Archive | November, 2016

CHAPTER TWELVE – DOWN TO DNA.

28 Nov

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
” Still on the stranded spaceship (which is no longer stranded) and about to make a discovery concerning DNA… “

It was two days before Melvin had made repairs to the drive of the stranded space-ship. Most of the time he’d spent scratching his head and wondering why this or that didn’t work only to end up concluding it must all be down to a computerised control box hidden safely out of the way of anything hot under a hard-to-get at cover, which he replaced as a single unit from the spares cache and which worked straight away.

“Bloody thing,” he moaned to Aurora, “I’m fed up with this ship, and that’s a fact! But now I’ve fixed it we can be off, and good riddance to all those trees.”

“So I can use the equipment now?” she asked.

“What equipment?” he growled.

“The woman’s hair. I need to examine it closely. I think the results could be more than interesting.”

He gazed at her, confusion written on his face. She knew he wasn’t the sharpest knife in the box, so she thought she’d explain what she meant in terms that even a moron would understand, not that her opinion of his intelligence was that extreme. She knew him for what he was ” a hard-working practical engineer with a limited view when it came to the abstract.

“I thought we were going to return to our search for the home planet…” he began, but she interrupted him.

“If I’m right we’ve found it,” she said shortly, “If everything turns out to be the way it seems then this little world that we landed on to effect repairs is miraculously the home planet and our search is over,” she added.

He gazed at her, his eyes wide as if he knew he was looking at a mad woman.

“You mean this arse-end of existence?” he asked, “this primitive backside of life? You just can’t be serious! You simply can’t!”

“Why not?” she asked. “What’s so very wrong with the idea that we’ve located the home planet where our species evolved?”

“Just look at it!” He waved one arm at the porthole window, indicating the verdant growth that seemed to cover most of the planet. “How could you possibly think that anyone living here could build enough vessels to go out to the stars and populated half of Creation? You’re talking nonsense! Our home planet will be sophisticated, there’ll be great centres where the people live and even greater cetres where they work and play1”

“We’ll see,” she purred in that tone of voice that he recognised so well. It was the tone of voice she used when she made a statement that would subsequently be proved to be exactly right whilst he was exactly wrong.

“Well, you won’t be right this time,” he grunted. “I can see that as clearly as I can see your face! By the way, have I ever told you that you’ve got a nice face…?”

“Now what’s on your mind?” she asked, curiously. “After all, it’s a long time you said anything nice about me, but it is good to hear.”

“I used to.”

“Yes, in the early days before you decided that I got on your nerves,” she said, smiling. “You didn’t like it when I got on your nerves, did you, but I couldn’t help it. The fault was more yours than mine…”

“How do you work that out?” he asked, irritably.

“Look, Melvin, we’re two different people who look at things in two different ways and I suppose that sometimes, because of my education or something like that I manage to see a little deeper into things than you do! It doesn’t make me better than you, just different. Anyway, I’m a girl and everyone knows that girls are brighter than boys!”

“Are you calling me stupid?” He sounded enraged though he knew he shouldn’t. Something at the back of his mind told him the unpleasant news, that she was most probably right. All of the big thinkers on most of the major planets were female, and if men somehow got a look in there was a sudden outbreak of violence and wars. It was almost a trademark of male-dominated cultures.

“I would never do that, Melvin,” she said quietly. “You’re not at all stupid, though sometimes you don’t see all of the possible consequences of what you harp on about. But you’ve got really good qualities, you know. You’re a first rate engineer with a magic touch…”

“I could have done done it quicker this time, if only I’d thought…”

“Exactly.” She removed the strands of hair that she’d asked Juju for from the drawer where she’d carefully put them days earlier, and took them to a sophisticated-looking machine a single pace away from where she was standing.

“And what do you mean by that?” demanded Melvin. “Why ‘exactly’”

“Think about it,” she replied, a little sharply. “Now give me a moment …”

She carefully slipped one of the strands of Juju’s hair into a tiny drawer and pressed a few buttons on a control panel. The machine came to life with a gentle hum and the flashing of several tiny lights. It was a recent development and could do things that had hitherto taken ages in mere minutes, and it had been included on all of the little ships searching for the home planet because it represented the one sure way of absolute certainty should any major discovery be made.

“This should answer a few questions,” she said quietly. “I’ve a feeling me might find something vaguely familiar about the DNA in this hair. This won’t take long!”

