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Will held out the document accusingly.
'This contract is not worth the hide it's printed on.'
'It's a symbol of trust In our relationship.' The Queen
grandly ignored the mortal's bluster.'
'Trust that you won't help. Trust that I'll get killed.'
'If that happened, we would both lose.' Her voice and
stance took on a new disconcerting hardness as she added, 'I am
not accustomed to losing, Will Prince. There are dangers and
there are restraints on the amount of help I can give you. Would
you have me lie?'
Will stood uncertainly. Sulphur could have told her, as a
result of much weary experience, that Humans when faced with the
choice between a difficult truth and a comforting lie, would
usually choose the latter. The dragon remained silent and watched
Will end the pause with an angry shake of his head.
'Okay, I'll sign.' He wrinkled his face up squeamishly. 'I
suppose you want it in blood.'
The Queen looked down on him with haughty distaste.
'Why must you creatures always be so over-dramatic? No, I
don't want blood. Just stand still and close your eyes.'
With visible misgivings, the man and the dragon slowly did
as they were told. Will felt the document fall from his grasp.
For a moment they were enveloped in something tight, leathery and
foul smelling, and then, the Queen spoke.
She offered them a smaller version of the contract.
'This is your copy.'
Will and Sulphur held the document between them, both
simultaneously having the same thought as they stared at the place
where the signature should be: "Damn! Wrong profile."
The space was occupied by tiny reproductions of themselves. Will
grinned at Sulphur.
'I hope she's careful where she puts the royal seal.'
Sulphur shook his head and tried to visualise what a nice, polite,
non-embarrassing, brainwashed Will would be like. It was a vision
that even his large mind failed to really clarify. Instead the
Dragon returned to more important matters and concentrated as the
'You will need others for what's ahead. Where will you
Will had not really thought about it, but then, there was
only one obvious answer.
'Mars. If there's anyone to be found. I won't find them
here,' he shrugged, smiling smugly. 'Besides, I can't stay on
'You will also need your uniform items.'
She gestured and a belted sword and a band of some oddly
shimmering metal appeared on the bed. They moved to examine these
new arrivals, but she held up her hand to stop them.
'You will need to get out of this place and go to Mars.
You have a short time in which to escape. Wear the band and it
will assist you. Your guards are restrained for the moment by my
force-field. You will hear from me again. Now go, and as you
humans used to say: Good luck.'
The Purple Queen slowly dissolved into nothing. It was
most disconcerting and Will did not speak for a while, When he
did, it was prefaced by a heavy sigh.
'I suppose this is where the 'no help' clause comes in.
She night have got us out of the cell.'
'It makes sense. Rescuing this MADID object should make
escaping from this place easy. If we can't get out, we haven't a
hope of getting the MADID.'
'I was hoping to gently build up to it. Still at least
there's no door.'
'There's also no Queen. Which means no protective force-
field and all the staff in this building are going to be heading
for that entrance.' The dragon's words, delivered with some
urgency, had a powerfully motivating affect on Will. He quickly
strapped on the sword. It was at this point that the appliances
realised that it was safe to come out again. They all suddenly
appeared, screaming: "Intruder!", in a variety of different
pitches and keys. The din underlined the fact that locating a way
out was a matter of immediate and pressing importance.
Without time to examine it closely, Will picked up the
band, placing it on the it seemed most suited to, his head. He
felt it contract in size to become a perfect fit and then nothing
'Damn. This is all I need. Another faulty appliance'
The appliances were too busy shouting to take offence at
'You don't feel anything?' Sulphur asked.
'Not a thing. I should have known this was a wind-up.
Beware of purple royalty bearing gifts. Sharon sounded a very odd
name, but NO. You said it was all real.'
'I said we had no choice.'
Despite being angry and defensive, Sulphur was starting to
sound anxious, Something heavy was coming toward them, powering at
speed along the corridor. They could feel the angry, grinding,
vibration of its movement.
Will was petrified but still managed to retain some
vestige of sarcasm.
'It looks like brainwashing after all. How are you going
to face them? On the bed? On the sink? Personally, I think devil
may care is best. I'm going to lean casually against this waaa..'
To demonstrate his proposed defiant stance, Will had
tilted backward and kept going. All that was left of him was a
pair of feet at the base of the wall. After a moment they
vanished to be replaced by his exultant head.
'I take it all back! It's lucky we're on the ground floor
though. Are you coming?'
