A prequel inspired by Zaphod Beeblebrox

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FICTION

In the beginning there was Douglas Adams and The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. There was Pink Floyd and The Division Bell, and there was Keep Talking (AKA ‘Cyrus Song’), the track which samples Stephen Hawking. Then there was a book inspired by all of that, also called Cyrus Song. There was some other stuff too.

The original Hitch Hiker’s Guide became a trilogy in five parts (Douglas’ words), and Douglas wrote Young Zaphod Plays it Safe, a short story prequel, now only available in a rare, out-of-print hard cover compendium (which I’m fortunate to have a copy of). So to continue the tributes to an inspiration, I wrote a Cyrus Song ‘Bonus story’. It’s a story which stands on its own nonetheless, and it’s co-published here and in Schlock web zine this weekend, where I share a stable with other (very talented) fringe writers, waiting to be read and discovered.

Alchemist LaoratoryThe Alchemist Laboratory by Kashuse (DeviantArt)

A YOUNG CAPTAIN PLAYS IT SAFE

It was homework which started this story: an assignment marked ‘F’, my initial; because I’d misplaced a decimal point and completely fluffed up a calculation. But it was that very decimal point which had landed me in detention, so I’d taken it with me, in a Petri dish liberated from the biology lab where I now sat again after school. The detention was planned, so that I could further my studies. I looked down at the little thing in the dish, as I wondered what to do next. It was moving around, now more elongated, like a comma.

This being a school science classroom I was sitting in, I was surrounded by equipment and paraphernalia which might better allow me to understand what it was I’d caught, but for the occasional glance from Big John. Mr Fowle was our biology tutor and a fine man, both in profession and less regimented theatres. A man of science, but with a wider mind, he was admired by his pupils, and it was actually quite a privilege to be in detention with him, of all teachers.

For a moment, I thought about simply talking to John about this little thing I’d caught. He was a science teacher after all. But even though I viewed him as a friend, he remained a teacher and my thoughts on the scurrying comma were perhaps outside even his broad mind, as they grew whimsical. So I decided to write them down.

With my biology homework corrected with the removal the rogue decimal point, I thought I could use the duration of the detention to tackle some other homework: English Literature. I needed to turn in an open-form essay or fiction piece of 5-6000 words.

I had what could just possibly be a previously undiscovered organism secreted on my person: What on earth might I be carrying? Or might it not be of this earth? The possibilities began to multiply, and I realised I needed to have a focus for the rest of the story, if I was to remain within the word count. It turns out I fell asleep at around this point.

β€œFord.” That’s me. β€œMr Ford?”

β€œYes, that’s me.”

β€œYes, well done lad. Off you go.”

β€œThank you sir.”

β€œWhat for? Keeping you in detention? I’d rather not be here. No, in future, Mr Ford, beware decimal points and other mathematical indicators. Exercise caution also, with grammar and punctuation. Because the difference, Mr Ford, can be that between life and death. Think, Mr Ford. Think, before you speak or act. Open your eyes, then you might be made a prefect. But you have to get to sixth form first.”

‘Captain, my captain’ sprang to mind. I knew I should do well to heed his words.

Lewisham High Street is a long road. From school in New Cross, the road takes me past the station, with its bus depot, overground and DLR trains, then through the market and its fragrance – which could only ever be labelled ‘Lewisham’ – and into Catford. Sometimes I’ll walk the street and say hi to the Catford cat. Other times I’ll cut through Mountsfield Park. This particular time, I took a different diversion.

With Big John’s words in my head, I’d walked from school and thought about who I could speak to about this comma I’d found. I’d eliminated all the possibilities I could, but I was limited by means. It definitely moved of its own free will, so it was organic. But it was small. I hadn’t even been able to discern if it had legs. When I moved my spectacles between my eyes and the Petri dish, the best magnification I’d managed seemed to show the little thing floating.

Having no pets, I’d rarely paid attention to the PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) hospital in New Cross. I’d passed it many times and it had always just been there, of no use or interest to me at all. But I had an idea.