“Are you trying to suggest that cavemen like the imbecile we saw the other day had enough technology to blast off into space and conquer Creation?” mocked Melvin, disbelievingly.

“It was suggested that it’s possibly that, once the brightest and best had left the planet, those who remained might have regressed to the point of being little more than savages,” she murmured. “And if that’s the case it’s perfectly possible that the two charming people we met the other day are our cousins, only they no longer have the same spark of ingenuity that sent their forefathers to the stars. This test will show us because even though it’s one heck of a long time since the exodus from the home planet it’s a short time in the course of evolution. Not much will have changed in the DNA and we’ll see a distinct relationship between us and them!”

“I’m sure I’m not related to those morons!” snapped Melvin.

“Maybe you’re not, but I wouldn’t be surprised it I was,” sighed Aurora, gently tapping on an inset button on the machine in front of her, then turning a dial the slightest bit to the left.

“What? You?” sneered Melvin.

“It’s back to the atomic watch I gave the woman,” said Aurora in the tone of voice he least liked because it sounded as if she was explaining something to a wayward child.

“What about it?” he couldn’t help asking.

“Didn’t you notice the look in her eyes when she examined it?” asked Aurora.

“I tried not to look at her filthy face,” he snapped back.

“Oh dear. More fool you then. But I did look and there was one thing that was clear as a bell. She understood what it did. I watched her as the light traced the part of the day while we were there and every time she glanced at it it was clear she understood what she was looking at and what it was showing her. So if these people are the remnants left behind when our own ancestors set a course for the stars then I don’t think their intelligence suffered much. After all, it’s quite a quantum leap from magic mushrooms to atomic technology! What did happen, I suppose, is they found a better way of living. For them.”

Melvin shook his head in disbelief. He’d seen Umbaga and Juju with their child, and he’d been threatened by a large group of their neighbours, and as far as he was concerned it had been very much like being in the company of wild creatures stripped of any sign of intelligence.

“Anyway, we’ll know in a few minutes,” smiled Aurora, and when he looked at that smile he knew just how beautiful she was ” beauty and intelligence, two qualities that he admired but occasionally detested in equal measure.

But the machine into which she’d carefully placed a single strand of hair was beeping quietly, and he knew they’d know for certain soon enough.

Yes, they’d know that the beautiful Aurora had at last got something wrong and he was right!

© Peter Rogerson 27.10.16

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THE LETTER

19 Nov

The letter was grabbed by the wind and whipped from the girl’s fragile hands. The girl was seven and hungry and the wind was vicious. The girl wore a thin cotton dress and the wind had gorged itself on snow in the frozen North. The girl was due to die quite soon unless something radical happened to change things, and that wind would never die.

The wind was quite at home down Elm Street, and the girl was homeless.

The wind held the letter tightly in its wintry fingers and teased her by whipping it high into the invisible sky.

That was the way of things.

Then the wind, laughing like a hurricane on acid, tore the letter into two separate pieces and threw them hither and thither until one was North and the other was South and maybe never the twain would meet. It sniggered at that, and rested awhile, and the girl lay down by the post box.

She couldn’t post what she no longer had, but she laid down and closed her eyes anyway.

“It’s time,” she thought, always positive, “to sleep…”

The North part of the torn letter danced and pranced and jiggled around until it was quite lost and couldn’t tell what was up, what was down, what was left or what was right, but it found a chimney all right.

It found a big, tall, fat, brick chimney and slithered down it into an ice palace far below.

The South part of the torn letter soon felt the sun on its wrinkled edges and started drifting so peacefully you might have mistaken it for a sleeping butterfly and because all was peace and serenity it lost all control over where it wanted to go and drifted into a cloud.

The North part of the letter in the chimney felt so hot it knew what was going to happen and, cheerily, almost burst into flames just as a jolly fat man in a scarlet suit reached out to grab it. And when he grabbed it he blew the embryonic flames out and looked at the words on the scorched and battered paper.

The South part of the torn letter got so wet in the cloud that its writing started to run until there wasn’t much left of it than an inky smudge that hardly said anything. And eventually, when the cloud was really fed up with it, it drifted down into the hands of a passing Sheikh.

