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The transport vibrated upwards on its journey. Full of the
thrill of release from its earthbound restraints, the automatic
piloting mechanism hardly noticed the correctional craft that
first plowed itself into a pulverised mess into the transport's
side and was shortly after incinerated by the all-consuming
ferocity of the big ship's fiery jets, a space transport had to
expect some minor damage during the course of its travels and the
little ship's extinction had barely managed to scratch the huge
vessel's paint work.
The upward motion at the point of entry was so rapid that
Sulphur plummeted through several floors before managing to remove
the intangibility belt. It was a matter of luck rather than
judgement that he managed to avoid the fate of their ship. One
more floor, and the resulting barbecue would have been fatal. As
it was, the terrific force and speed with which the transport's
hull greeted the dragon's return to solid form almost succeeded in
achieving a similar result. It took a while for Sulphur to
internally redirect and restore some of his more befuddled
functions. When he finally did return to conscious appraisal of
his surroundings, there seemed to be a distinct lack of human
presence in the cavernous metal storeroom.
Although Sulphur would never admit that his systems were
capable of a feeling akin to anxiety, there did seen to be
something mildly panic-stricken about the speed with which he
moved his scanners to full power. There was no trace of Will on
any nearby level and so the search began.
Fortunately, all of the vast holds that the dainty green
talons laboriously traversed were empty, waiting to be filled for
the return journey. After a while, Sulphur reached an area that
showed faint signs of life. He followed the trail to yet another
huge and bare storage area. The dragon cursed his sensors; they
seemed to have been damaged by the impact, telling him that Will
should be in the very area that he minutely surveyed. It was
typical of the human not to be where he was supposed to be.
Sulphur was about to disregard the angry internal beeps of his
life form locator when he heard a groan from above and looked up.
Will hung limply from the ceiling like a battered strip of
fly-paper. Sulphur magnetised his claws and soon managed to reach
the upended side of his semi-conscious companion. Will's apparent
gravity-defying state was caused by the fact that the soles of his
shoes were firmly imbedded in the transports hull. "Idiot!"
Sulphur thought. I told him not to let go.
Sulphur was not the only one who took a while to register
Will's presence. Decades of mindless back-and-forth journeys
between the third and forth planets had began to work strange
anomalies into the functions of the transport's automatic piloting
mechanism. To a point where it no longer even thought of itself as
anything as mundane as an automatic piloting mechanism.
On this trip it was Buck Chandler; square-jawed, gum-chewing
Major in the Star Corps. Buck was on a death-defying mission to
rescue his lover Princess Quarg and her people on Quantag Maxus.
This was quite a leap of mechanical imagination for a system that
possessed no jaw, no mouth, no Star Corps commission and no
genitalia, it was extremely dumb, especially as the Orange Thingy
had wiped out the population of Quantag Maxus ages ago, but no
more dumb than the pilot's previous incarnation as Icarus on his
weary-armed way to get a suntan.
The pilot's delusions just meant that occasionally, the
system's attention wandered slightly, becoming diverted by non-
existent galactic obstacles and resulting in a somewhat eccentric
flight path. Eventually though, Buck had noticed the manic
flashing stowaway alert light and routed emergency oxygen and
gravity supplies to the relevant area. For an instant, its
curiosity was aroused. It had been a long time since there had
been a stowaway, but other matters soon intruded. The unreal jaw
firmly tightened as Buck casually avoided an asteroid that was not
there and vaporised an imaginary cruiser of the evil Tolgan
empire. Thrills and excitement were non-stop in the Star Corps.
Thrills and a excitement were something that Will had had
more than enough of for one birthday, as he weakly reached a
painful and shoe-less awakening in a corner of the storage area.
He knew that the transport was fast, but felt a grateful sense of
relief at the knowledge that it would take days to reach Mars, all
depending on its relative orbital position to, and distance from,
It was rest and need for reflection that was sorely needed
by both Will and Sulphur. Their lives had changed with alarming
speed and it took a while to catch up.
So many of Will's reactions had been prompted by a level of
instinct and decisiveness that was amazing considering his
background and at the same time extremely disconcerting. Will
wondered whether the no assistance clause of the Queen's contract
only existed on a conscious level. Were his reactions the result
of dormant qualities, skills that humans were programmed only to
use in a crisis? Or had Sharon just performed an all parts
service on his character without prior consent?
He could not sense any radical difference but felt that he
should wait a while to be sure, and allow some time for his numbed
senses to each some sort of recalibrated level before he could
really analyse the days events. Only one day - it was incredible.
Despite feeling every bit as combat fatigued by the rapid
transitions since morning, Sulphur still outwardly functioned with
'You realise of course, that you have forgotten the first
rule of life for a stowaway?'
Will managed a tired smile at the dragon's pragmatic tone.
