Title

If Wishes Were Horses...

Monday, 1 December 2014

Sci-Fi Fun: Aliens And Robots And Space Ships, Oh My!

I was watching a programme on BBC something last night about aliens. I LOVE all things sci-fi and fantasy and eagerly soaked up the nostalgic trip down memory lane. It began with the notion of sci-fi as social mirror, then ended up at our relationship with aliens, as it were. They were either there to invade and exterminate, arrive as immigrants, or wow and teach us. I can't help thinking how cool it'd be if aliens landed here in England, knocked on my door, and asked if they could borrow a cupful of sugar, kind of thing. I can see it now...


Okay, why does my spaceship look like the dome off St. Paul's Cathedral on a cake board with a yellow cherry on top? I bought a cake that looked like that from Aldi, but that's another story.

The Forbidden World


Blaatuu pressed a series of patches of light on his console to slow down his craft. He was already in the outer ring of asteroids and heading towards the large rock whose status the humans couldn't decide on. Apparently, it used to be a planet but wasn't one any more. The ship lurched a little, dodging a probe. He wondered idly when the probe would reach his solar system. That depended on its mission; sometimes they lingered in orbit around planets, taking pictures and measurements and sending the information back to Earth.

G.0.L.D.E., his faithful robot companion, hovered over and delivered his report.

"We. Are. App. Roach. Ing. The. For. Mer. Plan. Et. Plu. To," he rasped in a slow metallic drawl.

Blaatuu had been meaning to get his speakers fixed for some time but had never got around to it. Some of the lights in  G.0.L.D.E.'s head that were supposed to represent teeth (surely the maker's idea of a joke) had gone out, making him look like a gap-toothed old man. Blaatuu couldn't quite admit to himself that he rather liked G.0.L.D.E. the way he was, despite his flaws. The battered old robot had character, and he secretly feared that restoring him to his former glory might render him sterile, and, well, boring. There, he had said it, just not out loud.

In a few hours' time, he would be in orbit around the Earth, the only other planet for parsecs with intelligent life on it. The trouble was, it was in the Forbidden Zones. Humans were widely believed to be dangerous nutters and best avoided, but this was a dare. He had said he would do so and honour dictated that he follow through now and try to get away with it later.

The home feed monitor chittered and beeped: an update for G.0.L.D.E. was available. "Goldie," called Blaatuu, "an update is available for download." A delicious sensation flooded through him as he said this. He could almost hear his mother say, "Thartuvian gentlemen say, 'The fruit is ready to fall from the tree.'"

He had always accepted this without question until he began to study computing, at which point he had realised that machines all run on pure information. One could not use euphemisms in code, after all. The way around it was to encode what you wanted the machine to do, then "translate" the euphemism so the machine would understand what was meant when a command was entered. Of necessity, the end result was that data storage capacity was an ever-increasing problem as Thartuvian programmers worked around the clock to produce ever more efficient translations for the euphemisms being used for commands.

Blaatuu scratched his upper eyebrow. He often wondered if he had enough data storage capacity in his brain; constantly reframing every conversation so it made sense to him before he permitted the river to flow over the falls gave him headaches. Programming gave him a wonderful sense of freedom; he could say what he meant and mean what he said without fear of the lightning striking a tree.

G.0.L.D.E. advanced and a small portal opened in his side, from which a thin, multi-jointed arm telescoped and plugged itself into the port on Blaatuu's left hand side. A whirring sound followed the soft thunk and the lights in G.0.L.D.E.'s mouth flashed back and forth, reminiscent of a person licking his lips. Blaatuu made a few adjustments, choosing "Repel invading forces" and "Tidy the house" but leaving "Pour forth bounty" and "Take us with you;" he preferred his information to be picked from the garden and served straight away, and he had no intention of letting them know where he was.  A few moments later the monitor chimed. The heeb-deekle has caught the dookenbamp. Blaatuu smiled. G.0.L.D.E. had a good few years of service left in him before he took his seat at the Eternal Feast but he would go there naked, providing pure information with every utterance.