The fat man in the scarlet suit could make neither sense nor meaning when he looked at his scorched piece of paper, so he frowned and frowned and frowned and stared and stared and stared. But still neither sense nor meaning came, so he shook his head and poured himself a stiff drink with loads of alcohol in it.

The passing Sheikh stared at his half of the girls’ letter, but the writing was so smudged he barely knew it was there. Yet one word stood out from the smudges because it had been written extra large in the first place. “DEAR” it said. Just “DEAR”, and nothing else.

When the fat man in the scarlet suit had finished his stiff drink he stared at the scorched half-letter again, and thought, in his brain-addled stupor, that he could make out one word because it had been written extra large. “SANTA” it said. Just “SANTA”, and nothing else.

The passing Sheikh rubbed his forehead in concentration and decided there must be more to the paper, and he decided to go in search of the truth, and he rode his long-lithe-limbed camel fast as it would go in search of that truth. Across deserts he went, and rivers and mountains, for he was a truly powerful Sheikh and could do such things. And eventually he came to a little light.

The fat man in a scarlet suit, when he was sober again, looked one last time at his half of the paper and decided, in a moment bordering on the heroic, to go forth and find the rest of the torn paper in the hope that he would learn more from it. So he gathered his favourite reindeer to him and harnessed them to a sleigh and went forth into a black and bleak winter’s night. And he rode almost as fast as the wind had blown until he came to a little light.

“This is my little light, for it is written that it must be,” growled the Sheikh when he saw the fat man, and “The little light must shine on my paper,” rumbled the fat man in scarlet.

Then both men held up their halves of the paper so that the little light shone on them. It shone on the wet one and it shone on the scorched one, and as it did so the writing that had once been on it shone in the dimness of the little light.

“Dear Santa,” it said when it was pushed together, “help me for I am homeless and sick, and all I want for Christmas is my mummy back….”

That was all. No mention of x-boxes or iPhones, not a single word suggesting laptops or tablets, not a syllable demanding a talking doll that wet its knickers, just that.

“The poor child,” rumbled the fat man in scarlet, sobbing.

“She must have what she desires!” agreed the Sheikh, in tears

“Shush or you’ll waken the baby!” snapped the father in the stable, and he grabbed the two halves of paper and screwed them up and tossed them out into the world, where a passing wind grabbed them and ran off, whistling with them.

And as nothing radical happened to change things, and lying by a post box a long way away, a little girl died when her mummy didn’t come back..

© Peter Rogerson 19.11.16

OUR POST-TRUTH WORLD

17 Nov

Quite a lot of people have tried to define the age we live in and almost without exception they come out with words that imply that, politically, we live in post-truth Britain.

But what does this mean? For as long as I can remember politicians have been accused of being free and easy when it comes to the truth. Quite often the actual facts behind a situation might get in the way of their own personal happiness, wealth or sex life. Yes, I did say sex life. There’s not much some politicians (or men of any persuasion, be they politicians, bin-men or lawyers amongst the whole rainbow of employed people) wouldn’t promise in bed to a loved one when they’re in the opening glory and first muscular twitch of an orgasm. And promises, if made to one’s nearest and dearest, are often reasonably sacrosanct.

But it’s not the bed-room mutterings I’m thinking of so much as the wealth ones. Politicians like to line their pockets because there’s one thing they know about their jobs and that is the simple fact it might only last until the next election, when a disenchanted public might oust them from the gravy train.

And in this age of materialism the gravy on that train is positively addictive.

Let’s look at this particular period of time with my birth bracketing one end and today bracketing the other.

The world has, in that seventy-three (almost) years become a very different place. My father died within only a few years of me being was born, so I was brought up (with my younger brother) by a widowed mother and the one pride and joy in our home was the radiogram. It was furniture. It was polished. And it made sounds. The gram part, although electric, only had one speed (78 rpm) and the radio had never heard of VHF. Many people had similar radiograms but few had a better one. We didn’t have a television set (there were a few around, my uncle had one with a tiny screen and pictures in less than fifty shades of grey – they said it was black and white but in all honesty when my mum dragged me to his house there was only grey and never actual black or real white.

Domestic chores were done (by mum) by hand and the house was owned by the local council as part of a large estate of hastily built steel houses put up in haste to house people made homeless by the German Luftwaffe.

