic Multiplicitor; select the timer; and to press the button) later…

“Why has the light outside gone all funny?” Bo demanded.

On the bridge Folie and Placebo were almost speechless…

After several seconds of uncontrolled shaking, Folie managed: “Because we’re ever so slightly nearer the Sun than we were a half-second ago…

…A whole lot nearer!”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

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

Fifty-eight minutes later, Folie, Placebo, and Kyboshed entered the engineering section of the Gravity Whelk

“While we’re waiting for our guests,” Folie said to Kyboshed, “you check out all these winky lights: Placebo and I will warm up the pilot’s seats.”

Of course the robot was more than happy to comply with Folie’s instruction, but time was not on his side. A minute and a half later he received a call that informed him that Frisby and Bo were standing in the cold outside the airlock. Naturally he wasted no time allowing them ingress…

“Welcome aboard the Gravity Whelk.” He said to his guests. “I don’t suppose for a moment that either of you want to arse about with unnecessary preliminaries: I expect you’d like to get stuck in with your inspection. What would you like to see first?”

Folie had been listening in the corridor outside Engineering. From there he rushed back into the bridge…

“They’re on board.” He said to Placebo. “Start the engines: let’s get this boat where it belongs.”

Moments later the ship launched…

…quickly levelling off and streaking across the ice-sheet…

…towards the precisely calculated geographic point from where it would climb up the gravity well of Mars, and thence into orbit.

Bo had suggested to Frisby that they first conduct a search for technical information in the ship’s records. So Kyboshed took them to the room with no title…

“I noticed the lack of a nomenclature plaque upon the door.” Frisby said – most eloquently, or so thought Bo. “What do you call this compartment?”

“We don’t call it anything.” Kyboshed replied accurately.

Frisby was puzzled: “But it must have a name?”

Kyboshed was perfectly nonchalant when he answered: “Probably, but we have no idea what it is. If Folie wants a coffee, he merely informs Placebo that he is going to fetch a delicious mug of Cafe Blurgh: he has never mentioned where he gets it from.”

“You could call it the Coffee Room.” Frisby suggested. “After all, one day it might be important that this room is labelled. Like people, rooms should always be labelled.”

“Very well.” Kyboshed replied. “I now designate this room as the Fantadanta Room.”

This caught the attention of Bo Smidgin: “Professor Eduardo Fantadanta, the brilliant roboticist?” He inquired.

“Indeed.” Kyboshed replied. “I name this room after the cable end that gave me sentience. I’ll inform the others later – when I take them each a delicious mug of Cafe Blurgh.”

But Bo had already lost interest: all his attention was upon the golden Information Matrix Globe. “Ah, this is what we’re after. If the engineers on Scroton were believers in the old maxims of Scroton, they should have taken information from this globe; then replaced it with more information from the records in Scroton Prime. This could be a treasure trove of technical info. Where’s the ‘On’ button?”

Frisby had no idea, so he went to help himself to a delicious mug of Cafe Blurgh. This coincided with the ship breaking free of Mars’ puny gravity…

…and slipping into a low orbit…

“Doesn’t Mars look strange?” Folie said. “Mostly ice, but with bits of land poking through it.”

“Pretty.” Placebo agreed. “But, if we’re not successful, it’s ultimately doomed.”

Meanwhile Bo had decided to consult the ship’s log…

“That’s interesting.” He said as the information flashed by his ocular organs. “Apparently this ship once pulled itself out of a Galactic Lens by means of attaching the ship to a distant planet via tractor beam. It’s been high-lighted by some observant engineer on Scroton. It could be significant. All Cable Ends are born engineers; but I railed against the tyranny of familial expectations and became a property developer. But my instincts remain intact: and those instincts are telling me that I’m on to something here.  Let’s see if there is any follow-up info on the subject.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

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

Bo Smidgin’s next encounter came during his passage of a recently re-painted vermillion section of the museum. But, due to indifference to anything beyond his immediate goal, he failed utterly to spot husband-seeking Patti Roularde making eyes at him…

“Oh, well,” Patti said with a sigh as Bo passed her by without so much as a grunt of acknowledgement, “his nostrils were too close together anyway.”

Then, as he stepped into a large auditorium, Bo’s gaze alighted upon Kyboshed…

“By The Golden One’s Big Blue Plume,” he exclaimed sotto voce, “that robot is Scrotonic. This must be the sign I’ve been waiting for. But what shall I do? There’s no point in acting in haste. I know: I’ll follow them; listen to what they have to tell Frisby Mumph; then make a decision. Yes, that’s what I’ll do. Brilliant plan, Bo.”

Well Bo didn’t have to tail the new-comers for very long: the meeting room was just off the auditorium…

“So,” Sir Dodger opened, “you chaps have come here to save us, eh? Thought up some wizard means yet, have you?”

Of course Folie had to admit the complete opposite. But when it appeared that Frisby was about to hyperventilate at the news, Placebo made the inspired choice of inviting Frisby aboard the Gravity Whelk. “Perhaps,” he said in conclusion, “you can turn your improvisational skills loose on our vessel. We may have the means to save everyone: but it could be you who recognises it.”

