more information, to receive a free copy of this work as a Word,
or Text attachment, or just to comment
Life was fast and furious in the Star Corps but even the space-
weary eyes of Major Buck Chandler (alias one very wonky transport
auto-piloting mechanism,) had never seen anything like it. This
was a worthy challenge indeed.
Of course, Buck knew that it had to be the work of every
decent, apple-pie-eating being's sworn enemy; the fiendishly nasty
Tolgan empire. Those monsters would stop at nothing, but even the
pilot at its most hallucinogenic had never imagined anything quite
Buck took rapid evasive action as a bar of soap the size of
an Alp floated by, closely followed by an equally hulking fish
finger. All around the ship, astonished ex-asteroids assumed a
bewildering array of strange new guises: bicycles, fruit, stuffed
mammals, most at least the size of small cities, glided through
the vacuum like participants in the premiere of some warped new
mime dance performance.
After a few moments, this alteration in shape began to take
effect and the assortment of changeling paraphernalia gradually
started to drift out of their accustomed orbits. Almost under the
nose of the transport, a huge tube of toothpaste brutally
connected with a mountainous baseball glove, sending the mitt
careering towards the Martian surface.
Filled with the arrogant confidence of the Star Corps elite,
the addled auto-pilot switched off its protective force-field,
deciding that; "If a risk was worth taking it was worth taking
without a net." Buck was going to show the Tolgans what the Corps
could do under pressure. He tensed his firm non-existent jaw line
into an imaginary attitude of jaunty disdain as the ship began to
boldly press forward into the throng.
Ashton, Iowa : Early 21st Century, Mid-July.
Responding to his wife's sleepily persistent request to "fluff up
my goddammed pillows", respectable suburban taxidermist, Casper
Titwilleger, dozily punched out at the last know position of his
wife's feather bolster and broke his hand.
Rising and giving voice to his shock and indignation Casper
then tried to leap out of his bed, took a nasty tumble and
sprained his ankle. By the time the sun rose, filling the bedroom
with much needed illumination, the Titwillegers were in a bad way,
although not in as bad a way as the contents of their home.
The fragile dawn light revealed the absence of their bed,
their pillows and much more. Every familiar item of the night
before had vanished, replaced by small asteroids, each
corresponding roughly in size to a departed item or possession.
Casper did not know what hurt worse, his ankle, his hand, or
the thought of explaining all of this, either to his insurers or
to the Bland family from Hampshire, England, who were arriving in
three days for a two-week holiday home swap.
The Supermarket tabloids fall upon the story of the
"Titwilleger's torment" like locusts upon grain, and an
incredulous readership had the dubious pleasure of being spooked
by blaring reports informing them that "Neptunians want your
furnishings", offering "a home swap with a difference", and even
joking about a possible star-studded movie "ROCKY 7 : The
Almost three hundred years later, the Orange Thingy allowed itself
a particularly rancid, gurgling snigger as the giant petrified
form of the Titwilleger's stuffed parrot collided sickeningly with
a colossal pillow somewhere above Deimos.
"That's the way to fluff one up." It thought.
On Deimos, the projection of Queen Sharon had returned to the
putrid bosom of the Purple Thingy. The Thingy immediately noticed
that there had been changes to the asteroid configuration since it
had started its roundup on the planet.
It also, at last, registered the presence of its detested
Orange counterpart, However, this discovery did not cause undue
alarm. It had been expecting the mangy, disreputable tangerine-
tinted little spoiler for some time now. Both Thingys' had been
in multi-coloured competition since before the surrounding Solar
System had started to cool.
Despite the inferiority of the tools available and the severe
handicap they presented, the Purple Thingy had enough self-
confidence in its powers to let the Orange One do its worse. If
the little galactic conjuring trick with the Titwillegers' house
contents was anything to go by, there was nothing to fear.
Putting aside formal introductions to "that one" for later,
the Thingy allowed itself a fleeting moment of satisfaction with
its work so far. Those chosen may not be much but they were the
best available from a very poor selection. Things had been set
nicely in motion; it was now time to get that ultimate poor
selection ready for landing.
Will was once again mulling over the events of his birthday when
he remembered the object hanging neglected at his side. The sword
had been easy to forget. The contract had described it as a
weapon, but this seemed a very loose description as it bore more
resemblance to a table knife with delusions of grandeur. A
tentative examination had revealed it as possessing all the brutal
sharpness of melted butter and Will had quickly realised that he
would be better armed a against possible foes with an over-ripe
banana in his hand.