Sulphur did not need much persuading. Whatever was coming
towards them was on the verge of dramatic arrival. He bent his
head and charged the wall at speed. It's surprising just how
solid a wall can be when you are not covered by magic. If Sulphur
gained nothing else from the experience of high speed collision,
apart from jolted circuits, he at least acquired this pearl of
Will's flashes of insight were as rare as outdoor
barbecues on the ice world of Frezia Major. It was therefore
doubly good timing to get one now. The sword scabbard was passed
back through the wall, into the cell. Will's voice did not need
its urgency to underline the dragon's predicament.
'Hold on to this, and try again.'
To his considerable amazement, Sulphur found that Will's
idea worked, No sooner had he gripped the surprisingly solid
scabbard tip then he was jerked out into the fresh air and
Back in the cell, what remained of the doorway was vaporised by
the entrance of an ancient, lumbering Riot Control Mechanism. No
one had ever managed to break through a cell door before. Getting
the riot machine out of rustballs and reviving it to strike terror
into any potential escapees was a solemn measure of COMS chagrin
The Riot Machine was the heavy mob, built in the days when
COMS thought that taking control of Human affairs and pampering
them would result in civil unrest. The machine was quite refreshed
after lengthy disuse, and full of fury and vigour. It proceeded
to wreck half the cell in a pyrotechnic display of destruction,
designed to show off its horrifying capabilities and knock the
fight out of any unruly captives. Unfortunately, there were no
captives, unruly, or otherwise, to appreciate the show. The Riot
Machine ground, to what appeared to be a somewhat bemused halt.
The top of the horrific head was unscrewed and lifted to reveal a
puny and dapper control 'droid. The 'droid regretfully surveyed
the wreckage its directions had caused and glumly shook its aged
and squeaky head. It would take some explaining. All this damage
and no prisoners to show for it. It thought of saying, "Rust has
affected my driving controls."
Deep down it knew that no excuse could rescue them from
return to storage, not even that age-old standby: "I was only
'Got to find the prisoners.'
The machine's body said, in a voice as heavy as its
armour-plating. With a doleful expression, the 'droid popped back
into the head to continue its duties, It promised itself that it
would try to be more careful.
The Machine exited, sirens squealing, and managed to wreck
the undamaged half of cell in the process. The prisoners must be
somewhere in the building and they would find them. Amidst the
ruination left by the machine's departure, the battered video
screen had come to a decision.
"Screw correctional duties! Disappearing purple women,
prisoners who walk through walls and now idiot riot control
devices. It's no fun. New to the job or not, I'm going to get a
'Intangibility. I've decided that I like that word.'
The escape had cheered Will up no end, much to Sulphur's,
annoyance. He felt compelled to test his new-found power on every
building that they passed in a leisurely getaway from COMS
central. Once again they paused so that Will could pass his head
through a wall, and once again the dragon's ultra-sensitive
hearing picked up an appallingly tuneless rendition of "I ain't
got no-o-o-b-ody to hold me down...."
Sulphur soberly reminded himself that this was what
fictional Personifications had striven to obtain throughout the
ages; a sense of so-called human humour. "Well if that was the
best that Mankind could do, then they could keep it."
Soon Will's beaming face reappeared.
'It's amazing.' He ran his hands over his torso. 'I feel
You are - between the ears. Sulphur thought as he said
'May I remind you, should it have slipped your mind, that
we are on the run and that every Personification on this planet is
looking for us.'
'Yes, I've thought about that.'
'Why then are you advertising yourself by walking through
every wall in the city?'
'Don't worry about that. If anyone sees me, they'll just
think I'm a malfunctioning holograph. I promise, there's madness
to my method.'
'There's madness to everything you do.' The dragon glared
irritably out of its large jaundice-tinted eyes.
'This is part of my plan.' Will said soothingly.
It was obvious that Sulphur would need some convincing. That was
the problem with Personifications. Sometimes the logical thing to
do in life was alien to what their logic dictated and a credulity
gap materialised. They needed every "I" dotted and every "T"
'You are my Personification companion, and as such, you
are programmed to recognise me in far more detail than any other
model. By sight, by touch and by smell, Right?'
'Other models have to deal with many thousands of humans,
It's not practical to program them in depth, so they are
programmed to identify people using just one method.'
'Correct, So, if there is no retina, identification is
impossible. A person without one cannot exist, because
personifications are programmed to recognise only those who have
one. Not having a retina of some sort is impossible, and
therefore to be disregarded.'
'It makes a rough sense, Except that you have a retina.'