These words were exactly what Bo had most wanted to hear…

He was now certain that the moment of the miracle, which would  save Mars, was beginning its gestation period. So, as Frisby and the others discussed the invitation, unseen by any of them, Bo slipped away …

He now had to pick his time and his words perfectly: and right now he had no idea what either of them looked like. So he returned to the chill of the futuristic toilet…

…to mull things over in his mind, and to complete his task of earlier.

“Now where do they keep the toilet tissue?” He complained.

But he didn’t have very long to do his mulling – or anything else for that matter. Already he could hear the voices of the Gravity Whelk crew passing by outside. So, as quickly and as subtly as he could, he followed them…

It was the sight of Kybosh that gave Bo’s thoughts the wings they most required. Taking a short-cut to where he calculated Kybosh and the others were heading, he raced ahead of them, and cut them off as they departed a section that had a nice door with a window in it that displayed the view outside…

His sudden arrival caught Placebo unawares. “Ugh?” He grunted. “You’re an Ethernet Cable End: what are you doing here? Did you stow away aboard our ship?”

This ridiculous accusation was just the sort of opening Bo would have prayed for, had he thought of anything so preposterous. “No,” he replied, “but I’d very much like to be included amongst those you have invited aboard your ship.”

“Is that right?” Folie said, with a slightly belligerent air. “Why would that be?”

“Your robot is of Scrotonic design and construction.” Bo replied in a voice that disguised his nervousness and fear of failure. “I am a property developer on Scroton – visiting Mars on business. Now if my theory is correct, since you have a robot amongst your crew, it is logical that your ship has undergone a re-fit, or had improvements made upon Scroton that require a Scrotonic engineer’s skills to maintain or operate.”

Folie was impressed: but he didn’t want to show it. “Yeah?” He replied – his tone not moderating by so much as a single degree, “what about it?”

Bo urged them to continue walking…

“I am of Scroton.” He said. “You have equipment of Scroton. I have an imagination – your robot does not. You may have the means to save Mars aboard your ship – but you just don’t recognise it.”

“That’s what Placebo said to Frisby Mumph.” Folie, unaware that Bo had listened to their conversation in the meeting room, replied.

“What do they say?” Bo said with a chuckle that was genuine. “Great minds think alike? Well, do I have permission to come aboard, Sir?”

Something in the cable end’s manner intrigued Folie. He certainly spoke sense. “Yeah,” he said with a slight smile, “you do. You can join Frisby Mumph in about an hour from now.”

So it was a happy Bo Smidgin who continued along the walkway with the crew of the Gravity Whelk...

…which stunned the Splints, who were walking in the opposite direction.

“Did you see that, Griselda?” Tobias said through a glazed expression. “Hob-nobbing with extra-terrestrials now!”

“Does he have no shame?” Griselda replied.

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part fifty)

They had a choice of two directions in which to move. They chose this way…

“It’s a fifty-fifty chance that this will take us to the door before the other direction.” Folie calculated.

“Unless it’s dead opposite here.” Kyboshed argued. “But then, if that is the case, I don’t suppose it would make any difference which direction we go in.”

Placebo didn’t care which direction they walked: he was just happy to be there. But his carefree attitude evaporated when Folie discovered the open cargo door and they all found themselves staring down a seemingly endless corridor…

“I thought you told them to leave a light on.” He said to Folie. “You know I don’t like the dark.”

But then a large quantity of snow slipped off the roof and pushed the trio into the icy corridor…

“Okay,” Folie said as he emerged from the sudden snowdrift, “I guess that’s given us the impetus we need: let’s go.”

Shortly after that they passed an interior observation window that happened to be manned by three members of the Sewage Workers Union…

“Will you look at that:” Marty Friedpants yelled, “Space Plugs! Well a Space Plug, a big white thing, and an alien robot anyway.”

“I’ll go tell someone.” Steven LaStool offered. “There should be a welcome committee waiting for them: it’s only proper.”

But, because of the emergency, and because almost everyone was in the main hall as a result, the only person Steven could find was Lillie Whitewater, who just managed to arrive a second or two after Folie, Placebo, and Kyboshed had let themselves in, and now stood at the top of the ramp…

Poor Lillie had no time to gather her wits. “Oh,” she began nervously. She quickly followed this with: “Um, yeah, right. You’re the guys from…ah…out there, right?”

Folie wasn’t much better: he’d recognised Lillie in an instant and was feeling rather overwhelmed by someone who had flown in her world’s very first star ship. He also thought she was rather pretty. “Ah…yeah…I guess so.” He managed.

This may have continued ad nauseum, but Lillie fought to regain the confidence that William had so recently instilled in her. She thought back to the day, in the Worstworld Academy, when she received her Flying Wings….

She had stood proudly at the front beside Gusi Ghandar. She recalled that the Johnsons – Huget and Betty had been there too – along with Ada Muffin, Lilac Earthdamsel (nee Binsmell), and a whole bunch of others who became stalwarts of the K T Woo’s crew.