A few hours later, the small blue dot in the middle of the navigation monitor had swelled to the size of a jingledoopin, its moon a small disc in the distance. Blaatuu grinned. The mariner had sighted land. Well, that was the first part, he had arrived at Earth. Now he had to go down there and bring back proof. The transmission monitor beeped. "Hunt for gnubins?" Blaatuu pushed a green lit button and the monitor began to tune in to Earth radio and television broadcasts. While he was deciding on a destination, he switched on the cloaking device so the Earth people wouldn't be able to see his approach. That was another thing that would surely call the karbles to the corpse; cloaking devices were considered to be fruit from the Tree of Doonang. His father would surely say, "If you don't put the seed out, the birds will not fly down to the table."

Blaatuu sighed. He was chained to the guldoo, what else could he do — slink back and admit he was too frightened of the consequences of his disobedience? He could live down the notoriety this escapade would bring him even if it meant a few years as a servant of Daneema, his candour would certainly be appreciated in there. Of course, there was a strong chance that he could reach his burrow before the heeb-deekle arrived if he was clever enough. He would worry about that later. He scanned the Earth and saw, in the northern hemisphere, a small light-stippled island sandwiched between a smaller one to the west and a large landmass to the east. Thick fog rolled over the north-western part. If he set down there, he wouldn't have to worry about his ship being seen and reported. The last thing he wanted was to become another Roswell. Poor Thonk. While he had little liking for Grey Danikens, the idea of sharing Thonk's fate scared him. Yes, the Yuu Kay would do just fine.

***

"I give up!" grouched Carol Keen, letting her tired arm fall to her side, still clutching the shears. The thickening fog and failing light was making it hard to see more than a foot in front of her. She turned away from the stubborn hedge, picked up her tools, and made her way to the garden shed to put them away. As she locked the door she heard a loud hissing sound, felt a strong rush of warm air, and saw a yellowish-green light shining through the scrubby bushes in the wasteland nearby. "Kids!" she muttered. "None of my business."

She turned around and headed for the back door of her neat little semi. The crunching sound of feet approaching over damp, rotten twigs made her look around. Over the top of her shoulder-high wooden fence she could see a dark hooded figure making its way towards her. She'd have thought nothing of it but there was something fundamentally weird in the way it walked; its bobbing gait made her think of pogo sticks or space hoppers. Each step was a bounce. The words to "Walking on the Moon" by the Police came unbidden to mind. Curiosity fastened her to the spot; she couldn't have moved if she'd wanted to. The whatever-it-was drew near, its dark hood obscuring its face.

"Sugar, sugar," it said in an accent that sounded somewhere between North African and Welsh; he pronounced his Rs. A long skinny arm which seemed to have a second elbow rose up and a gloved hand with three very long fingers and an extra set of knuckles reached towards her. "Sugar, sugar," it said again.

It's got to be kids, thought Carol. She turned on her heel and went to the house. As she turned the key in the lock she heard the sound of something landing heavily in her back garden and she just knew it was that kid. "Oi!" she shouted. "Get out of it!"

"Sugar, sugar," the kid repeated, advancing slowly. "Sugar, sugar, honey honey. Tell 'em about the honey, mummy."

"I'm not having this," snapped Carol. "Go home right now or I'm calling your mum."

The kid sighed. He extended his crazy-looking arm again. "Sugar, sugar," he said softly, pleadingly.

"Look, kid, if I get you some sugar will you go away?" asked Carol, knowing that this was almost certainly a bad idea. If you feed strays they keep coming back for more. Still, there was something about that weird-looking arm that made her feel a little sorry for the tall kid that stood before her. His parents probably only let him out at night. "Stay here."

She opened the door, nipped inside and took a whole, unopened packet of sugar and a box of breakfast cereal out to the hooded kid, who shrieked with joy, turned and ran, then leapt like a grasshopper over the fence in one bound. Flabbergasted, Carol gazed in amazement at the sight of the departing kid as he disappeared into the fog, faintly silhouetted against the greenish yellow light. It flashed briefly, then, with a hiss and a whoosh it was gone. She stood where she was, rooted to the spot by the enormity of what had just happened. She had only gone and seen — and spoken to — an alien! Tendrils of fog curled into her house and the cold moist air finally forced her back indoors.

One push with her wellied foot closed the back door and the Yale lock snapped shut. Carol stumbled to the kitchen table and sat down hard on a chair. It was a good few hours before the confusion wore off; she rubbed toothpaste into her face instead of moisturiser and had a business suit on instead of pyjamas when she finally went to bed. The idea of telling someone about this entered and left her head at breakneck speed, stopping briefly at "But they'd think I was crazy! Besides, how would I prove it?"

