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The Purple Thingy was getting impatient.
"Are they going to sit there forever?"
It would have to make contact via the sword and get them
moving on their way. But first, aware of its youthful vows as
a Junior Thingy Scout, and of the tattered "Keep the Cosmos Tidy"
sticker stapled to one of its many rumps. It decided that there
was a responsible cleanup job to be done.
London, England: Early 2lst Century, August.
For Casper and Blossom Titwilleger, the past week had been the
worst of their lives. The press attention, the stresses of a
lifetime of consumerism reduced, literally, to rubble, the
meetings with lawyers and insurers, the hasty replacements of
immediate necessities, such as clothing; they had been frantic to
Opportunity had presented itself in the nerdish form of the
incoming Bland Family from Hampshire. A polite note left on the
door of the Titwillegers' large Colonial-style dwelling, informed
the Blands that, due to unavoidable last-minute interior
redecoration of chez Titwilleger; fully-paid reservations had been
made for them at a local motel of high standing and a new Cadillac
had been hired. The note also pointed out that the Blands should
react with a "jolly British stiff upper lip" to the many eager
exponents of the journalistic art encamped en-mass at the bottom
of the lawn.
The Titwillegers had thus finally made their escape, and
leaving behind the hellish nightmare that their lives had become,
they had made their way to England's romantic, Olde Worlde shores.
Due to problems with insurance, there had been a few forced
economies: first class tickets had to be downgraded, no limo from
the airport etc., but compared to what they had recently
suffered, such privations were minor annoyances. Even the fact
that the Bland's "Dream Home" had turned out to be a poky little
Aldershot semi-detached, that the Bland family car was revealed as
a late 70's East German Trabanth (purchased for slightly less than
a modern bus ticket) and that the laughingly small appliance
called a refrigerator was empty; all of this could not mar their
pleasure at escaping.
However, they soon realised that "the best T. V in the
world" was over-run with Australian imports or American shows that
were two years out of date and, as there were no books on
taxidermy amongst the Bland's limited stocks, they decided to
travel. To this end, and with hope of enchantment in their hearts,
Casper and Blossom had ventured abroad to seek the mythical green
and pleasant land, all the while befouling the endless rows of
drab Home Counties suburban facades with the noxious emissions of
the Trebanth, a vehicle that could have given the Thingys' a run
for their money in the pollution stakes. Eventually exasperated by
one breakdown too many, they had splashed out on the hire of a
serviceable electric Ford "Autumnal" and had travelled to see the
untidy delights of England's capital city.
London in August was surprisingly sultry, almost tropical in
its humidity. Weather experts spoke gloomily of the increasing
nascence of signs of global warming, whilst the great British
gardener ignored the droughts and hose-pipe bans with blinkered
impunity, arrogantly intent on protecting their lovingly-tended
floral borders from victimisation at the hands of well intentioned
Casper and Blossom had risen early, suffused with the
pioneering spirit of their ancestors, and decided to brave the
M25. After much wasted time spent entrapped in traffic, moving at
half the speed of their forebears' covered wagons. They had
finally made it to "West End" as the central area of the city was
called. Once there, after forlornly whiling away what fragment
remained of time gained from their daybreak departure in search of
the semi-legendary "empty parking space", they had gamely joined
the bewildered multitude of sweltering visitors, tramping wearily
amongst indifferent local crowds from monument to monument, it
being something of a tradition on arrival in a new capital to see
all the grand buildings that the natives never bothered about:
Buckingham Palace; the wide avenue of the Mall; Trafalgar Square,
a Mecca for every pigeon with a need to empty its intestines and a
grudge against humanity; past the National Gallery and the book
shops of Charing Cross Road; then, along Shaftesbury Avenue, its
mostly-dark theatres almost as disappointing in their tawdry,
traffic-choked setting as Broadway had been before redevelopment,
nestled amidst the sleaze of Times Square; onward to Piccadilly,
full of neon billboards for Japanese products that looked
cheap and vaguely ridiculous in the piercing daylight. Finally,
pausing for directions, they doubled back to Leicester Square, its
premiere cinemas showing "new" releases, long-forgotten and sold
to digital cable back home.
Fatigued, flushed, triumphantly sated with all the "quaint
culture", Casper and Blossom stood queuing in Leicester Square,
impatient for the opening of the reduced price theatre ticket
As he waited in line towards the rear of a large and wilting
group of heat-buffeted overseas theatre lovers, Casper acutely
felt the lose of his hand-held micro-midget video camera, faithful
recorder of all momentous Titwilleger travels and keeper of
memories, a ubiquitous companion that had been transformed into a
lump of space granite although, with his arm and leg heavily
bandaged, there was not much that he could have done in the way of
startling camera work.
Blossom Titwilleger, whose restraint over the past few days
had been almost saintly, was beginning to feel a building
pressure. A woman, not normally renowned for her calm acceptance
of personal inconvenience, the tedious duration of the high
temperature vigil was beginning to wash away all trace of her
newly acquired humility. At last, she could stand no more.
'CASPER!' She bellowed, sending most of the queue Jumping
into the air in unrehearsed unison. 'Get me a goddamned chair!'
