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THE WENDY FACTOR

By

Mark Kristofferson

(c) S.M. Kristofferson 2008

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Contents
1. Bump... Bump... Bump 2. If You Insist 3. No One Will Ever Notice 4. Highway Blues 5. Tourists 6. Rhyming Fools 7. Please Make a Seat 8. No Time To Lose! 9. Hooroo For Now

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Chapter 1: Bump... Bump... Bump! Wendy wished. It wasn’t a wish for anything in particular, as there wasn’t anything in particular that she actually wanted. Rather, it was more like a sigh, a sigh wrapped around a tiny seed of hope. And as she wished, she look outwardly from the high balcony of their small flat at the grey world outside. School holidays, she thought, can be fun when there’s sun but they’re a pain in the rain. Especially when your best friend has gone away somewhere, too. Miles away, to a place that she may never see. What’s a girl supposed to do on a day like this? And there wouldn’t be anything good on TV for hours. Everything was just so... nothing. ‘I only wish,’ she began again. Which is exactly when it happened. ‘CRACK!!!’ clapped the thunderous sky, and the whole grey world momentarily lit up.

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‘That was close!’ she exclaimed, flinching and looking around a little, just to be on the safe side. Not that she was frightened. Not very frightened. But you never know what else might be happening at times like this. And, of course, Wendy Wilkinson was right. Very right as things turned out. It was the movement that first caught her eye. Otherwise she wouldn’t have seen it at all. It was just a sort of blurry speck in the sky. But something unusual about it kept her looking. Not that it was extraordinary in itself but rather that it didn’t seem to belong to everything around it. Everything else seemed to fit neatly into the same ordinary pattern: the buildings, the streets, the man in the bus shelter. But this thing didn’t. And that was what worried her. And what interested her, too. She tracked its crazy course across the sky, moving her head from side to side like someone watching a tennis match up close. First it went this way, and then it went that, zigzagging over the whole city, straight stop - straight, like that bolt of lightning.

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Only it wasn’t lightning. It wasn’t a lot of things. But it was something. It was the strangest thing that she had ever seen and it was coming closer and closer to her. Which was when Wendy Wilkinson began to feel that one way or another she was about to get involved, in both an interesting and a worrying sort of way. Then, it stopped! Just like that. So close to her that it filled the whole sky. There it was, right in front of her balcony: a UFO, an unidentified flying object, of the flying saucer kind. And just as suddenly, it shuddered, like someone confused shaking their head, and accelerated again, straight towards her again. Which was when Wendy finally realised what it was about it that didn’t really fit. It was out of control! And when she also began to realise what getting involved could actually turn out to mean. ‘Oh, oh,’ she thought, putting her hands over her ears and stepping back a bit. ‘Mum’s not going to be very pleased about this!’ 5

But just when Wendy thought it was about time for the glass smashing, furniture breaking, wall crashing bit that usually happens when flying saucers burst into the middle of your flat uninvited, it stopped, went straight up, and landed on the roof outside. Just above her head. Bump... Bump... Bump!

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Chapter 2: If You Insist It was still windy out on the roof-top, though the rain had passed and the thunderous lightning was now a long way away. Not that such things matter much when you have a space-ship to check out. And there one was, sitting perfectly still on the roof, as silent and black as the depths space. Wendy knew that her mum would want her to wait a bit before going too close to something that had come from another planet, so she decided to stand back for a little while and sort of look things over. That way, if anything bad happened, well, they couldn’t blame her could they? In some ways, she thought, it looked just like a flying saucer should look. Like on TV. ‘Well’, she supposed, ‘I guess they had to get their idea of one from somewhere, and this can’t be the only one to ever visit Earth in the whole of history, which must be very long, as they never seem to get to the end of it in school.’

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But there was something else that was very different about it. It wasn’t really like most things are. Most things, Wendy thought, were either too big or too small. But this was like most things aren’t. Just her size. ‘That should be enough,’ she thought, raising her fist to knock loudly upon its roof. ‘Whatever happens now can’t be my fault.’ Knock! Knock! Knock! ‘Stop!’ cried an urgent and angry voice from inside. Wendy jumped in fright at the reply. Goosepimples popped up all over her skin. ‘Stop that noise at once!’ it exclaimed again, as though she were still knocking on the hull. ‘Sorry,’ Wendy apologised. She hadn’t expected a reaction like that. After all, aliens must be very clever to fly UFOs and clever aliens shouldn’t get angry just from a knock or two, should they? ‘Sorry? Sorry is it? I’ll give you sorry when I get out of here alright! Just you wait!’

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‘It’s not like I meant any harm,’ added Wendy, slightly offended now. ‘I was just checking, to see.’ ‘Just checking is it? Well you just leave all the checking to me. See? You’ve done enough damage already, what with your lightning and everything.’ ‘But it wasn’t my lightning!’ Wendy protested. ‘Don’t give me that,’ it said back. ‘You live here don’t you?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well, as I don’t,’ it continued, ‘and as someone must always be responsible, I think it’s only fair and reasonable that it should be you. Right?’ Wendy thought it over. It didn’t seem quite right to her. But before she could come up with a clever reply, the flying saucer gave a sort of hooting noise and a door mysteriously opened up in its side. ‘Success!’ exclaimed a thing as it proudly strutted out.

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Wendy gasped at the sight of it. It was horrible, truly horrible. But not very tall. In fact, it was a little shorter than her, only rounder, and red. It had no mouth, one ear, two noses, three eyes, four arms and no less than five legs. And no more either. Its ear was on the top of its head and its legs were on the bottom where its neck should have been. Only it didn’t have one, or a body either, for that matter. Not really. In fact, when Wendy had got over her first awful impression of it, she decided that it was probably the funniest thing she had ever seen. ‘Is something wrong, young lady?’ asked the thing, looking slightly ill at ease. ‘Oh no, ’blushed Wendy, struggling to restrain a laugh. ‘Not at all.’ ‘Then stop giggling!’ It ordered. ‘At once! Anyone would think you had never seen a Binarian before.’ Wendy blinked and looked again. ‘But I haven’t,’ she explained. ‘You haven’t?’ It scratched its ear with two hands. ‘What century do you make it?’ it asked, looking at what looked like a watch. 10

‘Mine’s a little fast.’ Wendy thought very carefully. ‘The twenty first,’ she replied at last. ‘The twenty first! The twenty first, did you say? Oh dear, oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear!’ it moaned. ‘It’s worse than I thought. And I didn’t think it was good in the first place. So it must be very bad indeed.’ ‘Excuse me,’ interrupted Wendy, as it fiddled clumsily with its watch, ignoring her completely. ‘Excuse, me,’ she said again, in a louder voice this time. ‘Yes, yes. What is it? What is it now?’ it asked impatiently. ‘As if I don’t have enough on my mind already.’ ‘Well,’ said Wendy, ‘I was just wondering...’ ‘Yes, get on with it?’ it urged, tapping the watch and shaking the wrist it was on. ‘Well, how do you manage to talk without moving your mouth, which you don’t seem to have? I don’t mean to pry or anything. But you see, it’s very off-putting, you know.’

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The alien looked at her with all three eyes. ‘I don’t,’ it said. ‘You only think I do. And you needn’t talk either. It’s very, as you say, off-putting, and quite unnecessary as I can read your mind perfectly well, you know. And, while we’re on the subject of mouths, do try not to eat in my presence, at least not without warning and then try to keep your mouth shut tight. It really is a disgusting habit. Yuck!’ ‘It is not!’ denied Wendy. ‘It’s nice to eat, and, in any case, I always close my mouth when I chew. So there.’ Now Wendy was offended. ‘Besides, who said you could land on our building anyway? You’re illegally parked!’ ‘Illegally parked?’ ‘Yes. Please move this... this piece of spacejunk, right now.’ ‘Junk? Junk!’ the creature grew redder and redder. It began to wave its arms furiously in the air. All four of them. ‘This, young lady,’ it began, ‘happens to be the very latest in 4 dimensional drive vehicles. It will go anywhere or any time you like. It goes faster than you can think of and can stop before it

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started. It has everything you could possibly wish for in a UFO. Everything!’ Wendy didn’t care for its tone. ‘No it doesn’t,’ she said, folding her arms and looking down her nose. ‘What?’ said the monster, very surprised. ‘Why, it doesn’t even have flashing lights,’ she said, pointing vaguely at his craft. The alien shook its head in disbelief. ‘That’s because it’s not supposed to,’ it explained. ‘It isn’t a Christmas tree, you know. It’s a space ship. Flashing lights, indeed. You’ve been watching too much television, that’s your problem. You need to get out and about a bit. To see things.’ ‘I do not watch too much T.V as a matter of fact. And I do get out, anyway,’ she insisted. ‘Why, we went to the beach only yesterday. We go out all the time.’ ‘That’s not what I meant and you know it. You’re just being difficult. I’m talking other planets here, other suns! Really getting out, with three ls! What you need is to reallly travel. You need to get yourself a ship like this one, girlie. Just like this.’ Suddenly it 13

began to swell, alarmingly so. ‘Don’t call me girlie,’ corrected Wendy. ‘It’s very rude. My name is Wendy, as a matter of fact. I don’t suppose you have one of your own?’ ‘No way, kid. I have a number. A very big number as it so happens. Verrrry big.’ Wendy slowly shook her head. ‘Well I think that’s very sad,’ she replied. ‘Very sad. Everyone should have a name, a real name, all of their own. I shall call you... Allen. Yes, Allen the alien. What do you think of that?’ The alien slowly thought it over. ‘I think you’re probably right,’ it said at last. ‘You do?’ replied Wendy, surprised. ‘Yes. A name is a good idea. You’re obviously not smart enough to cope with a number like mine. And you have to call me something, I suppose. I’m not too happy about the alien bit though. After all, you’re the one who’s the alien.’ ‘No I’m not!’ she declared. ‘I’m the one who lives here. Remember?’

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Allen decided not to think too much about that one. ‘Oh, have it your own way then,’ he said, studying his watch again. Wendy smiled. ‘Good. Now that’s settled, we can both get in.’ ‘Get in!’ Get in what?’ ‘Get in your space ship, of course.’ ‘What?’ ‘Well, you did say I had to get out more, didn’t you?’ ‘Yes, but--’ ‘And that I need a ship just like this one to get out more in?’ ‘Yes, but I didn’t mean--’ ‘And isn’t this the only ship like this in the whole world?’ she asked, looking about with her arms out wide. ‘Well, yes I suppose so...’ he agreed, uncomfortably. ‘Then it follows that I have to get in it, doesn’t it?’

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‘Hmmm...’ ‘Unless, that is, you’re the sort of alien who takes back what it says?’ Allen gasped. ‘Of course not!’ he said, affronted. ‘What do you think I am?’ ‘Very well, Allen,’ said Wendy, going in, ‘if you insist.’