He had soon decided that the sword's function must be purely
decorative, a badge of leadership perhaps; it could have no other
constructive use. Its ornamentation was surely elaborate enough
to grace any gallery.
The metal looked like highly-polished silver but seemed
light as if carved from balsa wood. The brilliant purple gems
that encrusted the hand-guard and hilt showed up the stones
imbedded in Sulphur's hide as obviously pathetic carbon
Will suddenly found himself drawn to the sword. He followed
the delicately incised lines of the engraving with the light
touch of a finger, marvelling at the detailed workmanship, at how
the representation of hair coiling around the hilt seemed to have
the soft warmth of real tresses. Almost entranced, he traced the
elegantly etched strands up to the pommel and stopped.
His brows drew tightly together in puzzlement as he peered
closer through the misted lenses of his spectacles. He was sure
that this area of metal had recently been bare but it was bare no
There, atop the pommel rested the smooth outlines of a
familiar regal visage, a triumph of miniature perfection. Will,
seduced by its beauty, leaned forward in appreciation of the tiny
metallic face, one so lifelike that, smiling at the conceit, Will
felt that it could almost wink up at him. As if to prove itself
obliging, the little face did just that, bringing down a minute
eyelid in a small but unmistakable movement.
Will was beginning to form a conception of just what a
curious place the universe was. That is why he did not react with
an abundance of showy screaming, instead, with remarkable self-
possession, he contented himself with a frozen grimace and the
reassuring thought that: "It's probably only auto suggestion."
"It's is nothing of the kind!," a powerful feminine voice
clearly sounded in his head.
Will did not have strong opinions about the hearing of
voices, but he was mindful that they had done Joan of Arc no
lasting physical good and felt that they were possibly not a
"That's it! The strains been too much. I've snapped, crazy
as a psychiatrist's notebook." He thought, not without a feeling
of relief, as the DOLE office Social Worker had pointed out. "If
I'm mad, it would explain a lot."
"This mode of conversation has nothing to do with mental
illness," the female voice said.
"It seems suspiciously connected to me," Will's internal
voice replied. "After all, spending three days in a spaceship
without food, water or heating, just so I get to experience a
horrible painful death..."
"Possible painful death," the voice corrected.
"Whatever. It hardly seems lucid."
The voice began to get peevish,
"This is irrelevant. If you don't clear your mind of such
drivel, we cannot proceed."
Will was unimpressed.
"You're only visiting. Try living with it."
"If you don't clear your mind this instant, I will arrange
for you to stop living with it...."
The voice took on a cutting edge
"How would you like another visit to the moon?"
After a brief period of petulant mental muttering, Will
sulkily subsided and the voice started to talk business.
Sulphur watched his companion with an interest approaching
fascination. The dragon had never seen a face do the Macarena
Will's features were going through a vast range of contortions not
unlike the head of a rubber puppet being put through a mangle.
Something was definitely up. Will's brain wave readings had
also suddenly began a lambada. Sulphur had enough sense to wait;
whatever it was did not seem harmful. Curiosity would soon be
Will was aggrieved.
"I'm not satisfied. Why me?"
"Because. You are the prime signatory."
Will indicated Sulphur.
You could almost see the shrug in the Queen's voice.
Will choked back his glee, wondering what Sulphur's reaction
would be to hearing himself so designated.
"I will converse with the dragon only upon your death."
Will suddenly sobered.
"Charming, I get Sulphur nagging me on the outside and you
on the inside..."
"May we proceed?" Queried the Queen.
"Why not? I'm not going anywhere."
"Well, actually, you're going to land shortly," said the
Queen smoothly, but there's almost nothing to worry about.
"WORRY!!" Will exclaimed. "What do you mean, worry?!"
Major Buck Chandler flew with devil-may-care bravado, Powering his
craft through the legs of a ghastly looking coffee table.
"I could make this baby waltz if I wanted."
The transport did a neat little flip, manoeuvring with
nimble precision for a vessel of such lumbering proportions as it
skirted daintily round a stuffed Chihuahua.
The Titwilleger always gave their pets an A.1 send-off. As
Casper's cable advertising pointed out, to the accompaniment of
much cloying music and pictures of cute little creatures captured
full of life and full of sawdust: "Your loving companion hag been
with you all of its life. Now keep it close for all of yours,
That special friend can be with you ALWAYS, at rock bottom
competitive prices. Here at GONE BUT NOT FUR-GOTTEN, we also
offer excellent term-for trade-ins."