'Yes,' Will agreed.
'But as long as I keep this band on, I'm intangible and as
long as I'm intangible, my retina cannot be scanned and as long as
it cannot be scanned, then..'
'You don't exist!'
As if to prove this point, a vigilant member of the
Personification Pavement Patrol walked right through Will's body.
Sulphur regarded the triumphant human with something almost
'That's fairly intelligent. But what about your
'That's the next part of my plan. I was looking for
somewhere to stay for a while. The next monthly Mars processing
transport doesn't leave for four days.' Will was starting to get
cocky. 'I'm quite an expert on their timetable.'
Sulphur suddenly felt sad. He had almost allowed himself
to a sense of pride In his companion for a while. Now Will as
usual had ruined things. When he spoke, he did so softly.
'Will, what is today?'
Will was puzzled, but looked indulgent, as if doing his
best to humour his curious sidekick. 'My birthday.'
'What time is it?'
'About 19.30 p.m. It seems like today has lasted
Sulphur would try to be gentle.
'Tell me. When do the winter transportation schedules
'My birthday?' Will's jaunty tone indicated that he still
'And what time is the 'new timing' of the monthly
transport on your birthday?'
'About 20.00 p.m.'
There was a sudden look of pathetic dawning realisation.
It was sobering to watch.
'I believe that "cretin" is a suitable word.
How much time have you wasted? Have I let you waste?'
'About half an hour.'
'Shall we try to get there?'
Completely deflated, Will nodded miserably.
It was a close run thing. The "there" that Sulphur had
mentioned was an automatically run industrial launch pad on the
French coast. They were fortunate that the Martian Ore processing
centre was so comparatively near. They were also helped by the
arrival of a COMS correctional transport that was searching for
then. With the aid of the Intangibility belt, It was fairly simple
to make a sudden solid appearance and disable the bewildered guard
'droid before it could raise the alarm.
Had Will felt less stupid about his mistake over the
timetable, he probably would have tried to hurry Sulphur's efforts
to reprogram the craft. As it was, he just bit his lip and
reminded himself that re-orchestrating the layout of complex
components was not without its difficulties when one was forced to
use only one's talons. At last, the dragon completed the
alterations, and with many mumbled and heartfelt apologies to the
inert guard, took up the driving position and sternly told Will to
The craft soared up into the air at a speed that was more
total bodily fracture than just mere breakneck. Hurled abruptly
backward through solid panelling, a shaken and bemused Will
watched the craft almost instantly vanish into the far distance
from the comfort of his horizontal position on the pavement.
The craft's reappearance was just as sudden. Will clambered aboard
trying to avoid the dragon's impatient glare.
Sulphur wasted no time with his brittle command.
'Take that damned intangibility belt off - NOW!'
Will immediately complied, removing the device and hanging
it over the pommel of his sword. With that special efficiency that
magic provides, the belt contracted into a snug fit. Will did not
have time to marvel at its rapid change in size. The violent
upward thrust of the vehicle sent him careering into the rear wall
of the craft. This barrier that been so easy to pass through an
the ship's first ballistic attempt at motion proved now to be a
more than adequate confinement. It was so effective that Will took
most of the rest of the Journey to regain his bruised senses.
The Orange Thingy was briefly unconcerned with movements on Earth.
Its attention was taken up by the sudden appearance of the
restored Purple Thingy on Deimos, one of the Martian Moons. The
Orange One had instantly shielded its existence. It was taking no
chances at this stage, for it knew from aeons of personal
experience that the Purple variety of its race was capable of
admirable trickiness. This, in spite of the obvious fact that its
grotesque mauve coloration marked it as a lesser branch of the
It was no coincidence that the Purple Thingy likewise
regarded its orange counterpart as an example of deficient inbred
stock. When you reached a Thingys' level of mega-advanced
evolution, a certain level of personal arrogance was unavoidable,
and as a pair, the Thingys' combined level of self-regard was
But even Thingys' sometimes made mistakes. The Orange
One's disguise was a pointless expansion of energy. It had
adopted the shape of a second Earth moon, achieving little beyond
the temporary breakdown of tidal control computers on Earth. The
Purple One would not have been fooled by its tangerine shape and
coloration, or by the extravagance of its false moustache, for an
instant. The Purple Thingy could not be bothered to notice such
minor matters as moons at that precise moment. Its many massive
lilac-tinted minds were taken up with other matters. Not the
least of which was the great relief they felt to be released from
the strait-jacket of Queen Sharon's puny form. The Thingy was
tense and took a while to relax, a calming process consisting of
the creation and ingestion of a mountain range of sugar slightly
larger than the Alps combined with a little transcendental
'It's just not fair.'