This being late in the day, there was no-one in the waiting room. I had to fill in a form at reception, which asked for my pet’s type, breed, gender and name. I wasn’t really comfortable with any living being being called a ‘pet’, but I’d never had one, so I just scrubbed the word out in a rebellious 14-year-old schoolboy way, then wondered why I’d done it. For the other questions, I simply answered ‘NA’, on the grounds of, I didn’t know what it was, so I hadn’t named it when it might have its own name, and did it matter what sex it was (even if it knew)?

β€œMr Ford?” That’s me. β€œMr Ford, and Nah?” I could see what she’d done there.

There’s always a mate at school who has a really fit, young-looking mum. I had no such friends whom I was aware of, least of all their mums. In any case, a school satchel is just as useful as a towel for a teenage traveller to carry about their person, arranged upon the lap before standing up. The MILF vet was the same height as me, which is not very. She had strawberry blonde hair, tied back from black-rimmed glasses. She was very pretty. She looked at her clipboard as I rearranged things in my satchel and retrieved the Petri dish. β€œI’m Eve. Come with me please.” Rare will be the schoolboy a certain way inclined, who doesn’t react to such words: A blush, snort, a guffaw, would perhaps be permissible in the circumstances, but a firm punch to my satchel contained mine.

Whichever way I looked at it, she was Eve: Forwards or backwards, her name was a palindrome. I followed Eve along a corridor and into a room, which wasn’t surprising. If it had led into Narnia, it might have been. But inside was as surprising to me as it would probably be to anyone else who’d never set foot in a veterinary laboratory, consulting room, or whatever it was. Inside the room were the usual things I might have expected to find, if I’d been in one before: An examination table with an overhead lamp, a portable ultrasound machine and so on. But there was also what looked like a scanning electron microscope and a mainframe computer.

It seemed as normal to Eve to be looking at a little scurrying thing in a dish, as I assumed it would if I’d had or been a dog or cat. She put the container down on the examination table and positioned the lamp over it. The lamp doubled as a magnifier, with a circular fluorescent tube surrounding a lens, which Eve peered through. Then she said something quite unexpected:

β€œI’ve never seen anything like it.” It was unexpected, because I assumed that as a vet, she’d seen most things.

β€œWhat is it?” I wondered.

β€œI don’t know. It’s certainly alive.” She continued to peer. β€œIt’s moving, anyway. But I can’t see that it’s got any legs. Shall we take a closer look?” I assumed she meant the electron microscope. This was confirmed when she walked towards it.

β€œYes please,” I said, perhaps a little too keenly placing myself next to her.

The electron microscope was more like some futuristic arcade game when it was switched on: A tiny camera operated by a joystick hovered around the Petri dish, now magnified so that we could clearly make out the shape and features of the little creature.

It was a metallic silver / black colour, and tubular, with rounded ends: Like a baguette. But not like a baguette at all, except in shape. But smooth, metallic and with a sort of translucent sheen. It was completely unlike a baguette. But as Eve panned in closer with the camera, we could see it was filled with something.

Running along both sides of the not-baguette was a series of what looked like portholes, all blacked out and recessed into the side of the creature: Perhaps these were breathing holes. The creature had markings too: red stripes, running along the sides, just above the belly. All the time, it was moving, but not by any visible means. We’d discounted legs, but the thing didn’t contract and expand, nor undulate, but still it slowly floated around, just above the surface of the dish. And it didn’t seem to be moving blindly: It didn’t hit walls then adjust its course, it seemed to know where it was going. Whether it knew where it was was another unanswered question. But it seemed to be sentient, and its movement allowed us to deduce which end was the front.

Eve moved the camera to what we’d now identified as the front of the creature, where we’d expect to find a mouth and eyes. Seeing the creature several times magnified, I could hardly believe that this was the little speck which had landed on my homework. And when Eve stopped the camera at the front of the thing, it became even more startling.