“My name is Lillie Whitewater.” She announced to the new arrivals…

…”If you’d care to follow me, I’ll take you to see the curator – Frisby Mumph.” She then marched off, feeling very pleased with herself.

Only minutes earlier, Bo Smidgin had excused himself from company in the relative warmth of the main hall, and had slipped away to use the chill futuristic toilet…

It was here that he heard Steven LaStool’s loud exhortation that Lillie should go greet the occupants of the space ship that had recently landed nearby. Having travelled to the Solar System, aboard a small freighter from Scroton, he was intrigued by the idea that another vessel was within spitting distance. So he quickly pulled up his trousers and raced into an adjacent corridor – almost startling Tobias and Griselda Splint witless…

“Did you see that mindless oaf?” Tobias whispered to Griselda. “He almost startled me witless.”

“Indeed I did, Tobias.” Griselda replied, only far more loudly than her husband’s hushed tone, “I wonder what a creature so vile needs to rush around like that for. I’m going to complain to someone in authority: that blue helmet is an affront to anyone with an iota of fashion consciousness.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

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

Whilst the snow storm continued unabated outside, Folie decided to check-out an item he’d noted in the inventory that he thought might come in handy. So, upon discovering the whereabouts of the Snow Skimmer, he kick-started its diesel engine into life…

Fortunately there was a pleasantly circular porthole through which the disgusting, sooty smoke could escape, so he didn’t succumb to smoke inhalation. But, because the ship had grounded at an angle, every time Folie attempted to climb the resulting gradient, the Snow Skimmer slid back down again…

…which quite amused him – at least initially. But following several unsuccessful attempts to gain the door, he was getting decided miffed. So Placebo – being larger and heavier – thought he might try it…

But, despite casting a silent plea in the assumed direction of the Saint of All Earplugs, Placebo had no more success than his diminutive friend. “I guess it was designed for flat surfaces like frozen lakes and such.” He said without rancour.

Folie was less tranquil on the subject: “Whoever designed this thing is a total prat.” He snarled. “Now we’ll have to walk!”

A short while later the last of the squall blew in some other poor unfortunate’s direction, leaving the Gravity Whelk open to the ravages of the feeble light thrown by a very distant Sun…

Folie had returned to the bridge for his pocket compass, but now encountered the difficulty of exiting it without crashing into either the Engineering lavatory or the Gravitonic Multiplicitor…

“I notice your magnetic butt has you firmly attached to the floor.” Folie said as he watched Kyboshed going about his duties below him. “I’m going to try sliding towards the door: catch me if I fall, okay?”

But being a talented young earplug with a good sense of balance, Folie made it to the corridor unscathed…

“That’s the really good thing about these moving corridors,” he observed and then stated his observation, “they move at angles. They are basically self-levelling corridors. No need for a plumb line or spirit level. I’m impressed: it makes getting around a leany-over ship much easier.”

“And the windows too.” Kyboshed said as he peered out into the brilliant light outside. “They match the level of the floor perfectly. Do you think I should switch off the landing lights? They’re blindingly bright.”

A short while later the three mobile members of the crew disembarked. None of them much liked the chill of the snow upon which they wished they’d not needed to walk…

“If I ever meet the designer of that snow skimmer…” Folie grumbled – without conclusion or positive effect.

And as a wind blew up suddenly, Placebo decided that he hated the designer too. And the manufacturing plant in which it had been constructed. In fact he hated the very concept of the vehicle…

“I have detected the whereabouts of the Future Museum of Mars.” Kyboshed informed the miserable duo. “We shouldn’t be long in these inclement conditions.”

Unfortunately Folie’s bladder was effected by the cold more adversely that Placebo’s. He needed to drop behind for a while…

But when his task was complete he found himself alone in the cold. For a moment fear clutched his bowels with a chainmail glove. But when he heard Placebo calling his name he cheered up…

…and followed the sound back to the others…

“Ooh, that was a close call.” He said. “We should learn from this experience. Next time one of us wants a wee in the snow, the other will have to stay behind with him.”

Then, from out of the swirling, wind-blown snow emerged their destination…

“Ah, will you look at that.” Folie said in admiration. “Real technology, sent back through time from the future.”

“Yeah,” Placebo seemed to agree. But he spoiled it slightly by adding: “Pity they couldn’t have positioned it a little bit closer. If they live in our future, they must have foreseen our arrival here. So why make us walk across the huge divide? For all we know, that snow could be hiding a bottomless crevasse.”

It was a good point well-made: but it was also entirely wrong; and within a couple of minutes they were clambering upon the museum’s metallic apron…

“Excellent.” Placebo said as he regained his breath. “Now all we need is a door.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

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

Little did Placebo know it, but in his panic, he had pushed the ship’s ‘nose’ into a downward direction. In space ‘up’ and ‘down’ are meaningless: but above the surface of a world, they most definitely are not…

Naturally Folie reacted in the time-honoured fashion: he yelled: “Aargh!”