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Chapter 3: No One Will Ever Notice The first thing that struck Wendy about the inside of the saucer was that it didn’t have an inside. Not really. It wasn’t that the walls were transparent exactly, more like they just weren’t. Tubes and buttons and things just sort of hung about in the air like a skeleton’s limbs. The second thing that struck her about the spaceship was how dirty the cabin was. It looked like it had never been vacuumed and it was littered with things that had been discarded or perhaps merely misplaced and forgotten by a forgetful pilot. ‘What’s this?’ she asked, picking up something yellow and soggy from one of the seats. Allen scratched his head. ‘A plant’ ‘A plant? ‘Sort of,’ he replied, sheepishly. ‘I picked it up on Gramada. Do you think it’s, um, alright?’ ‘Was it cold and clammy when you got it?’

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‘Well, now that you mention it, no,’ he said. ‘Why do you ask?’ ‘Oh no reason,’ she replied, putting it quietly to rest, out of sight. Allen sensed the awkwardness of the moment and thought it best to move on. Settling into his gravity seat with less fuss than he usually made on his own, he looked left, right and up, then, by slowly raising his hand, caused the spaceship to rise shakily into the sky. While not the smoothest of takeoffs Wendy was nevertheless thrilled by it. ‘This is fantastic,’ she thought, which, of course, was quite true. But she couldn’t help feeling a little strange as well, perched on a seat in thin air as they shot through the clouds into space. The Earth below her seemed to get smaller and rounder and bluer by the second. And, as the sun behind them set, the sky grew darker and darker and the stars shone brighter and brighter like a fabulous jewel box that was opening just for her. But the further away they then got from the Earth, the more her thoughts turned to 18

home. She glanced at her watch, a little anxiously. ‘I hope we’re back in time,’ she said, as Mars flashed by. ‘Of course,’ replied Allen unconcerned. ‘In fact we’ll be back in no time at all.’ ‘It’s just that I wouldn’t want Mum to worry about me,’ she explained, ‘and there is the little matter of tea.’ Allen scrunched up his face. ‘There you go talking about food again. That’s all you Earthlings ever think about: eating. Yuck. Anyway, we can go back any time at all. Yesterday, if you like.’ Wendy looked puzzled. ‘Yesterday?’ she quizzed. ‘Sure,’ said Allen. ‘You don’t know the first thing about space travel, do you?’ he trumpeted. ‘I know all I need to know,’ she said, defiantly. ‘What do you mean, all you need to know?’ ‘I mean you don’t have to know how a television works just to watch it.’

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Now Allen looked puzzled. ‘Television? What’s that got to do with space travel?’ ‘Well I’m doing it, aren’t I?’ Allen scratched his ear. He thought he could see what she was driving at and it irked him. He decided to try another approach. ‘It’s a lucky thing that you’re not flying,’ he sneered, ‘that’s all I can say.’ ‘Luck doesn’t come into it,’ she smiled. ‘After all, I’ve got you, haven’t I? And you can teach me on the way.’ ‘What! That’s impossible,’ he scoffed. ‘Earthlings don’t have enough arms to fly a ship like this,’ he said, reaching out with all of his arms at once and pressing four coloured buttons at opposite ends of the ship without thinking. Oh-oh, he regretted, as their saucer turned sharply to the left and headed straight for the Saturn. ‘Whoops!’ he exclaimed, pressing buttons everywhere fast. ‘We’re going to hit!’ cried Wendy, as the ringed planet loomed large. ‘You must have pressed the wrong one!’

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‘Anyone can make a mistake,’ said Allen, innocently. ‘Hold on!’ Which is not as easy as it sounds in a ship that is skidding and sliding and flipping out of all control. Then, just when they had given up all hope of a second chance at life, and just before Wendy had promised that she would never do anything as risky as this again, suddenly and almost in the nick of time, their spaceship shot off wildly to the right side of Saturn, clipping the edge of a really nice ring as it passed. ‘Chink!’ went the ring, as a piece tumbled into space. ‘You’ve broken it, Allen!’ exclaimed Wendy, sheeting home the blame. ‘You’re reallly in trouble now.’ Allen looked the other way. ‘Don’t exaggerate,’ he muttered, turning a crimson pink. ‘It was only a little chip. No one will ever notice.’ Wendy folded her arms, and tried to look as stern as she could. ‘You’re not very good at this, are you Allen?’ ‘Yes I am,’ he replied, indignantly. ‘As a 21

matter of fact, I came top of my class.’ ‘Top?’ she probed, disbelievingly. ‘Almost top,’ he conceded. ‘Almost?’ ‘Well, at least I didn’t come last... Not quite.’ Wendy began to look worried. ‘No wonder you crashed into the Earth. I think you better tell me everything you know straight away, so I can help, too.’ Allen saw the weakness of his position. ‘Very well,’ he sighed, in defeat. ‘I guess it won’t take long.’ ‘What!’ cried Wendy in surprise, as she fixed him with her eyes. ‘Why not? Isn’t it hard?’ ‘Well,’ said Allen, rather sheepishly, ‘I’ve always worked on the principle that you don’t have to know how a television works, just to watch it...’ Wendy couldn’t believe it. She took stock of her situation. As near as she could make out, she was a few hundred million kilometres 22

from home, heading into deep space in a dented spaceship controlled, not to put too fine a point on it, by an incompetent alien. She looked at Allen, she looked at the litter, she looked at the dead yellow plant. What would mother say now? Then, just as she was beginning to fully appreciate the true horror of her predicament, a noise interrupted her thoughts. ‘Blip... Blip... Blip...’ ‘What’s that?’ asked Wendy, pointing to the screen. Allen turned around to look. ‘Probably a giant asteroid,’ he said. ‘There’s a lot of them up ahead. I suppose some people find them interesting. Rock and ice, that’s about all there is to them if you ask me. I guess when you’ve seen as much of the universe as I have, well,’ he yawned, ‘naturally you don’t take much interest in that sort of thing.’ ‘But it’s not going to hit us, is it?’ pressed Wendy, making her concern quite clear. ‘Mum would really be upset if it did. So would I!’ 23

‘All right, all right, I’ll check it then,’ he said, punching several buttons on the screen. ‘There, you see!’ he said, pointing to some numbers and signs, ‘not even close. As a matter of fact, it looks like it’s headed for Earth. Miles away. So don’t worry, we’re perfectly safe.’ ‘Earth!’ exclaimed Wendy. ‘Not, home?’ ‘Looks like it,’ he said, checking the numbers. ‘Do you still want to be back in time for tea? I mean, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. It’s going to make a loud noise when it hits. A very loud noise.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Oh yes. There’ll probably be nothing left of it.’ ‘Of the asteroid?’ ‘No, Earth,’ he said, coolly. ‘That’s the trouble with really big asteroids. They do tend to break things that get in their way.’ Now Wendy was looking worried. What about Mum, and her friends? What about home and her school? And what, she thought, aghast, what about the goldfish?

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‘We have to stop it!’ she insisted. ‘At once!’ But Allen wasn’t so sure. ‘Oh we couldn’t do that,’ he said, waving two arms about. ‘What??’ ‘Well, it wouldn’t do to interfere, would it? And besides, I promised the Galactic Government I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s in my passport: STRICTLY FOR LOOKING, it says, in big bold letters. I could get a fine or something! Besides, what’s one blue-green planet more or less in the universe, anyway? There are millions of them out there in this time plane alone.’ Wendy was appalled. ‘But we’re talking about Earth. The Earth. You know, the one with the nice round moon. It’s not just any blue-green planet. And I didn’t promise a thing. So there! Now, let’s do something, right away.’ Allen shook his head. ‘Look, even if we wanted to, we couldn’t. We don’t even have a ray-gun. This is just an ordinary spaceship, for tourists. But,’ he suddenly beamed, ‘we could go back and watch, if you like?’ Wendy didn’t like that idea at all. ‘No!’ she 25

said. ‘There must be something we can do. Maybe we can go for help?’ Allen shook his head. ‘But no one else would interfere either. Not without permission.’ ‘Well how do we get permission?’ asked Wendy, growing more impatient as time slipped by. ‘Oh, we’d have to see someone really important for that. Someone reallly important. Like the Galactic Chairperson of Everything Else. I live on the same planet as her, you know,’ he boasted. ‘Of everything else?’ ‘Yes. Everything else not looked after by everyone else. Which as you can imagine, is quite a lot. A very lot.’ ‘Well,’ said Wendy, ‘ she must be very important then. Like Mum. What’s this planet of yours called?’ ‘2,’ replied Allen, briefly. ‘Two?’ repeated Wendy. ‘That’s not a name, it’s a number. You can’t live on a

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planet without a name!’ ‘I didn’t say it doesn’t have a name,’ he said. ‘Yes you did.’ ‘No I didn’t. You asked me what it was called and I told you: 2. That’s what it’s called, but it has a name, too.’ ‘Two is not a name,’ she insisted. ‘Not a name 2, a name too!’ said Allen stamping two of his feet, and getting upset. ‘Then why don’t you call it by it’s name, then?’ asked Wendy, quite confused. ‘Because nobody can pronounce it, of course.’ ‘What?’ ‘So we just call it by it’s official number on the space map.’ Wendy thought it over. It all seemed rather odd. Then something occurred to her. ‘There must be a lot of planets in the universe,’ she said, after a while.

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‘Yes,’ agreed Allen. ‘A very lot.’ ‘So there must be a lot with very big numbers and only a few with very small ones,’ she added. ‘Right?’ Allen scratched his ear with one of his hands. ‘I suppose that follows, yes. So what?’ ‘Well,’ went Wendy, ‘how come your planet got to be number two, then, instead of, say, number five hundred and sixty two thousand?’ ‘Ah,’ said Allen, ‘that’s easy to explain. The reason it’s number two is because it happens to be the most important, of course. After all, it is the capital of the galaxy you know.’ ‘Who says?’ said Wendy. ‘Why, everyone, of course.’ ‘Well I’ve never heard of it. And I don’t believe that anyone else at home has, either.’ ‘That’s because the Earth is such a backward place,’ said Allen, ‘and nobody has bothered to tell you. I mean, who really

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cares about what happens way out here?’ ‘Well I do, for one. And we’re not backward at all. Not really. It just depends upon what you mean by backwards, and forwards if it comes to that, so there. In some respects we’re very forward. Just look at me. And anyway, if your planet is really the capital, why isn’t it number one then?’ Allen scoffed at Wendy’s ignorance. ‘Because there is no planet number 1, is there? Not now.’ ‘Why not?’ asked Wendy, shocked. ‘I think it had something to do with an asteroid,’ he replied. ‘Oh,’ said Wendy, looking out into space again and frowning. ‘But do we have enough time for all that? I mean for getting permission and everything.’ ‘Time? Oh yes, I should say so,’ said Allen, figuring things out. ‘All the time in the world in fact,’ he grinned. ‘This is no time for jokes, Allen,’ corrected Wendy.

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‘Hey, lighten up,’ he replied. ‘It’s not a problem, believe me. All we have to do is get there yesterday to obtain permission, and then be back by today with whatever we need to stop it. In fact, even if we didn’t get back until tomorrow, we’d still have time because the asteroid shouldn’t hit the Earth until tomorrow night. Theoretically.’ ‘Are you sure?’ asked Wendy, who wasn’t. ‘An awful lot depends upon it, you know.’ ‘Trust me,’ said Allen, winking his middle eye. Which was all Wendy needed to know. ‘I think, Allen,’ she replied, raising her finger with authority, that we’d better be back by today. Just to be on the safe side...’