Lunatic as it undoubtedly was, the auto-pilot had hither to
managed to restrain its more flamboyant navigational impulses,
Now unfortunately, flushed with success, Buck started to get
cocky, engaging in a breathtaking display of dare-devil twists and
turns designed to reduce the unlocking Tolgans to awe-struck green
jelly (rather than their real appearance, a fetching shade of pink
Inside their storage area, Will and Sulphur tumbled around
like gravel in an avalanche.
'This is the last time I fly economy!' Will managed to shout
as he bounced off the ceiling for the fourth time.
It was while looping the loop that disaster struck. The
disaster in question being damage to the transport rather than to
the Titwillegers' wedding photo, although it was a pretty close-
run thing. Casper and his wife, Blossom's gruesome family grouping
was struck a glancing blow by a packet of brownie mix. The photo,
and the colossal gilt frame that housed it, impacted with the
transport as it emerged from its seventh triumphant circle. The
frame went through the ship's hull like a keen razor through
After being catapulted off the ship's surfaces with the abandon of
world championship squash balls, Will and Sulphur had been more
then amply prepared for something horrible to happen. But whatever
one is prepared for in life, Fate has a tendency to up the ante,
and the sickening "crunch" as the frame struck still managed to
retain most of its unpleasant shock value.
Suddenly, this huge wedding picture came smashing through
the shell of the storeroom. They caught a fleeting surreal
glimpse of the Titwillegers' grossly-inflated grimaces and at the
floating furniture far off in the yawning blackness. Will had an
instant to register that space should not be full of objet d'art
before most of the cabin pressure was swept away.
The human until this moment, still harboured doubts about
whether he really had been transported to the moon. All his doubts
vanished like the air around him, as he spent his first fleeting
instant of reacquaintance with a vacuum.
Without the Queen's protection, he started to lapse into a
merciful unconsciousness, one that would have proved permanent
had it not been for the dragon's blistering reactions.
Sulphur took advantage of the impact and a slight slowdown
in the ship's movement to magnetise his body and speedily anchor
himself to a wall. Next, he snapped out his long scaly neck to
its fullest extent, and with the mental personification equivalent
of a prayer, reached desperately for his companion. With amazing
luck, he managed to just grasp a taut mouthful of utility suit as
Will's rapidly expanding body sailed through space towards the
outer blackness of eternity.
Taking extreme care not to puncture Will's ballooning figure
with his wicked teeth, Sulphur clung on against the tearing pull
of what remained of the escaping pressure. Almost
instantaneously, great automatic bulkheads did their job, slamming
heavily into place and sealing off the chilly universe whilst
eager localised emergency systems sprang into action, filling the
store room with delicious, wonderful, air.
Will had been lucky; the whole thing had only taken micro-
seconds, micro-seconds that had seemed to last a very long time.
He was no longer taking air for granted, drinking it in with
rasping great breaths and sobbing with gratitude while Sulphur
gave thanks that some of the ship's auto systems still worked.
The picture frame went on its way, dishing out a second
knock to the stricken vessel, this secondary impact greatly
dwarfed in force by the first blow and not of sufficient power to
hole either half of the broken transport, still contributed to
giving the two sections a hearty boost on their respective
The rear end of the vessel spun towards the Red Planet with
wild dizzy abandon, all gyroscopic controls gone, like a carousel
horse on speed.
Held firm in the dragons jaws, Will's limp body twisted
busily in the air.
'I think we're in trouble,' he croaked groggily.
Sulphur's sarcastic response wee somewhat handicapped by a
mouthful of cloth.
'No! We're not "in trouble". General Custer was just "in
trouble" on the Big Horn, Tobias Hengish, were just "in trouble".
on the Ramburg Peninsula. We're in BIG trouble.'
"Ahhh, The exhilaration."
He was free. Free of all mundane restraints and bonds,
except those honoured duties owed to his love, the beautiful and
virtuous Princess Quarg, and his oath to the Corps. A promise to
be honest, chaste and above all, to exterminate Tolgans wherever
he could find them (and he had a feeling that he was going to find
loads of the sneaky little blighters).
He wanted to write it across the heavens: he was free, He
was free. HE WAS FREE!
It was true. Major 'Bonkers' Buck Chandler really was free.
Free in the sense that the slim and slowly eroding thread that had
tied the auto-pilot to even the most basic grasp of reality had
finally parted as resoundingly as the transport's severed halves.
At last the pilot had gone absolutely barking mad, as bananas as
an elephant's breakfast. The emergency engineering systems on the
front half f the ship had done their COMS designers proud.
Managing to seal off huge gaps in the hull and the control
systems. The damaged fore section was soon almost serviceable.
Although it was now only equipped with a few piddling little
positional jets, those jets were more than enough for basic
manoeuvring, equipped and fuelled as they were by a revolutionary
emergency generating system designed to run off whatever suitable
space gases passed through their filters.