Like most beings, the Purple Thingy's definition of
unfairness was anything that it personally found annoying or
inconvenient. In this case, it probably had a point. It did seem
ridiculous that although allowed as many epochs as required to
conceive of a task and quite a while to execute that task, subject
to the life span of the selected participants of course, the
Thingy was only allowed a matter of hours to choose a champion.
It was already beginning to regret its rushed choice but nothing
could change that decision. It was already too late. The
Human had been chosen, the contract signed, the die was not only
cast, it was also probably crooked.
This problem with the regulations was one that confronted
most of the philosophers in the Galaxy. They started out with the
notion that there must be a sensibly regulated purpose to
existence. This was a wrong assumption. There was no logical
form to the rules of the universe; they were fundamentally stupid.
If the rules had been rational, philosophers would not need to
exist. The large amounts of drugs and alcohol therefore necessary
to maintain their sanity would also not need to exist.
The Purple Thingy found comfort in a similar idea. In a
Universe with a sensible structure, the existence of the species
Homo Sapiens was pointless. The Cosmos however was not sensible.
This was clearly evident: (A) because of its rules, and (B)
because of the existence of a race as worthless as Humanity.
Therefore, the Thingy reasoned that: if Creation were silly, its
rules were silly and some of its population were silly. Maybe, by
the very Illogical nature of their behaviour, silly beings could
sometimes serve a sensible purpose. Perhaps the evolution of
Mankind was planned solely to provide the Thingy with that
brief moment of self-doubt necessary to the growing process of any
life form faced by a challenge.
Uplifted from its depression, if not entirely convinced,
by this mixture of deep concentration, conceit and gibberish. The
Purple Thingy turned its formidable attentions to Mars, completely
disregarding the very curious tongue-poking and grimacing antics
of the Earth's second Moon.
The white cliffs of Dover had receded into a distant chalky line
before Will even had a chance to register them. Used to
witnessing the suicidal velocity of local public transport, the
speed of their journey did not worry him as much as the actual
Journey itself. If things went to plan, and Will still had to be
reassured that they would, he would shortly be leaving a secure,
if not intellectually active, future for the unknown perils of
space. It was a big step, especially for someone who like some
tied-to-the-land medieval peasant, had never ventured more than
ten miles in any direction. He was being banished after all.
Sulphur briefly turned his attention from the headlong race
towards their destination.
The vehicle started to slow. Will did not need to be told
where to look to see their goal, The ship was more than huge; it
made the towering apartment structures of the Will's home suburbs
look like wigwams. He was awe-struck and humbled by COMS
'You know, sometimes you lot are wasted on us humans.
Maybe you should have sent us all to Mars.'
'What! Let you move next door and ruin the neighbourhood?
'It looks like it could take most of Europe.'
'It just has to take us. Any ideas how 0 great champion?'
Will ignored the dragon's increasing use of irony.
'Well ...' That was all he managed to say before the
correctional craft was buffeted by an incredible explosion.
'What's that ?' Will somehow managed to scream as he
picked himself up off the ceiling.
'Final engine test. Its about to take off. We've missed
Sulphur righted the capsized vehicle and Will thudded
heavily to the floor.
'No wonder the launch sites is automated. We'll have to
crash into it.'
Sulphur toyed with the idea that Will's cranial organ had
been injured by his many falls during the course of the day. He
hated himself for the curiosity that prompted clarification of tie
human's suicidal statement.
'Yes.' Will had a light in his eye that was either madness
or inspiration. Sulphur let him continue unsure of which
condition it was, 'In a second it'll go, If we crash into the
transport, it'll be like an arrow hitting a mountain. There's no
way we can damage it.'
'What about IT damaging us?'
Despite reservations, Sulphur let the correctional craft
build up speed on a ramming heading with the departing ship. Will
wrenched the intangibility belt off the sword and grabbed Sulphur
'You take the belt. It's all in your reactions. As we
strike the ship put it on. The impact will throw us forward
through their hull. As we enter the ship you take it off and we'll
be solid again.'
'Or you'll be jam and I'll be a paperweight.'
Their speed increased. The massive transport filled all of their
vision, or it would have, if Will had not had his eyes screwed
"So much for confidence," was Sulphur's last thought
before the tremendous shock of impact.
© Gary Cahalane
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