So the only thing of any worth we owned was that radiogram, and I wish I had it now. But it probably went into a tip when my mother died half a century ago. The thing is, though, we may have been poorer than most but I, as a schoolboy, didn’t really know that. I wore a school uniform (all of the daylight hours, I didn’t have what you would call casual play clothes) and my grey shorts were the same as anyone else’s grey shorts. They didn’t mark me out as being different. The society we lived in, still shuddering from wartime destruction of both property and lives, didn’t make life any harder for my mum that widowhood would anyway. And she lived in an age that was still warped by Victorian false morality and I believe never thought once of relieving the sexual tensions brought on by her widowed status with a parade of strangers marching through her bedroom. She wouldn’t even have turned to plastic. But all that is by the by.

These days there’s so much more.

Look around your home and at the devices few people owned back when the bracket opened. Kitchen appliances. That blessing in electronic disguise, the microwave. We had a cooker. Gas. Full stop. No mixer, food processor, electric tin opener, electric kettle… Nothing fancy like that, and until well into the fifties the iron was heated on the cooker hob.

My mother only ever owned one vacuum cleaner and it was a small hand-held one and she used it on the stairs. The rest of the house was swept, which was easy because the main floor covering was linoleum. Her sister had a carpet sweeper which the small boy me thought was magical when we called on her. You pushed it and hey! It picked things up! Things so small you couldn’t even see them! But then, she had the odd carpet in her home.

As I said, we had the radiogram and with it my mum had a selection of a few 78 rpm records. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik on two twelve inch records was played until the grooves gave out, and even beyond that, and there were maybe a dozen other more popular discs, gathered by her over many years. Lovely.

The radio aerial was a single length of wire that ran round the room, tucked neatly into the dado rail about a foot down from the ceiling and running round the front room. So we had decent reception, though that damned radio never managed to pick up Radio Luxembourg on 208 metres because the nearby BBC transmitter with its Third Programme output drowned out most things, especially when small boys were trying to tune in to something less classical.

And that was it. My mother didn’t own her home, had a radiogram and a copper in the kitchen in which she slavishly washed our clothes, and if she had the time a tiny hand-held vacuum cleaner for the dust on the stairs. We didn’t have a car (even now I can remember that man next door telling her she really ought to buy a car, it would make life so much easier, and her reply that she was a woman and didn’t drive…) Yes! In 1948ish a woman thought it less than womanly to drive! And before you all put fingers on keyboard in anger, I do know there were lady drivers back then!

The thing is, and this is the main point of this piece, the actual possession of material goods was on a different plane to the one it’s on today. And that’s true for everyone, even politicians.

So if a politician can, by lying, make life a little richer for himself then that’s what most of them will do. By a vote here, by a whispered word there, and when Referendums come along by as many dirty big lies as they can conjure up.

And wealth is addictive. The more some people get then the more they want, which explains in part what motivates the Farages, Johnsons and Trumps of this world. They will invent any version of what was never the actual truth in order to further their aims, and be most convincing when they say it. And the rest of us, those who’re never quite sure when our modest wealth is going to run out or be stolen by big business backed by a political elite, endorse their lies because we want to believe them.

So we have Brexit and the Americans have Trump, both brought about by lies or such gross distortions of the truth that they are lies, and I’m hard pressed to work out which is worst. But they are both present as nightmares that won’t go away because we, in our folly, created them from other people’s lies.

© Peter Rogerson 17.11.16

CHAPTER ELEVEN – CROSSING CREATION

7 Nov

So let’s see where Melvin and Aurora have come from, and why they’re broken down, near the clearing

It was the next day and Melvin had regained some of his former composure, though his head ached and double vision threatened to return every time he tried to refocus his eyes, which were miserably watching Aurora for any sign of a change in her mood.

 

We need friends here, not enemies,” she said softly when she could see he was more or less capable of understanding her words, “and the way you, Melvin, go about things is no way to make friends with anyone! You forget we’re uninvited guests on their world.”

 

You should never have given that hominid a watch, then!” snapped Melvin, his head pounding with every syllable, “these creatures are no more capable of understanding atomic physics than they are of flying to their one and only satellite!”

 

You don’t need to understand the mechanisms of a living cell in order to be alive,” she replied obliquely.

 

Aurora fixed him with both of her eyes, and he flinched. She was a very beautiful woman ” he’d considered himself truly fortunate to have been paired with her for their part in the big project of the times.