But Placebo, being slightly less excitable, merely closed his eyes and hoped it would all go away…

Fortunately the ship’s original builders had included a self-levelling mechanism, which…um…levelled the ship out at a safe altitude…

Placebo must have sensed this because he opened one eye. Folie didn’t need to sense anything: he’d watched it all with eyes wide open…

“Whew,” he prefixed a mental letter of thanks to the Saint of All Earplugs.

At their current speed the ship and passengers soon departed the coastline and set out across the glacier…

…where they hoped to spot the Future Museum of Mars, which, of course they did…

“Down there!” Down there!” Folie yelled. “Quick: turn us around.”

Placebo was still feeling a little under the weather from the shock of near-death, but he managed to bank right and put the ship on an approximate return course…

As his confidence returned, he said: “Should be coming up on it very soon. It’s just…”

But he said no more, because at that very moment another squall blew in off of the mountains and blinded the ship all over again…

Actually he did say more, but it was very rude and can’t be repeated here.

Folie noticed that the ship had gone to Violet Alert. “What does Violet Alert mean?” He asked no one in particular.

No one in particular was too frightened to respond as the ship once more went nose-heavy…

Then the Automatic Pilot regathered its cyber-wits and announced that…

…the ship was too low for the self-levelling mechanism to work.

“Pull up, Placebo.” Folie suggested through gritted teeth.

“Can’t,” Placebo replied, “one of my eyelids is stuck to the other.”

The Automatic Pilot then behaved professionally by cutting power to the drive, deploying the air-brakes, hitting the retro-boosters, igniting the landing jets, and shouting “Violet Alert: prepare for impact!”

The next moment the Gravity Whelk slumped into a snow drift like a sack of roasting potatoes dropped into a stagnant bog…

“We’re down.” The Automatic Pilot announced. “Not bad, all things considered.”

Although the ship hadn’t landed cleanly, it had managed to park itself only a short distance from the museum…

Of course, Frisby Mumph, watching on his monitor, was beside himself with rage…

But by the time he’d met with Sir Dodger it was clear that the occupants of the ship had survived, and he’d managed to calm himself sufficiently to lie through his teeth…

“Perfect landing.” He told the ageing thespian. “Well that’s some of our troubles sorted. I’m sure they’ll be over momentarily.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Spoiled Illusions 6: The Rude Disused Go-Kart Park Pallet

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.

There were many pallets and sheets of chipboard in use at my old place of work. Here is an example of a stack of them…

Now you might think this is a random selection, which, by chance, I had elected to elevate to a place of posterity upon the Internet. But no, look closely at that top pallet. It’s a strange example of the breed because it was made of a mysterious substance that looked and felt like concrete, and was impossible to lift without the aid of a fork-lift truck. It was also a perminent set for the Earplug Adventures. The subterranean go-kart park in the Museum of Future Technology, to be exact – a set that was used over and over throughout the earlier tales. That’s why you can see some tiny coloured objects in front of it, and a red sticker attached. Oh look, this it in action…

…in Museum of Terror. That’s Dan Down’n’out with his two slovenly wives. He was so poor that he lived in the go-kart park – along with some pigeon shit apparently. And it was still appearing (years after its demise) in later tales – namely in this shot from Haunted Mars

 

…where it had been placed upon a sheet of rockwall/plasterboard/pladur. Yes, it was a library shot – originally a bunch of earplugs waiting for a hover-train in an earlier story – minus the guano. It also existed in literary alternate realities, such as this one…

…featuring a nasty bunch of enforcers known as the Black Hatters in Evil Empire.

“But,” I hear you say, “what has this concrete pallet got to do with the word ‘rude’ in the title of this post?”

Well I’ll tell you…in a moment. First let me continue this tale. One day I arrived at work – to discover that the go-kart park had disappeared. In horror I went looking for it. After several panic-stricken minutes in the main warehouse I found it loaded with office equipment. Some bunch of dozy office workers had risked hernias lifting the concrete pallet down – where they could easily have used any number of lighter, more accessible wooden ones. Anyway I repacked their office equipment and stole my pallet away, where I kept it hidden in plain sight beneath the bottom strut of a racking system…

It did sterling work work there. And because it was so sodding heavy, no one ever bothered it. So, with it safely enconced, I was able to decorate it further. If you’re eagle-eyed enough, you might notice something written on the central ‘column’. Can’t quite read it? Here it is in close-up…

Yes, it’s earplug graffiti. And here it is in a story…

“Ugh?” you could be forgiven for uttering. “I don’t recall ever seeing ‘I Suck Dick’ in a lovely Earplug Adventure!”

Well, in the beginning, the earplug adventure books were rude. Very. But following some complaints I decided to re-write them as child-friendly. It was a good move: they were much improved. So, obviously this graffiti needed to be erased from every shot it appeared in. And, equally obviously, in shots where the erasing process looked odd, instead I substituted one of the words…

…and added a beam of sunlight. Much later I used the picture again as a night security camera shot…

Sadly, when the company re-located, the pallet had to remain behind in the old factory. But I snapped a few shots before I departed, and (chances are) they’ll appear as backgrounds in future shots from the Museum of Future Technology.