In Space: The Thingy gratified its sense of neatness. In
Ashton: The home full of asteroids dematerialised, returning to
their correct orbits and shapes above the fourth planet. On Mars:
The baseball mitt vanished, sending the traumatised transport
crashing into its final resting place. In Leicester Square: in the
bizarre coincidental way of such things, Blossom' s strident
request for seating was instantly answered with one of a set of
Titwilleger genuine reproduction dining chairs.
On its own, this would not have been so bad; but
unfortunately, it had been accompanied by: bicycles, fruit,
stuffed mammals, photos - all the A.W.O.L possessions appeared in
the centre of the Square, balanced on a litter bin, all carefully
arranged by the Thingy for the sake of tidiness, with large items
at the bottom, smaller items nearer the top.
This column of thoughtfully balanced goods rose, end-on-end,
out of sight into the sky, dwarfing the surrounding architecture
and presenting a unique new hazard to air traffic controllers.
A tee-shirt, blown free of the far distant pinnacle, fluttered
slowly towards ground, watched incredulously by a square full of
people sharing a stunned moment of peace. The shirt gently came
to rest on the head of a bronze of Charlie Chaplin and the calm
was shattered. As it landed, a newly-arrived youth found his
voice and used it at full volume.
'F**k me! These publicity stunts get better every day!'
People rapidly started to react, moving closer or further
away from the column, prompted in either direction by their
reserves of bravado. Only Casper stood still, staring in total
'Its not my fault!' Blossom quietly asserted, falling back
in nervous dread before her ageing husband's fixed expression.
Casper did not even hear her, His gaze went beyond his wife
and the rising pile of family treasures, drawn in fascination to
the words on a cinema hoarding across the square, they read:
Witchcraft 2 - The Curse.
A few miles from Shepard City: a dusty figure in a battered
suit of armour, which struggled to encase a girth of Falstaffian
proportions, moved rapidly across the rocky terrain.
Sir Bastable Fitche - "most fair and parfait knight" - had
just returned from a crusade against the Godless heathen Saracen.
There he had tilted with many goodly lords and fought at their
side through much weary slaughter. Now he had turned his attention
to the redemption of a knight's most profound oath, a promise
forged in the heat of battle. He was committed to that most holy
of quests, the search for the Grail.
Conscious that time was running cut, Sir Bastable spurred
on his noble steed to greater efforts; his armoured legs increased
their furious peddling and the ruined old bicycle moved even
quicker, its warped wheels crazily bumping their tyre-less rims
into faster and more eccentric forward orbits, the rusty metal
frame bucking like a bronco as it jumped over the Martian
boulders. The knight knew that he had to locate the Grail by
nightfall. If he did not return to the bar before then, his
Squire would be furious.
Merlyn was beginning to suspect that he was no longer in
Wessex. He had been journeying for some considerable time in the
gloomy daylight, not pausing to take shelter from the tempestuous
red dust storms that had frequently assailed him. If this vile
desert was all that remained of his once green homeland, then
something demonic and evil had taken hold of that land, something
that dwarfed the petty enchantments of his likely enemies.
His foes had been long dead or departed when he had started
his rest; he remembered the wanderings that had followed the end
of Kinata's reign, the demise of his ancient culture and the
rising worship of the Christ, the arrival of the Saxons and the
He had been so tired, SO despondent, How long had the spell
lasted? How long had he slept? A hundred years? Surely not more
than that. Merlyn halted; it was time that he found out.
Muttering rhythmically, Merlyn raised a long, rune-clad arm
above his head and great rippling bolts of power shot forth into
the air. For a moment he stood transfixed, as wave-upon-wave of
pure energy distributed themselves throughout the planets
atmosphere and beyond. At last, drained and exhausted, he stopped,
tottering slightly as he waited, senses full of eager suspense.
Across the surface of the planet, the Thingy's Chosen Ones had
stopped to register and admire the wizard's dazzling pyrotechnic
display. Unsurprised, armed with the feeling that more strange
events seemed imminent, Balidare, Grendella and Magda filed the
display into a mental drawer marked "portents", before
recommencing their respective Journeys towards the derelict city,
all reassured slightly that perhaps it was not just a wild-goose-
chase after all.
Will and Sulphur were also unfazed by Merlyn's magic, mainly
because they did not notice it. They had been dealing with other
Will was scandalised.
'What do you mean, dig a hole?' he exclaimed in tones of
shock and outrage.
'What I said.' Sulphur replied, undaunted by the human's
'So, you're saying that, if I want to go to the toilet, I
have to dig a hole with my hands, excrete in the hole and then
cover it up?'
'That's about right.' Sulphur agreed.
'But it's monstrous! Where are the waste disposal systems?'
'There are none, They're a product of COMS. Not a product
of nature.' The dragon spoke in a deadpan voice that hid an inner
struggle to conceal the sense of "I told you so" triumphant relish
that his circuits busily signalled. 'You've been moaning for
decades that this is what you wanted, life without machines
nannying you to death.'
'But,' said Will, his distasteful grimace a picture to
behold, 'I never thought it would be so - squalid.'
The Wizard's enchantment had delighted one other witness.