Jets were unnecessary at the moment, however. The secondary
buffet from the framed likenesses of Casper, Blossom and their
combined family "fiends" had provided enough of a kick to speed
the nose of the ship on its way. Had the auto-pilot been at all
compos mentis, it would have been compelled by its programming to
turn and attempt to rescue the hapless stowaways from the crippled
stern half of ship.
Unfortunately, the damage done in the crash to the already
severely faulty logic circuits had been too great for even the
most superior emergency measures to patch up. Stowaways, hideous
furniture, stuffed animals or ex-asteroids; none of it mattered as
the buckled prow section spun, semi-helplessly, out of the orbital
pull of Mars and hurtled away on a heading to nowhere special,
beyond the boundaries of the Solar System.
For the Star Corps Major, there was no such drab reality.
Buck Chandler sat at the gleaming helm of a sparkling new
Stratacharger Warspite, its engines able to leap an entire cosmos
in a single bound. He paused, allowing a moment for history. His
eyes shining with the thrill of it, as with a rugged manly smile
and with the sun glinting off perfect teeth, he started off. It
promised to be an unparalleled journey of discovery. Whatever
came he knew that: He was going on one hell of an adventure.
Perhaps, at least for the auto-pilot, it was better that
The Purple Thingy appeared on the Moon in a furious toxic flurry.
It directed an accusing brace of tentacles towards the crazily
canned stowaways and floating furnishings as it mauvely snotted.
"I suppose you think that's clever!"
The Orange One overacted, as usual, leaping spongily into
space with a putrid shriek before landing with near moon-
"Well! I'll be wopshotted with a shangwangerlers joybag!,"
It slimed with heavy doses of ironic mock-astonishment. "What are
you doing in this system, you great purple gertwerbler?"
"Same as you," It complexly belched. "Regretting the trip."
"Well cheer up," Orange buoyantly farted, rendering the
moon's atmosphere even less breathable than usual, as it pointed
in sticky triumph at the distant paralysed hulk and its relentless
fall towards Mars. "It looks like we'll soon be leaving."
For a moment they floated side-by-side, eyes and tentacles
keeping a wary distance, putrescence orifices doing a little
cautious exploratory French kissing, an almost palpable mutual
loathing oozing in great obscene secretions out of every pore. At
last, the Orange One could keep silent no longer.
"Are you not tempted?"
"Tempted?" Purple queried suspiciously,
"To help, to break the universal protocol and save their
miserable lives. If you can call that living."
"No." Purple replied with noisome nonchalance.
"NO!" Orange exclaimed in a miasma of musty astonishment,
You mean you're going to do nothing?
"I didn't say that."
"What are you going to do?" Orange pleaded, its massive
fetid bulk awash with corrosive curiosity.
"I'm going to watch them crash."
Revolving smoothly back-and-forth in the air like some grotesque
executive toy designed to mimic perpetual motion, Will was
starting to feel really sick. Sulphur treated his groans with
scant sympathy; having a mouth full of grimy utility suit rubbing
against one's gums and taste sensors was no fun either.
Down and down, swirling towards doom went the stricken stern
section of the transport. It bounced briefly and raggedly off the
rim of the Martian atmosphere before submerging to continue its
relentless, plummeting descent.
As it fell, the hulk picked up speed, starting to get
hotter. Sulphur had something else to complain about, being used
to intense heat only as its author, but he said nothing. As the
ship plunged towards the surface, all thoughts of physical
inconvenience were forgotten, as the man, and the personification,
bonded in grim silence, awaited their fate.
Will, in the last moments before impact, desperately tried
to reach the Band of Intangibility on the sword's scabbard. He
imagined it might be less painful that way, even though he
remembered that it had not seemed to work on the ground. The
ground was a nuisance; there was too damn much of the stuff, not
that it mattered anyway. Thrown back against the sizzling hull by
the building pressure, Will's pinioned arms did not have the
strength to move a millimetre.
He thought of his impending certain death and realised just
how pointless it was. The last thing this rouged planet needed
was another splash of red tint. He would have laughed at this
thought, if the huge force of the hurtling fall had not pushed
back his lips and gums so painfully.
As the wreck plummeted headlong into the last few thousand
feet before impact, Will spared a last thought for Sulphur,
companion and confidante for so many years.
"I told that scaly pillock not to get me
up on my birthday."
The remains of the transport closed in for a final
rendezvous with the Martian surface.
When the Purple Thingy first appeared on Mars, It had paid little
attention to the "pathetic little spacecraft" that had cruised
past on its travels.