In fact one has already, as recently as A Tale of Three Museums...

Pretty convincing window, I think you’ll agree. Clever bastard, aren’t I?

Earplug Adventures © Paul Trevor Nolan

Revel in the Ribaldry 29

For this excerpt I return you to the best book in the world ever. This one…

Now you might think me rather bold to call this book the best in the world ever: but I have my reasons. It is – it’s as simple as that. And just to prove it, here’s that excerpt I mentioned…

Upon the huge screen weird shapes and sparkling fizzle-things were giving way to a wobbly image of a female gerbil as she huddled for warmth beneath a blanket made of purest animal pelt.

Beryl and Fanangy screamed as one. But whilst Fanangy bounced dementedly about in horror in the wings, Beryl found sufficient voice to yell, “By the Saint of All Hamsters – this is about cannibalism. That foul gerbil has eaten its mate. Quickly choose someone else.”

Now under other circumstances Boney might have felt inclined to accede to the mayor’s wife’s demand: But these weren’t other circumstances. In fact Chester Bogbreath had just slashed Boney’s benefits and passed a law than banned him from posting some scratched and fuzzy footage of mysterious alien sex-acts upon the internet – for which people had been willing to pay quite reasonable sums with their credit cards. So naturally Beryl would have to suffer for her husband’s misdemeanours.

“No – you carry on, lad.” He instructed the hesitant historian.

As the picture resolved so did the sound quality. It quickly became apparent that the gerbil’s teeth were knocking together in such a manner as to suggest some terrible chill passing through her body. Her knees appeared to be knocking together as well – so clearly she was frightened too. But it was only when they caught sight of her massively protruding nipples did they realize that the image dated from the Ice Age, and that the gerbil was a cave-rodent.

“Not gonna get much conversation tonight then.” The voice of Farmer Jacksey grumbled from the rear of the auditorium. “Just grunts and bellows. Nice tits though.” He added thoughtfully.

Boney was in total agreement with Farmer Jacksey, and was about to instruct Colin to remove his rather rude special tool from the special receptacle in the TV, when the gerbil spoke…

“Fluff me – it’s fluffin’ cold. I could use a fluffin’ good fluffin’ to warm me up. And that gerbil-eating weasel-bastard outside can go fluff his own arse!”

Of course no one actually heard the words – but each of them had studied the sub-titles as they appeared.

“Outrageous.” Chester Bogbreath bellowed with indignation. “The female is an absolute yob. Look at her language. If this is the sort of antecedent from which Brenda Bugler has evolved – well I say ‘send her back to where she came from: We don’t want her sort in Hamster Heath!”

A general murmur of discord passed through the ranks of mostly-hamsters, and several bums shifted uneasily upon their seats.

“Fluff and bollocks.” Boney roared his best, “Give the poor lass a fluffin’ chance will ya: We aint seen the whole story yet – ya big-mouthed shit!” Then more calmly he added, “Excuse my Hamster-French: No insult intended.”

So whilst Beryl eased her husband down from an apocalyptic fit of rage, everyone else returned their attention to the show.

Another gerbil had entered the cave. Although a fire  illuminated them both, very few physical details could be ascertained. But it was clear that the new-comer had lost some fur from his tail.

“Nearly got my bollocks that time, Mavis.” The male gerbil said as he indicated the outside world beyond the cave entrance. “I managed to stick a spear up the weasel’s anus – so I don’t think we’ll have too much trouble from her for a while.”

“Oh, Steve, you’re such a hero.” Mavis gushed, “Come – let me bathe your wounds. Then after that we can have heaps of uncontrollable sex. What do you say?”

Only then did Steve finally act in a way that more modern hamsters might perceive as cave-rodentish. He said, “Ugh – me want sex first: Then Mavis fix tail.”

Then he made a wild leap across the fire, and both gerbils rolled end over end until they fetched up against the rear of the cave.

“Ugh!” Mavis responded in turn.

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2013

See what I mean? This e-book is available at the locations mentioned beneath the header and on the sidebar, which includes the publishers, Lulu. You have my permission to purchase the best book in the world ever. Become the target of unfettered envy.

 

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

Meanwhile, still far from the Solar System, the Gravity Whelk had reduced its velocity slightly to that of regular Hyper-speed…

Placebo was taking his task at the helm very seriously, which amused Folie…

“It’s okay to relax a little,” he said to his polystyrene chum, “a nervous twitch won’t sent us helter-skelter across the Galaxy like a Catherine Wheel on steroids. Autopilot wouldn’t let that happen.”

“Who said I wouldn’t?” The Automatic Pilot’s voice boomed from the overhead speakers. “I might be bored witless. Piloting is what I do: I don’t like metaphorically sitting around on my non-existential hands watching someone else do my job for me: it is my raison d’être

“Take no notice of that.” Folie said to Placebo. To the Automatic Pilot he said: “Why have we slowed slightly, Autopilot?”