'Bring a packed lunch.'
The Orange Thingy watched the distant escape of the transport from
the Earth's orbit.
"No wonder these creatures are so backward, if their idea of
space transportation is this sluggish and cumbersome toy."
Perhaps, with their limited intellect, they had not yet
managed to harness the power of their own overlap states. The
overlap state was a strange dimension that all really advanced
creatures were biologically capable of reaching. Aeons before,
the Thingy culture, like many other reasonably savvy developing
societies had grasped the principles of true interstellar travel.
In a beings "awake" state, much that is imagined takes on a
real dimension. In the "sleep" state, much that is real takes on
a imaginary dimension. Thingy scientists discovered that this was
because the Universe of the Real and of the Imaginary existed, and
sometimes overlapped, side-by-side. By reaching for a subtle
balance between the conscious and unconscious, one could make use
of these "overlaps" and travel vast distances at will.
All you had to do to travel was to attain the level of
overlap balance, instantly transport yourself to your destination
area in the imaginary Universe, then just find one of many overlap
points that existed in any spatial area and cross back to the real
It resembled the transport system that Mankind had long
dreamed of, not knowing that they already were capable of it, a
system where you could be broken down and reassembled elsewhere in
an instant. Using the overlap balance, you could disassemble
yourself and overlap into the imaginary universe, travel, and
return to solid form in a different physical location.
Of course, there had been a few casualties with this method
of journey. It took practice to fully master and you have to be
careful or you could end up as a ghost, or as an hallucination
trapped between the two complimentary levels of existence.
There were also economic problems; at first, there had been
millions of redundancies at Thingy Transport PLC (i.e. Putrid
Limited Company). But on the whole, the overlap state was
considered a real boon to the commuter and managed to explain a
question that had long puzzled Thingy philosophers. Question: Why
are objects in the universe so far apart? Answer: Distance does
not matter because the Universes' creators did not mean physical
distance to be attempted and only very, very stupid species would
All this thought of transportation came about because the
Orange Thingy was beginning to get bored, searching its mind for
something to think about, The Orange One had one major fault,
apart from general psychosis; it had the lowest threshold of
boredom in creation. Most of its really mean acts were part of an
attempt to spice up its life and combat dullness; sometimes it
even took risks, just to see what would happen. It took a chance
now, triumphantly emerging from its Moon disguise.
The result was disappointing. There was no reaction from
the shifting purple form on Deimos. Not one acid-bathed lavender
eyeball deigned to glance in the direction of the transformation.
The Purple Thingy's minds were obviously elsewhere. The Orange
Thingy tried, in vain, to pick up the trail of his compatriots
Whatever Purple was doing, had to be more fun than watching
some pathetic little spacecraft.
What the Purple Thingy was doing at that exact moment was
watching some pathetic little spacecraft, as the Mars mining ship
cruised above the reddish rock and Shepard plant-strewn surface of
the Chryse Plantia.
The Purple Thingy also distantly monitored the progress of
Will, Sulphur and their transport on its lethargic journey to this
curious world. The slowness of their travel was a source of great
frustration to the Purple Being, but it had to keep more or less
to the confines of the contract it had drawn up.
There might have been some brave and foolhardy souls of the
opinion that the appearance of the Purple Thingy on Mars prior to
Will's arrival did indicate a slight evidence of rule bending.
Had the Purple Thingy been of a lower species that resorted to
self-justification, It would have answered that this was a blatant
It was Will's job as stated in the contract to engage help
for the task; it was true that the Thingy could not help in that
eventual choice, however, the contract did not state that the
Thingy could not round up the few likely prospects and get them to
one place to speed up that choice.
It was with this object in mind (or minds) that the Thingy
had made its appearance, albeit with a change of sartorial tactic.
Rather than once again face the ridiculous strictures of a solid
humanoid form, the Thingy had projected an insubstantial image of
Queen Sharon onto the fourth planets surface. The Queen's task,
to carry out an extremely taxing mission: Finding anyone on this
red planet of renegades, rejects and runaways who was going to be
at all useful.
The first was a local call. By Thingy standards the object
was contemporary. By mortal standards, the large Sarsen stone was
extremely old. Once long ago, this crudely carved and weathered
shape had taken its powerful and honoured place in the inner
circle of Stonehenge. That was before Mankind got the idea that
enough money and influence could buy any foolish whim and
unfortunately proceeded to prove themselves right.
It had happened a couple of decades before human misery and
self destructiveness reached rock bottom and COMS stepped in to
offer a future. Mars was like any boom-world in those distant
days. Peopled by the monumentally wealthy, nouveau-riche few, and
by desperate poverty-stricken crowds who wanted to emulate their
success. Life was especially cheap then, but there had never been
a time when it was expensive.