Around the top of the front of the thing (its head, we were assuming), was an apparently illuminated crescent shape, like a visor. If this was the creature’s eye, I wondered what spectra it could see in. I had to assume that the blue/green light was probably down to a chemical reaction, like that used by fireflies.

β€œThis is absolutely fascinating,” Eve finally said. β€œWhere did you say you found it?” Well actually, I hadn’t said where.

β€œIt just appeared in my homework, on the page, like a comma.” I really wished I’d thought of something more dramatic.

β€œWas it any help with your homework?”

β€œNo, I failed. But it made me resolve to look at things differently and check them over.” That was pretty much what Big John had said to me at school. β€œTo always think, before speaking or acting.”

β€œThat’s a lot to get from an out-of-place punctuation mark.” Which is true, but such a thing can completely change the meaning of something if it’s in the wrong place. So it’s worth checking. And here we were, checking, trying to find out what this particular comma was all about. Where did it come from? Where did it belong? What was its context? It wasn’t long before there were yet more questions.

Eve zoomed in on the creature’s crescent eye, so that the microscope camera was almost peering into the thing’s head, when in reality it was two centimetres away from something the size of a speck of dirt. The eye was semi-opaque, as though it was double-glazed, with a thin white mist between the layers; very much like the eye scales of a snake just before it sheds its skin, loosening the top layer from that underneath with a milky excretion.

β€œIt looks like,” I began, β€œa snake’s eye just before a slough.” I resisted the urge to punch my satchel again.

β€œI was just thinking the same,” Eve said. Great minds think alike. β€œIt’s like there’s a milky excretion here.” When you’re 14 years old, hearing an attractive lady say things like ‘milky excretion’ can cause one a moment in one’s own thoughts. β€œLet’s see if there’s anyone at home, shall we?” Was she proposing psychiatry?

Eve panned the camera in even closer, so that it was practically knocking on the front of the creature. If I wasn’t already writing a fiction assignment for English Literature, I definitely was from this point hence, because no-one would believe it to be real…

As Eve adjusted the focus on the microscope’s camera, we could make out what was behind the eyes of the creature. It wasn’t a creature at all; it was some sort of microscopic spacecraft. The visor was a screen, and behind the white mist was what would look like a bridge in any sci-fi film. There were three very comfortable-looking seats, like reclining easy chairs, facing what we now knew to be the window / screen. Around the perimeter of the bridge were various computer screens, displaying text and graphics we couldn’t make out. The hi-tech was juxtaposed though, by metal pipes, levers and analogue dials. Every now and then, one or more of the pipes would expel what looked like steam, like a steam train whistle. I wondered if we’d been able to hear what was going on, whether the pipes might be playing some sort of tune. I tried to imagine some retro-futuristic pipe organ, parping out a steam punk tune, like the five-tone greeting in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which this wasn’t yet.

Whatever this thing was, it could still be a man-made nano machine. If it was, then I probably shouldn’t know about it. Seeing as I did, I shouldn’t let on. The English Literature route was perfect for this recording of events.

Encounters with Unidentified Flying (or Floating) Objects have been categorised into five groups as close encounters of the first, second, third, fourth and fifth kind. When a person sees a UFO within 150 metres, it’s an encounter of the first kind. Given that we were about 150 micrometers away, we could tick that one off. When an encounter with a UFO in the sky or on the ground leaves evidence behind, such as scorch marks on the ground or indents etc., it’s of the second kind. Given that ours hadn’t stopped hovering just above the base of the dish, we hadn’t had one of those yet. When an encounter is with visible occupants inside the UFO, it’s of the third kind. Unless the aliens were invisible to us, we couldn’t tick that one off. Which is a slight paradox, because if there were aliens but they weren’t visible to us (through choice or otherwise), would that count? Anyway, assuming any extraterrestrials wouldn’t look like recliner chairs (unless they were disguised; another paradox), then we hadn’t seen any that we were aware of. The fourth kind involves the person being taken and experimented on inside the alien craft. At that point, we wouldn’t fit, on account of scale. The fifth kind involves direct communication between aliens and humans. This, I assumed to be impossible, even if there were aliens present. Yet somehow we went straight from first base to third.