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Chapter 4: Highway Blues The funny thing about time, thought Wendy as the stars flashed by, is how completely unhelpful it is. When you want it to go slow for a while it seems to go faster than icecream, and when you want it to speed up a bit, it goes so slowly you’d think your watch was stuck. The trick seems to be to never let it know how fast you want it to go. But, of course, it always does. Time is smart. Wendy pressed her nose against their ship’s hull and looked around outside. The stars seemed to be slowing down and there were curious lights up ahead that Allen said were actually other spaceships much like theirs. Then, more began to appear, and more still, until soon they were completely surrounded by ships travelling in the same direction as them. It was as though they had become entwined in a long strand of colourful flying saucers moving at the pace of a sleepy snail. ‘Wouldn’t you know it?’ cried Allen, throwing up his hands. ‘What?’ asked Wendy, fearing the worst.

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‘Peak-hour!’ ‘Peak-hour!’ cried Wendy, in disbelief. ‘How can you have a traffic jam in the middle of all this space? It’s crazy! Now I know what you mean,’ she added, ‘about being so advanced! No wonder we’ve never heard of you and the planet 2!’ ‘It’s because we’re all travelling by the quickest way,’ explained Allen. ‘Obviously,’ replied Wendy, rolling her eyes. Then, before Allen could think back a clever reply, and without any prior warning at all, their spaceship sort of spluttered, skidded sideways, flipped over several times and stopped. ‘There’s something wrong, isn’t there?’ asked Wendy, looking Allen in the eye. ‘What makes you say that?’ he replied, avoiding her gaze. ‘Well, for one thing, we don’t seem to be moving,’ she said, as the traffic crawled by. ‘And for another...’

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‘Yes?’ he said, fumbling about in what appeared to be a plastic tool box. ‘There seems to be some noise coming from over there,’ said Wendy. ‘Where?’ ‘Over there. Where the smoke is.’ Allen looked up. ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘Ah?’ ‘Yes. There does seem to be a slight technical difficulty in the er um laser drive area.’ Wendy looked at him suspiciously. ‘You wouldn’t be making that up, would you, Allen?’ ‘Trust me.’ Oh oh. ‘Can I help?’ she volunteered. ‘I don’t suppose you’ve seen a hammer?’ he asked. ‘Hammer!’ Things were more desperate than she had thought. 33

‘Sometimes the old remedies are best,’ he thought-smiled. Wendy wasn’t so sure. ‘What exactly is the problem?’ she asked. ‘Well, I don’t mean to sound technical, Wendy, but there’s something a bit loose in here. Must have popped out in that lightning of yours. See?’ he said, wielding a rather brutal looking tool about. Tap! Tap! Tap! Wendy watched on anxiously. Pound!! Pound!! Pound!! Very anxiously. Allen smiled in triumph. ‘That should do it!’ Wendy looked at the pounded drive. ‘Well at least it has stopped smoking,’ she observed. ‘Yes. You can’t beat a good hammering, eh,’ said Allen, waving the tool around flamboyantly and swelling with pride. ‘Bang, Bang! Bang!’ But Wendy wasn’t quite convinced. ‘You

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better give that to me while we’re still ahead,’ she said, putting out her hand. Not that she wanted to seem ungrateful, but there was a worrying glint in Allen’s eye which she thought it would be best not to encourage. Allen reluctantly surrendered. ‘Very well,’ he said, handing over the hammer. Wendy tucked it under her seat. ‘There. Now, let’s go. Time is getting away from us.’ Allen couldn’t agree about the time bit but, deciding that arguing would not be a good idea under the circumstances, obliged her by pressing a rather big green button with one of his hands. Nothing. He pressed again, harder. Still nothing. Wendy was losing patience. ‘That wasn’t it, was it?’ she asked, trying not to lose her head. ‘Well, err, yes and no,’ he replied. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘I mean yes, that was it, and no, fixing it won’t help.’

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‘Why not?’ ‘Because something else is wrong too.’ Wendy held her breath and counted to three. ‘What?’ Allen was afraid she would ask that. Not that he didn’t know the answer, he just didn’t think she would like it. ‘I think it’s a flat,’ he said. Wendy knew what a flat was, although it did seem a little odd. ‘You have got a spare?’ she asked, fearing otherwise. ‘I think so. I’ll just look inside,’ he said, opening up a little drawer in the dash. ‘Ah, here we are,’ he smiled, pulling something out. ‘This should do the trick.’ ‘That’s not a tyre,’ said Wendy. ‘You can’t fix a flat with that.’ ‘It’s not that kind of flat,’ replied Allen. ‘It’s the powerpak. The loose thingummy in the err laser drive area must have shorted out, or something.’ Wendy couldn’t believe her ears. ‘You 36

mean this thing runs on batteries?’ ‘Of course,’ said Allen. ‘Doesn’t everything?’ ‘Well, I don’t, for a start,’ she replied, curtly. ‘You don’t?’ ‘No. I’ve got a heart. Haven’t you?’ Allen hesitated. ‘You mean you run on batteries, too?’ ‘And what if I do?’ he returned, quite offended. ‘Some of the cleverest people in the galaxy use batteries now, you know. You want to get up to date, girlie,’ he said pointing a finger her way. ‘And they don’t have to eat. Yuck.’ ‘If you call me girlie once more,’ said Wendy, ‘I’m going to get nasty. Very nasty, indeed.’ ‘Sorry,’ he apologised, hastily. Wendy looked at her watch. ‘We’re wasting a lot of time, Allen,’ she said. ‘We better get there soon or…’

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‘There you go about time again,’ he intervened. ‘You just haven’t got the gist of this time travel game, have you?’ ‘I have too!’ ‘Then what are you so worried about?’ ‘Well, it’s just that I’m such a good judge of character, Allen.’ ‘What’s that got to do with it?’ he asked, looking at some wires and scratching his head. ‘Never mind.... Have you fixed it yet?’ ‘Do you want the good news or the bad news?’ Wendy imagined the asteroid speeding its way towards Earth, getting bigger and bigger all the time. ‘Don’t play games, Allen. This is serious.’ ‘It certainly is.’ Oh oh. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well, the good news is: it can be fixed.’ ‘And the bad news?’

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‘Not by me.’ ‘Great.’ ‘Never mind, I’ll just give the hire company a call.’ ‘Hire company? You mean this isn’t even your saucer?’ ‘Well, not as such... I rented it.’ Wendy looked at the dent Saturn had made in the hull, and then at the laser drive Allen had bashed with the hammer, and lastly at the disconnected battery he was holding in his hand. ‘That’s lucky,’ she replied. ‘Do you think they’ll be upset?’ he asked. ‘Upset? Oh yes, I should think so. Very upset in fact.’ ‘Oh.’ ‘But not as upset as me if that asteroid hits Earth.’ ‘Shall I ring now, then?’ ‘I would.’ And he did. 39

‘Well?’ she asked, when he had finished the call. ‘What did they say?’ ‘Ah, nothing,’ he replied. ‘But I left a message on their machine,’ he smiled, happily. ‘We’re not going to be there by yesterday, are we Allen?’ Allen looked at the computer map and then at his watch and then at the map again. ‘We’ll make it up on the way back,’ he said… ‘Sloop!’ went the sucker thing, as it attached itself to their hull. ‘Won’t be long now,’ thought-grinned Allen, as they were slowly towed away.

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Chapter 5: Tourists It had not been a good day for the manager of Quasar Saucer Hire, even before she had read Allen’s damage report on her computer, which is when her gills reallly turned green. ‘Number 1.96743E35,’ she said, looking at Allen with a stern great eye, her only eye, in fact. Allen put the saucer’s thought-key on the counter. ‘Will this affect my deposit?’ he asked, sheepishly. Her look gave him no cause for comfort. ‘Tell me, sir, unofficially and off the record, did you do it all at once or did you manage it bit by bit?’ Allen exercised caution. ‘Ah, well, I think you would say it was more a case of bit by bit, wasn’t it, Wendy?’ he said, hoping that Wendy would somehow help him out. But Wendy had other concerns. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said to the manager, ‘but could we get this over with quickly. You see, we’re in a 41

bit of a hurry to save the Earth, you know.’ ‘Evidently’ replied the manager, staring at the report. ‘Is this still your address?’ she asked Allen, pointing to the screen. ‘Ah, yes,’ he nodded, obligingly. ‘Then you’ll be hearing from us shortly,’ she said, ominously. Oh oh. Wendy dragged Allen away from the counter towards the door. It was dark outside now, or at least it would have been if it wasn’t for all the signs. Not just flat signs that you could only see from the front but sort of super real looking ones, which you could see from every side. Invitingly real. There was one about a spaceship, for example, which was so realistic that, if it wasn’t for the fact that the pilot looked so much like Allen, you would have hopped right in. And what’s more, they talked, too. Not out loud but the way Allen did. They sort of thought their way into your head; which was very annoying as you just couldn’t think over the top of it all. And some of them 42

were rather odd as well. ‘If you can think this,’ said one sign, glaringly, ‘you need sign-block plus!’ And, ‘Whatever you do, don’t rush out and buy a disgusting Saturn Bar,’ thought another, ‘because it will only rot your teeth out,’ which Allen said had sold so many Saturn bars that the universe had run out of dentists. Thankfully, he noted, eating was on the way out. Disgusting. Wendy didn’t know what to think. She didn’t even know if she could think. ‘These signs are very loud!’ she shouted, putting her hands over her ears, as if that would help. ‘Yes,’ nodded Allen, unhelpfully. ‘I suppose you get used to them,’ she added. ‘Eventually,’ he replied. ‘Then they make them louder.’ Wendy couldn’t believe it. ‘But that’s silly!’ she exclaimed. ‘Why don’t you pass a law to make them quieter?’ ‘What! A law! No, no, no. We mustn’t

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interfere with business,’ said Allen, waving an arm. ‘That’s why this is the most advanced planet in the galaxy. One day, Wendy,’ he added, swelling by the syllable, ‘if you play your cards right, the Earth could be like this, too!’ Wendy sighed deeply. ‘It’s beginning to look a bit like this already,’ she said, sadly, as they hurried on their way to she knew not where. Which, as it turned out, was not very far. ‘Well, here we are,’ said Allen, as they stood before a huge hole in the ground. ‘After you.’ ‘After me what?’ asked Wendy, peering into the blackness. ‘After you, me,’ he explained. ‘I’ll jump next.’ ‘Jump!’ ‘What else?’ Wendy wasn’t sure about this. ‘How deep is it?’ she asked. ‘Oh,’ said Allen. ‘Pretty deep, alright. In

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fact, you might say, very deep.’ ‘Oh no. If you think I’m going to jump down a very deep hole just because you say so,’ said Wendy, ‘you’ve got another thing coming!’ ‘But it isn’t dangerous,’ replied Allen. ‘It’s a zero gravity hole. It goes right through to the other side of the planet.’ ‘You mean that if I jump down here I’ll fall right through to the other side of 2?’ ‘Almost,’ said Allen. ‘But then you’ll fall back up a little and then back down a little-’ ‘Like a bouncing ball?’ interrupted Wendy, afraid he might go on forever. ‘Exactly. You see, unlike normal holes, which have hard bottoms, this hole hasn’t got any bottom at all. So you can’t hurt yourself. You just fall down, up, down, up, and so on, until you finally stop in the middle. It’s really good fun in fact.’ ‘But why do we want to get to the middle?’ asked Wendy, unconvinced.