The most powerful, feared, admired and possibly unattractive
man at that time was Phineas T. Shepard. He was the richest of
the rich. The wealthiest man in either world, old or new, he also
had one other trait that people talked about, having been the
luckiest man in the Solar System.
He had been mining in the old oxygen pressure suits, on the
verge of starvation, when fortune had struck and he had stumbled
across an ancient subterranean structure. Phineas had gone inside
and found some ancient seeds, taken them home and nurtured them
through trial and error, more out of boredom than botanical
interest, hoping that anything the seeds produced would be edible.
The resulting plant was a phenomenon. It did not need
water, thrived on the Martian soil, propagated like bacteria on a
corpse, and most importantly, it transmuted Mars' unpalatable
atmospheric cocktail of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, argon and
ozone into something very much like air.
Phineas did not realise that he had stumbled on a latent
example of the very instrument of biochemical warfare that had
accidentally wiped out the native Martian species a million years
before. He probably would not have cared. It was not his fault
that the Martians had developed a poison gas plant; all he
bothered about was the air that it produced and the billions that
it made him.
It took a long time and lot of hard effort to carpet Mars
with Shepard plants and provide the Red World with a breathable
atmosphere, but the financial rewards more than compensated.
However, Phineas was not completely happy. He had always
been active and once the setting up was done, he found that he did
not have much to do. Until one day, whilst sitting in his vintage
champagne-filled jacuzzi, he thought of a solution. He would
create projects and tests of influence, designed to strengthen his
hold on immortality and lovingly fondle his ever-expanding ego.
One such test was the transportation of a stone from
Stonehenge to mark the landing site of the Viking Lander I in the
Chryse Planitia. There was no logic to this and the stone looked
naked and vaguely ridiculous surrounded by the oddly shaped plants
that had paid for its journey. It was soon forgotten by the
dwindling human population and by the army of hard-working
machines that remained to ignore it.
Sadly, Phineas never got to see the stone in its new
surroundings. He was killed in a bizarre and messy carpet-cleaning
accident at his home shortly after the arrival of a consignment
that bore, amongst other curiosities: the Sarsen stone,
Tutankhamen's mummy, an Aztec altar and an Easter Island statue.
There was talk of a curse but no one could decide what was
responsible; Phineas had blasphemed against so many old gods in a
bid to prove his personal power, it seemed only fair that one of
the affronted deities should have the last word on influence.
The Purple Thingy did not care about any of this. It was
not concerned with futile Human stabs at immortality or with
sightseeing. It had arrived upon the "plains of gold" with a
purpose. To deliver a long overdue wake-up call.
The thing about wake up calls is that to an impartial observer,
they usually share one common point. There is something vaguely
alarming about them. It has to do with the sudden noise
or motion that suddenly jackboots itself to a position where it
can best destroy even the most peaceful of slumbering scenes.
There was nothing loud or jerky about Queen Sharon and the
movements of her insubstantial form, but the effect was still
striking. One casual movement and the chill tranquillity of the
rouged landscape evaporated to be replaced by a vibrantly charged
atmosphere of controlled power. Waves of energy started to build,
rippling from the extended arm of the Queen, directed at the
ancient stone face. Its surface responded greedily, absorbing
every particle of this potent force as it started to grow and
throb with a beating life-like pulse. More and more, the stone
consumed its diet of energy, feeding with the wanton gluttony of a
black hole, and more and more its surface writhed and bulged.
Then, abruptly, the movement stopped, all seemed returned to quiet
as the Queen relaxed into a posture of vigilant detachment and
After a while, a thin line of brilliant light appeared
etched in the stone. Slowly the line moved upward, marking out
the detailed template for an imposing humanoid figure. A line form
that yawned as it reached completion and detached itself from the
stone face to stand erect like some mad neon holograph. Then its
lined hand motioned and lurid beams of light seemed to burst from
every point of the stone, enveloping, building, detailing the
figure until with a final showy explosion, they were gone, leaving
behind a very solid, very alive and very confused personage:
The Queen scanned the Thingy's many minds and compared their
memory data with the being that stood before her. This was not
some ancient shaman covered in foul-smelling animal skins or a
wizened mystic with a long white beard. Chroniclers usually forgot
that the first thing a top class witch or wizard did, after
spending sixty-odd years obtaining a level of power to do so, was
rejuvenate their appearance. Thus Merlyn, despite an expression
of considerable puzzlement at his surroundings, still presented a
surprisingly youthful aspect, that is if one disregarded his
piercing blue eyes, which seemed a few days older then time.