Somewhere among the mangles and parps of the pipes and levers, a door opened.

At this point, I should like to insert a note to Mrs Walker, my English tutor, and to Mr Harmer, my other English teacher: One is Language and the other is Literature, and together, they taught me a lot of what I know. So:

Dear Lois and John,

Among the many things you taught me, was to imagine a situation: A situation as complex and fun as I’d liked. Then you told me to mix it up more, to make it not incomprehensible but fantastical, whimsical, and perhaps odd. Finally, you taught me how to translate what I see into the simple medium of words alone, through prose; to make my writing not implausible but just about believable. I learned how to use plot devices and all sorts of other ways to manipulate words and the thoughts they convey, so that each carries a part of an image. You even inspired me to write my own literary statement in the form of a challenge:

Imagine you’re in a room, with no visible means of exit: How do you escape? Well, you could stop imagining. Or you could use your imagination.

This is what happened next:

To use onomatopoeia, there was a ‘whoosh’ sound, as the door opened. Then a snake fell out and onto the bridge. As the doors opened, a snake was standing, with more than half its body lifted from the ground. Then it just fell in through the doors. It raised itself up again, then moved around on the bridge, bumping into a lever and clambering over a pipe. And then it sat in the central chair. Its head rested well below the headrest, its back extended down the back of the chair and along the seat, so that its tail end dangled over the edge. I remember my father’s barber placing a wooden plank across a similar chair to prop me up for a haircut. And then the snake seemed to fall asleep.

I’m familiar with snakes in the wild and even though this one was microscopic, I had to rely on the limits of my personal knowledge. This one was a grey brown colour. Assuming the seat to be seat-sized, I put the snake at about four feet in length. Not knowing where it came from, nor its size if it were in my dimension, it could be any one of a number of snakes I knew about. It was only when the snake’s mouth drooped open, as though it was snoring, that I was almost sure.

β€œIt’s a fuc.. flipping black mamba Doctor!” I should have left it there. β€œYou are a doctor, aren’t you?” What I meant was, ‘I really hope someone can tell me what’s going on here,’ and not, ‘Are you a fraud?’

β€œYes, I am. My PhD was in human psychology, but I branched out into other kinds of people.” I must have looked confused for a second. β€œAnimal people. So much easier to understand.” How did she know? β€œAnd yes, that is a fucking black mamba.”

β€œWhat’s it doing here though?”

β€œI don’t know. You found it.”

β€œWell, I did. But I didn’t mean to. It was accidental. It was what got me detention.”

β€œBut isn’t it also what brought you here? Think differently, young man.” I was trying my best. Maybe I should just submit this English Literature assignment as a poem. ‘Snake in a baguette / Don’t know what it’s up to / Cos we haven’t spoken yet.’ Because it was about to get stranger still.

Another black mamba, kind of walked onto the bridge of the ship. The second one didn’t fall out of the door like the first. Instead, there was another ‘whoosh’ sound, and the second snake moved onto the bridge, with about half of its body raised from the floor, so that at full size, it would be about two feet tall. It then sat, in the same way the first snake had, on the seat to the latter’s left. But this second snake didn’t fall asleep. Instead, it started moving its jaws as it looked at the other snake next to it. I’m familiar with snakes adjusting and stretching their jaws prior to eating prey, but black mambas have never been known to practice cannibalism. In fact, if I’d been able to hear, I might go so far as to say the second snake might have been talking.

β€œDo you want to listen in?” Eve asked me. Of course I did. Could we? Should we?

β€œErm,” I stammered, β€œyes, please.” The pleading was really unnecessary. β€œHow though?”

β€œCan you keep a secret?” Well, I wasn’t going to say ‘no’, was I?

β€œYes, what is it?”

β€œWell, if I tell you, it’ll no longer be a secret.” Was that a threat?