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‘Because,’ replied Allen, ‘that’s where everyone lives.’ ‘Hmmmm,’ said Wendy. ‘I’m probably going to regret asking this, but why does everyone live down there?’ ‘Because, obviously,’ explained Allen raising his arms in the air, ‘it’s as far away from these signs as you can get.’ Wendy shook her head in dismay. ‘I had a feeling it would be something like that,’ she said, as she bravely jumped in.... And down she went, and back again, and.... ‘I thought you were in a hurry?’ asked Allen, as Wendy shot past going up. ‘I am!’ yelled Wendy, as loudly as she could think. ‘Well why don’t you stop, then?’ ‘If only she could! How?’ ‘By lying down as you pass through the slow-zone, of course,’ he replied. ‘Do I have to tell you everything?’ ‘Well, you might at least have mentioned

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that,’ said Wendy, lying flat and slowing to a halt. ‘That’s better,’ she said. ‘What next?’ ‘Why you swim, of course.’ ‘Oh,’ she said, paddling into the exit tube, where her feet were pulled down to the ground. ‘Gravitron rays,’ explained Allen, with a knowing nod. ‘This way... I think.’ Wendy hesitated. ‘You think?’ ‘Well, to be honest, I don’t usually use this hole. It’s not in my home zone. But don’t worry, I know this planet like the back of my hand,’ he said, looking at several like he didn’t know which one. ‘Maybe we should get a map?’ suggested Wendy. But Allen just walked on ahead. ‘Ah, here we are. You see?’ he said, pointing to a loud sign saying ‘STOP!’ over two large forbidding doors. ‘It doesn’t look very inviting,’ said Wendy

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as she tried the handle on one of the doors. ‘Can’t you read?’ boomed a voice from above. Wendy jumped back in alarm. ‘Who said that?’ she asked looking up. ‘Who do you think?’ replied the door. Wendy shook her head in an attempt to clear her thoughts. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, trying to be nice. ‘But I’ve never been addressed by a door before.’ ‘Looks like we’ve got another one,’ said the left door to the right. ‘Looks like it.’ ‘Don’t talk about me like that,’ said Wendy, much offended. ‘You’re only a door you know.’ ‘Only a door? Only a door! And just who do you think you are, coming over here and saying things like that? Why, I’ve got a good mind to take a swing at you!’ ‘Easy, Lefty’, cautioned the other. ‘Don’t let the Corps down, mate.’

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‘Yes, but…’ ‘Just concentrate on our motto: No one passes but through us.’ And then it said it again, just because it liked to, ‘no one passes but through us...’ ‘Sorry,’ said Lefty. ‘But people like her really get on my handle. Tourists!’ ‘I am not a tourist,’ replied Wendy, offended. ‘I’m on a very urgent and serious mission as a matter of fact. Now please open up. Right away.’ ‘What sort of mission?’ sneered Lefty, doubtingly. ‘A very important mission,’ replied Wendy, without delay. ‘To save the Earth, as a matter of fact.’ ‘The Earth?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Never heard of it.’ ‘Oh, yes you have,’ interrupted the door on the right. ‘What?’

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‘Let me jog your memory, mate. Small bluegreen planet, nice little moon, Orion arm, turn left at the Magellanic clouds?’ The left door thought it over. ‘Oh, yeah. ‘Course. What a night that was, eh?’ it said, making little creaking sounds. ‘Didn’t we oil up the old hinges then, eh?’ ‘Did we ever,’ winked the other, knowingly. ‘Hey,’ said Lefty, reflecting on their holiday. ‘I reckon we must be due for a bit more leave by now?’ ‘Been a while alright, mate.’ ‘Excuse me,’ said Wendy, butting in. ‘But there are other people here too you know. And we don’t have much time.’ ‘People?’ said the doors in disgust. Wendy was fast losing her patience. ‘Look, just open up, Ok?’ ‘Have you got a pass?’ asked the door on the right. Wendy looked at Allen who shook his head. ‘Sorry, then,’ it said. ‘Can’t help.’

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‘But the Earth! There’s a giant asteroid heading right towards it!’ ‘Sorry,’ said the door on the right. ‘Nice planet, but can’t help.’ ‘Probably happen sooner or later, anyway,’ added the other. ‘Lot of that sort of thing about. Remember 1?’ ‘Yeah. Great planet, that...’ ‘But why?’ asked Wendy, impatiently. ‘Why can’t you let us in?’ ‘Orders,’ said the door on the right. ‘We have our orders, Miss.’ ‘I see. What orders?’ she asked. ‘Orders for the day, of course.’ Wendy couldn’t believe it. Talk about mindless obedience. ‘Well can you tell me what they are, then?’ ‘Tell you?’ said the door on the right. ‘Well, I don’t see why not. What d’yer reckon, mate?’ ‘Why not, mate? They don’t say not to.’

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‘Right. Well now, let me see. Orders for the day... Ah yes, everyone who has a pass may enter.’ ‘I see,’ said Wendy, thinking it over. ‘Well please let us in then.’ ‘What? Are you thick or something,’ said Lefty in disbelief. ‘Didn’t you hear what he just said?’ ‘Yes. Quite distinctly, as a matter of fact. Your orders are to let in everyone who has a pass.’ ‘Exactly.’ ‘But they don’t say anything about people who don’t have a pass, do they?’ The door on the right thought it over. ‘No, not as such.’ ‘Then, for all you know we can enter too? At least, you haven’t been ordered to stop them.’ ‘She’s got a point,’ he admitted. ‘But that’s not what they mean,’ insisted the door on the left. ‘They didn’t mean that we should let everyone in, surely?’ 52

‘Then they should have said so,’ replied the other. ‘Orders, after all, is orders, mate.’ ‘But it’s just a technicality. You can’t give in to that sort of thing!’ ‘No choice, mate. We can only do what we’re told.’ Whereupon the right door opened wide before them. ‘Thank you,’ said Wendy, as she triumphantly strode through with Allen close at heel... ‘Which way now?’ asked Wendy, standing in the middle of a big hall with several exits leading off this way and that. ‘Ah...’ said her guide. ‘Allen?’ ‘Ah...’ he replied, again. ‘You’re lost, aren’t you?’ ‘No, no. I know I’ve been here before,’ he said, scratching his ear. ‘This is hopeless,’ she exclaimed, shaking her head and clenching her teeth in frustration.

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Allen tried to think. ‘Well, we can’t just stand around here all day can we?’ she said, not very pleased. ‘Come on, let’s go.’ ‘Go where?’ asked Allen, looking up. ‘Through here,’ she said, picking the first hall on the right. ‘No,’ cried Allen, ‘not there!’ ‘Why not?’ replied Wendy, going in anyway. ‘After all, you don’t know where to go, do you? So we may as well take a chance.’ ‘Just because I don’t know where to go doesn’t mean I don’t know where not to go,’ he tried to explain. But it was just too late. Wendy was already inside. And now he was too. ‘WOW!’ said Wendy, with an exclamation mark, almost forgetting why she had come. ‘This is amazing.’ But Allen only yawned. ‘That’s what everyone says, at first.’ Wendy looked around at all the strange 54

shops in the street, and at all the weird beings that pushed and ogled their way about. each shop was painted a different vibrant colour, and they also moved, like they were breathing or something. And all the people wore brighter than bright clothes, and had various numbers of heads, eyes, antennas, and feet. Everything was reallly different, she thought as she wandered about. ‘Excuse me,’ said a large reptile with a ridiculous straw hat. ‘Would you mind taking my picture?’ At first, Wendy gasped. Well, it looked pretty frightening. But then, she thought, at least it was polite. ‘Of course,’ she replied at last, trying not to offend. ‘Ta,’ thanked the creature, giving her a pair of spectacles to hold. ‘Don’t worry, dear, they’re fully automatic. You just look.’ Wendy put them on as instructed. ‘Start!’ said the reptile, with a cheesy grin. Then, ‘Stop!’ it said abruptly, after a little while. ‘Is that it?’ 55

‘Thanks, deary,’ it said to Wendy, as she took them off. ‘Just a quickie, for the rels.’ Wendy watched in wonder as it merged into the passing crowd. ‘Which thanks Cultural Museum there?’ asked a round purple thing clutching a small computer in its hand. ‘What?’ asked Wendy. It showed her the screen. ‘It’s the Galactic phrase book,’ said Allen. ‘One of the early ones, I’d say.’ ‘Oh,’ said Wendy as if she understood. ‘Sorry,’ she replied, shaking her head to show she didn’t know. ‘You thank,’ smiled the creature, before confidently waddling off. ‘Who are all these... things?’ asked Wendy, looking about. ‘Tourists, of course,’ explained Allen. ‘Who else would be in a place like this?’ ‘What do you mean, Allen, by a place like this? Where are we anyway?’

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‘I should have thought that was obvious,’ sighed Allen. ‘This,’ he said, stretching out his arms, ‘is a tourist trap.’ Wendy looked bemused. ‘Tourist trap?’ she repeated, peering into a crowded shop. ‘Oh,’ she sighed. ‘I see what you mean.’ ‘I told you not to come in. I told you so,’ he said, waving a finger in rebuke. ‘But no, Wendy knows best. Well you can’t blame me for this mess. It’s all your fault.’ Wendy tried looking into Allen’s eyes, but could only manage two of them. ‘Calm down, Allen,’ she said, dismissively. ‘It’s not as if it’s the end of the world. Is it?’ Allen remained silent. Oh oh. ‘Well, is it?’ she said again, but this time not quite so sure. ‘Why do you think they call it a tourist trap?’ he asked. Wendy thought it over. ‘You mean all these people are stuck here?’ ‘That’s about it.’ ‘But why?’ 57