“Dark Space has removed its influence upon the ship.” The reply came. “I’m not in communication with it, so don’t ask me why. Maybe it’s the relative close proximity of a star: I don’t know, I’m just guessing.”

Before either Folie of Placebo could respond to this information  the ship slowed further…

“Ooh,” they said in perfect unison and with a delightful harmonic quality that didn’t go unnoticed by the Automatic Pilot, “now we’re merely going very fast: what gives?”

“Now that is a question I can answer.” The Automatic Pilot replied. “We’re coming towards the end of our journey. Or, to put it another way, we’re almost there: the Solar System.”

“Fantastic,” Folie squealed, “we haven’t been here for…oh…yonks and yonks. It’s so good to see familiar space. Ah, where is it, by the way? Can you point to it?”

As if in reply the main viewer altered its perspective, which, in lay-man’s terms meant that it ‘zoomed-in’…

“Oh yeah,” Placebo said uncertainly as his eyes searched the screen for something recognisable, “I’d know it anywhere. Um…which one is Mars?”

“You’ll have to wait a while to see that.” The Automatic Pilot answered. “It’s one of the inner rocky planets. It’s very small and dark. In fact it’s puny and dull. I don’t know why anyone would want to live there at all. They could build space habitats: you never get ice-ages in space habitats. Planets are overrated – especially those with molten cores: the insides are always trying to replace the outsides.”

Folie ignored every word he’d just heard. “Are we in communication range?” He asked.

The response to this was a number of clicks and whirrs from the transceiver array interface box at Folie’s side. “You’re on.” The Automatic Pilot added.

Far away, across the Solar System, Folie and Placebo became visible in one of the com-domes…

“Hello.” Folie called. “Um…is there anyone there?”

When Frisby Mumph’s pager informed him of an incoming message, he raced to the dome…

“This is the Future Museum of Mars.” He announced breathlessly. “Curator, Frisby Mumph speaking. What can I do for you?”

“Well,” Folie replied, “it’s not so much what you can do for us: it’s more what we can do for you.”

He then explained who he and Placebo were; how they had obtained the Gravity Whelk; and offered their help in whatever capacity Frisby required.

“But we are still a long way off.” He added. “We’re at sub-light speed right now. But it shouldn’t be long before we arrive at Mars.”

“Is your ship large enough to evacuate the museum and the inhabitants of the Muffins’ ancient citadel?” Frisby inquired hopefully.

Placebo and Folie responded to this with fixed half-smiles…

“I’m…ah…ugh…not sure.” Folie answered. “Let me get back to you on that.”

“By the Saint of All Earplugs!” Placebo exclaimed, once the screen had blanked. “The K T Woo, BrianTalbot, and the Chi-Z-Sox combined would have trouble doing that. Does this Mumph guy have the faintest idea how small space ships are?”

“He’s a mud-plugging terraformer.” Folie replied. “Of course he doesn’t. What are we gonna tell him?

Placebo thought for a moment. “Tell him,” he said slowly, as his thoughts coalesced, “that we’re on our way: that we’ll discuss our ship’s physical capacity with him when we get there. Also tell him to leave a light on.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

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

William spent a further twenty-five minutes in his quarters, trying to think of someone from whom he could obtain advice on the female heart. He came up empty. But shortly after gaining the chill main corridor, through the windows of which the cold of the ice-age seeped, he passed Tangerine. Tangerine, being a robot from the future, possessed advanced programming…

“William of Porridge,” it said, “your concerns for Lillie Whitewater are making you less productive. I must urge you to conclude the matter with alacrity. Might I suggest you make a video call to the Museum of Future Technology: ask for The Lillie Whitewater Fan Club.”

William stumbled away in astonishment. Lillie had a fan club? Did she know? Was she aware that she had impacted on someone’s life so significantly that they began a fan club? How many members did this fan club have on their books? More than one? He certainly hoped so. So, wasting no time whatsoever, he made straight for the Com-panel. Five minutes later he dragged Lillie away from her bottle of bleach and told her to watch the main viewer…

“Lillie,” he said, “you may think you’re an insignificant blob of organic matter: but look what your exploits have created.”

Four young female earplugs stood before a camera upon distant Earth – and looked awkward…

“Are we on?” The female on the right asked someone off-camera. She received an affirmative thumbs-up.

So, as one, the Lillie Whitewater Fan Club stared across the millions of kilometres that separated them from their hero…and dried up.

Lillie felt compelled to break the silence. “Hello, girls,” She said in a kindly voice that William thought was almost matronly, “those are nice pressure suits: did you model them on mine?”

“Oh yes.” They squealed in delight as one.

Then the verbal floodgates opened and they couldn’t stop. It continued in that manner right up until the point when the Sun interposed itself between the planets and the link was lost.

“Well that was unexpected.” Lillie said as she walked away from the screen that still displayed a freeze-frame image of her fan club…

“They actually saved up their pocket money to buy real replica pressure suits – then altered them to look like mine. I…I…I don’t know what to say. I had no idea that anyone knew that I existed.”

“Well there you go.” William replied. “Your fan club and me. Who knows how many others adore you – if only secretly.”