β€œYou kind of have, Doctor,” I reminded her. The Doctor smiled, which was reassuring, I think. It was one of those double-meaning smiles, like a newsreader at the end of a report they’re not sure how they should react to.

β€œCall me Eve. Well, it would be our secret then, Mr Ford.” I wondered if I should ask her to call me by my first name, but she hadn’t asked what it was.

β€œSo, how can we listen to the snakes? But more importantly, how the fuc… flipping hell did a black mamba get that small, and in what looks like a space ship?”

β€œIf we can speak to them, we might be able to find out.”

β€œYes, but how doctor?”

β€œThis,” she said, then stood up. She walked to the computer in the corner and pressed some keys, then fished something from a drawer and returned, trailing an electric cable behind her. She sat back next to me and plugged the cable into the electron microscope. β€œThis,” she said again, β€œis something I’ve been working on, on the side.”

β€œWhat is it?”

β€œWell, it’s at an early stage: Experimental. I don’t know if it’ll ever have a practical application, least of all one I might be willing to use.”

β€œWhy so?”

β€œBecause it’s a prototype for a universal translation device. I’ve called it the Babel fish.”

β€œAnd it works?”

β€œGenerally speaking. It needs a lot of tweaking for individual species, but as a concept, it somehow seems to work. If you look at the microscope’s camera,” which I did, β€œyou’ll see there’s a tiny microphone attached.” She pointed, and there was. β€œSo, theoretically, with this plugged into the computer and with the Babel fish program running, the microphone should pick up what the snake, or alien, is saying, and translate it for us.”

β€œWhat about talking back?” I wondered.

β€œIt’s not something I’d ever planned to do, but it does work both ways. So if we speak, the microphone will pick us up. And then how it works becomes a bit confusing.

β€œWhy?”

β€œBecause with the few animals I’ve listened to, they’ve always had voices which reflected their personalities, of course. But also, which bely their physiology.”

β€œHow do you mean?”

β€œA mouse, for instance, sounds squeaky. I’ve never deliberately spoken back, but when I first heard that, I giggled at the stereotype being confirmed, and the mouse must have heard me. It looked startled. And I imagined that if I’d heard a smaller thing as higher pitched, perhaps the mouse heard bigger me as a really deep voice. But I don’t know how the Babel fish actually does that. It’s kind of a paradox, like never really knowing what your own voice sounds like.”

β€œNor, by extension,” I offered, β€œdoes anyone truly know what they look like.”

β€œEh?”

β€œBecause we only ever see ourselves in mirror image, or in photographs. It is impossible for us to view ourselves directly. Ergo, as we really are, and are seen by other people.”

β€œThat’s pretty deep, Mr Ford.”

β€œYes, sorry.”

β€œDon’t apologise. Like I said, think differently. So, back to the snakes?” I’d momentarily forgotten, in the presence of an attractive woman old enough to be someone my age’s mum, about two potential extraterrestrial snakes in a microscopic spacecraft, under the microscope.

Eve flicked a switch, then a sound came from some speakers on the computer. It was a high-pitched rasping sound, almost a shrill whistle. As Eve adjusted some controls, the shrieks became a voice:

β€œWake up.” By the way the mouth was moving, this was the second snake speaking to the first, who was still asleep. β€œWake up,” it said again. β€œWe’re here.”

β€œWhat!?” The first snake now woke with a start. β€œWhat? Where?”

β€œHere,” said the second snake. β€œHere, wherever you programmed the ship to come to. Well, we’re there.”

β€œAre we?” The first snake adjusted himself in his chair, peering forward at the screen, and our camera. β€œWhat’s that?” I assumed he was talking about the camera.

β€œI don’t know. I thought you would.”

β€œWhy would I?”

β€œBecause these are the co-ordinates you programmed into the ship.”

β€œBut that’s not supposed to be here.”

β€œWell, what were you expecting?”

β€œThis is supposed to be a quiet country spot. There should be humans around.”

β€œBut you said yourself, it’s a quiet country spot. If it’s secluded, might there actually not be people there?”