 

There had been a dreadful war. Everyone said that it was dreadful. Planets had been reduced to ashes and one or two had even been wrenched from their orbits and sent into frozen destruction in deep space, together with huge populations, ecosystems and every living thing on them as well as entire histories in which love figured every bit as much as the unreasonable hatred, which apparently triumphed in the end.

 

But that was in the past. True, it was the fairly recent past, and both winners and losers in the conflict were still licking their wounds and trying to work out what had gone wrong. After all, none of the ordinary every-day people had a clue what had led up to that war, but that hadn’t stopped them entering into the fray with the easily contracted bigotry that flesh is heir to. It was, mused the philosophers, the backside of humanity.

 

But all this was in the past and some wise soul had suggested that a huge project was needed, one so all-embracing that it would draw all corners of the populated Galaxy together in a common cause. And maybe, they said, if different factions worked together they might gain hitherto unsuspected understandings, and ban conflict for good before the whole of Creation disappeared in a nuclear puff.

 

And that huge project had been to locate the home planet.

 

Mankind had spread, millennia earlier, on his journey to the stars and the spreading must have been slow as he moved over an enormous corner of Creation, as the galaxy had been named by the ancients. It had taken a huge amount of time, that much was evident from the accounts recorded on thousands of planets on thousands of solar systems, and Creation was much older than it had been when the first tentative steps, goodness-knows how many millions of years earlier, had been taken towards the stars from the planet on which humanity had been first evolved.

 

The trouble was, records identifying that planet had long been lost, maybe as part of the decaying processes of time or, even more likely in Aurora’s mind, in one of the flare-ups when anger replaced peace and a great deal of infrastructure was destroyed for the sake of it. War. The one hobby that mankind had cherished, it seemed, for all time.

 

When Aurora gazed at the rather pitiful figure of her co-explorer, though, she thought she could begin to imagine how wars began because she felt quite warlike towards Melvin.

 

Their relationship had gone from one in which a pseudo kind of love and affection had dominated their artificially defined days and nights as they had raced on a pre-determined course across Creation. The speed of light was no longer an obstacle, but even exceeding it with the technology easily available to their scientists meant that a long journey still took a long time. And their journey, it had been decided, was one that crossed a large sector of Creation and would take years. So they had fallen into each other’s arms because one was a good-looking male and the other was a ravishing female.

 

But lust has its limits and when they’re reached the participants see through it to the truth within. Aurora had. Melvin might have been a first rate engineer with better than average looks, but he was annoying half the time. The other half he was, by necessity, asleep.

 

On the other hand, Melvin became increasingly aware of what he saw as vanity in Aurora, and the tenderness with which he viewed her became harsher as time passed. He stopped looking at himself as the most fortunate man in the skies with his golden lady and began feeling trapped in a tiny metal capsule with a female ego constantly trying to stamp him down.

 

Others had gone on a similar journey with the same objective, in twos, in a search for the home planet, and news occasionally came over the ether of this or that failure as worlds were examined, visited, and rejected. If mankind had started his journey from even an insignificant planet he must surely have left a considerable mark of his journey from amoeba to man, but no such marks had been found. Yet.

 

Then, quite recently, when they had been asleep in one of the predetermined periods of rest and the craft was solely under the command of an efficient computer system, something had happened, something on a huge scale had caused their ship to react in a most unexpected way. It must have been unexpected because there were no precedents in the computer’s memory banks, and it had been forced to wake them.

 

But it woke them too late.

 

There are, in the depths of space, more things that are unknown than things that are known, and this was a black hole where no black hole should be. It had a core so dense that every photon of light that tried to pass it was sucked into its heart with the result that when anyone tried to look at it they couldn’t see it. It didn’t even look black because other light sources, if they weren’t actually dragged into its heart, were bent around it and consequently filled a gap that might otherwise have been a give-away. And that was true of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Radio signals went the same way as light.

 

To all intents it was invisible, and the vessel on which Melvin and Aurora slept was sucked dangerously close to it before the computer recognised that something was wrong and woke its human occupants up.

 

Melvin, of course, could do nothing but watch and worry at the way their speed increased exponentially as they whipped round the black hole, narrowly avoiding being sucked into what would have been a terminal spiral orbit round it and ending in its massive depths.