‘Well, it’s become quite a problem, hasn’t it?’ ‘What has?’ ‘Tourism. People in bright clothes wandering about the universe making a nuisance of themselves. One minute, you’ve got a nice quiet town on the fringe of a giant red sun, and the next thing you know you’ve got quaint little souvenir shops everywhere, and bustling boulevards full of little pink tables with umbrellas in the middle. I mean, you just can’t live in a place like that, can you?’ ‘No,’ agreed Wendy. ‘I suppose not.’ ‘That’s when they came up with these. Another Binarian breakthrough,’ he boasted. ‘Tourist traps. There’s one on every planet. Tourists come, they get stuck, and no one gets bothered. Localise the damage, that’s the key!’ ‘You mean these people can’t get out.’ ‘Not can’t, exactly. Otherwise, eventually everyone would end up here, wouldn’t they? No, no, it’s just that it’s a difficult place to get out of, that’s all. In fact, just difficult 58

enough to use up the entire annual holiday of the average tourist.’ Wendy began to despair. If only she could remember where they had entered. She looked left and then she looked right. She looked ahead, and then she looked behind. But it was just no use. Everywhere seemed the same. ‘What are we going to do?’ she asked her friend. ‘Well,’ said Allen. ‘I don’t know about you, but I’m going to stock up on postcards.’ ‘Allen!’ ‘What?’ ‘Aren’t you forgetting something?’ ‘Umm...’ ‘The asteroid, Allen! We have to get out of here. Right away!’ ‘Ok,’ he said, folding three arms. ‘How do you propose to do that, then?’ Wendy put her thinking cap on. One thing was certain, she wasn’t going to rush into things again. More haste, less speed. That’s the way to do it. Suddenly something caught 59

her eye. It was big, yellow and noisy. ‘What’s that?’ she asked, pointing at the machine. ‘Forget it,’ replied Allen, waving a hand. ‘It’s just a robot cleaner, Grand Touristmo model. It doesn’t know anything except how to pick up empty food wrappers and stuff.’ ‘But it does seem to know where it’s going,’ she remarked. ‘Not really,’ replied Allen. ‘It’s just blindly following some programmed route.’ ‘Yes, but it wouldn’t make sense to program it to go over the same street twice, would it?’ she asked, not waiting for an answer. ‘And that’s the worst thing about being lost, isn’t it? You walk for a long time thinking that you’re going somewhere and then you finally find out that you’re back where you started from.’ ‘So?’ ‘Well, it wouldn’t do that. Would it?’ said Wendy. ‘That wouldn’t be efficient.’ ‘So?’

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‘So let’s follow it,’ she suggested, ‘and just see where it goes.’ Which is exactly what they did. For a long, long time, a very long time. ‘It’s a good way to see the sights,’ said Allen, putting on his sun-glasses and settling into things. ‘You don’t miss much. Hey, check out those t-shirts. Giga-tronic!’ ‘Giga-grungy, you mean,’ replied Wendy, turning up her nose in the air. Well, she didn’t want to encourage him, did she? Not until they had saved the Earth. But, she had to admit, if only to herself, that she rather liked them too. Especially the one with the rolling bloodshot eyes and the great green furry tongue. Which is when she began to worry that she and Allen might actually happen to like some of the same things. But fortunately, however, before she could get too worried about that, the robot cleaner went into a dark cavernous garage, made a sort of whirring noise, and turned itself off under a sign. ‘EXIT=>‘ it said. Wendy heaved a sigh of relief. ‘This way, I 61

believe,’ she declared in triumph.

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Chapter 6: Rhyming Fools ‘Ahem,’ said Allen clearing his mind as loudly as he could to catch the busy clerk’s attention. ‘Ahem,’ he said again. ‘Yes?’ asked the clerk, brusquely, without looking up from his work. ‘What is it now?’ ‘Well, um,’ began Allen, meekly, ‘we’d like to see the Chairperson, please,’ he continued, gathering a little more courage on the way. ‘Would you now?’ ‘Yes,’ confirmed Allen. ‘If that’s alright?’ ‘Well, you’ll have to wait,’ grumped the clerk, who Wendy thought looked rather like a wombat. ‘But it’s urgent!’ insisted Wendy. ‘And very important, too!’ The clerk looked up. ‘Urgent! Who said that?’ he demanded, taking off his spectacles and squinting Wendy’s way. ‘Don’t you know it’s impolite to use that word around here. Why, I’ll have you 63

know,’ he continued with a stretching yawn, ‘that you’re speaking to an officer of the Greater Galactic Government. With three Gs. Big Gs! ‘ he added, putting on his spectacles to get a better view, which, as it happened, proved to be quite unexpected. ‘Good grief!’ he exclaimed. ‘What in the universe is that???’ Allen forced a smile. ‘Um, it’s an Earthling,’ he obliged. ‘A young female of the species Homo sapiens, so they say. You know… from the planet Earth.’ ‘Earth?’ repeated the clerk, cocking his head. ‘Never heard of it. Are you sure she’s not one of those new robots from Aldebaran? They make some pretty strange ones these days, you know.’ ‘Yes,’ nodded Allen, in complete agreement. ‘I am not a robot!!’ yelled Wendy, more than a little irked. ‘I’m a girl, as a matter of fact!’ The clerk looked to Allen for verification. ‘It’s true,’ said Allen. ‘She eats.’

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‘Eats!’ The clerk was horrified. ‘Do you really?’ ‘Yes,’ admitted Wendy, proudly. ‘And I’ll miss my tea if you don’t hurry things up. And whenever I miss my tea,’ she warned, sternly, ‘I get upset. Quite upset.’ ‘She’s right,’ said Allen. ‘It’s not a pretty sight, either. I wouldn’t want to see that. If I were in your position, I would try to get things going as fast as possible. Faster, if I could.’ The clerk looked at Wendy, then at Allen, and then at Wendy again. ‘Oh, very well, then. Just a minute, just a minute, I’ll see if Her Hugeness is free.’ ‘Thank you,’ said Wendy, with a winning smile. ‘And please don’t be long,’ she urged, as the clerk waddled off and disappeared through a nearby doorway. ‘Now, Wendy’ whispered Allen, cautiously. ‘You know we have to be careful about everything we say here, don’t you?.’ ‘Of course,’ shrugged Wendy, believing it to already be one of her best qualities.

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But Allen wasn’t sure that she really understood. ‘Careful and respectful,’ he stressed. ‘In fact,’ he added, thinking it over, ‘you better just let me do the talking. All the taking.’ ‘But why?’ resisted Wendy. ‘The Earth is my planet, isn’t it? So I’m the one who cares most about what happens.’ ‘That may be as that may be,’ replied Allen. ‘But you don’t know the rules here. And you’re not exactly polite are you? It wouldn’t do to give offence. The Chairperson is a very important thingummy.’ ‘Nonsense,’ replied Wendy. ‘I can be extremely polite, if necessary. And, anyway, you know I always talk for myself. So just tell me what the rules are and I’ll take things from there.’ Allen wasn’t very happy. ‘I don’t know if I should,’ he said. ‘Look Allen,’ began Wendy, in a way that Allen didn’t like, ‘if you don’t tell me the rules, you know I will only talk anyway. And then anything could happen. Couldn’t it?’ 66

Allen made a sort of groaning noise and frowned. ‘Oh, alright then. If you must.’ ‘Good.’ ‘But be careful.’ ‘Of course, Allen. You know me.’ That’s what he was afraid of. ‘Now, what are the rules?’ she asked. ‘Well,’ said Allen, giving in and trying not to frown. ‘Pay close attention. There are just four rules to follow but you mustn’t break them. Not any of them: 1. Always call the Chairperson ‘Your Hugeness’. Always. 2. Only speak when you’re spoken to and then only in rhyme. 3. Whatever you do, don’t move your lips. Just remember that she can read your mind just like I can. You have this nasty habit of forgetting not to talk. There’s no point denying it. I’ve seen you do it. All the time. 4. Watch out for the Anti-all.’

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‘The Anti-all?’ asked Wendy. ‘What on Earth is that?’ ‘What in the galaxy you mean.’ ‘Yes, yes. But what is it?’ Allen put on a stern face. ‘The Anti-all, for your information, is a very clever thingummy. It is there to serve Her Hugeness by arguing against everything everyone else says.’ ‘Everything?’ ‘Everything.’ ‘But why?’ ‘To make sure that Her Hugeness gets both sides of things, of course. That way she doesn’t have to think too much for herself.’ ‘Of course,’ nodded Wendy, practicing not moving her lips as the clerk re-entered. ‘Her Hugeness will see you now,’ he announced. ‘Do try to behave yourselves, if that’s not asking too much.’ ‘Don’t worry,’ Wendy assured Allen. ‘I won’t forget a thing.’

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‘Your mouth!’ pointed Allen, anxiously, as Wendy led the way in. Now the thing which Wendy found most surprising about Her Hugeness was actually how small she was. In fact, when you got right down to it, she was no taller and no wider and no thicker than Wendy was. Not that Her Hugeness looked much like her. Well, for a start, Her Hugeness, was distinctly green. And for an end, she looked a bit like a chair, only with a huge eye in the middle. ‘Please take a seat and rest up your feet,’ said Her Hugeness, politely, as they stood in awe before her. ‘Now just what can we do for Allen and, err, you? Sorry, what was your name, dear? I’ve quite forgotten, I fear.’ ‘Your Hugeness, I’m Wendy. I know it’s not trendy. It means something like wander, which is something to ponder. And, with your permission, I’m here on a mission. To save my own planet from a huge lump of granite, that’s flying through space at a very great pace. Ask Allen, its true! Or my name is Pooh.’

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‘That rhyme is a crime!’ protested a voice from behind. ‘Pooh isn’t a name, and this isn’t a game. You give much offence if your rhymes don’t make sense!’ ‘Oh,’ returned Wendy, looking at the strange insect like creature, ‘and just who are you, to say there’s no Pooh? Where I come from it’s famous, and as popular as Shamus.’ ‘There’s another the same, this isn’t a game! You can’t just make up a name. What, have you no shame? You better listen to me, I’m the Anti-all, see!’ But Wendy wasn’t impressed; not in the slightest. ‘You look like a big bug, not something I’d hug. So please just be hush and don’t talk such mush. You can have your say, at the end of the day. But it’s my turn to speak, so don’t make a squeak! Now what was I saying, before he started braying?’ ‘Well,” replied the Chairperson, ‘you were about to relate, a very sad fate, that threatens your planet, or my name is Janet.’ ‘Your Hugeness is right, it’s a very sad 70

plight, it could land in the sea, where the goldfishes be, or knock down the trees where live birds, bugs and bees. Or even fall on the zoo, and that wouldn’t do. And, of course, there’s my mother, not to mention my brother, who is only quite small, and whose first name is Paul.’ At this the Anti-all became exceedingly irate. ‘If you do that once more, I’ll jump through the floor! You can’t just say Paul, to make a rhyme with small!’ ‘Why not? You just did, or my name is Sid!’ ‘She’s right there you know, or my name is Flo. Oh isn’t this fun you can make rhymes by the ton. Any name will do, John, Amanda or Blue! I like the cut of your rhymes, dear. We’ll help, have no fear. The best ship in our fleet we will lay your feet.’ At this point the Anti-all began to puff loudly and turn yellow and red. ‘I protest! I protest! Is this some sort of jest? I haven’t even said, all the things in my head, against anything at all, or my name is Saul! Drat now I’m doing it, too, or my name is Drew! Oh no, I’ve done it once more, or my name 71

is... is......’ The Chairperson smiled, as she watched him falter and fail. ‘Too late you’re undone! Oh isn’t it fun! He’s not so tall, the poor Antiall. But don’t worry about him, he always looks grim. Now you mustn’t delay, you should get away. Our clerk’s at your command, to lend you a hand, to get you a ship, or my name is Pip. You’ve won by your shrewdness, or I’m not Your Hugeness. And if that doesn’t rhyme, so what? It’s no crime. Well not any more, as I’ll make a new law. You can rhyme if you like or go ride a bike. Let’s not be a slave, the past can be a knave. A rhyme’s like a pun, you do it for fun. And not because you have to.’ ‘Oh thank you, Your Hugeness,’ said Wendy, winking sideways at Allen. ‘You are very kind and wise.’