β€œWell, I suppose. But I was hoping for a little village or something. You know, where there’d just be one or two people around. Not that thing.” He gestured with his snout at the screen.

β€œDo you think we should speak now?” I said.

β€œWhat the fuck was that!?” I heard a sharp, whistling rasp: The alien snake had heard me.

β€œI think he heard you just fine,” Eve confirmed.

β€œWhat!? Who is that?” hissed the snake. Eve switched off the Babel fish.

β€œSo?” she wondered. So did I.

β€œI don’t know, Doctor. They can hear us. Are we not breaking all sorts of rules?”

β€œProbably.” That was very carefree. β€œBut it looks like they’ve made a mistake. If they didn’t mean to be here, shouldn’t we help them out?”

β€œWell,” I thought, β€œmaybe. But without knowing we’re here. I guess it’s too late for that.”

β€œI’d say so. So the least we can do is help them. We’ll say no more and perhaps they don’t either. That part we’ll have to trust to faith. Whatever else we pick up in any conversation will just remain our secret.”

β€œWell, I was going to write about it. But for an English Literature assignment. Fiction.”

β€œPerfect. Just so long as no-one believes you. Shall we get back to the snakes?” Eve switched the Babel fish on again. The snakes were still talking:

β€œSo why did you only want to see one or two humans?”

β€œBecause then we could’ve just buzzed them, you know?”

β€œNo?”

β€œYou know, float menacingly in front of them in the sky. Make the ship do some hoots and parps, flash a few lights. Then just fuck off.”

β€œWhy?”

β€œWell, who’s going to believe them? One or two people, in a secluded place. The only ones to witness a UFO. Everyone would think they were cranks. It’s the best way to study them, so they don’t take us too seriously.”

β€œThey’re joyriding,” I said.

β€œWho is that?” said one of the snakes.

β€œWell it’s not God,” said another. β€œWe’ve pretty much discounted him if that’s a universal translation device we’re hearing. We’re disobeying the lessons from The Tower of Babel, where God allegedly knocked it down, because he didn’t want people understanding all languages. With language barriers in place as a defence mechanism, God was maintaining the rules of confusion and misunderstanding though…”

β€œWell, that’s what our books say. But what’s that voice?”

β€œWhat?” Eve asked.

β€œAnd that one?” hissed the snake.

β€œI’ve read about it,” I said. β€œAliens, they go around looking for secluded places on Earth, where they can put on a display for a few people.”

β€œBut why?”

β€œWell,” I continued, β€œas this snake here said, just to spook people. But not too many. A bit of fun, showing off. But I always thought it could be something more. I mean, if they were appearing to a lot of people, that could cause all sorts of problems. By keeping it within a select group, only a few people will take the story of the whole thing seriously. It’s a containment mechanism. Like the Babel fish, I suppose. I mean, if universal translation was suddenly freely available to everyone, that would cause all sorts of trouble. And that’s why I’ll keep this secret, so as not to spoil things. So my theory on so-called joyriders is that what we see is only a part of something greater, which we may not yet understand.”

β€œThat is both very liberal and deep, Mr Ford.” This wasn’t Eve’s voice. This was the rasping whistle from the Babel fish. I turned to look at the screen, directly at the first snake.

β€œThank you,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say.

β€œYou are an interesting specimen, Mr Ford. You may benefit your species yet.” Which was kind of what John Fowle had said. The truth behind this story may be something discussed with school prefect peers, in a secret society, such as that of The Dead Poets. To anyone outside, the forbidden knowledge was just a work of fiction.

β€œCaptain,” I said, that just seeming to be the most appropriate way to address him.

β€œHuman,” he replied. Which threw up many questions. He referred to me by my name when he first addressed me. Then when I addressed him as ‘captain’, he called me ‘human’. Did this impart an assumed rank? Scholars might ponder over this in years to come if it wasn’t written as a work of fiction. The captain continued: β€œWe are here by accident, as I believe you have gathered. I think we made a mistake with a decimal point in our co-ordinates.”