 

The speed of light had once been considered the terminal speed beyond which nothing could go, but that was long in the past and fresh discoveries had been made. But that didn’t mean that science hadn’t decided that there was an ultimate speed, one which could never, under any circumstances, be exceeded, and during that fly-past of the black home the one thing that saved them was breaking that ultimate speed limit.

 

They’d had to seek landfall on a planet because during the acceleration the subsidiary drive had failed and Melvin needed to see if he could fix it, something he would need solid land beneath his feet in order to achieve, so they had sought a planet that looked more or less devoid of intelligent life but which was largely forest and had spied a clearing where there were no trees and had missed it on their descent by just a few yards.

 

And that is how they arrived and met Umbaga and Juju, and following one set of instructions Aurora had given an atomic watch to the woman because it had been considered the best thing to do, offer shiny inexpensive trinkets should they meet any primitive humanoids. It’s the way spokesmen for a superior group always tried to win the hearts of inferiors.

 

Melvin had thought it a dangerous thing to do, but Aurora was of a different mind, and she was in charge. But then, being a woman she probably knew best. That was her opinion, anyway.

 

© Peter Rogerson 26.10.16

CHAPTER TEN – THE MAGIC DUST

3 Nov

   A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

Aurora and Melvin are offered food by Juju, and Melvin becomes quite greedy.

The young native was on the point of collapsing to the ground when Aurora finished her kiss, but Melvin’s face was black as thunder.

What do you think you’re doing?” he snapped at her, “have you any idea how many diseases lurk in that mouth you seem to want to suck at? Don’t you know that these filthy scum are on a different evolutionary road to us and that any microbe clinging to the spittle dribbling down the filthy youth’s face might mean sickness or worse to us?”

Don’t be so reactionary!” she snapped back, and she stormed over the where Umbaga and Lulu were standing side by side. “Do you have a cup of tea?” she asked with a sudden flash of a smile. And without a word or syllable of invitation she walked into the cave that the two called home. She took it in with a single sweep of her eyes – the soft bed where Idju lay, still sleeping the sleep of the young and righteous, the simple furniture designed more for utility than comfort and mostly slabs of stone ” seats (you couldn’t call them chairs), a table with crude stone and wooden platters on it, a corner where spare clothing (it was summer, so that would be for the winter, she decided) was piled neatly, and another corner, more of a shallow alcove really, where a stone table held, amongst other things, a crude comb crafted from bone.

How homely,” she sighed, and smiled at the two astounded cave-dwellers. “The inside of our spaceship – I’ll have to show you round some time – might look more modern than this lovely little place, but it’s nowhere near as welcoming…”

Melvin, by then, had stormed in after her, his face a mask of anger. He looked around himself scornfully.

There are more germs crawling in the filth in here than your body would normally expect to encounter in a life-time,” he grated. “Now pull yourself together and come back to the ship before I take off without you!”

It looks perfectly clean to me,” replied Aurora, and she flashed one of her smiles at him. Irrelevantly, Umbaga found himself wondering how old she was because her face was free of any of the blemishes men and women usually managed to contract almost before they entered puberty. He himself had a scar that ran (under the rash of his beard, which had never grown properly even though he was already well-nigh fourteen summers old) for a good finger’s length. By the time they had reached a steady middle age (twenty-odd summers) most of his friends and kin, both male and female, were scarred and pocked, which all added to their characters.

While he was thinking such things, comparing the familiar with the wildly unfamiliar, Aurora had squared up to her man, and the look she gave him, decided Umbaga, could have melted the deepest snows of winter in a trice.

We are not on our own planet, we are with natives who have yet to attain what you might like to call a civilised state and it behoves us to not only accept them for what they are but admire what we find admirable, and this cave, clean and tidy as it is, is admirable,” she said firmly.

You’re as mad as they are!” grated Melvin.

If you think that I’d beg you to remember which of the two of us is senior,” replied Aurora, “and if you’ve forgotten let me remind you: it isn’t you!”

It was down to Juju to smooth matters, or so she understood. Like her man she was what later generations would account young, a child herself, even, but in a time when life-expectancy was a short affair girls as young as ten summers were looked on as adult. She, herself, was fourteen summers old and in her prime.

You must eat with us,” she said, simply, and within what seemed no time at all she had produced strips of sun-dried meat (most likely venison, but in her time the various meats they ate were merely referred to, generically, as meat), some green leaves and a small dish of dust-like powder that looked not unlike pepper.