Now for the last time, that ancient, faltering Mars mining
ship skimmed over the Thingy's, now vacant, arrival site. Although
conscious that this was its final trip, it carried out its
function with no sense of nostalgia, dutifully patrolling the same
inspection circuit as it had for almost a century.
This tiny ship's sensors had catalogued and recorded most of
Humanity's' sojourn on the planet; the boom years when Phineas
Shepard and his peers had constructed their great palaces and
prosperous mining colonies, their temples to personal wealth and
How quickly it had all failed; the bustling settlements
reduced to haunting ghost towns, the outlying grand mansions just
as empty and lifeless, The poor had gone first, reasoning that
once COMS took over the mining and closed the markets, there would
be scant pickings for independents. Sensible enough to realise
that their day had passed, and that guaranteed housing and food on
Earth were preferable to lingering emptiness and hunger amongst
the hated red rocks, they had vacated in droves.
Left behind, the wealthy had stayed on with a few stubborn
retainers, watching the culture that they had proudly created,
slowly die, clinging to riches and luxury that no longer had a
meaning or a power to impress. For machines had no use for money;
even their DOLE payments just a public relations exercise to
increase the self-respect of their biological clientele.
Eventually heart-sick from loneliness and despair, the
mining barons had all either capitulated or died grimly, clutching
their pointless mammon. They had given over human sway of the
planet to a tiny and pathetic trickle of stowaways, refugees who
had arrived with high hopes but who were soon discouraged by the
harsh environment a COMS upbringing had not equipped them to deal
with. They found out the hard way that, however much they might
complain about being pampered, they could not do without the
services COMS provided on the home world. They too had made a
choice between defeated departure or disappointed death.
There was little remaining to inspect. The beings contacted
by Queen Sharon pre-dated the retinal identification system and so
were not registered as life forms. There were a few clapped-out
first generation Personifications in Shepard City, but they would
be the only inhabits of this world that would be left in a couple
COMS had for a long time been running down its mining
operations on the fourth planet. Scientific advances and increased
recycling yields on Earth had, with every passing year, rendered
the existence of the mechanised mining force on another world more
of an impracticality. With successive transports, more and more of
COMS' work force had been withdrawn. Now it was time for the
final one to arrive. COMS had not publicly announced its
intentions and it was somewhat ironic that Will and Sulphur would
never appreciate just how lucky they had been to catch the last
transport bound for Mars.
Finally, the Mining craft approached the crowded site of its
base, landing last in line to be loaded for the return journey.
In the vast columns that stretched ahead of it were the massive
ore drums, the drills, the diggers, the monstrous containers
housing the dismantled mining encampment, all programmed to begin
a patient wait for a vessel that was due at any moment and that
would never arrive.
Like the stoic rocks around them, the machines began their
silent eternal vigil of the heavens.
The Orange Thingy was beside itself with grudgingly putrid
"Those jammy so-and-so's." It shook its multi-contoured form
with slippery wonderment. "They're damned lucky, I'll admit that,
but!" Orange bleakly winked a bank of rancid eyeballs as it
started to shift and disappear. "That luck has got to run out
Will was stunned. He just could not believe it.
'I just can't believe it.' He said for the thirteenth time.
Sulphur kept count but remained silent, His XX17 Magatronian brain
free for once of any sense of irritation, he convinced himself
that this lack of response was just to allow his jaw repair
mechanisms a chance to recover, but in truth, Sulphur was silent
because he could not believe it either. It was pretty
Resolved to the end, they had come roaring terminally out of
the heavens, unyielding metal pitted against even more unyielding
rocks, Sulphur's betting had been firmly placed on the rocks to
win, when: "PLAAAAPPP!!!"
With a tremendous squashy report, the transport hulk had
landed squarely in the mountainous grasp of a much singed and
battered baseball glove.
Miraculously saved from certain doom. Will had calmly donned
the Band of Intangibility and accompanied Sulphur to their present
position. He was in surprisingly good shape; a mixture of a last-
gasp localised defence by the emergency cooling system and heat
resistant utility suit design had protected him from a severe
grilling during the high temperature decent.
Now they both solidly sat amidst the Shepard plants and red
dust, open-mouthed visages staring uncomprehendingly at the
wrecked transport and colossal mitt.
'I just can't believe it,' Will mumbled for the fourteenth
time, before trying something new, intrigued by the giant scrawl
upon the treasured trophy of Casper Titwilleger's youth.
'Who is this Joe de Maggio?'
© Gary Cahalane
best place for traditionally published works on the NET remains....