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Chapter 7: Please Make a Seat ‘Wow!’ said Wendy, looking at all the spaceships neatly lined up in rows along the tunnel. ‘Which one of these is ours?’ ‘Whichever one you like,’ replied the clerk, waving his hand in the direction of the fleet as Wendy ran on ahead. ‘I quite like this one,’ she said, stopping to point at one that looked particularly sleek and sporty. ‘Wow, an Alpha Romulus!’ drooled Allen. ‘It’s the new X-100 model, isn’t it?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the clerk. ‘And an X-cellent choice, I should think, for the sort of mission you have in mind. Just the thing for dashing about and blowing up asteroids and the like. A little too red though, I’m afraid. However, I think we have a nice blue one somewhere,’ he said, as Wendy ran towards her choice. ‘No, no. Don’t bother. The colour doesn’t really matter, does it? This red one will be fine,’ she smiled in its direction. ‘Is it hard 73

to fly?’ ‘Oh no,’ replied the clerk. ‘Quite soft, really. The upholstery has been bred especially for sitting in, you know. Quite velvety and just the right temperature, too.’ ‘You mean, the seats are alive!’ gasped Wendy, having second thoughts. ‘Of course,’ said the clerk. ‘Very alive, in fact. And very cosy, too.’ But Wendy wasn’t so sure. Then again, she thought, admiring the lines of the ship, it’s alright to sit on grass and that’s alive. So it must be alright to sit on seats if they’re alive, too. ‘I see,’ she said at last. ‘Well I suppose it’ll be ok then. If you say so. Only, that wasn’t actually what I asked about.’ ‘Yes it was,’ said the clerk, recollecting. ‘I have a very good memory, you know. Hmmm, lets see, now. You said: Is it hard to fly? And I said--’ ‘I know that’s what I said,’ said Wendy, ‘thanks very much. But what I meant was: is it difficult to fly?’ ‘Oh, I see. Well, why didn’t you say so? The

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answer to that is: yes and no.’ ‘What do you mean ‘yes and no’? What kind of answer is that? How can something be easy and difficult at the same time,’ she said. ‘It has to be one or the other, doesn’t it? It can’t possibly be both, can it Allen?’ ‘Well,’ thought Allen, ‘it might be easy for one person and hard for another, at the same time.’ ‘Is that what you meant?’ Wendy asked the clerk. ‘No,’ he replied. ‘But it’s a very good answer, Allen. I must write it down.’ Wendy was beginning to exhaust what she considered to be her formidable reserves of patience. She just couldn’t believe it. Here she was, trying to save the Earth from being hit by a giant asteroid and all this clerk could do was write down silly things that Allen said. And it wasn’t as though he had ever written down any of the important things she had said, either. ‘Look,’ she exclaimed, in exasperation. ‘Just tell me if somebody like me, someone very like me, in fact somebody exactly like me, could fly this red spaceship. This one right here. 75

Alright?’ ‘Hmmm,’ went the clerk again. ‘Yes and no,’ he said again. ‘This is getting ridiculous!’ she cried, in exasperation. ‘If people like you are in charge of the galaxy, it’s no wonder things are in such a mess.’ ‘Now, now,’ said the clerk, waving his finger. ‘There’s no need to carry on like that, insulting other beings just doing their job. All I meant was that yes it’s easy but no you can’t fly it, because it flies itself. You just say when and where you want it to go and it does the rest. It’s fully automatic, you see. Very, um, up to date.’ ‘Oh,’ replied Wendy. ‘Is that all. Well why didn’t you say so before?’ ‘Because--’ ‘Never mind,’ she said. ‘We don’t want to go through all that again. Let’s look inside it. Right now.’ ‘Whatever you say,’ he obliged, with a bow. ‘It’s all yours.’

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The cabin of the X-100 lit up wonderfully as she entered, causing her to blink three times. Not that there was a light to be lit up. Not as such. It was more like the cabin just lit up by itself, as though the very air got brighter around them. ‘Please make a seat,’ said the clerk, gesturing towards them with his hands. ‘Don’t you mean take a seat?’ corrected Wendy. Not that she could see any. The only thing she could see was the floor. ‘If I meant take a seat, I would have said it,’ he replied, matter of factly. ‘But in this ship you make your own. You just sit down where you like and your X-100 will do the rest. At least,’ he added, ‘that’s what the brochure says.’ Wendy had her doubts. She had seen brochures before. But you never know till you try, and so she did. Nor was she disappointed by her experiment. For, as she sat down, the floor sat up, rising to form the perfect chair around her. ‘Oh,’ she approved, feeling it’s soft luxurious warmth. ‘I saw one of these at the saucer show,’ remarked Allen, also settling in. ‘Neat, eh?’ 77

he pronounced, lying back and sitting up, and swivelling round and round. ‘Now this is what I call sitting!’ ‘Satisfactory?’ asked the clerk of his client. ‘Well,’ she replied, ‘I have to admit that the chair is comfortable. But I don’t think much about the upholstery’s colour.’ ‘That’s only natural,’ said the clerk, ‘since there isn’t any. But all that sort of thing is user selectable, you know. All you have to do is look into that mirror, and everything is adjusted to suit.’ ‘But there are two of us,’ said Allen. ‘Which of us will it suit the most?’ ‘Oh, it just sort of takes an average, you see. Which is by far the fairest thing, after all.’ ‘Yes, I suppose so,’ said Wendy, thinking it over. ‘But what if neither of us likes the result?’ ‘Very likely,’ observed Allen. ‘Then you will just have to live with it,’ shrugged the clerk. ‘It’s not a perfect galaxy, after all.’

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So Allen looked at Wendy, and Wendy looked at Allen, and then both of them looked in the mirror. Suddenly, the cabin began to hum and vibrate strangely as colours swam through the air. It was like sitting in the middle of a rainbow just as it was being made. ‘Wow!’ went Allen, looking at the green and yellow and red upholstery, and at the amazingly complex glowing instrument panel, and stroking the vibrant, slinky upholstery. ‘It’s just perfect! Hey, guess what, Wendy? We must have the same taste!’ he remarked, with a smile. How embarrassing. With a big E. Wendy didn’t know what to say. Yes she did. ‘It’s awful!’ she exclaimed, as sincerely as she could. ‘Really?’ said the clerk, quite surprised. ‘There must be something wrong. Hmmm,’ he added seriously, polishing the mirror with his sleeve. ‘I could get a mirror-tech in to check it, if you like? It won’t take long, I’m sure.’ ‘No. No. Never mind,’ said Wendy, anxiously. ‘We haven’t got time for that. I 79

suppose I’ll just have to make the best of it.’ ‘Suits me,’ said Allen, settling in. ‘I guess there’s no accounting for taste. Earthlings! Some beings have a long way to go, don’t they?’ he grinned. ‘Yes,’ agreed the clerk, watching Allen spin. ‘Well, if everything is in order, I’ll be getting back to my desk. I trust we shan’t meet again?’ ‘You never know your luck,’ said Wendy with a smile. ‘Thanks, for all your help.’ ‘You’re welcome,’ he said, turning about and happily leaving them to their urgent mission.

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Chapter 8: No Time to Lose! ‘Now, this is what I call flying,’ grinned Allen, as he called up the space chart on the navigation screen. Wendy looked curiously at the map. ‘What are those funny little round things?’ she asked, peering at some small blue spirals. ‘Just worm holes,’ replied Allen, dismissively, as if she should have known. Wendy winced in bemusement. ‘But worms don’t live in space. You’re pulling my leg, aren’t you, Allen?’ Allen looked at his four hands. ‘No I’m not,’ he denied. ‘Believe me, that’s the last thing I would want to do. You’ve only got two as it is.’ ‘No, no. I mean about the worm holes.’ Allen was really confused now. He scratched his ear. ‘But worms don’t have any legs,’ he said. Wendy threw up her hands in dismay. ‘All I

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meant,’ she explained, ‘is, what are worm holes doing in outer space?’ ‘Oh,’ sighed Allen, ‘I think I see your problem. Worm holes aren’t really worm holes, they just look like them.’ ‘Well what are they, then?’ ‘They’re sort of short-cuts. At least they’re supposed to be. You go in one end and before you know it you come out somewhere else a long way away. I went into one once and came out on the other side of the universe. It took me ages to get back by the proper way. Ages...’ Wendy cocked her a head and pondered. ‘Are you sure about that, Allen? I mean, I don’t see how you can have a hole in space? How can you have a hole in nothing?’ ‘Nothing? But space isn’t nothing. Space is...’ he expanded, throwing out all his arms, ‘space!’ ‘Yeah right. You don’t know either, do you?’ she said. ‘You’re just making this up as you go along.’ ‘Making it up? Not at all!’ he replied, a little

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offended by the suggestion. ‘I understand it perfectly. That is, well, I’ve got the general idea alright. Or, at least, I definitely have a pretty strong inkling about it. and that’s generally enough, I’ve found.’ ‘I knew it!’ said Wendy. ‘You don’t know what a worm hole is at all.’ ‘Yes I do! Yes I do!’ insisted Allen. ‘Look, you know how it would be quicker to get to the other side of the Earth if you could go through the middle rather than go all the way ‘round the outside?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well that’s just like a worm hole.’ ‘But you can’t go through the middle of space.’ ‘Well you could if you had a worm hole.’ Wendy thought it over. ‘Alright,’ she announced at last, ‘if they’re such good short cuts, let’s take one now.’ Allen recoiled at the proposal. ‘No, no,’ he said, shaking his head several times. ‘Once is enough for me. You never know where

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you’ll come out. Noooo. Let’s just stick to the way I know best. There’s plenty of time, after all. Isn’t this where we turn?’ he added, changing the subject. ‘I think you’re just a big chicken. You’re scared of them, aren’t you?’ ‘No I’m not!’ denied Allen, as the spaceship veered to the left. ‘Chickens only have two legs,’ he triumphed, staring at Wendy’s pair. ‘Two is quite enough for anyone,’ she replied, ‘to keep yourself up and get about. If you can manage it, that is,’ she added, glancing sceptically at her friend. Allen looked at his watch. ‘Oh oh,’ he said, turning some knobs on the screen. ‘What are you doing now?’ asked Wendy. ‘Looking for the Slimeoids,’ he said, anxiously, ‘from Alpha-1.’ Wendy was horrified. ‘Slimeoids!’ she exclaimed. ‘Yes, they should be on by now. And I wouldn’t want to miss the start.’ ‘You mean you’re watching TV.?’ 84

‘Err, yes.’ ‘At a time like this?’ ‘Err, yes.’ ‘Allen!’ ‘But They’re reallly good. It’s not just any show, you know. We’re talking about The Slimeoids. The wildest and craziest life forms in the entire universe.’ ‘And you think I watch too much TV?’ ‘Shhh,’ went Allen. ‘Here they come.’ ‘Look, Allen, shouldn’t you be doing something useful?’ ‘Like what?’ ‘I don’t know; checking our position, or watching the instruments or something.’ ‘But we’re on automatic. There’s nothing to do. Is there?’ Then Wendy remembered what Mum always said at times like this. ‘There’s always something that needs doing, Allen,’ she counselled.