Lillie stopped short, which caught William out: he had to turn back to her…

“Is that what you do, William?” She asked.

William wasn’t quite sure what Lillie meant. His lack of reply must shown her this.

“Adore me, I mean.” Lillie added – rather boldly, she thought.

William hadn’t prepared for this moment: it was so unexpected. “Ah, I guess I do.” He answered.

Casting aside her repressed personality, Lillie rushed forward to fall into William’s arms. “Well in that case…” she managed…

The resultant kiss was so intoxicating that they were both instantly transported into…

…Wonderland – a place from which they wished never to return. But, of course they did, and before long they were rushing headlong up the ramp…

…towards the Cafe Puke, which they hoped still had enough power to warm-up a ghastly cup of coffee.

“Oh, William,” Lillie sighed, “perhaps we could share a whacking great big mug of crappachino.”

“Yes,” William cried out with joy, “with two straws. And maybe a wafer biscuit too!”

Outside, in the snow, one of the engineers, who were still looking for missing customers, heard the youngster’s squeals of happiness through an emergency pedestrian door that had been left ajar…

“Oi-oi,” he said, “sounds’ like wedding bells are in the offing.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

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

In an instant Folie was with Dark Space – or vice versa, who knows?

“Looney-speed is, like...really fast, right?” He said.

Dark Space concurred.

“And hyper-speed is also really fast, but a lot slower than looney-speed. Uh-huh?” Folie stated the obvious.

Dark Space had a vast capacity for circumlocution: Folie was incapable of testing its patience.

“To get to Mars…like really fast, we need looney-speed.” Folie continued. “But we can’t go at looney-speed because of your presence. But your presence adds a huge amount of potential energy to this ship’s reservoir. Now tell me I’m wrong about this; but that first time we went to hyper-speed with you aboard, I felt a distinct kick in the pants. Putting two and two together…”

Actually there was a limit to Dark Space’s ability to withstand oral procrastination. “Yes – yes, it was me. I was just testing my ability to interact with your realm. And yes I can make the ship go faster. But you must realise that it is energy that cannot be replaced: if I were to do it lots and lots and lots, I’d eventually fizzle out of existence.”

“But it wouldn’t hurt to get us to Mars more quickly though, would it?” A worried Folie inquired.

A smile entered the non-existent voice. “Not in the least.” It said.

So it was a happy…or should I say ‘satisfied‘…Folie who took a seat at the helm…

“Okay, Kiddies,” he said, “buckle up. Placebo – you have the throttles: hit ’em.”

Instantly, and without any discernible movement within the vessel, the Gravity Whelk leapt to hyper-speed…

“Oh, Guys,” the Automatic Pilot bellowed needlessly above the distant whine of the hyper-drive engines set at the very rear of the ship, “what planet was it you wanted dialled in?”

Folie managed a startled, “wah?” before a chuckle escaped the overhead speaker. “Just kidding,” the Automatic Pilot said. “Mars it is. Dark Space: we’re in the groove: let’s hear your guitar solo.”

Dark Space didn’t disappoint…

“Now that is fast.” Placebo said admiringly. “I bet we look neat from the outside.”

And he wasn’t wrong…

Meanwhile, upon the planet that was the Gravity Whelk’s destination, Chef, Charles De Glop, poked his head up from beneath his kitchen counter top to give William of Porridge some advice…

“If you want to prove her true worth to her, you must show Lillie a video link that features people saying wonderful things about her. She’s bound to believe anything that been transmitted live and looks professional – even if it’s pre-recorded.”

William mused on this for some time. Obviously he couldn’t enlist the help of Sir Dodger despite his fame and actor-ish charm: he was sheer poison as far as Lillie was concerned. He needed someone unfamiliar with Lillie, but who might be convincing liars.

An hour later William returned to the Hydroponics bay…

“Hello, Lillie.” He said casually. “I was hoping…” He stopped and pretended to spot the bay’s main screen for the first time. “Ah, what’s this?” He said. “A video message. No one knows I’m here: it must be for you.”

Somewhat surprised, Lillie stepped back to accept the message…

To her further surprise it was Las Chicas De La Playas on the screen. The sole non-female member of the famous bikini-wearing divas group stepped forward…

“Hola, Lillie.” He said as the girls smiled and pouted behind him, “We thought that this might be a good time to thank you for all the inspiration you have given us girls. It’s girls like you – who go into space and then become museum…er…thingies – that gives us the strength to face down our detractors and proudly improve our fabulous tans at every opportunity.”

“Thank you Meese Leelie.” The girls then added in an uncomfortably choreographed, poorly-rehearsed, performance that wouldn’t fool the world’s worst narcissist, let alone the self-effacing Lillie Whitewater.

“And thank you too.” Lillie replied as she cut the connection. “Now sod off.”

“Well that’s nice.” William said as he tried to hide his frustration. “Nice people go to the trouble of making a video recording just for you, and you say ‘sod off’. Well there’s gratitude for you!”