Closest to Merlyn's position, Sir Bastable had been almost
childishly enraptured by the mystical fireworks, convinced that
they were a clear sign from God, indicating the Grail's location
to his goodly servant. His little fat armoured legs pumped the
pedals of the creakily protesting bicycle with tireless
dedication, powering it across the red dust at manic speed.
After over an hour of such pace, the knight neared his goal.
Sir Bastable's sense of anticipation was all-consuming, visions of
the Holy Chalice closed off all else, blinding him to his
surroundings. The sudden appearance of Merlyn in his path, and
the terrific impact as the knight hit the wizard, was therefore
As he picked himself up with all the dignity that someone
knocked into a horizontal heap can muster, Merlyn muttered a
string of archaic oaths that probably would have been unprintable
if they had been at all comprehensible.
Sir Bastable did not understand a word that was said, but
had not liked their tone. The battered knight righted himself
into a warlike pose, struggling to lift his frozen visor.
'Zounds Sir!' Bastable coldly uttered, freeing the visor and
pointing dramatically at the fallen bicycle. 'Yonder lies my
war-horse, Leonidas. He is the finest destrier in all Christendom
and I must warn you that ye will pay dearly if he has suffered
As if to illustrate the point, Bastable's incredibly full
white moustache spilled forth from the confines of the helmet.
The moustache bristled with indignation, then followed the
bristling with a rumba and a neat little two-step, it was a
Merlyn gazed at the rotund, red-faced little knight with
real puzzlement. He had been walking along minding his own
business, when suddenly, out of nowhere the dusty armoured figure
had appeared mounted on the strange contraption and bowled him
down. The mystic was unaware of any possible changes in greetings
etiquette during his slumber, and so stayed his initial murderous
inclinations. Perhaps this crashing into visitors was some new
custom. It was to be hoped that it was not; there was only so
much wear and tear that even a wizard could take.
However, Merlyn was concerned; something was wrong. He
spoke all contemporary dialects and idioms but this being,
although definitely a man in appearance, seemed to converse in
gibberish. Surely language had not changed so much In a hundred
years or so? Merlyn decided to act. He moved slowly forward, arms
spread wide to indicate peaceful intentions.
'Greetings. I wish you no harm, Where am I ?... Ancient
Briton, Pict, Celt, Saxon, Norse, Greek, Hebrew, Latin. etc.,
etc., etc. For some time and with real patience Merlyn tried all
the languages that he knew. All met with the same blank response
from the knight,
Sir Bastable was aware that some saintly hermits could
undertake the speaking of tongues. Was this curiously imposing
figure such a man? His speech certainly made no sense, or
perhaps, had the jolt of the impact just been too much. He shook
his head in bewilderment, aware that he did not have the mental
capacity for such weighty matters.
Merlyn finally gave up. He was obviously getting nowhere.
Although drained and weary after the immense exertions involved in
his recent enchantment, the wizard realised that he would have to
perform another act of magic.
Reaching into his robes, Merlyn pulled forth his most
treasured possession; a compact little black volume. Not for him
the showy ostentation of some huge, outmoded and dusty Grimoire,
or bloodstained collection of runes designed for sale to dumb
amateurs. No, Merlyn was a busy working wizard and needed a
working tool: he used a Fil-a-Hex.
Quickly he leafed through the pages until he found what he
wanted under LINGUISTICS. He closed his eyes, muttering the
words, quivering his hands. The beat and the tempo built, the
movements and voice becoming more urgent accordingly. Suddenly
there was a strong breeze where before there had been none before.
For a moment, the Magician was cloaked from Sir Bastable's gaze by
a cloud of windswept red dust that formed into a mini-hurricane
around his plaid-clad figure. Then it was over.
As the dust cleared, Merlyn lay still on the ground. Sir
Bastable approached, all thought of the Grail cleared from his
mind. This person was interesting.
'Are you all right?'
Merlyn stirred. He sat up, a beaming triumphant smile
lighting up his grim features.
'Fine thanks,' he replied, speaking the same tongue as Sir
Bastable with perfect fluent ease, 'a little tired perhaps, but it
works. I can still do it - I can still perform a linguistic spell
with the best of them.'
Merlyn did not know just how right he was. In fact, he was
severely understating the case. His spell had been more
successful than he could imagine. It may have just have been that
Merlyn was a bit rusty after his long rest, or it may have been
that he just plain underestimated the force needed to get the
result required, but, whatever it was, the spell had dramatically
EVERYTHING on the planet, biological being or not, had been
abruptly empowered with the ability to understand any language
spoken or shown to them. Nothing was left out: rocks, doors,
tables - all could comprehend, all equipped with a power acquired,
mainly without their knowledge, a skill that was to have its uses
for some. In an instant, the motley crew of life-forms on Mars had
become as unlikely a bunch of inadvertent linguists as it was
possible to find. Even the few surviving creatures swimming in
Grendella's lonesome bathing pool were affected, imbued with the
capacity to communicate in anything from Serbo-Croat to Swahili,
but sadly, like most of the lipless rocks and plants, neglected
and totally forgotten in their subterranean watery world, they
would never get the chance to try it out.
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