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Allen crossed his four arms and slumped back into his chair. ‘Oh, alright,’ he said. ‘I suppose I could clean the laser mirrors. Just in case.’ ‘Good.’ It always works. ‘But we have to record it and watch it later...’ ‘After we get the asteroid,’ she added, making the terms quite clear. ‘Might as well wait for the next one,’ grumbled Allen, going to work, cheerlessly. And, true to her own advice, while Allen cleaned the laser mirrors, Wendy read through the book that tells you everything you need to know and more about flying the X-100. ‘Speed,’ said the electronic book, ‘depends on time. Travelling a billion kilometres in a day, for example, is only moving about as fast as a Centaurian snail after a heavy feed. But travelling a billion kilometres in a millisecond is fairly hiking along. ‘The trick, to space travel,’ it went on, ‘is not so much to concentrate on the kilometre

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side of things as to work on the time bit. Your X-100 operates on this principle and is fitted with the very latest in time-shrink drives. ‘As an added feature your X-100 also comes standard with time-reverse, so you can travel backwards in time as well. Please don’t ask us how this works, however, because no one really knows. Sometimes science just needs time to catch up. In the meantime, however, remember that you should never go from forward to reverse on the move. Something very nasty almost always happens when you do....’ And then there were a lot of facts and figures and technical drawings and things which Wendy didn’t think could be very important or they would have been made more interesting. At least she hoped so. That’s when Wendy started to worry. Not just about the ship but about everything. So much was at stake, she knew. If only she could be sure it would all work out. She looked at the book she didn’t fully understand, and outside at the vast ocean of space they had yet to cross, and then she looked at Allen. Oh oh.

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Closing the book, she heaved a sigh that grew into a yawn, and slumped back into her cosy seat. It had been a long day. Nothing to do now but wait. Maybe she should get some rest... Clunk! Wendy almost fell onto the floor. ‘What was that?’ she cried. ‘Oh no,’ said Allen. Suddenly the computer’s flat screen flickered into life, and a frightening face peered forth. ‘Pull over, shipmates, before my finger gets nervous on this here trigger. Now! if you please.’ ‘Pirates!’ cried Allen, pressing buttons frantically all over the ship. ‘What?’ ‘It’s no good,’ he said, ‘we’re stuck.’ ‘Stuck?’ ‘In his gravity field.’

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‘I’ll be comin’ aboard now, shipmates. And mind you, let’s have no funny business about it.’ Wendy rubbed her eyes. She couldn’t believe it. Then, she did, and began to shiver all over. Not because she was scared, but because it was so cold. Then, a brilliant flash startled her, and when she looked up again, they were no longer alone. ‘Allow me to introduce myself,’ said the pirate, with a flamboyant bow. ‘Captain Canopus, at your disservice. And this here be me sea-dog Minty, the meanest mutt as ever sailed these constellations.’ ‘She doesn’t look mean to me?’ doubted Wendy, staring at the small hairy dog at her feet, who was waving its tail eagerly. ‘Don’t be deceived by appearances, lass. Minty be little, but Minty be big. And an inspiration to poets, no less.’ Wendy stroked its head. ‘Well ain’t yer curious, lass?’ queried the pirate with a squint. ‘Well, I suppose some beings think so,’ she

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replied. ‘No. I mean about the poem, lass, the poem! Don’t yer know a cue when yer hears one? Stone the cosmic crows! What does a bloke have to do, put up a bill-board in space?’ ‘Oh,’ said Wendy, uncaringly. ‘Of course, we’d love to hear it, wouldn’t we Allen?’ Allen tried to look keen before the imposing invader. ‘Very well then, shipmates. If yers insist. Now let me see…The title be: Minty The Sea-Dog. Right then, here we goes, ready or otherwise...’

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MINTY THE SEA DOG

Minty the sea-dog was little But big. Small, but TALL And she knew how to dig! Brave as they come (But frightened of some). Minty the sea-dog was little But big!

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Wendy waited for a little while, just to make sure he had finished. Then she clapped, obligingly. ‘Is that it?’ asked Allen, a little bemused. ‘It’s too short ain’t it?’ asked the pirate, in search of comfort or praise. ‘Well,’ began Allen. ‘Not at all,’ ended Wendy, who seemed to like it after all. ‘Just Minty’s size, I would think.’ ‘Aye, that’s it, lassie. Little, but big. That be it, right enough. You’ve a fine literary sense there, and that’s the truth.’ ‘Thank you, Captain,’ replied Wendy, taking a bow. ‘And, now, I don’t mean to be rude, but we’re in rather a hurry you see...’ ‘Now, now. Time enough,’ said he. ‘Time enough. Yer can set sail in a jiff soon as we’ve got what we need. After all, a pirate’s got a livin’ to make, eh.’ ‘But you won’t find any gold on this ship,

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Captain. We haven’t an ounce of it, have we, Allen?’ ‘Gold?’ quizzed the Captain. ‘And why would I be wanting gold, lass?’ ‘Because its valuable, I suppose.’ ‘Valuable? Well that’s a quaint notion by jingo. And how can something as common as gold be worth anything at all, eh?’ ‘Common?’ ‘Yes. Don’t you have any idea how many planets are out there, lass?’ ‘Why lots, I suppose.’ ‘Billions. And half of ‘em riddled with the stuff. Why, it ain’t worth makin’ let alone takin’. But, how many of ‘em as supports life, eh? Intelligent life. Answer me that, then.’ ‘You mean you want us?’ The pirate laughed. ‘And why would I be wanting to crowd me hold with the likes of you, lass? No, it’s yer thoughts I want.’ ‘My thoughts?’ asked Wendy, who thought

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it rather strange. ‘But why?’ ‘Because they’s valuable, of course. Supply and demand makes ‘em so. That’s what they call economics. Thoughts is few and buyers is many, so they fetch a fine price, I can tell you. Why, a single thought could fetch a thousand space credits alone in the right place.’ ‘But why do people buy them?’ ‘Why? Well, lass, just think how many thoughtless people there are out there and work it out for yerself.’ ‘Oh. I see. Well, that seems to make sense,’ replied Wendy, turning it over in her thoughts. ‘Yes, you must do very well out of it on the whole.’ ‘Well, I don’t like to boast, Miss,’ he said, taking off his hat, ‘but not too bad. After expenses. It’s not a bad life on the whole, sailing and plundering the seven seas.’ ‘Seven seas? Are you from Earth then, Captain, as I’ve heard there are seven seas at home? Because, if you are, there’s something you should know about it.’

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‘Blast me no, lass. Not those seas by golly. It’s the seven seas of space I’m speakin’ of.’ Wendy looked outside. ‘I don’t see any seas out there?’ ‘Not that space, lass. The space in yer head,’ he said pointing to his. ‘And the seas that be in there.’ ‘I’m afraid I’ve no idea what you’re talking about, Captain. There are no seas in my head, there’s no room, I’m sure.’ ‘Oh there ain’t eh? Well, we’ll see about that. Let’s see, now. For one,’ he said counting on his fingers, ‘there be the Sea of Trouble. Don’t tell me you ain’t heard of that one. And then there’s the Sea of Despair. That’s two of ‘em, note. Then there be the Sea of Doubt and the Sea of Confusion, by and by. And then an old favourite of mine, the Sea of Sin, next door, handy like, to the Sea of Guilt. I tries to steer clear of her, though. That be six, I reckon. And lastly, thank goodness, there be the Sea of Sloth. I likes t’ sling me hammock on its shores now and then, by golly I does.’ ‘I see what you mean, Captain,’ smiled Wendy. ‘They do sound rather dangerous 95

alright. But which one are we in now, if I may ask?’ ‘Why in the sea of Doubt, lass, of course. You be lost there, sure as I’m standing here.’ Wendy looked at Allen, as if he was to blame. ‘Don’t look at me,’ he replied. ‘It’s your head.’ ‘He be right on that account, lass,’ said the pirate, hitching his britches and straightening his hat. ‘They be your thoughts, alright. Until now, that is.’ ‘What?’ ‘Hand ‘em over then.’ ‘What?’ ‘Your thoughts, Miss Wendy. I be waitin’ for ‘em.’ ‘But-’ ‘Not all of ‘em, mind yer. I’m not as unreasonable as some. Just the precious ones,’ he smiled, showing a broken tooth.

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Which is when Wendy began to think of home. And of her mum. And of the asteroid. How could she stop it without her best thoughts. Or even with them. It all seemed impossible really. And then a small tear began to roll slowly down her cheek. The pirate raised his brow. ‘Here, here. What’s all this, then?’ he said. ‘They’ll be damp at this rate.’ ‘I’m sorry,’ replied Wendy. ‘It’s just that soon they’ll all be gone. And the Earth too. If only we could have saved them. But I think it might be beyond me, after all. It’s all seems so, so inevitable.’ ‘Saved them from what, lass? What’s eatin’ you there?’ ‘Saved them from the asteroid. That’s where we were going. But now I’m not sure. Even with my thoughts, my best thoughts, there’s just no hope. Is there?’ ‘No hope?’ repeated the pirate, feeling a little pity welling within his salt encrusted heart. ‘Who says there ain’t hope? Why we’re not in the Sea of Despair yet, yer know. You just heed old Captain Canopus’ advice and you’ll be sailing through without 97

a worry in the world.’ ‘You mean you’re not going to steal my thoughts?’ ‘They be a bit on the soggy side, methinks.’ Wendy began to brighten. ‘That’s better. Now buck up and listen to me, lass. You be lost in the Sea of Doubt and no denyin’. But there’s one sure remedy for that. When you’re doing the right thing you’ve just got t’ have a bit o’ faith that it’ll all work out. On a mission like this, you’ve got to trust in the Great Mystery.’ ‘Mystery?’ ‘That’s right. It’s not just space, fire and random chunks of rock out there you know. There’s something bigger than that, I reckons. The Great Mystery that sits behind the stars and even behind space itself… Don’t tell me there ain’t, I’ve been around these seas too long to swallow that one. Maybe it’s what some call God, I dunno about names and suchlike. I just respects it for its mystery, eh? There’s a lot can’t be understood without it. Sometimes, you’ll find that it takes a mystery to explain one, 98

lass. Just remember that and get on with what you feel in yer bones should be done and you’ll be on course; so long as it’s what you think is right and would make your mum proud, that is. ‘And look to yer friends at yer side. Like me an’ Minty here. Through thick ‘n thin we been. Through storm and tempest. D’yer get my drift, lass?’ Wendy nodded, glanced at Allen, and tried to smile. ‘Aye, aye, Captain,’ she said. ‘I sees that you do. Yes I does. And now, blast me, if yer haven’t stolen a thought from old Canopus himself. Who’d have thought it! Bested by a wee lass. Come along Minty. It’s back to the Argo for us. I reckon these sailors has work to do. They’ve got a rendezvous with destiny, without a doubt.’ Wendy smiled. ‘Goodbye, Captain,’ she waved. ‘Goodbye, lass,’ he returned. ‘And fair weather to your ship.’ Suddenly, Wendy was startled by an desperate voice. 99