β€œAre you aware of your size though?” I couldn’t think of any other way to point out that might be the error.

β€œMy what?” I may have touched a nerve.

β€œWell, we’re looking at you through an electron microscope.”

β€œIs that what it is? We thought that was a telescope.”

β€œI think there’s been a miscalculation of scales.”

β€œI think you may be right, Mr Ford. A decimal point would seem to have caused me all these problems. Thank you for pointing it out.”

β€œI’m sure you’d have worked it out.”

β€œNot without the benefit of your perspective. Can we agree that it might be wise to keep this between ourselves?”

β€œWe’d kind of agreed that already between ourselves, captain.” I looked at Eve, who was smiling at some inner news.

β€œYou won’t tell my father?”

β€œI wouldn’t know who your father is.”

β€œGood. Mum’s the word then.” Eh? Mum: Mother who? Mother Earth? More speculation for later English Literature assignments.

β€œKeep learning, Mr Ford. For then you will truly learn.” From a snake, it didn’t seem so strange, when the snake was some sort of alien life form I couldn’t previously imagine, but never now dismiss.

β€œSo what now?”

β€œNow, we go home.” Which really summed things up nicely.

And we speak no more of it, except with those in a secret club who know the truth. The Captain Mamba Society? It was a great beginning to end a story with. But I had a few things to attend to first.

β€œHow do we get you home?”

β€œJust let us go, out of this thing you’ve got us in.”

β€œYou’re free to fly away.”

β€œWell, we need a bit of a push, see? When we launched, we had a thing which shot us off at speed.”

β€œAnd that’s back where you came from?”

β€œNo, it’s the engine of the ship. We need a bit of a launch assist, seeing as we miscalculated our size a bit.”

β€œSo how?”

β€œAt your size, just a good push should get us going.”

β€œYes, but what do I push?”

β€œDo you have windows here?”

β€œYes, we do.”

β€œWell, what’s outside?”

β€œEr, outside?”

β€œWell done. Well, that’s where we want to go. And how do we get there?”

β€œThrough the window?”

β€œWell done. Think one step beyond, Mr Ford.”

β€œYou literally, want me to throw you out of the window?”

β€œUnless you have a better idea?” Thinking outside, inside, and all around, I didn’t. I had to let this moment go.

So it was Eve in fact, perhaps sensing my newfound attachment, who picked up that Petri dish, opened the window, and threw Captain Mamba, his crew mate and their ship, out into the world to make their own way home.

β€œDo you think,” I wondered to Eve, β€œthey’ll make the return journey?” That was a very loaded question, and one which begged for a greater word allowance on an English Literature assignment. β€œThere are so many possibilities.”

β€œYou’re the space cadet, Mr Ford. I’m sure you’ll make of it all what you will. Keep what you know between the friends you trust. Don’t abuse it for personal gain. You have a responsibility. I think you’ll make a fine prefect.” So, a girl called Eve had advised me to guard the words which the serpent had given us. That would make quite a good story.

I had the remainder of Lewisham to traverse before I got home. By now, it was dark. I walked beneath the street lamps and the Catford cat, as the park was closed. I’d write up my notes before school the next day. If what I’d written was judged to be a good fiction piece, then perhaps the misplaced comma which had caused me failure before, might get me recognition in a field besides biology.

β€œYou’re late, Dixon.” It was my dad, tuned into my frequency.

β€œYeah, sorry dad. I got talking after detention.”

β€œWell, I won’t ask who to. That would shatter my illusion that you might have done something amazing.” He’d told me I had it in me, and now I couldn’t tell him.β€œOne day,” dad continued, β€œyou’ll be really late, Dixon.”

β€œWhat?”

β€œLate, as in the late Dixon Ford. Well, when you are, try to be remembered.”

β€œCaptain, my captain.”

Β© Steve Laker, 2017.

star-wars-force-awakens-captain-phasma-face-hat-16.jpg

Cyrus Song (a story inspired by Douglas Adams), is available now.

And there’s a second prequel short story, Of Mice and Boys in 1984.

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