He had been tall in his day but six feet was now a
normality. Long hair of deepest black framed a hard and lively
face, and a long, thick, intricately-pleated moustache hung down
an either side of the thin mouth. He was obviously a product of a
harsh, unflabby era. A modern observer might have placed the age
of his thin, yet solid form at around thirty five and wondered
about his obvious peak of fitness. Such an observer might have
also speculated at length about Merlyn's long flowing silken
robes, which seemed of indeterminent period or cut. His costume
was garishly plaid, covered in weird runes and incantations that
echoed the subtle woad tattooing of his flesh. All in all, he was
an impressive figure, someone not to tally lightly with, someone
to listen to. As if to underline this last point he found his
voice and spoke in a tone of rich authority that any actor
would kill for.
Merlyn's words were uttered in a tongue long dead, one of
many archaic languages that have only a limited purpose after
their eventual evolution and extinction should have consigned them
to a footnote. Restricted applications that had mostly served to
swell the budgets of language departments over the centuries,
making the lives of their students miserable before giving them
something to bore people with in old age. What Merlyn tunefully
pronounced roughly translated as:
'Spirit, where in the name of all the demons am I ?'
'You'll find your answer over there, Magician, at the bar in
The Queen pointed behind him with an imperious gesture
of her hand and then promptly disappeared.
"Showoff!" Merlyn thought as he turned and faced the point
at which he had been directed.
With the exception of the Sarsen stone, there was nothing
but red rock and strange plant-life for as far as the magician's
keen eyes could see. For a moment, he paused, tenderly feeling
the stone's rough surface, communing with this great object that
had housed him for he did not know how many years.
He wondered what had happened to its companions. There had
been talk of redevelopment in the area. Moving some of the blue
Stones at the observatory, some over-eager architectural
innovators had even advocated abandoning construction of their
huts in favour of new flashy stone dwellings.
"But this!" He frowned at the landscape and shook his head
at the absurdity of it all. This was going too far.
There had to be an answer, and the spirit, be she fair or
foul, had said that this lay somewhere before him. With a murmured
incantation to the deity of travel, he started on his long
journey, determined to find his answers and someone to pay dearly
for his inconvenience.
Merlyn had some things in common with the greater throng of
Mankind; one of these was that he hated being woken with a start.
It made him grumpy.
Will sat tensely perched upon the toilet and dwelt upon its
history. The unit was a gleaming maximum customer comfort model,
thoughtfully provided to prevent stowaways from fouling the
transport. Most appliances manufactured by COMS central were
provided with mental and vocal functions. The human refuse
disposal system was unique; an appliance that had had its speech
Mankind tended to be greatly embarrassed by what they
perceived as their lower animal functions. The films and
literature that Will loved had gone through a period of social
relaxation and exhibited a marked increase in the amount of sexual
activity on display. This freedom had never extended to other
commonplace acts, and there had always been major reticence to
displaying an odd visit to the lavatory for its original design
purpose. Heroes and Heroines never did such things; they were
indecent. It did not matter what the situation, some fictional
phenomena could spend ten years in a confined spacecraft or two
weeks trapped underground with four hundred incontinent miners
without the subject of waste disposal being raised.
All this had led the youthful and impressionable Will to
presume that his need for the occasional use of his disposal
system was a symptom of some outlandish renal affliction. He had
bombarded every available mechanical medical authority,
withstanding quite a few rigorous and humiliating tests before he
could be persuaded that nothing was wrong.
COMS had faced a similar credulity gap when it came to
launching the talking toilet. When the Cybernetic Operational
Management Structure had first established itself in a position of
global control, it had blitzed its public with a series of
soothing advertisements depicting their rosy future. Most
everything had been absorbed and gratefully accepted by a
population in the last stages of decay and desperation. There had
only been one exception and Will was sitting on its closest modern
The problem had to do with an inherent bleakness in the
outlook of the waste system that manifested itself in a
distressing bluntness of language. It just was not comfortable to
void oneself whilst your disposal system was loudly proclaiming a
series of biting and acerbic opinions about your diet, liquid
consumption and the lamentable aesthetic quality of the faeces an
offer. Will could almost understand the toilets outlook. In olden
times, it had been an almost normal reaction for those in
unglamorous and unfulfilling work to develop a negative outlook
and a sense of personal offence.
Will himself felt that recent events had only increased his
great feeling of empathy with a moribund object that spent its
life getting crapped on. COMS had, after their initial
disappointment, briefly responded with a disposal system that not
only enjoyed its work but graphically informed you of the positive
aspects of its job at great length. But the new models failure
was even greater and COMS in its only U-turn, or "U-bend-turn" as
Will christened it, had finally bowed before the public pressure
and the sheer weight of vandalised disposal machinery.
After jointly finishing his absolutions and train of
thought, Will returned to the dragon's side. Sulphur, having long
given up on Man's inefficient design, refrained from comment on
'You know.' Will said, thoughtfully shaking his head.
'It's strange, but, I always have this really odd feeling
that the toilet's glaring at me for some reason.'
© Gary Cahalane
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