‘Wake up. Wake up!’ cried Allen, shaking her frantically by the shoulders. Wendy woke with a start. ‘What is it?’ she asked, removing his hands. ‘We’re here. we’re here!’ he shouted in panic. Wendy brushed a whisk of hair from her face. ‘Of course we are, Allen. Where else would we be?’ ‘No, I mean there’s the asteroid!’ he cried, pointing to a big red light flashing on the control panel in front of them, as alarms began to buzz and ring throughout the ship. ‘It’s the Earth!’ exclaimed, Wendy looking longingly outside. ‘It’s a little closer than I thought,’ said Allen, scratching his head. ‘I must have made a mistake. I hope we’re not too late...’ ‘Late!’ exclaimed Wendy. ‘How could you make a mistake like that??? We’re supposed to be a day early!’ Allen looked at his watch. ‘What time do you make it?’ he asked. ‘Mine’s a little

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slow.’ ‘Oh, Allen!’ ‘Sorry, but I’m only alien, you know.’ ‘Quick,’ urged Wendy, ‘turn on the laser guns while I get the computer to take aim. There’s no time to lose.’ ‘Right,’ snapped Allen searching for the button. ‘It’s over there!’ cried Wendy. ‘The green furry one in the middle.’ ‘Got it!’ ‘OK.,’ said Wendy. ‘Here we go... Start the count-down sequence... now!’ ‘Ten...’ said Allen. ‘Nine... Eight... Seven... Six... Five... Five... Hmmm... Fi-’ ‘Four! Four!’ shouted Wendy. ‘I know, I know. Four... Three... Two... One... Zero!’ ZAP! went the lasers and ZAP again, as a mighty explosion rocked the asteroid and surrounding space.

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‘It’s a hit!’ yelled Allen with glee. ‘Not so fast,’ said Wendy. ‘Look, it’s still there.... We have to try again! Turn up the power, now!’ ‘Full power!’ cried Allen. ‘Lasers ready!’ Wendy concentrated on the screen. ‘Zap!’ she yelled. ‘And Zap again.’ ‘Yay! That’s done it!’ cried Allen, watching the asteroid blow apart in a ball of dust and flame. But as the cosmic dust began to clear, Wendy and Allen saw things hadn’t gone quite as expected. ‘It’s only split in two,’ said Allen. ‘Still, at least that’s something, I suppose.’ ‘But will they hit Earth?’ asked Wendy, which, of course was the important bit. Allen checked the computer. ‘It says: yes and no,’ he said. ‘Yes and no!’ exclaimed Wendy. ‘I might have known. Quick, tell it to stop beating around the bush or I’ll get cranky. Very cranky, like Mum!’ 102

‘OK. Hang on... How do you spell: cranky?’ ‘Allen!’ ‘OK. OK. Only asking..... Hmmm... It says that one piece will miss.’ ‘But does that mean the other one will hit?’ ‘Err, you’re not going to like this,’ said Allen, pulling in what would have been his head if only he’d had one. ‘What does it say?’ demanded Wendy. ‘Err.. yes and no.’ ‘What!!!’ ‘I told you you wouldn’t like it.’ ‘Allen, watch my face. I’m about to lose my temper.’ ‘Hold on,’ said Allen looking at the screen, ‘there’s more. It says: No, it’s not going to hit the Earth, but Yes, it is going to hit the moon and that’s going to hit the Earth.’ ‘Oh no!’ cried Wendy. ‘That’s even worse. What will we do? It’s too far away to shoot again. We have to go back in time and have

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another go.’ ‘But we can’t,’ said Allen. ‘There isn’t enough time for that. But we could take a picture if you like. At least then you would have something to remember.’ ‘Taking over!’ shouted Wendy, giving up Allen as a lost cause. ‘All systems to manual.’ ‘Manual? Are you sure you know what you’re doing, Wendy?’ he asked. But Wendy had no time to reply. Suddenly the space ship veered sharply to the left and everything went upside down. ‘What’s happening?’ yelled Allen. ‘I feel like I’m outside. Even my inside feels outside. Ohhhhhh.....’ Then, just as quickly as things had gone topsy-turvy, everything came right way up. ‘Whew, that’s better,’ said Allen, wiping his brow. ‘That was close.’ ‘There it is!’ said Wendy. ‘It worked!’ ‘What worked? Where are we?’ asked

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Allen, scratching his head. ‘Hang on a moment. That’s a bit of the asteroid, isn’t it?’ ‘Yes, Allen. The big bit.’ ‘And it’s coming straight for us. Isn’t it?’ ‘That’s right. And we’re going straight for it.’ ‘Oh no....’ ‘Lasers ready...’ said Wendy.... ‘Zap! Zap! And Zap again!’ Allen covered his eyes. ‘I can’t bear to watch...’ he said. But this time everything went well, and the asteroid burst into bits. ‘Hooray!’ cried Wendy. ‘We did it, Allen! It’s gone! Completely!’ Allen slowly uncovered his eyes. ‘Gone?’ ‘Zapped into a billion bits. See!’ laughed Wendy, pointing outside. ‘The Earth is safe!’ ‘Yay!’ cheered Allen. ‘We did do it, too!

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Hooray! Hooray!’ Then, something occurred to him. ‘Wait on a minute... How did we get from way over there to here? I mean, weren’t we on the other side of the asteroid before, safely out of the way?’ ‘Yes,’ replied Wendy. ‘And too far away to stop it.’ ‘Then how did we get way over here, near the Earth, so fast?’ ‘Easy,’ said Wendy. ‘I took a short cut.’ Allen looked into her eyes. ‘Not a ...’ ‘Worm hole? That’s right, Allen. See, it’s marked on the map. Right there. And there’s where it comes out, swirling the other way.’ ‘Oh,’ said Allen. ‘Of course. Swirling the other way. I wondered what that meant.’ ‘Well, come on,’ she continued, getting back to the controls. ‘Remember, we musn’t be late for tea, or Mum will get cranky for sure.’ ‘Yes,’ Allen was quick to agree. ‘We wouldn’t want that to happen. Not if she’s like you…’

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Chapter 9: Hooroo For Now ‘Touchdown!’ announced Allen as they landed on the roof of Wendy’s block of flats. ‘Right on time.’ Wendy eagerly released her gravity safetybelt. ‘I hope tea’s ready,’ she said. ‘I’m starving. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to join us, Allen?’ ‘Yuck. No thanks.’ ‘Well, come and meet Mum, anyway. You’ll like her. People say we’re very much alike, you know.’ ‘Much alike, you say?’ ‘Very.’ Allen shuddered. ‘Sorry, but I really have to get back.’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Very.’ ‘Oh,’ said Wendy with a disappointed smile. ‘Well, Allen, thanks for helping me save the 107

Earth and everything. I really enjoyed myself, too.’ ‘No problem. It was an experience alright.’ ‘Something to remember,’ she added. ‘Yesss,’ he agreed, with a shudder. ‘Maybe we can do it again sometime?’ Allen threw up his hands. ‘Oh, no,’ he replied. ‘Some experiences are unique, you know. Besides, I couldn’t go through that again. My batteries aren’t up to it. But maybe we could meet up in your holidays again next Earth year, and just go for a cruise somewhere? You know, check out the Milky Way?’ ‘Same place, same time?’ ‘It’s a date,’ he replied, warmly. ‘Maybe you should get a new watch, though’ suggested Wendy. ‘Just to be on the safe side.’ ‘Yeah,’ nodded Allen, smiling with his eyes. ‘That sounds like a good idea. Do you think Her Hugeness will let us borrow the X100?’ 108

‘It’s worth a try, or my name is Guy.’ Allen laughed. ‘I’ll ask, then. She can only say no, can’t she?’ ‘And then you could hire one.’ ‘Yes. Maybe,’ he replied, uncertainly. ‘But not from the same place.’ ‘No. Hey, that might work,’ he said, more cheerfully. ‘Well, Allen, I suppose it’s time to say hooroo then.’ ‘Hooroo?’ ‘It’s like goodbye but not so final. Hooroo, for now.’ ‘Right. Hooroo. I’ll make sure it goes in the Galactic phrase book when I get back.’ ‘Good idea.’ ‘You get a free ticket to a tourist trap of your choice for every new word, you know.’ ‘That would be fun.’ ‘Yes. I’ll bring you back a t-shirt. I know 109

just what you like.’ ‘OK. That would be cool.’ ‘Well, I guess I better be going, then.’ ‘Yes, I suppose so.’ ‘Hooroo then Wendy,’ he said with a wink. ‘Hooroo, Allen,’ she said, shaking one of his hands. ‘And don’t forget about the watch...’ she added, as she got out of the ship and stood by to wave off her friend. He seemed to be much better at it, now, she thought, as the X-100 ascended smoothly into the sky and disappeared out of sight. But then again, it was an automatic, and that was a help. He would be bound to get back safely in a ship like that, she thought, as she descended the stairs and entered her flat. ‘There you are,’ said Wendy’s mother, as Wendy walked in. ‘I’ve been looking all over the place for you. Where on Earth have you been?’ Wendy smiled. ‘Could you re-phrase that, please, Mum?’ ‘What?’

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‘I mean, I’ve been up there,’ she replied, quickly, pointing high into the air. Wendy’s mum shook her head. ‘Wendy, how many times have I told you not to play on the roof. It’s very dangerous up there. Anything could happen, you know.’ ‘Yes, Mum. I know. Sorry.’ ‘Well, you know how I worry, Wendy. Now come along, tea’s almost on the table.’ Then, something caught Wendy’s eye. ‘What’s that, Mum?’ she asked, pointing to a picture on the news. ‘Oh just something silly about UFOs and an asteroid blowing up. You know what these scientists are like. Always got their head in the clouds. It’s all nonsense if you ask me.’ ‘Can I turn it up, please, Mum. In case they ask at school?’ ‘Yes, alright, dear,’ she replied. ‘If you like.’ Which Wendy did without delay. ‘Scientists,’ said the woman on the news, ‘believe the asteroid is also responsible for a 111

small chink which has suddenly appeared in the rings of the planet Saturn.... ‘Traffic on the Eastern way came to a sudden standstill this morning as a truck…’ ‘I knew it,’ muttered Wendy, turning the TV off. ‘I told him they would notice! No matter how many arms they’ve got, I guess some people just can’t fly. I wonder,’ she thought, looking up at the ceiling, ‘I wonder what he’s doing now?’ And, at that very instant, somewhere in the vicinity of Saturn, an alien with one ear, two noses, three eyes, four arms and five legs looked at its watch. ‘Great Galaxies!’ it cried, out loud. ‘It’s almost time for The Slimeoids!’

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