Smiling, she helped herself to a single strip, sprinkled a tiny amount of the dust on it, which she rubbed well in, and, wrapping it between two green leaves, started nibbling at it.

See, Melvin, our new friends have invited us to eat,” smiled Aurora, and she imitated her hostess by selecting a strip of meat, dusting it and taking two small leaves.

The meat didn’t taste as bad as it looked, though it was tough and needed a great deal of chewing. She swallowed some, and took a second nibble.

Come on, Melvin, take a bite,” she ordered, and he glowered at her.

I don’t fancy getting poisoned!” he retorted, “you’ve no idea what you’re eating!”

It’s meat,” she told him, “and it’s not bad. These people don’t look half-starved, do they? And there’s some tasty herbal powder to add flavour, not unlike the pepper we sprinkle on our food. Now, you like that, don’t you ” so be a good fellow and try to eat one of these tasty strips.”

Melvin knew that he had to comply. Much as he liked to believe the opposite, in actual fact, as Aurora had intimated, she was the senior of the two of them, both in years and station.

Before they had set out, with dozens of others, all going to different sectors of the Galaxy in search of a planet that might have seen the origins of mankind many millennia earlier, she had been fast-tracked to a senior rank on account of her successes at the Galactic University, an institution at which only the very brightest were educated. He hadn’t made the grade, largely because of the many distractions that flesh is heir to, especially if it’s male, and so the consequence was, when this expedition was manned, she was his superior.

So he did as he was told and selected the smallest strip of meat and contrived the rub the maximum amount of the fine peppery dust into it.

Umbaga looked on, dumbfounded and Juju smiled secretly to herself.

Be careful!” warned Aurora, but too late. Melvin stuffed his entire (but small) strip of meat into his mouth and proceeded with vastly exaggerated mouth motions to chew on what he saw as an unpleasant and possibly toxic repast.

The cave entrance still had a small group of Umbaga’s neighbours looking on, and they gasped when they saw the stranger dip his hand back into the bowl of powder and take some more of what was obviously intended to be used sparingly. To him, the meat was unpleasant but the dust that the natives obviously used to enhance the flavour, was quite pleasant and he knew how to be greedy.

The giant green bird that stood next to the dissolute Umbaga might have warned him, but it didn’t, as neither did the equally huge and rainbow-coloured elephant sitting on Aurora’s shoulder. But both creatures were there, as solid as flesh and monsters can be, and he sat on the earthen floor, legs crossed, every bit like the toddler that he hadn’t been for decades, because it crossed his mind that he was on the verge of falling down.

I see you, coochy-choo,” he rumbled to Aurora, and his voice, to himself, seemed to come from a mile or more away.

Aurora looked dumbfounded, especially when the magnificent multi-coloured butterfly landed heavily on her head and started tapping it with a very flexible beak. Then she opened her mouth and almost made sense when she seemed to say, “there you are my precious, down the road, turn right and bing-a-bang-boo!”

At least that’s what he heard.

What she really said was, “Melvin, you’re a dead loss and greedy. Come on ” let’s get you back to our ship before you upset anyone else, you silly man!”

Then she grabbed him by one shoulder and jerked him to his feet, displaying considerable strength, which made Umbaga respect her more than he had before. He had always admired strength in women. He knew that they were more powerful than himself in the brain department, and when that was combined with almost manly strength, to him it was awesome.

Meanwhile, Melvin was showing every sign of being in the grips of a nightmare. Umbaga knew it was the dust he’d put on his meat in excessive quantities, derived from the mushrooms which Juju had dried under the sun and pounded into dust. It greatly aided the taste of meat that may have otherwise been either bland or borderline unpleasant and it had the additional benefit of destroying any of the harmful bacteria that may have been establishing the odd colony in its fibres.

I’m sorry, my dear, you can’t take some people anywhere,Aurora murmured to Juju, and pushed a nightmare-raging Melvin out of the cave and towards their fairly distant stranded space-ship.

Just you wait until you sober up!” she hissed at him, “I’ll see you demoted to the lowest rank, just you see if I don’t”

Coochy-coo,” gabbled Melvin, and he cackled hysterically, striking terror into the heart of Old Man Tiger who lurked not so far off.

© Peter Rogerson 25.10.16