***

The auxiliary thrusters whooshed, lifting the saucer-shaped craft off the ground. When it passed the clouds the main thruster fired up, propelling the saucer-shaped craft into the stratosphere and back into space.

Blaatuu gleefully clutched his trophies, turning them over and over again in his hands. They — and he — would have to be decontaminated, of course, but the object ball was in the pocket. Oh, what Kragaa and Dimon would say! Hah! Hah! He had them by the head fronds now. He would put the sugar and the honey in their hands and dare them to call him a yarn-twister, oh yes!

"Take these items and put them into the samples cupboard," he ordered G.0.L.D.E.

The old gold robot looked blankly at him and didn't respond.

"Goldie, didn't you hear me?"

"The. Thread. Is. Knot. Ted," rasped G.0.L.D.E.

Blaatuu gulped. "Was the fruit ready to fall from the tree?"

"The. Heeb. Dee. Kle. Has. Caught. The. Dook. En. Bamp," affirmed the robot.

Oh, Doonang at the karbles' banquet, he was going to Daneema's palace for sure; G.0.L.D.E. must have downloaded another upgrade while he was swapping droplets with the Earth nutter. He had no doubt that he would soon be feeling the hot breath of Daneema's hounds on the back of his neck. Terrified thoughts tripped over each other in their haste to find a way out of Doonang's Labyrinth. The navigation console was all lit up like a fireworks display and co-ordinates for Prendikar had already been set. Blaatuu keyed in the override code but whoever was currently remote-piloting his ship had anticipated that and the ship continued on its way. Blaatuu pushed a set of four buttons to reset the console so he could press the dead man's switch he had installed before setting out but the remote pilot had spotted that and disabled it, too. It occurred to Blaatuu that he could take the control panel apart and remove the circuit boards, reprogram each one then put them back in but when he went looking for his tool kit he found it had been moved.

"Where is Doonang's own toolkit?" he roared.

That traitor G.0.L.D.E. swiveled his head and rasped, "In Doon. Ang's. Own. Cup. Board."

Confusion flooded Blaatuu's brain, scattering his thoughts. Doonang's own cupboard meant "the home of the damned," right? It also meant "Expelled."

"Goldie, have you cast my toolkit into Doonang's own cupboard?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Dir. Ec. Tive. Five. Three. Two. No. One. Shall. App. Roach. The. Plan. Et. Called. Earth. By. Its. In. Hab. It. Ants. Clause. Sev. En. Teen. All. Ships. That. App. Roach. Earth. Shall. Be. Im. Poun. Ded. By. The. Cos. Mic. Po. Lice. And. The. Per. Pet. Rat. Or. Arr. Est. Ed. And. Charged. With. Breach. Of. Dir. Ec. Tive. Five. Hun. Dred. No. One. Shall. Re. Veal. The. Co. Or. Din. Ates. Of.  Pren. Dik. Ar. To. Dan. Ger. Ous. Nut. Ters. Lest. They. Find. Us. And. Feign. Ing. Trade. Steal. From. Us. And. Feign. Ing. Peace. Ful. In. Ten. Tions. Make. War. Up. On. Us. "

The only time Thartuvians ever spoke plainly was when they were dealing with criminals. It didn't matter if you went naked in front of a criminal, after all. And that is what he was, now. A criminal who may well have endangered his own civilisation, and all for a dare. If the Earth nutters discovered Prendikar, it would only be a matter of time before they started building interstellar craft and, soon afterwards, staging an invasion. They would compare their single elbowed arms and single-kneed legs to those of the green Thartuvians and declare their hairy pink selves superior by reason of fewer joints. Had he not been told this over and over again, plainly so it'd sink in?

Had he really hurt anyone, though? The Earth nutter he'd spoken to seemed a little shocked by what she could see of him; although she'd obviously noticed his extra joints she hadn't seen his three eyes, his green skin, or his head fronds — all those things that made him different. Chances were, she'd remember the encounter but say nothing. She was plump and squishy, dressed for work, not pleasure. She might not be interested in seeking attention. If she kept the dookenbamp in its burrow the heeb-deekle might just growl at him, then let him go, but he'd lose the ship for sure and would not be allowed to swim into the ocean again.

As his ship hurtled homewards, Blaatuu gazed in anguish at the items he held in his hands and wondered if it it had all been worth the trouble he now found himself in.

The End.


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