Lillie felt instantly shamed. She knew that William was trying his best to help her. “I’m sorry, William,” she said in a tiny voice that made it difficult for William to believe it had once spoken the words: ‘Torpedoes away, Captain.’ and ‘Enemy ship destroyed, Sir. Scanning for survivors‘ and other ‘space battle stuff’ like that.

“Well, okay.” He said as his frustration evaporated beneath her soulful gaze. “I’ll see you a little later. Um…yeah.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

 

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

Meanwhile, aboard the subjectively infinitely distant Gravity Whelk

…which had come to a dead stop, it was time for a pow-wow on the bridge…

“It’s as simple as this,” Folie opened the discussion. “Do we use the looney-drive, or stick with hyper-drive?”

“I have no input on the subject of velocity.” Kyboshed replied. “After all, since the fiasco with Dark Space, my name has been Mud. I was programmed on Scroton: my judgement is suspect.”

Folie was about to ask the same question of Placebo…

…when his mouth stopped working: he had seen something on the main viewer that, he was certain, remained invisible to the others…

“Excuse me,” he said, “but Dark Space has summoned me.”

“I’ll come with you.” Placebo volunteered. “To hold your metaphorical hand.”

Two seconds later…

“Hey,” Kyboshed shouted after his disappearing crewmates, “wait for me!”

And two seconds after that…

“Excuse me for being rude!” The Automatic Pilot boomed as Kyboshed departed through Engineering at maximum velocity. “I’ll mind the shop, shall I?”

Folie wasn’t entirely certain how far he’d managed to travel along the corridor before Dark Space took control…

Prior to any meaningful communication between himself and the realm of Space/Time, Folie demanded to know the whereabouts of his friend.

“Placebo is unharmed.” Dark Space’s voice by-passed Folie’s auditory system and spoke directly to his consciousness. “He might be a little confused though.”

Folie was displeased, but was loath to display his impotence by showing it. “Okay, Dark Space, you’ve got my attention: what do you want?”

“It is not what I want.” The genderless, disembodied voice replied. “It is what I don’t want. I don’t want you to go to looney-speed.”

“If you’ve been listening in on our conversation, you’ll know that time is of the essence. If the Gravity Whelk can save just one life, it’ll be worth the risk of travelling at unsafe speeds.”

“But I can’t travel at looney-speed.” Dark Space said with regret evident in its timbre. “If the Gravity Whelk activates the looney-speed drive, I’ll be left behind – alone again in the depths between stars.”

Folie hadn’t considered this possibility. “Oh, cripes.” He said…

…”what a quandary. How about this: we drop you off here: strut our funky stuff on Mars; then come back and pick you up.”

“This isn’t a sidewalk.” Dark Space replied. “There’s no kerb for me to wait on. You can’t consult a map or sat-nav to find this location. It has no GPS co-ordinates.  And there’s Galactic Drift to consider. I won’t be here when you get back – if you get back. Folie, you can’t leave me behind!”

Folie had never felt so torn. “Release me for a few seconds – to think about it. I’m aware that you could stop this ship from going anywhere if you so wish – so the fact that you’re asking, rather than telling, is a significant development. Give me five minutes.”

In the blink of an eye, Folie found himself standing in a corridor…

He looked out at the cosmos through a panoramic window. How would he like to be left behind? But he wasn’t a realm of space/time: he was just an earplug. He was also a young, inexperienced earplug who was so far out of his depth that he might as well be treading water above the Mid-Atlantic Trench. So he wandered along the corridor, trying desperately to come to the correct decision. Eventually he found himself standing before the reflective door of Engineering…

He saw who, and what he was, looking back at him. He also remembered what he’d told Kyboshed when he’d surprised the robot by kicking the recalcitrant air-conditioning unit into life. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to think too much: sometimes it can be best to just go with how you feel…

“Dark Space.” He said. “You’re not a passenger anymore: from now on, you’re crew.”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there was…

…complete with its own corridor.

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

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

He told him of his recent experiences…

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

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

Moments later, after they had seated themselves…

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

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

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

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

A heartbeat later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Flee!” Folie yelped.

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part forty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” The astonished earplug yelled in disbelief…

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And after it launched,” Folie finished…

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

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

Spoiled Illusions 4: Cardboard is My Chum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and they make perfect mud villages…

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

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

 

 

Junior Earplug Adventures: Haunted Mars (part thirty-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

 

Spoiled Illusions 3: Potential Noticed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here he is, sans human appearance…

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

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

…complete with its Christmas bauble gondola.

For the final example, this time, regard this…

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

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

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

…which worked very well, I think…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and inside customers crowded any window they could find…

…to watch as it climbed into a leaden sky…

Others filled the main hall…

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

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-eight)

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

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

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

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

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

Naturally Folie replied in the affirmative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it accessible?” He inquired.

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

Folie had another thought…

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

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

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

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

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

“What does it mean?” Folie asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In response the floor darkened again…

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you have a Plan B?” He inquired.

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

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

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

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

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

They were underway again…

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

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

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

Once out in one of the very colourful corridors…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Folie?” Placebo snapped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moments later…

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

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

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then this happened…

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

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2021