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